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If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling them to Study the Bible

I love to study the Bible but recently my Bible study led me to a surprising conclusion: We should quit telling people to study the Bible, and start telling them to meditate on and delight in it.

This is what happened. I was teaching a class on how to study the Bible and in preparation I decided to look at what the Bible itself has to say about Bible study. I was jarred by what I discovered. The Bible says almost nothing about studying the Bible! Very often we are told in the Bible to obey and meditate on Scripture, and there are many passages that tell us to remember and not forget God’s word and God’s acts. But study the Bible? It’s almost never mentioned in all of scripture.

Perhaps like me, you immediately think of the passage, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God….” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV) But this is a poor translation of the original Greek. All modern translations render this better, as the New King James version does, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God….”

The key emphasis in the Bible itself on how we are to relate to it is not to study it, but to meditate on it, delight in it, ponder it, obey it, and not forget it. If you don’t believe me, do a quick word search on the words “study,” “delight,” “meditate,” and “obey.” You will be shocked, as I was.

In other words, the problem isn’t that we are stupid. The problem is that we are forgetful. Or to put it another way, the issue isn’t that we need to learn more Bible, the problem is that a lot of us know quite a bit of the Bible. But we don’t enjoy it and let it soak in, so we forget it or don’t apply it. So we often miss the abundant life that it is calling us to.

The key passage in all of the Bible on how we should treasure God’s word is Psalm 119, the 176-verse acrostic on why and how we should love Scripture. Have you ever noticed that it does not mention studying the Bible even once. But 17 times it talks about obeying Scripture and 8 times speaks of meditating on God’s word and his works. Notice, for example, verses 97-101:

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.

The problem with telling people to study the Bible is that most people hate studying. In fact most people heartily agree with Ecclesiastes 12:11: “Much study wearies the body.” So when we tell them to study Scripture, we are implying that it’s a textbook and people are repulsed. Who likes to read textbooks?

I recently asked on Facebook, “What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘study’?” I was hoping that at least ten people would respond and was shocked that over 100 did. Some people reported feelings of joy when they heard the word study but many offered words like, “ugh!” “stress,” “boring,” “dread,” “anxiety,” and “exhaustion.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Bible study is bad. It’s a wonderful thing. But the word “study” repulses most people. And careful Bible study itself reveals that study is not the primary way we are supposed to absorb and respond to God’s word.

Instead, we are invited to ponder, to meditate, to delight in, and obey it. If you want some fresh ideas on how to respond to Scripture in life-changing ways, consider the simple Discovery Group and three-column approaches that are being used around the world in the rapidly growing disciple-making movement.

I hope you have a delightful time meditating on and responding to God’s word today!

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7 Responses to If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling them to Study the Bible

  1. john smith July 24, 2017 at 10:34 pm #

    I call this the quiet time. I read a short passage, think about it, wash it around in my mouth then write down what it said to me and them pray something about it. It is best to add an application.
    Oh and we should study the Bible but the personal growth and joy is in the quiet time.

  2. ALBERT MACLEAN July 26, 2017 at 4:00 am #

    thank you, and god bless you

  3. Barry Pierce April 3, 2019 at 3:39 pm #

    True, the word “study” doesn’t typically ignite lots of enthusiasm. I use it less and less.

    It’s prior use may come from the American Church’s tendency to follow the lead of secular education models where knowing facts was the goal instead of being conformed to the image of Christ. Good to see “Christian Education” being replaced with “Discipleship”.

    In teaching the Bible for many years, one thing I’ve learned is, no one learns more than the teacher, because the teacher does most of the studying.

    I prepare for hours, learn lots of truths, and share perhaps 40-50% of what I’ve learned (sermon preparation results in an even greater gap). Much of what I’ve learned isn’t directly passed on (at least not immediately), but still becomes a part of the pool of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom from which I draw to follow Jesus myself and serve others in the future. But most precious gems are not lying on the surface, but require some digging — some effort to uncover. Study does enrich us and must be taught, modeled, and encouraged somehow.

    Another thing I’ve learned is, the Bible is its own best interpreter. The more of it I know, the better I will interpret any individual passage, because I’m bringing all the rest of Scripture to bear to help me understand that one passage.

    That truth raises a question about some of our currently popular methods of discipleship which discourage cross-referencing. Some methods ask people to think about and share what a passage means, drawing from only that passage. The goal of prohibiting cross-referencing seems to be to prevent some (especially new folks) from feeling intimidated or inadequate compared to others.

    But such a restriction results in violating another principle we’re often wise to uphold — not taking a text out of context. The context of any passage is the rest of Scripture.

    Being sensitive to others’ feelings is good to a degree, but should it restrict us from sharing the truth? Is there no way to bring in cross-references with compassion & sensitivity? Seems that “speaking the truth in love” should encourage us to uphold both priorities simultaneously. The Scriptures themselves model the use of cross-referencing. If the Spirit is at work in a person, seems to me they’d be delighted to learn the cross-references, not hurt or inclined to withdraw.

    Thanks for your work of making disciple-making more the norm for followers of Jesus everywhere 🙂

  4. Bo July 3, 2019 at 6:37 pm #

    I think you are wrong. I completely disagree with you on your article about studying the Bible. As the KJV translates II Tim 2:15, this is what it means. It has to do with getting after something with lots of effort. This is what is wrong with how most small groups operate and the church in general… study has gone out the window. Paul also says to rightly divide, the church is lost in a quagmire of bad theology because no one teaches this anymore. And, the culture is rotting.

    “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    I am always amazed how so called modern preachers think they know more than 55-57 godly men in 1611, many of whom knew not only the original languages but were fluent in them along with many others.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] emphasis on studying scripture. Thanks to an old acquaintance and servant of Christ, Jim Egli, who pointed this out to me. Not to say that normal reading, or listening to scripture isn’t good, even important […]

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