In my years of ministry here in D.C., and before that in the California State Capitol, I have often heard the following excuses surface regarding Bible study. Do any of the following thoughts come to mind as you ponder this subject? A. "Some people worship the Bible rather than Jesus." B. "Right now in my life, fellowship is more important to me than studying the Bible." C. "Studying doctrine can be divisive, so I'd rather just love Jesus." Notice I didn't include "I just don't have the time." Elected leaders are all too smart to suggest this because both they and I know that time is a function of priorities — so to say that is to admit Bible study is not a priority. So, in this week's study I will attempt to address each of these three excuses hoping to stir your mind in this regard. I will also explore some practical benefits from a habitual lifetime of study. As a result, you will gain a greater conviction to diligently study the Word of God and develop a habit for a lifetime! Read on, my friend!
In keeping with our occasional studies from the OT Book of Proverbs, this week I would like you to take notice of all that Solomon has to say about the importance of God's Word. Each of the aforementioned excuses is sometimes used as a "spiritual" reason why someone refrains from involvement in serious Bible study. Before addressing each one of these individually, notice what Jesus said in the Great Commission (the last words of instruction spoken by Him to His followers prior to His ascension into heaven) in Matthew 28:19-20:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . ."
One of many implications of this passage is God's expectation that we will know His book, i.e. teaching them combined with the word all. This point is further underscored by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts (20:27): Luke records Paul's interaction with the visiting Ephesian elders, where Paul said to them:
"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God."
From these two passages we get the powerful message that God expects His followers to know His Book — in all and in whole! Beloved, it stands to reason that you cannot live by God's precepts if you don't know them (on the other hand, if you choose to obey only a portion of them — you deem yourself the final authority and not the Lord whom you claim to serve)! Further, in the Great Commission passage God calls us to be His disciples. It is important to know what exactly the word disciple means. Disciple is the Greek word mathetes, which means, "a learner." Better, math (the root of the English word "mathematics") means, "thought accompanied by endeavor." Perhaps you can see where I am going with this:
BELIEVERS WHO ARE INTENT ON SPIRITUAL GROWTH MUST BY DEFINITION BE IN A STATE OF CONTINUAL BIBLICAL THOUGHT ACCOMPANIED BY ENDEAVOR
Better perhaps, I like to think of the Greek word math in terms of someone who can calculate: A disciple is someone who can calculate the world in which they live through the lens of Scripture. That is what it means to be a disciple, and lest you think you might have to go it alone, God has given believers pastor-teachers to equip them in and with the Word of God: in order for them to become wise at calculating all matters in life through Scripture. Ephesians 4:11 states this:
And He gave some . . . as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.
In Scripture mathetes is often juxtaposed to didaskalos, meaning "teacher." A disciple then, is biblically defined as an endeavoring biblical, calculating thinker who is sitting under at least one God-given pastor-teacher. Summarily, it is biblically incongruous to posture oneself as a maturing believer while failing in one's dedication to regular Bible study. And to the other side of the equation, it is important to add here that unfortunately today, the vast majority of American churches serve up sermons devoid of much in the way of serious Bible study. All that to say, I realize it is not that easy to be a disciple — and it is impossible if you rationalize away serious Bible study per any one of the three aforementioned excuses.
Regarding the three common myths as stated in the introduction about Bible Study, let us take them on one at a time:
In negation of this spiritualized excuse, notice the inseparability of God from His Word in the following two passages: Psalms 138:2 states,
I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (KJV).
God and His Word are inseparable in this Psalm. Additionally, the connection between Jesus and the Word, and how they are used interchangeably in the first chapter of John's gospel, is evidenced by the interchangeability of verses 1 and 14 respectively:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
As if those two passages were not convincing enough, Psalm 33:6 credits the Word of God with creation; God literally spoke the universe into existence:
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
But in addition, Colossians 1:16 credits Jesus with creation:
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created by Him and for Him.
Many similar passages and deductions could be cited, but suffice it to say that trying to separate Jesus from the Bible and the Bible from Jesus is an attempt to build a false dichotomy relative to worship — a ludicrous and naïve position. To worship Jesus is to worship His Bible and to worship His Bible is to worship Jesus. 2Timothy 3:16 cements the point:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness . . .
The Greek word for Scripture is graphe and the Greek word for inspired is theopnuestos. The first word means "written" and the second means "the essence of God." In this passage, Paul is saying the graphic Word of God is the very essence of God. Therefore, it just doesn't make sense to say one can love Jesus while ignoring the Bible.
TO DISREGARD OR DISCOUNT THE WORD IS TO DISREGARD OR DISCOUNT JESUS
I have heard this statement bantered about in the Capitol quite a lot over the years and I sometimes wonder who is propagating it. The convolution of the statement begs the question of what is true Christian fellowship? Without elaborating in a lengthy citing of passages, Philemon 1:6 states:
And I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake.
Paul is instructing Philemon that true fellowship (one believer with another) is directly related to one's knowledge of his own identity in Christ — which knowledge, and the basis of its genuineness — can only be gained via diligent study of the Word of God. 1John 1:7 states in this regard:
But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another....
To the degree that we are illuminated by His Word is the degree to which we can achieve genuine fellowship with one another. And lastly, Scripture is clear that true fellowship can only be achieved between true believers. Note 2Corinthians 6:14:
What fellowship has light with darkness?
It follows then that fellowship groups devoid of authoritative Bible study accomplish little in terms of spiritual maturity in the life of individuals. They can be directly likened to folks who say they want to get in shape, but who go to the coffee house rather than the gym.
This statement is an oxymoron (a combination of contradictory or incongruous words). Why? Because whenever one mentions the name of Jesus he is representing some kind of doctrine! Who exactly is the one you are mentioning and say you love? Is He God incarnate? Is He the LORD of the universe? Does He call people to repentance? Is Jesus the only way to God? Notice what Jesus Himself said about divisiveness in Matthew 10:34:
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Later on, in the same passage (verse 37) and in the same context, Jesus talked about how following Him may even cause division in one's earthly family:
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."
For those who are intent on following Christ, the objective is to proclaim who He is — not to represent Him in such a way that you can garner the greatest personal acceptance. Therefore, to reason that the believer should avoid Bible study because he might hear doctrine with which others might disagree is simply biblically uninformed rationalization. The Jesus of the Bible did not come to teach us about some fuzzy, New Age, humanistic idea of "love." To the contrary:
THE JESUS OF THE SCRIPTURES CALLS MEN AND WOMEN TO REDEMPTION IN HIMSELF VIA REPENTANCE FROM SIN; AND SUCH CONFRONTATION OF MAN'S DEPRAVITY WILL INEVITABLY CREATE DIVISIONS AMONG PEOPLE
That doesn't mean we shouldn't be loving in our proclamation of Jesus, it is only to say that in proclaiming Jesus others might be offended. As a matter of fact, Jesus actually said in Matthew 10:22 regarding this subject:
"You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved."
Like doctrine, Jesus too calls people to make decisions about what they believe, which inevitably leads to divided opinions about Him. These are just three of many "spiritualized" excuses people come up with for avoiding serious Bible study. Rather than spend any more time examining how some people rationalize away the prominence, priority and authority of the Word of God, let's examine what God Himself — in the Book of Proverbs — states about the Word of God. In other words, and context, what did Solomon point out to a future political leader (his son, Rehoboam, to whom most of Proverbs is written) regarding the Word of God? I think you will find it to be quite fascinating!
Proverbs 16:20 He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.
In contrast to those who rationalize away the Word, notice the term gives attention (sakal) meaning "to be prudent." Merriam-Webster defines the English equivalents this way, "to concern oneself with or take notice of something: have regard or pay attention." The leader who highly regards the Word will find good. Many additional Proverbs underscore and elaborate on this principle:
Proverbs 19:16 He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of conduct will die.
One of the repetitive themes of Proverbs is the disciplined, prudent inner life. When you make a habit of keeping God's commandments and living in reverence of Him, you will generally find a good life in this world. Often, if not always, those who lose their soul have a life-long history of aggressive or passive rebellion toward the precepts of God. It is important to note from this Proverb (and all the others) that Solomon emphasizes to Rehoboam the need to give attention to and regard for his inner life. Missing is any kind of parallel emphasis for him to stress governmental programs in his future state leadership. Such a prioritization should be true of you as well. This is how you keep from dying so to speak, while holding office with all its various pressures.
Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.
Again, in stark contrast to the elected leader who rationalizes away the prominence the Word of God in his life, this passage is a tremendous confidence builder for the Public Servant who instead chooses to base his or her political ideology on the Word of God! Why? Because the Word of God is already tested (tsaraph) meaning "to smell, refine." To the degree you properly understand it, you can rely on that to inform you as to how to vote. The Word of God can smell out an issue for you; it can refine and direct your thinking. This means you can argue for scriptural positions in public debate, and later never find yourself in want for having taken the wrong position! God's Word, in that it is previously tested, can be a wonderful shield to your political ideology if you will rely on it! There is peace and refuge in holding to biblical positions — unlike foolish Members of Congress who cast biblically uninformed votes that can end up, and often do, severely harming themselves and the country! In a sense:
GOD HAS ALREADY DONE MUCH OF YOUR THINKING FOR YOU
In support of the notion for leaders to hold to biblically explicit positions on policy matters, Psalm 119:2-4 and 46 contextually states powerfully and poignantly:
Blessed are those who observe His testimonies . . . You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently . . . I will speak of Your testimonies also before Kings, and will not be ashamed.
Therein is the confidence Solomon and David had in holding to the tested Word of God in their public life as state leaders! As a result, they were never ashamed of a position they took! Today's lawmakers can rest their heads at night when their positions are steeped in the precepts of God's Holy Word. You can rely on the Word of God when you cast your vote and not be ashamed.
Proverbs 30:6 Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.
It is important to not read into the Word of God, attempting to justify life decisions or policy positions that are not biblically explicit. This is tantamount to adding to the Word of God. Where Scripture is dogmatic, one must be dogmatic, and where it is more of a compass than a road map, you should look to incorporate its principles in using it to support policy positions. Reason from Scripture versus reading into Scripture what you want it to say. Solomon echoes in this Proverb a directive that recurs throughout the Bible: God's revelation is not an open matter. Scripture is no longer being written. Note Revelation 22:18 in support of this point and application:
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
The point of application is not to play loose with the Scripture in support of policy when Scripture speaks to the contrary or does not speak specifically to an issue. Often, if not explicit, Scripture will provide principles that may serve to support or else deny a policy. And if that is the case, those principles should be cited. But do not attempt to make Scripture state something that it does not. When Members parachute in on passages — grossly out of context — while debating on the floor, I often think of this above passage from the book of Revelations: In essence, the presenter is adding to Scripture something that is not there. There should be — and there are — restrictions to one's use of the Word. Don't be flippant with it, lest God reprove you for mishandling His book (cf. James 3:1).
Proverbs 13:13 The one who despises the Word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.
This study will conclude with 15 benefits that will result from studying the Word of God, but suffice to say here that God rewards those who are students of His book! Ostensibly, in this Proverb Solomon is instructing every state leader with contrasting truths: destruction awaits those who despise God's revelation versus rewarding one who fears the Bible. There are rewards from God inuring to the life of the one who studies and obeys God's Word. Garrett aptly comments on the meaning of this Proverb:
Every person desires to see his or her longings fulfilled. In the wisdom of the world, the way to success is through diligent effort. There is truth in this . . .Yet the Bible goes beyond the secular wisdom of relating success to hard work and more fundamentally ties it to the development of a mature, virtuous soul by submission to wise teachers. Diligence is thus the fruit of a soul that has cultivated goodness, and success follows naturally.
This is a wonderful summary of Proverbs' formula for success. The Psalmist echoes these sentiments when he penned 119:11 & 97:
Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You . . . Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Surely there is reward for those who make the regular intake of the Word a priority — a priority that is difficult to keep apart from studying under good motivational, solid Bible teachers whom God has given to His people. God has placed them in the world to help you meditate on His Word! So, utilize them!
ATHLETES REACH NOT THEIR POTENTIAL APART FROM COACHES, NOR DO BELIEVERS APART FROM BIBLE TEACHERS
Much can be gained from Solomon's insights on this specific subject. In these passages from Proverbs, the wisest human who ever lived is attempting to pass along his own awed and humble view of Scripture to his son who would become King. Given this close context to your life, don't rationalize or spiritualize away the prominent position Scripture must have continually in and throughout your life. Again, at the conclusion of this study I will list many more of the results of obedience to the Word of God, i.e. fifteen benefits.
The repeated internal testimony of the Bible is that it is the written revelation from God to mankind. This is the clear testimony of its writers. In 2Timothy 3:16-17, 1Thessalonians 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:20-21, therein Paul and Peter respectively state:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Thousands of other passages attest to the godly origin of the Bible. As simple as this truth is: The Bible Is Revelation From God, it is easy to overlook the profundity of what that should mean in terms of my response and allegiance to it. What follows are some of the many benefits of becoming a disciplined student of His Book.
What are some of the practical benefits of a habitual lifetime of study? I can think of 15 benefits that God Himself says about this matter. What follows should motivate you to increase your personal Bible study habit! I will briefly touch on each with the hope that you will gain an overall, compelling picture (some points you'll notice tend to overlap a bit) pertaining to your own study habits. My hope is that as a result you will gain a greater desire to diligently absorb the Word of God on a regular basis.
Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Saving faith comes from hearing the message about Christ; the unadulterated gospel message is codified in the Scriptures. Without the word of Christ, how would you know for sure if you are saved through faith in Christ alone? We would be lost in various opinions.
2Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
It is the Bible which contains the total truth necessary for living in every way a life that is pleasing to one's maker! It is the basis for one's confidence in the standards of right and wrong. There are other sources of truth in the world, but their certainty is less than that of all Scripture. You can be certain that what you are doing is right when what you are doing is based on God's Word.
Proverbs 6:23 For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life. Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.
The words, commandment, teaching, discipline, lamp and light are descriptors of God's Word. Akin to a flashlight on a dark night, it will keep you from stumbling down the path of life. You can walk with surety when what the Bible has taught you guides you every step of the way!
Psalm 119:98 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. Psalm 119:24 Your testimonies also are my delight, They are my counselors.
One can be consistently not only correct in the decisions they make in their personal life, but on the positions they take on government policies. I once heard a presidential candidate say that he thought religion was good for his personal life, but that it does not necessarily inform his policy decisions. How sad, I thought to myself. Learn and hold on to God's principles! They are unfailing, unchanging and always correct for every area of your life! Remember that you live to please only one person - your Maker who has revealed Himself to you in His Word - and whom you will face in the day of judgment. Allow Him to counsel you every day you live!
Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
This passage means that the teachings of the LORD will turn back your soul. Said another way, God's Word has the power to revive the inner man and strengthen you in times of despondency. It will make you wise and learned from mistakes - so you will not repeat them over and over again.
Psalm 19:11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.
The pronoun them, refers to the Scriptures. Most of the problems we face in life are self-induced, directly related to our ignorance or willful disobedience to scriptural principles. To know Scripture intimately is to inform and bolster your conscience so that in times of temptation you will be strong enough to do what is biblically correct. If one prioritizes the time and discipline to place Scripture in his mind, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to use it to warn of danger: To convict. You will be spiritually stronger to not sin if you have a consistent habit of Bible study (the opposite is also true). Likened to Proverbs 13:13 (stated earlier in this study), there is great reward in keeping with Scripture.
1Peter 2:2 Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
Revealed in this passage is the formula for growth.
THERE IS NO CONSISTENT GROWTH WITHOUT A CONSISTENT INTAKE OF BIBLICAL NOURISHMENT
Do you long for the pure milk of the Word? That is the formula for literal and figurative growth. This truth is why biblical feeding is the primary responsibility of a good shepherd. In this regard: The Apostle Paul instructs all future pastors to center in on the following:
1Timothy 4:6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.
Watch out for ministers who are not constantly nourished and thereby not feeding others with the Word. It follows that you must prioritize being around ministers and ministries that feed you God's Word consistently.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
This passage is loaded with profundities! Suffice to say God's Word exposes false believers and disobedient believers. It is alive, living and active! This truth is underscored by:
Isaiah 55:11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
When the Word is proclaimed it never returns empty. In its proclamation, it always accomplishes what God desires. Often times it serves to expose the real motives and intentions of men's hearts. For the sensitive believer, such exposure is welcome because it leads to repentance and growth.
John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
Sanctify as it is used throughout Scripture means a setting apart for Christian maturation. One grows through grappling with the truth and ultimate truth only stems from knowing the Scriptures. This boiler plate fact is stated again as Christ's intended way of maturing His church:
Ephesians 5:26 That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.
John 8:31-32 So Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
True believers always hunger to be obedient to the Word. As stated earlier in the study, the Greek root for disciples (mathetes) means more than "followers." The Greek root is the same word we derive "math" from, meaning you will have the ability to calculate the will of God in a matter. True believers always want to know more about God and want to be obedient to Him and discern, calculate His way in their lives. Conversely, if one has no desire for learning the Word and being obedient to God then one is fooling himself into thinking he is saved when the biblical evidence clearly indicates he is not (cf. 2John 1:9). What results? The truly redeemed have a deep-seated sense of sheer freedom from the weight and inevitable consequences of sin.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Richly dwell means "extravagantly" or "abundantly rich." The Word of Christ refers to the whole of Scripture. To the level that God's Word saturates and controls one's life is the degree that one will live enriched and overflowing with thankfulness to God - positively poring over into other's lives!
Psalm 119:11 Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against you.
How does one live with less sin? The key to overcoming sin is to treasure God's Word in one's heart. The Evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, "Either sin will keep you from this Book, or this Book will keep you from sin."
Psalm 119:28 My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to your word.
The result of sin is agony, guilt, loss of vigor, and broken relationships (to mention a few). The Psalmist's remedy? Be strengthened by the Word.
Psalm 119:23 Even though prince's sit and talk against me, Thy servant meditates on Thy statutes.
Do you want to have the courage to do what is right no matter what the pressure is from others and to be unashamed? Meditate on the Word! Set your mind to please God, versus paying attention to others whose plans may run contrary to God's testimonies.
Psalm 1:3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Over the years, I have seen so many "Christian" legislators wither: They come and go because they violate this principle of meditating on the Word. Unfortunately, they are like chaff which the wind drives away (1:4). God doesn't honor them and suddenly they are out. It so saddens my heart to so often see this. They are double-minded . . . unstable in all their ways (James 1:8). Conversely:
Joshua 1:8-9 "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
These passages promise prosperity and success to those who meditate on the Word day and night!
This study provides practical insights as to why one must not rationalize away, but rather emphasize the study of Scripture every day - and why one need be serious about habitual study over a lifetime! Consistent, prioritized Bible study is what you and I really need if we are to remain strong on the Hill. Will you make fresh commitments in this regard today?