I once read an article about the need for study in the modern, particularly Western Church. It was a great read, and I do wish that I could remember the author so as to credit him/her. The question was asked as to what the impact would be on the Church if we were to replace the sign on the pastor’s door from reading “Pastor’s Office” to “Pastor’s Study”. What an interestingly simple and yet deeply profound way of highlighting such an important problem in the modern Church.
Though I read that article months ago, the imagery still plays in my imagination – an etherial space where sadly for many leaders it will remain and never materialize – to the detriment of the faith, the detriment of the Church, and more poignantly, the detriment of themselves. You see, while I too wish that pastors, elders, and all those who give oversight would intentionally and deliberately give themselves to the study of the Scriptures, my conviction is that it is in fact the task of every believer to study the Scriptures for themselves.
It seems an important extension to make, the onus being on every believer and not leaders alone, lest we burden only leaders with yet another task, while exempting ourselves from the personal responsibility of our own discipleship and spiritual growth. In other words, we should not fall into the trap, be it in the case of study or any other, where we think that our leaders are responsible for our discipline, growth, and God-given works.
So, what then are our motivations for the effort of personal study of the scriptures?
1. We study for the Individual
Discipline is integral to the Christian life. If we are disciples, then we practice certain disciplines. The word “disciple” cannot be separated from its actions and engagements to qualify so high a title of distinction, that is to be called one of the Messiah’s disciples. For the individual, it is the scriptures that play a vital role in recognizing, confirming, and sustaining both the Christian life, and the commissioning of calling. Study not only sustains your faith, but it builds your relationship with God, clarifies your calling, and confirms the works of the Holy Spirit.
Richard Foster, in his fantastic book Celebration of Discipline, clarifies study as one of the spiritual disciplines of the believer, and among many incredible insights, includes that “Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the knowledge of the truth will set us free (John 8:32). Good feelings, ecstatic experiences or ‘getting high on Jesus’ will not free us. Without a knowledge of the truth, we will not be free.”
There are two truths we must know as disciples, the truths we find in scripture as we study it, and the persons of truth, by our relationship with Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Father. These are not exclusive of each other, but rather complimentary, study compliment relationship and vice versa.
Many more verses lean us toward the individual study of scripture, including:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
2) We study for the Corporate
In 1947 Smith Wigglesworth delivered a powerful prophetic word to the Church in the UK, one that would break the confines of its geographical context and prove to be relevant to the global church to this day. He prophesied as follows,
“During the next few decades, there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the Church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it and will be characterized by a restoration of the Baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches. In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say ‘This is the great revival’. But the Lord says ‘No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.
When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit.
When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed the world, has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and the Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the UK to the mainland of Europe, and from there will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.”
Think about that for a moment. For decades we’ve seen hard denominational lines between the divided camps of those of the Spirit and those of the Word, yet here stands a prophecy from a proven minister, from 1947, that is likely more relevant today than ever!
If we want to be the ones to usher in the new wave of revival, there exists the need for both experience and knowledge, not in balance, but 100% of each. Yes, I dropped out of math class in school, but this is the Kingdom math, that when the Spirit is moving we are to be 100% engaged, and then when the Word is flowing we are also to be 100% engaged, however, we do need both. It is the knowledge of the Word that cements your experience and makes it shareable (testimony as evidenced with Scripture).
Just as experiencing the Spirit is vital for relationship with God, study is key to readying the Church for revival. The health and future of the Church relies on the natural yet deliberate unity of both Spirit and Word.
3) We study for the Commission
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19,20a)
Your commission, should you choose to accept it (because not all do), is to make disciples. Not mere converts to our church, denomination, or brand, but disciples of Jesus. We are to teach these disciples, and in order to teach, one must first study. So by study, you are actively engaging in the Great Commission.
Becoming what you study
Now, a word of caution, as real Christianity is dangerous and should come with warning labels. These three motivations to study should never be undertaken with the goal of simply “doing”. That is to say that a head full of knowledge is of little value in the Kingdom if it stops there, between our two ears. Indeed as with any “doing” in the Christian life, it must lead us to “being”.
As spiritual acts ignite intimacy, study provides the rebar in our relationship with God.
In study we must ultimately move through the task of study and deeper into the intimate knowledge of God and His ways, freeing us to “be” with Him and “be” known by Him on a deeper level. From this overflow we find the fruit of our labor, both for us, and for those around us.
Now, as we head out on this journey to study, remember… You are brilliant! You are created in the image of the most High God, with the mind of Christ, and the author of the word of God lives in you! With that in mind, go forth and study, revival depends on it.