|Vol. 2, No. 3||Page 19||March 2000|
Study the Bible
Because It Is the Word of God
Students pour over textbooks daily trying to learn pieces of knowledge that man has accumulated over time. Youthful scientists sit with mouths agape as they read the genius of Albert Einstein. Scholars tingle with excitement at the discovery of additional writings of such men. How much more should we tremble in both awe and delight every time we open the Bible? “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrew 4:12).
The Bible is the written record of what your Creator has spoken to you (2 Peter 1:21). It amazes me that people will listen to the words of the President of the United States because of how his policy may affect the world, that people will listen to advice from a broker because of how it may affect them financially (“When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”), that people will listen to celebrities and sports figures when determining their next purchase, but that few people truly listen to God when he speaks through the pages of Holy Writ! When Jesus said, “It is written” (Matthew 4:1-11), the power in these words came not from the fact that they had been recorded, but because God had spoken them.
The Bible is God’s own breath. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” This phrase could be translated literally, “All scripture is God-breathed.” This is a very personal way of describing God’s communication with man. The Bible is not a series of stories and provisions originating with God that have undergone constant revision for so long that their origin is of little consequence. When we read the very words of the Bible (1 Corinthians 2:10-13), it is as if God is in our very presence, uttering these words, so that we can feel his breath as he speaks to us. This is a message coming straight from the heart of God to the ears of all mankind.
The Bible is God describing and revealing himself. In many ways, the Bible is God’s autobiography, because throughout its pages it either says or implies, “This is who I am.” When the Bible says, “In the beginning God created . . .” it has described an eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent spiritual Being. As we read the New Testament, the life of Jesus Christ and related teachings, our God exposes us in a more complete way to his moral character. Jesus Christ himself is an “explanation” of God (John 1:18), so everything about him leads us to a better understanding of God (1 Peter 1:16; John 4:24; 1 John 1:5; 4:8). As God thus describes himself to us in the pages of the Bible, he also includes his actions on behalf of mankind. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God had something to say to mankind. God had something that he wanted us to know. For this reason, he inspired the Bible, his personal message for mankind. That God has spoken to you should be more than adequate reason for you to study the Bible.
Because It is the Only Way to Salvation
One need only humbly observe the universe to conclude that man is but a lowly creature subject to the design of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Being. We should realize our dependency in the daily needs of life-food, oxygen and water. We might think that we had done something by going to get them or by taking them in, but the fact is that they were there for us already. Therefore, recognizing that we are but creatures and therefore subject to our Creator, who is greater than we are in every way, we should then wonder what our responsibilities are to him. Though the natural revelation of creation demonstrates the existence of God and our need for God, and though we can have a sense of morality as a result of God having introduced that concept originally to free moral agents, only through God’s special revelation, the Bible, can we understand that our primary obligation is complete obedience and that, having sinned, our primary need is now forgiveness from that sin (Romans 3:10-11).
You only learn of sin by studying the Bible. You may feel the twinge of the conscience when you fail to meet the expectations of social mores, but you can only understand right and wrong by reading God’s Word. It alone reveals God’s will and law for mankind (James 1:25). Having now been revealed, it shows us what sin is, for “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The Bible is also the only means by which you can learn what you need to know about Jesus Christ. Although the ancient historians Josephus and Tacitus refer to him, only the Bible explains fully his identity and reason for coming to the earth (John 3:16; 1 John 3:8). Without full and correct knowledge of Jesus Christ, salvation from sin is impossible because Jesus is the only way (John 14:6) and authority (Acts 4:12) by which God will forgive (Acts 2:38). Only the Bible describes the Person of Jesus and his mission, making it the only source of true faith in him (Romans 10:17; John 8:24). Therefore, you can only learn how to be saved from this book (2 Timothy 3:15). Many act as if the Bible is irrelevant to salvation. They want to rely on their subjective feelings and imagined contact with the Holy Spirit, when the Holy Spirit uses the message of the gospel as his instrument to convict and convert (John 16:8; Acts 2:14-42) through the preaching of that message by Christ’s disciples (Mark 16:15-16).
James wrote, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Stuck in quicksand with time running out, God has thrown us a rope strengthened with the same mighty power that created this world. The Gospel is able to save, but we must take hold of it, use it and then go in the direction of the “rope” (James 4:8).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).
In Order to Prove All Things
It has been said on more than one occasion, “You can prove anything from the Bible.” What this generally means is that, if you want to twist the context of passages and omit a few things here and there, you can create any number of doctrines, as the denominational world bears witness. Obviously, then, some people study the Bible for this purpose. However, Paul’s brief imperative to the Thessalonians carries a meaning quite different from the application cited above. He said,
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
Instead of approving any “interpretation” made from God’s Word, Paul, by inspiration, cites the necessity of discerning the difference between right and wrong and then clinging to what is right¾not only in doctrine, but also in practice. The word translated “prove,” “examine” and “test” in our English versions means literally to put to a test in order to verify genuineness. It is the word Peter uses to describe being “tried” by fire, in reference to the smelting process whereby precious metals could be distinguished from those with similar appearance (1 Peter 1:7). Thus, it is implied that we should put all doctrines and activities to a strenuous test in order to determine what is indeed good. John mentioned the same process when he told us to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1). In other words, we must not listen and accept whatever someone says about the Bible. We must verify not only that the verses cited are correct but that the teaching fits the overall context. Luke said of the Bereans that, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). The test that any doctrine and practice must pass is the test of truth (John 17:17). If it is not true, it has no value to man. Therefore, we should earnestly apply ourselves to the study of the Bible, for only through diligent effort will we learn what has God’s approval so that we can hold tightly to it. Since God has revealed “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) and given us the responsibility of using this information properly (John 12:48; 1 Corinthians 10:13), it behooves us to give our utmost to knowing and doing God’s will there revealed.
Therefore, instead of making assertions such as, “The Bible doesn’t say it’s wrong,” and arguing with Bible class teachers and preachers to accept our opinion as valid, we all have the responsibility of going to the standard of right and wrong, God’s Word, in order to verify that what we are taught is truth and to test our own beliefs against what God actually says. It is easy to believe a lie if it appeals to us (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). After all, appeal is what temptation is all about (1 John 2:15-17). So we must study the Bible vigorously to know beyond any doubt (Romans 14:23; Romans 10:17) that what we believe and what we practice does indeed have Christ’s stamp of approval (Colossians 3:17) and is righteous (Romans 1:17).
To Be Approved unto God
We are all seeking approval in one way or another. Young children look for the approval of parents and grandparents. Teenagers often look for approval among their peers. In marriage, we all seek someone who will validate our self-worth and “approve” of us despite our (sometimes-obvious) flaws. Some have had a desire for approval that became a stumblingblock. “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Having approval is an important component of our psychological and social makeup. Seeking approval is a vital aspect of life because of how it positively motivates us to improve ourselves without our needing any immediate reward. But these examples demonstrate how important it is whose approval we value most, because this will determine our ultimate direction in life. Luke writes that Jesus “increased . . . in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he told him, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, and workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Above all others, we should desire and long for God’s approval. It should matter to us what he thinks of us, and it should matter most to us what it takes to have his approval. When we love God with our whole being (Matthew 22:37-38), we will give our all to doing what makes him happy, to the point of ignoring what others might want and even denying our own “intuition” as well (Luke 9:23). But to have God’s approval requires us to give all diligence to learning what has God’s approval and then to dedicate ourselves to doing it. As Paul states, we can only learn these things by “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Many people vainly attempt to claim they have God’s approval¾for their lives, their activities and their doctrines¾instead of delving into the revealed truth of God’s Word (John 17:17) and then making the necessary adjustments¾to their lives, to their activities and to their doctrines. But claiming God’s approval and having God’s approval are two separate and distinct entities. The Jews claimed to have God’s approval; Jesus studied and lived so as to possess it. On Pentecost Peter told the Jews, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22). His point is not that Christ’s miracles created God’s approval, but that God demonstrated his approval for Christ’s life and message through them.
People often make appeals to God in prayer seeking his approval. They sometimes live according to conscience, as if this alone assures God’s approval (Acts 23:1). Many assume that they have God’s approval because they are “religious” or “attend services regularly.” But the only way to have God’s approval is to devote yourself to learning his will as it is revealed in the Bible and then doing it. Then, and only then, can we have the assurance of hearing, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
In Order to Grow Spiritually
Far too often we direct our Bible study toward confirming what we know instead of learning so as to grow. We sit passively in Bible Study, silently disagreeing with the teacher yet unwilling to allow our own beliefs to be tested. We believe that if we understand the words given that we also understand the background, context, deeper implications and application that go with those words. We confuse Bible reading with Bible study and often judge accuracy according to what we have always believed instead of by what the Bible actually says. Therefore, in our Bible study we have conditioned ourselves NOT to learn and NOT to grow. Spiritual growth requires being challenged and then meeting that challenge. It takes more than just attendance, more than quoting a few scriptures, more than reading a commentary or two. Neither is spirituality the sum of emotional highs maintained by constant hugging. In order to grow spiritually, we must devote ourselves to acquiring spiritual knowledge that we may apply. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).
Though spiritual knowledge alone does not assure spiritual growth, spiritual growth is impossible without first acquiring spiritual knowledge. That is, one must know what it means to be spiritual and act spiritually before it can become a basic component in life. “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). Spiritual growth requires deeper thinking into the character and nature of God (2 Peter 1:4). It includes learning to think in spiritual terms and with spiritual concerns (Romans 8:5; Philippians 4:8). It means reorganizing our lives to have spiritual priorities (Matthew 6:33). Thus, we must study the Bible in order to know these things and more. God has revealed himself to us through his Son (John 1:18) who is likewise revealed to us through the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). To know God and to know Jesus, one must know the Bible. If we desire intimate knowledge of the Almighty, we must understand intimately the divine revelation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Yet, we should never equate purely intellectual understanding with spiritual growth, because true spiritual growth does not occur until what we learn intellectually from God’s Word begins living within us. There is no spiritual growth without spiritual application (James 1:22). There is no spiritual growth without spiritual commitment (Romans 12:1). There is no spiritual life until we actively apply Christ’s way of life to our own (Galatians 2:20). We must study the Bible intensely so that we may thoroughly digest the things of God’s Word so that they live inside of us and grow instead of allowing them only to pass through our system for a short while. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . .” (Colossians 3:16). Many people desire the comforts, joys and peace that come with spiritual growth but, at the same time, neglect God’s Word. The truth is, it is both the quantity and the quality of time we spend in God’s Word that makes these spiritual blessings a personal reality.