Spiritual Leaders Are Skilled in the Word

A Need, Not a Luxury


A Christian unskilled in the word is like an infantryman who cannot fire a rifle. Next to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, there is no greater gift that the Father has given us than the Holy Scriptures. They are food for the soul, a light for the feet, a scalpel for the heart, and a sword for defense. Only ingratitude and ignorance could inspire a man to neglect his Bible. The ability to ‘rightly handle’ (2 Tim. 2:15) the Word of God is more important in daily life than the ability to earn a living. A job connects us to money; the Scriptures connect us to God. It is no exaggeration to say that our spiritual wellbeing depends on meditating day and night on God’s Word (c.f. Josh. 1:8, Ps. 1). In view of this, learning how to use the Bible is perhaps the most fundamental skill that a Christian can develop.

A Model of Maturity

Dawson Trotman’s classic illustration of the hand indicates what it means to be able to handle the word. In the illustration, each finger represents a different way in which Christians need to interact with the Bible. The fingers are labelled ‘memorize’, ‘study’, ‘read’, and ‘hear’. All of these activities are different. To know how to listen well to a sermon is different from knowing how to study the Word at home. The point to appreciate from this is that competency in the Word is not one thing. Just as being a competent soldier can be broken down into subsidiary skills – like leadership, weaponry, teamwork, orienteering, etc. – the same is true for handling the word of God.

Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of Trotman’s illustration is that he uses ‘meditation’ to label the thumb. What Trotman knew is that the key to having a firm grasp of the Scriptures is to internalize them through meditation. Without meditation we are grasping for truth without having the ability to hold onto it. In communicating this, Trotman was rehearsing the wisdom of generations of Christians. Only by attentively fixing our mind on the Word is the truth digested and the Spirit of Wisdom assimilated into our own being. Yet, if meditation is the end, memorizing, studying, reading, and hearing are the means. Without a thumb, grip is impossible, but without fingers, the thumb is of no use.

Developing a Vision

Jim Collins, the management expert, talks about the need for businesses to have a BHAG, a big, hairy, audacious goal. The idea is that, motivationally, human beings need a vision of something glorious enough to get their blood boiling. No one wants to sacrifice his life for the sake of tax reform. In order to put our lives on the altar, we need to see something on the horizon that is worthy of the cost of blood, sweat, and tears.

Vision is of no less importance for spiritual discipline than for business magagement. Christian men need to be compelled forward in Bible study by a concrete image of the man we might become. What will motivate us to cut out Netflix or to set the alarm 30 minutes earlier on a Tuesday morning? The answer is a sense of mission, the belief that now is an irreplacable moment that will either advance me toward the horizon of glory or pull me back to the mire of mediocrity.

But what does such vision look like? Once again I’ll lean on the wisdom of the old Navigators. These disciplers used to challenge young Christian men to have a goal of mastering the New Testament in 10 years. By mastery they did not mean a perfect understanding. The challenge, rather, was to develop both a vision and strategy for Bible study so that each man could eventually become ‘complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim. 3:17).

Do you have a vision to become a man who can rightly handle the Word of truth? If not, develop one. Nothing will do more for your marriage, your family, your own spiritual growth, and your witness than dedicating time to digging deeply into God’s Word.

Questions for Small Groups/Personal Reflection

  1. Take a look at the hand illustration. Ask the following question for each finger: what do we gain from each mode of interacting with the Word of God that is unique and special?

  2. Of the five methods of taking in God’s Word, which is the main method that you rely upon?

  3. How do busy men who have families and jobs find time to become competent in handling the Word of God?

  4. What long-term goals do you have for Bible study? What habits do you need to develop in order to make progress toward these goals?