Do you ever think about what God’s workers should do with the Word of Truth in a society that overvalues self-indulgence and entertainment and devalues education and study? Society says: “Why study when we can play!” or “That’s someone else’s job!” or “Who needs to read books when we can find everything we need to know on the web!”
Consider these messages in light of 2 Timothy 2:15. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Here, the Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to study the Scriptures so that he need not be ashamed and in order to correctly handle it. So what’s that mean for us? As disciples of Jesus we must discipline ourselves to study and know the Scriptures!
Do you realize the significance of what is in your hands? For more that 1,500 of the first 2,000 years of church history, the typical disciple did not have a copy of the Bible to read! Today we have study Bibles, Bible apps, and a host of versions. It’s a stewardship for which some day we will be asked to give an account (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2). Lest we be ashamed for squandering this gift and in order to correctly handle it, I offer three disciplines for God’s workers. These are not magic formulas for maturity, but rather formational pathways for our growth.
Read God’s Word Sacredly
Sacred reading is about reading God’s word and asking the Spirit to instruct you. It goes something like this. You read a text or a chapter. Then you pause to ask the Holy Spirit to teach you from the text. Then you read it again. Now you take some time to respond to God based on what you have discerned from this exercise. The aim of sacred reading is to allow the living and active word of God to speak into every area of each of our lives before we talk about it with others. For me this is a life-giving daily discipline. It’s more important than eating and drinking (cf. Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).
Discuss God’s Word Socially
With this expression, I don’t mean study God’s Word on social media, though it is wonderful when people post verses that are meaningful to them. I am referring to the study of God’s Word with others. I participate in two such groups. On Tuesday mornings at 7:00am, I meet for an hour with a group of men that have gathered for 35 years following the same format. We say, “There’s no leader but Christ, no teacher but the Holy Spirit, and no homework so men come.” That last line may sound funny, but it’s true! Incomplete lessons and undone homework often keeps disciples from attending studies.
Here’s our simple format. One person opens with prayer and then the brother to the right of the one who prayed reads verse one of the chapter, then the next guy reads verse two, and so on. We read a chapter or two each week. In the 15 years I have participated, we have read through the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. After we read the chapter, we discuss thoughts that surface from the reading and how we think it applies to our lives. Over the years I have learned so much from my peers. Often it’s as if God is speaking to me through them.
Additionally, on Friday mornings at 6:00am, I meet 1:1 with a mentor and we study God’s Word following the same format, one or two chapters a week. We also pray together for each of our family members by name and for specific petitions. We hold each other accountable and encourage each other in our walk with God. Whether in large groups or 1:1, studying God’s Word socially is learning through reading Scripture aloud together (cf. 1 Timothy 4:13).
Scrutinize God’s Word Studiously
By definition, to scrutinize something is “to examine it in detail with careful attention.” Bible characters like Ezra modeled this (cf. Ezra 7:10). This is where commentaries and study tools come into view. Don’t be intimidated by them. They are gifts from biblical scholars who have dedicated their lives to exploring the Scriptures in order to bring to life what’s going on in the text. For advice on what commentaries may be right for you, check out the Denver Journal, an annotated bibliography of great OT/NT resources.
Why should God’s workers read his Word sacredly? The Spirit will use it to shape you into the image of Christ.
Why should God’s workers discuss it socially? You will learn together and grow in community.
Why should God’s workers scrutinize it studiously? You will know how to rightly handle it and be prepared to give an account for your stewardship of it.
If all this sounds like something you don’t have time for, perhaps it’s time to restructure your life. God’s Word is sweeter than honey and finer than gold (cf. Psalm 19:10)!
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D. (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a visiting professor at TEDS and Northern Seminary and ECFA Press Author/International Liaison among other roles. Check out his most recent book published by the Institute for Biblical Research: Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy
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