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TEXT: II Timothy 2:15
SUBJECT: Follow the Lamb #7: Study the Bible
Study the Bible. So begins chapter six in Horatius Bonar's masterpiece, Follow the Lamb. Bonar was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor who wrote the little book to help new converts grow in Christ. He assumes we are Christians. But are we? Are you? I know you go to church, but have you been born again? Do you trust the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you want to please Him more than yourself? The questions may not be polite, but they are necessary. For you cannot grow in Christ until you get in Christ. And you do that by repenting of your sins and believing the Gospel.
Bible study is a necessary part of the Christian life. At one time, it was very difficult to study the Bible for the simple reason that Bibles were hard to come by. The printing press is only about 500 years old, and it was not until the 17th Century that the average, English-speaking believer had a Bible of his own. Yet even in these dark ages, the Lord's People loved His Word and studied it as best they could. Some read the Bibles chained to the pulpit in their churches; others memorized the pastor's text, and turned it over in their minds; others visited friends who had a Bible. The Shepherd's voice was seldom heard in those days, but it was still loved and studied.
But today we all have our Bibles. And nearly every American can read well enough to study it, if he wants to. The ones who can't read, can learn to read, and the few who can't, can still hear the Word read to them. Thus, we are under a double obligation to study the Bible.
Study the Bible.
Do I need to prove this to you? Whether we do it or not, we all agree that we ought to study the Bible. What could be plainer than our text, II Timothy 2:15?
Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.
One might object Of course, Timothy needed to study because he was a preacher. But I'm not, and therefore, I don't need to study the Bible.
There is some truth in this. Teachers need to study more than other Christians, and the Lord has not called everyone to teach. But He has called everyone to be holy. John 17:17 says we become holy through God's truth which is found in God's Word-Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. Thus, if God wants you to be holy, He wants you to know the truth, and if He wants you to know the truth, He wants you to study the Bible!
The need to study has never been more urgent. If you read the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, you'll find them full of Bible images, Bible words, and Bible ideas. The same is true of the speeches of Martin Luther King. In 1860, all Americans got the references that Lincoln was making-not because everyone was saved, of course, but because there was a general knowledge of the Bible in America at the time. A hundred years later, the south still had that knowledge and Dr. King could say things like Let justice run down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream! It moved people-not only because the words are poetic, but because they're inspired!
Ordinary people-who didn't read the Bible--had a vague outline of Christian theology. But today, we don't! Unless you read journals and magazines, you have no idea what's out there and what is taught in supposedly Evangelical churches. One Baptist denomination openly teaches that God does not know the future! One Presbyterian Church allows the prayer "Our Mother who art in heaven!" One Church includes holy barking in its services!
Many of the people who believe such things are highly intelligent and persuasive. How are we going to see through them unless we study our Bibles? And how can we help them if we don't study our Bibles?
A friend tells you, I've never been closer to God than when I was barking in the Spirit! What do tell him? Well, that's nice. Or do you tell him he's stupid? Or do you tell him that your church doesn't do that and your church is better than his church!
Holy Barking can be evaluated in the light of God's Word. But you can't do it unless you know God's Word. And that means you've got to study it. Not only study it-as though prayer and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit have no part in knowing the truth-but study has a part to play as well.
It is our duty and our privilege to study the Bible. We will not grow in grace unless we do.
WHAT STUDY IS NOT
What does it mean to study the Bible? Bonar begins by telling us what it doesn't mean. First, he says
Do not skim it or read it, but study it, every word of it; study the whole Bible, Old Testament and New; not your favorite chapters merely, but the complete Word of God from beginning to end.
To his way of thinking studying the Bible is not the same as skimming the Bible. To skim is to read quickly and without thought.
Bible reading schedules can by quite helpful. I myself used to use one-M'Cheyne's Daily Bible Reading it was. It calls for four chapters a day, some in the Old Testament and some in the New. If you have never read the Bible all the way through-or if you struggle to read the Bible every day-I highly recommend it. But, like other good things, it has a down side. There were days when I couldn't carefully read four chapters. But, I didn't want to fall behind, and so I skimmed them instead. It would have been far better to read one chapter carefully than four carelessly. Or, even one verse with real attention than eighty verses that I couldn't recall if my life depended on it!
Skimming the Bible is disrespectful, as though the Lord doesn't deserve your full attention. But it's also habit-forming. You get accustomed to it and then, you can't study at all.
If you can read six verses a day carefully, read six verses a day carefully, instead of ten chapters without a thought in your head.
In the second place, he says, studying the Bible is different than studying your favorite parts of it. There's nothing wrong with liking the Gospel of John, let's say, more than II Chronicles! Or enjoying the Psalms more than the Minor Prophets. But don't get stuck in one part of the Bible and never read anything else. For it's the Word of God-the Whole Word-that equips for every good work.
Certain Books appeal to certain personalities. An old friend of mine was always depressed. I asked her if she read the Bible every day. She said she did and I asked her what book she read the most. Do you want to guess which one it was?
I told her to quit reading that book and start reading the Gospels! An unhappy person who feels guilty and frustrated all the time, doesn't need to read vanity of vanity, all is vanity! She need to read John 3:16!
Studying the Bible is not skimming the Bible and it's not studying your favorite books only.
I should add one thing here. If studying one favorite chapter won't do, then studying one favorite doctrine is even worse! If you study the history of modern cults, you'll find that they all have one thing in common: An unhealthy interest in the Second Coming of Christ. Notice, I didn't say an interest in it, but an unhealthy interest. Had they kept the doctrine in its place-important, but not everything-they would be churches, not cults.
Thirdly, he says, studying the Bible is not the same as studying books about the Bible.
Do not trouble yourself with commentators. They may be of some use if kept in their place, but they are not your guides.Not that you are to read no book but the Bible. All that is true and good is worth reading if you have time for it and all, if properly used, will help you study the Scriptures.
I have a big library, and a great many of my books are commentaries, theologies, and others that help me understand the Bible. But I must beware of confusing what Calvin says about John 3:16 with what Christ says in John 3:16!
The same thing is true of pastors, teachers on the radio, and others. The ministry of teaching is a Gift of God. But it is not the Word of God. If you only have the time and energy to read five or ten minutes a day, don't waste it reading mere men, but spend it on the Word itself. Teachers are like the Law: Lawful if used lawfully. But how many dear saints elevate their teachers or their books above the Bible-and often without meaning to.
WHAT STUDY IS
If studying the Bible is not the same as skimming it, concentrating on one chapter or doctrine only, or reading books about the Bible, then what is it? Positively, what does it mean the study the Bible?
Let us read and re-read the Scriptures, meditating on them day and night.
There's no trick to it. Studying the Bible means reading it over and over, and thinking about what you've read. Meditation-in the Bible-is a mental thing, but not only a mental thing. In one way, it's like a designer thinking day and night about cutting down the wind resistance on a car. But it's more than that: it includes loving the Word and wanting to obey it. We don't understand for the sake of understanding, but for the sake of adoring God and doing His will!
That's what it means to study. Teachers, good students, and books can offer help in improving your study habits, but you can get by without them. What you can't do without is daily reading and constant meditation. That's what it's about!
To help you read and meditate better, Bonar has some good advice. Two things will make you a better student of God's Word:
In studying it, be sure to take it for what it really is: the revelation of God's thoughts in God's words.
In some ways, the Bible is like any other book. There's no inspired grammar or syntax and the words don't have special meanings. But in one way the Bible is unlike any other book in the world: for other books (including the best ones) are the words of men, but the Bible is the Word of God. It is not David's reflections on God or Paul's take on Christ, but the Lord's take on Himself and everything else.
Remember what you're reading. It is the Word of God, and in particular, it is what God wants you to know. Here the Jews can teach us a lesson. We needn't follow the letter of their law, but the spirit cannot be improved on.
The scribes who copied the Bible would take a bath before they began work for the day. If they dropped their pen, they would wash it before using it again. When they came to the Divine Name, they would stop and praise God and remember the commandment lest they take it in vain. As superstitious as some of them were-and legalistic-we have to admire their reverence for the Word of God. We ought to read it with the same attitude ourselves.
Beware of light reading.
Like most of the Christian leaders of his generation, Bonar was fanatically opposed to novels. He spends nearly one third of the chapter denouncing them. I believe he overstated his case. Some novels are anything but light reading, and the masters have a way of uncovering the truth in a way no Bible scholar has matched. But his point is well taken. Stupid, shallow reading is to the mind what junk food is to the belly. It's not good for you and it ruins your taste buds for something better.
If this is true of mediocre novels, what can we say to staring at TV screens for hours a day? You know this is my bug-a-boo, and so I'll leave it at that. Beware of getting so used to babbling books that you can't read the Book that doesn't babble!
CHALLENGE AND CLOSE
Do you want to grow in Christ? If you do, you've got to grow in His Word. If you abide in Me-says the Lord-and my words abide in you.See how they go together.
If you haven't read the Bible today, read it before you go to bed. And then do it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. I know the big fat Bible can intimidate you. But don't let it. God doesn't tell you to read the whole Bible tonight. But start tonight. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
But don't just read it for the sake of reading it. Read it for the sake of loving the Lord and doing His will.
And pray to understand it better, and to love and obey it.
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