OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #250 Spiritual Disciplines and Bible Study
This week Jan came to me and told me there was a notice on the computer that said we had three viruses. She wanted to know what to do. “Don’t click anything,” I said. Viruses are always a possibility, but something about it sounded odd.
The windows on the screen looked very official. There were red boxes and warning symbols and it looked pretty good, but when I looked at the details, the warning did not come from our antivirus program. I am sure that if Jan had clicked, we would have been infected by whatever cyber disease it was hiding.
I recognized the problem only because I knew our computer well-enough to recognize the false program. I’m no expert, but I know enough to recognize some basic issues.
The same thing can happen to us in life, that we end up following advice or a philosophy of life which does not lead us in a good direction. “If only I had known...” There is a way to better know, and that is to study and understand the Bible.
This leads me to my favorite spiritual discipline, Bible study. The study of the Bible is the intentional, concentrated effort to dig into its depths, to understand passages at deeper levels, to connect its history, thoughts and themes. My ultimate goal is not knowledge for its own sake, but rather to understand God better.
As part of a list of ways to please God, Paul reminds us to grow in the “knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9*). Later he tells the church in Colossae how hard he is working to strengthen the believers in Laodicea “so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding” and not be deceived by “fine sounding arguments.” (2:3-4) The risk was real. Paul knew some who had wandered from their faith because of “godless chatter and opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.” (1 Timothy 6:20). We need to have enough understanding to act like Jesus and to protect ourselves from being deceived.
The study of the Bible as a spiritual discipline is different from my devotional reading. My devotional reading is designed to connect me with God through a relatively short passage of scripture or to take me through the Bible in a given period of time. In the study of the Bible we want to get to the heart of what the writer meant by asking a number of questions.
Who was the author? Who was the audience? Why did he write? What were the historical, cultural and geographical contexts? How does this passage relate to the ones which lead up to it and follow? Is it a main point, or is it part of something bigger? How does the passage relate to the rest of scripture? Are there nuances and subtleties in the wording the author used? What does the passage teach us about God? About human nature?
Once we answer these questions, we have a good idea what the author meant and we move to the next step. How do we apply it today? Knowledge in the Bible always has components of action and relationship. We study the Bible in order to know God better in relationship and to live in ways which are pleasing to him.
Jan loves cards, and she loves a particular kind of card. I have learned that it makes her feel especially loved when I take the time to find this kind of card for her special occasions. This is like Bible study. I have studied my wife and I apply what I have learned to draw us closer together. In Bible study I apply what I have learned to draw closer to God in relationship, attitude and action.
It is interesting to me that there seems to be increasing interest in disciplines like prayer and fasting. Nothing wrong there. But I sense a decreasing interest in Bible study. I can think of some reasons for this. It is hard work and we like easy answers. More than once I have tried to explain a passage and someone has told me, “Pastor, just tell me what it means.” Maybe I was boring them, but sometimes details matter.
There are other reasons why this is hard. Good, understandable resources are not always easy to find. The internet is not always helpful for this. And, it takes an investment in time and tools. But we are not alone in this. Many churches have libraries. Some pastors don’t mind lending their resources. Many churches have an older person who is something of a Bible scholar who doesn’t mind sharing.
And while we can study the Bible on our own, we may also do this in home groups and Sunday school classes. In fact, this is where the “old fashioned” Sunday school curriculum excels. In this setting, instructors often use the accompanying “Teacher’s Commentary” to understand and teach the passage for the day. To many people, this lacks glamour and excitement, but don’t underestimate its power and effectiveness at helping people to understand and apply the Bible.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be content just to let someone always tell us what the Bible means. Most people, with a little time and patience, can learn some basic skills like reading in context which will improve Bible understanding and make us less likely to be taken in by some popular, but deceptive theory, philosophy, or advice.
I hope this helps. If you have specific questions about some aspect of biblical study, I would love to help. Be on fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Rev. Troy Dennis, B.A. M.Div., M.A.(Th). Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Feb 24, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com.