How Important is Bible Study?
When we read John 14:15 where Jesus said, "If you love me, you
will obey what I command," our attention is directed toward what we
must do in order to obey His commandments. Logically, we must first
know them before we can obey them, and in order to know them, we must
learn them. Obviously, we would never even have known that He made this
statement if we had not learned this verse, or another like
it, through Bible study. We're not born with a working knowledge of the
Bible, and God does not supernaturally zap our brains with the information he
wishes to reveal to us. Instead, He transforms us by the renewing of
our minds (Romans 12:1-2), and this begins with fervent Bible study. We are to have our
minds set on the Spirit (Romans 8:6), and learn what is pleasing
to the Lord (Ephesians 5:17) through Bible study. He holds us
responsible for knowing His wisdom
(Ephesians 3:10) and understanding what His will is (Ephesians 3:18,
5:10). It is the inner self that matters most, which Paul
described as the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). Of ultimate
importance is what is written in the heart (Romans 2:15), then these
inward thoughts produce our outward actions.
In Colossians 1:9-10 Paul asks God to fill the Colossian Christians
with "the knowledge
of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,"
so that they can "live a life worthy of
the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good
work, growing in the knowledge
of God." We would do well to remember that it was wisdom that
originally led to our salvation through faith in Christ (2 Timothy
3:15). We are to engage in Bible study, and take every thought captive
(2 Corinthians 10:5), because the mind is more important than the flesh (2 Corinthians
5:4,7, 1 Timothy 4:8). We are called to pray
and sing with our minds (1 Corinthians 14:15). Proverbs 4:7 tells us that
wisdom is the most important thing, and we gain it through Bible study.
It is through the training of the mind through Bible study
that Christians become mature
believers. Indeed, it could be argued from Ephesians 4 that
the whole purpose of the church
is for believers to encourage each
other into spiritual maturity. We are to "grow up" (Ephesians
4:15) and mature, "know Christ" (Ephesians 4:20), and "be made new in
the attitude of your minds" (Ephesians 4:23). In 1
Corinthians 14:20, Paul warns us not to be like "children" in our
thinking, but to be mature in our minds. In fact, being
without understanding is a serious sin (Romans 1:31).
Paul himself studied for three years before he came out of the
wilderness to teach God's Word (Galatians 1:16-18). I want to
impress upon you just how important Bible study is.
I believe that this passage is telling us that when
Paul was saved, he immediately studied God's Word for three full years,
before he began his ministry. Although he didn't have the Bible as we
know it, he still studied. I believe that Paul studied God's Word
constantly for those three years. If he studied 16 to 18 hours each
day, for three years, do you know how many hours he studied? He studied
about 20,000 hours before he even began his ministry. If we are going
to be effective, we have to study God's Word more and more. If we have
Bible study for two hours each day for 30 years, only then have we studied as much as
Paul did before he even started preaching.
Paul prayed that the love of the Philippian Christians would "abound
more and more in knowledge and depth of insight" (Philippians
1:9). In Colossae, he taught "everyone with all wisdom"
(Colossians 1:28), in order to establish firm roots in the faith, and
to build them up (Colossians 2:7). We are to let the word of Christ richly dwell within us through regular
Bible study, and to teach and admonish each other (Colossians 3:16). We should develop the
wisdom and discernment which is required to enable us to confidently
reject new and false doctrines (2 John 1:10). We are to
admonish one another (Romans 15:14) and gently turn people back to the
truth when they stray from it (James 5:19-20).
Perhaps we can better understand why Paul dwells on this concept of
learning through Bible study, and teaching others, by realizing that it
is not simply for temporal purposes alone. Don't be deceived into thinking that God will
zap omniscience or complete spiritual maturity into
each Christian when his body is glorified and "changed--in a flash,
in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Only God is
omniscient, and His system of rewards precludes any thought of
systematic equality in heaven. We will carry our spiritual
maturity into heaven with us, and it will weigh heavily at the
Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Through that
maturity comes our divinely good works for which we will receive
eternal rewards (2 Corinthians 5:10-11). God in His grace
has chosen to give us our temporal lives on earth, during which we are
to build our spiritual maturity through regular Bible study, and share the
truths of God's Word with others.
So, exactly what should we study and learn in order to attain this
prized spiritual maturity? Paul told Timothy that our spiritual
growth will come from God's Word, the Bible, "All scripture is
God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and
training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is God's
revelation to us, "For everything that was written in the past was
written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of
the Scriptures we might have hope!" (Romans 15:4) "These things
happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us,
on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians
10:11). We are to read and study the scriptures, and use them
to exhort and teach others (1 Timothy 4:13). This is a
prerequisite for any other spiritual service! Otherwise, we
would not have the required knowledge for God's service.
Furthermore, and obvious from a previous discussion, one of the first
things to be learned is the grace of God.
Although it's easy to become dogmatic about a particular issue, and
claim that our point of view is "clearly" taught in the Bible, the
truth is that the Bible is very complex, it requires much study,
and few principles are very "clear" without devoted study of all
relevant passages. Each Christian is accountable for his own
Bible study, learning, and interpretation. To unquestionably accept the
views of pastors or other teachers simply on the grounds that they have
had formal training, is to accept the responsibility and judgment from
those ideas even if they are wrong or not properly tested.
When someone dictates his own rules of hermeneutics
(interpretation), we must remember that the term hermeneutics is a
theological term which is taught in seminaries, but there are dozens of opposing, man-made
sets of hermeneutical principles, and we as individuals must choose the
correct interpretation! Above all, believers should not be intimidated
by such theological terms. There is a place for seminary teachings and a place for
theological experts, but the accountability remains with each
individual believer. Experts can be wrong, and since there
are so many different opinions from the experts on many different
theological issues, they indeed must be wrong much of the time.
As an example of difficult interpretation, consider 1 Corinthians
16:2 which says, "On the first day of every week each one of you should
set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so
that when I come no collections will have to be made." Some may be
tempted to teach that Paul is telling us
to do our giving on Sunday, and others might therefore try to
establish Sunday as a Christian holy day. However, by Colossians
2:16-23, we know that there are no holy days in Christianity. We
should give at every opportunity, not just on Sundays. The
admonition in 1 Corinthians 16:2 is directed to the church at Corinth
as it was to the church at Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1), in preparation
for Paul's arrival so that "when I come no collections will have to be
made." To generalize this scripture in order to symbolize
Sunday as a model for a Christian Sabbath, and Paul as a model for
pastors, is to misinterpret the scriptures.
One of the things that we learn through Bible study, and that we should
teach others, is the gospel message of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of
the world, and belief in His sacrifice for securing eternal life (John 3:16). In
Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said, "Therefore, go and make disciples . . .
teaching them . . ." Obviously, the first step toward Christian
maturity is understanding and believing the gospel. "I
believe, therefore I have spoken" (2 Corinthians
4:13). What we believe, we pass on to others.
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give
the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with
gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). How can you prepare
your defense except by absorbing God's Word? Witnessing is
simply telling the truth--not pressing for a decision.
So, when we learn God's Word through Bible study, who should we teach?
We are more confident if we learn
from those we know and trust (2 timothy 3:14). Obviously we
are entrusted to teach all who are willing to hear (2 Corinthians
4:13), but what better place to start than in our own homes, in God's
institution of the family? Since the man is the head of his
family, just as Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:22-24),
husbands are charged by God to love, lead, and teach their wives (Colossians 3:18-19). Women are charged by
God to work in their homes (1 Timothy 5:14), to raise their children (1 Timothy 5:10),
to be quiet in church (1 Timothy 2:11, Titus 2:5), and to be submissive
to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24). Women are
to learn from their husbands at home (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians
5:23-25), and they are not to have authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12).
If a woman does not want to accept this arrangement, she should simply
choose not to get married.
Just as God told the Jews to teach their new generations (Deuteronomy
6:6-7), we are challenged to teach ours, with the primary
responsibility again falling on the man of the household.
Fathers are to bring up their children in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Fathers should lead their
children in Bible study, not only be example, but also by directly teaching them
God's Word. This admonition applies to the family environment which is
the ultimate place for education, as well as to "formal" schooling. When the parents
delegate their teaching authority to public or private schools, the
parents still hold the ultimate responsibility for the education of
their own children. Parents are accountable for their
children as well as themselves! Rather than blame the
children or their school teachers when the child's education is
inadequate, parents should simply find another school or another means
of education such as home schooling or tutoring. Even when the children
are in a good school, the Bible calls for continued teaching of the
children at home by the parents, to which the formal teaching is only a supplement!
Children are to obey their parent (Colossians 3:20-21) and learn from
them. If spiritual truths are not propagated, they are
lost! No wonder the Epistles are filled with the kinds of
words that involve mental activities such as mind, heart, know,
understand, think, repent, believe, faith, love, and glorify.
Each of these words refers to our mentality, such as Romans 10:10 where
we believe with our hearts. These words alone are used over
1000 times in the Epistles. Let us not therefore
underestimate the importance of renewing our minds through the learning
of Bible truths. Indeed, before we can love God, we will obey
His commandments, and before we can obey Him, we must learn His Word!
Truly, if we love God, we will obey His commandments (John 14:15), but
how can we obey if we don't study His word and discern His will for
us? It is each believer's primary responsibility to engage
in Bible study regularly, and to teach its truths to others.
It is through the learning of Bible doctrine that we can achieve the peace that God
intends for us as he sheds his grace upon us. The truly
peaceful man may not be able to explain every minute detail about the
Bible, but he will surely be able to satisfy his conscience concerning
the major controversies among Christians, by regular study of the Word
of God. The Christian who is forever questioning various aspects of his
faith, due to Biblical ignorance, will never experience real peace.
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power,
of love and of self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7).
I challenge you to stay in the Word for personal Bible study each day.
Owen Weber 2008