Bible study

​Developing discipline, developing character

Glenn and I often joke about how God chose us to be in ministry because everyone will know it is God, not us, doing the work. Why? Because Glenn and I are both inherently lazy people. Don’t get me wrong, we can both be work horses, but you have to appropriately motivate us. In actual fact, it usually takes God to motivate us to get off our backsides!

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6) – Yep, definitely is by His Spirit!

I am completely content spending my days reading novels or working on whatever latest project strikes my fancy. Glenn is equally happy to play computer games all day, with a little travel interspersed in between. Whilst this all might be fine in relaxation time, it is not a great choice for daily life. Laziness is not life giving and it certainly doesn’t bring a sense of purpose. Yet, even experiencing a feeling of purposelessness, it still feels easier to live for the flesh than to train (discipline) ourselves in the things of the Lord.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecc 1:2-3) . . . Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; (Ecc 12:1)  . . . The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Why am I sharing this wonderful (hehem) insight into our character? Despite joking about God’s choice with Glenn, I have often had people make my life choices seem to be more to do with my person than with God at work in me. And so I bring this up in a blog about Bible study because this discipline is one I’m sure most people assume I find really easy to live out – because I am fiercely passionate about the Word of God and making it known. I want you to know that it is a choice I must make to strive after God, and I have to let Him put strategies into my life that push me into Bible study.

Gods living Word

Even though I love the Bible, it takes effort to study it. It takes energy to dig beyond the initial surface level of a passage. It takes time to study inductively (exploring what the Word says), rather than deductively (reading the Word with preconceived notions and established beliefs). Yet if we are really hungry for truth, and if we desire God’s heart rather than religion, then we will make the time to study inductively. 

Gimel. Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:17-18)

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:165)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Digging into the Word means coming to a greater revelation of Christ, Jesus, who is the living Word! What a great gift we have; and yet, what a gift that is set aside, unwrapped, by far too many of God’s people!

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

For me, making the time is the key. Life tries to put many demands on our time. We need to make sure that Bible study is included in our daily life. I’ve learnt that I need to be pushed into study. I am always thankful when I am, but my innate laziness stops me from studying from sheer desire. To turn my desire and ideals into practice I need to have some goal in mind, or an obligation to keep. I love teaching for this reason – I can’t teach what I don’t know and thus I am “forced” back into study.

Teaching in Zambia

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

This is not to say that reading through and meditating on Scripture isn’t important, too – it just serves a different purpose in the life of God’s people. We need to do all three – read, meditate on and study the Word of God. [I’ll look at Scripture mediation and memorisation in upcoming blogs).

And, most importantly of all, we must allow the truths of Scripture to dwell in our hearts richly, transforming us into His likeness and producing fruits of righteousness. Studying the Word must lead to APPLICATION, or it is useless. Understanding without application is dead knowledge.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:9-10)

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

Flowers fall, but the Word remains

We also see that Scripture knowledge is needed for evangelism, and that believers are also to teach each other from their knowledge. There seems to be an unwillingness today to debate the Word – not argue, but wrestle through passages together to come to greater understanding of the truth and its application. We need to start studying the Word for ourselves; we need to know it ourselves. There is such Bible poverty within the church today that pastors preach falsehoods from the pulpit and their congregations are none the wiser. Would you know if your pastor taught something scripturally unsound? Would you be prepared to bring it up to him (in love)?

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

So how will you study the Word? Will you faithfully work through a Bible study book? Will you join a Bible study group? Will you agree to lead a home group, or commit to running a Bible study, thus forcing yourself into Bible study? Will you sign up for a Bible study course through a distant learning theology school? The Word is the truth we are to live by; we must know it to walk in the truth!

Open the Word; Dig into life

If you want a free PDF copy of my Bible study resource, The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word, please just send me an email! Let’s end Bible poverty!

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No longer children, tossed to and fro

I’ve just finished reading the Narnia series again. I enjoy how C.S.Lewis fills the stories with Biblical insights, even as he narrates in a way that will engross children (and adults). But I’ll admit that I struggled when I hit the last book: The Last Battle. I was saddened by what I saw reflected in it of our current world.

The Last Battle starts with an ape setting up a donkey in a lion’s skin as a fake Aslan (the Son). He starts giving orders to the other beasts of Narnia in the name of Aslan, convincing them to do abhorrent acts, and even to go into slavery to a neighbouring  kingdom. The saddest part of all is that, whilst their hearts cannot believe Aslan could command such things,  they nevertheless follow blindly. They are being commanded by the ape to do things that go against all they have ever heard about Aslan and he’s character, yet they follow without question.

The story progresses, and the lies become worse. The ape joins with the neighbouring enemies, the Calormenes, and begin to declare that Aslan is one with Tash, the god of the Calormenes. Now Tash is opposite to Aslan in every way; Tash is cruel and vile; he demands human sacrifice. The majority of Narnian beasts believe this new lie.

The truth, when it became revealed, could not undo all the damage done by the ape. Some of the smaller animals are so confused that they stand in the midst of the battle between Aslan’s followers and those of Tash, unable to decide what to do; other animals slink away, unwilling to chose a side or be involved in the fight; and still further, the dwarves decide that they will be against both side, shooting at talking beasts and Calormenes alike.

This is why it is important that we stand up for truth within the church. We are not called to correct unbelievers, but to love them. It is our brothers and sisters that we are called to correct. I think that the church so often does it the other way around. Let the world declare that all religions are one, that all gods are the same, and that Jesus is not the only way to salvation; BUT let us, in the church, never stand in agreement with these lies. We who have the truth are called to make it known. 

Please read through Ephesians now (it’ll take about 15-20 minutes), and let your heart be encouraged.

Here is a passage from Ephesians to reflect on:

Ephesians 4:11-25

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14)

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  (Ephesians 4:25)

Education as a Sphere

It is clear through His Word that God is a God of Knowledge. His wisdom surpasses the wisdom of man. And His Spirit is the Ultimate Teacher.

Prov 21:30 No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.

We also see that God can be known, He wants to be known and He has given us minds that can seek out knowledge of Him and His world. God gave man the ability to think and to reason.

1Co 2:12-13 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Prov 23:23 Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Scripture

And of course, the Bible remains the ultimate authority. Scripture educates us in the ways of the Lord; it teaches us how to live life with one another and as He would have us live. There are Scriptures that command us to store up knowledge and wisdom and to seek understanding. The Word calls us again and again to seek His ways and live according to His statutes.

Ps 119:2-5 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

We as a church need to teach people how to think, analyse, process etc. It should not be what you know but rather show people how to know and how to learn. Christ was our greatest example of this. A difference between Him and the Pharisees was that whilst they could quote the law, Christ could explain it, apply it and live it. Can we explain Scripture at a deeper level or can we only quote it or ramble of Christian-ese jargon?

Education of Children

In Scripture, we see that the home is where education is to start. God gave the authority to parents to teach their children. Parent involvement is crucial! We should help children integrate knowledge of God with knowledge of the world. We do not see in Scripture a call to governments to be the one spear heading education and whilst we see the church playing a role in education, the primary responsibility is placed on parents. This means that parents (and families) need to know what theur children are learning. They need to see that their children are raised up in the ways of the Lord; they also need to be aware of what their children are being taught at schools and what they are learning from friends.

Summary 

Reveals: God as Teacher
Primary attribute of God: Knowledge and wisdom
God governs: The laws of human nature and the authority of God’s truth
Key Scripture: whole Bible

 Seek learning