(or…how to study your Bible…)
I recently read an account of a brother in Christ attempting to shame another brother in the faith on his lack of “training” to properly read, understand, apply and teach the Bible. His idea of this sort of training was to spend many years (seven, to be exact) and many dollars at the feet of other men learning how to “properly” approach the Bible. I find this so arrogant and odious! Even William Tyndale’s understanding of the issue related on simply two things for the plowboy: one, obtaining the skill of reading, and two, having access to the Scriptures in English.
I’m certainly not saying that undertaking further education in Bible history or theology or whatnot is a waste of time, but I am saying that the best way to know the Bible is to, well, read and study the BIBLE. To hear a sermon based on nothing but the Bible is a treat; many are peppered with sections of commentaries, lexicons, quotes from other authors, learning foreign language (“in the Greek”), etc. Interestingly enough, the reason that those quotes and commentaries can be so useful and so enlightening is because those authors studied the Bible, themselves, and have fruit to share. I don’t know enough about Matthew Henry to say (and I do like reading his thoughts on occasion), but I do wonder….what commentaries did HE read? I suppose these study tools are not necessarily bad, but studying the Bible itself and comparing things spiritual with things spiritual ought to be primary. I appreciate sharing in other people’s studies and discoveries, but it will never be as sweet as time alone with God. Which is why just listening to sermons will never replace ongoing, lifelong personal study, and every pastor I know would probably agree.
The dearth in Bible knowledge in the land is not because there is a lack of other resources to study. You don’t need to load up on shelves-full of other books about the Bible. There is, as we know, no end of book making (Ecc 12:12). At this time in history, we are practically buried in Christian resources and books to study. I’m not *against* such study tools, and yes, I used a study tool even here: a concordance (does that make me a hypocrite?). But I do think we generally lack Biblical knowledge partly because many Christians, if they open their Bibles at all, treat this Book as a place to get a simple devotion to bless their day instead of taking any time at all to buckle down and study related passages and words and threads between the same covers. As an example, instead of looking up and studying “prayer” in the Bible, it’s far easier to read another author on the subject.
All this to say…don’t let other Christians turn their noses down at you because you didn’t study xy or z regarding your faith via a source outside of the Word! In fact, I have confidence that if ALL you had was your Bible to study, and you DID study it, you would learn to rightly divide scripture because God Himself, through His Word, is your teacher.
Job 36:22 Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him?
Psalms 25:5 Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.
Psalms 25:9 The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.
Psalms 32:8 I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
Psalms 119:12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
Isaiah 28:26 For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
The assumption I make here is that a person studying the Bible has repented, put his or her trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and is born again. Otherwise, the Bible is foolishness and nothing more than a book of quotes, because he or she is blinded to the truth (2 Cor 4:4). It is dead to him or her, just as it is alive and living to any Christian who truly knows and loves the Lord. No Holy Spirit, no Biblical understanding. That’s just the way it is. You need the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible.
John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
When reading the Bible even for the 34th time, interesting words, phrases, or passages are illuminated that may have been overlooked before. That is why the Book is called a Living Book; you can never fully read it! It is like gaining a deeper understanding or unearthing more treasure, each and every time! I was recently intrigued by 1 Cor 2:16, “But we have the mind of Christ…” and it lead to a study on that word (mind…occurring 139 times) and phrase (mind of Christ…which occurs only once). Reading every verse within context was a blessing! I learned that having the mind of Christ begins with receiving the things of the Spirit of God (Part One). And I also learned that having the mind of Christ means knowing them, what they are, to begin with. No one can fully know God’s mind. But we CAN know what He has chosen to reveal to us, through His Word.
It seems that one part of having the mind of Christ means having the ability and willingness and discipline to bring to remembrance who God is and what He has done. We forget so easily! I am certain I am a worse forget-er than any of the Israelites whose feet crossed the day before the Red Sea. God speaks of how we call things to mind, both in remembering blessings and cursings (Deut 30:1), and calling His covenant to mind is a command to His people.
1 Chronicles 16:15 Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations…
And yes, I understand that this command was to a certain people at a certain time in a certain place in history. But the PRINCIPLE remains: we ought to remember His works, His gospel, His promises. And when His people are NOT “mind”ful of His wonders, they end up rebelling and returning to bondage, and in essence, losing their minds (Neh 9:17, Rom 1:28). Remembrance, keeping in mind, is for our own good. And, I might add, if you or I do not read and study our Bible, how will we bring any of it to mind at all? In fact, forgetting God is a curse, no matter how prosperous or “happy” our life is (Jer 3:16); and truly, the day will come when those snippets we halfheartedly listened to or read will come back to convict us when trouble comes (Mark 14:72).
The point of knowing what is important to God, of reading His Word (otherwise known as “sitting at His feet”) is to recall what those things are, and often, to meditate on them, to cultivate a mind that thinks like God thinks. This is impossible but for the work of the Holy Spirit and nothing that we can bring about on our own power, no matter how many hours we spend in “quiet time”. But we do need to study our Bible.
Pitted against the “Christianity” d’jour of “accept Jesus and all will go well”, the Bible presents history upon history of trial, tribulation, and calamity for God’s people. Read Lamentations 3, and wonder at the horrific devastation listed line after line….and then follow to the cornerstone, the turning point, of 3:21: This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. A mind that is properly functioning remembers who God is, what He has done, and what He will do, and that remembrance brings HOPE. The rest of that chapter has so much praise for who God is, and that I think is what our remembrance brings, too: praise.
So, take some time to study, friends. And keep smiling sweetly when “smarter” Christians want to pat you and your studies on the head; every family has kooky relatives. 🙂