How Important is Bible Study?

The Mind

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.

Maturity

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).

Teaching

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 Colossia, 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.

The Bible

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.

Interpretation

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.

Evangelism

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.

Family

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.

Children

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!

Conclusions

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