The focus this month has been competence, more particularly, developing the basic skills required to be able to study God’s Word. But as we wind down the third challenge of the Decathlon, the idea of competence leaves us with a question that needs an answer: how does a man know when he attains competence as a student of the Word? If the indicators are not proficiency at Bible trivia, speed at Sword Drills, or intellectual self-confidence (yuck!), what are they?
1 - A Love of the Word
The Bible is not a carcass that can be dissected with the cool detachment of a scientist. The Bible is God speaking to us, a revelation of the breathtaking beauty, ground-quaking holiness, and soul-ravishing love of God. Regardless of how much knowledge one has, no man has any understanding of the Word unless, with the Psalmist, he declares, ‘The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether, more to be desired than gold, yes, than much fine gold. Sweeter also than hony and the honeycomb’ (Ps. 19).
2 - A General Knowledge of the Bible
To be able to navigate through the physical world a man needs to be able to see both what is nearby and what is in the distance, to be able to view a horizon while also pinpointing a bird on a twig. The same is true of Bible study. To only stare at individual verses without stepping back and seeing how they are part of a larger revelation will stunt the comprehension of the mind. This is why reading through the whole of the Bible is so important. Unless we have a sense of the whole, we will never understand the part. Something will be missing from our field of vision. Perhaps more tragic than anything else, we will never appreciate the truthfulness of the old adage that the Old Testament is the New concealed, and the New Testament is the Old revealed.
3 - A Deepening Knowledge of the Bible
But if there is the danger of never traveling and seeing the whole of the Bible, there is equally the danger of becoming a Bible tourist that never stops long enough to appreciate a landmark. True men of God have both a breadth and a depth to their understanding of the Word. The latter comes through careful, slow, methodical, and meditative study of the Bible, verse by verse and chapter by chapter. The key word here is deepening, not exhaustive. A man who is competent in the Word will not have completed an inductive study of every book of the Bible. However, he will be plodding along, slowing adding to his repository of knowledge as he begins with short epistles, moves through gospels, and eventually covers more vast, and less familiar, sections of the Word.
4 - A Method of Bible Study
Students of the Word are not professional scholars. More than likely, they can’t read the Bible in Greek or Hebrew, and they do not have access to all of the resources of a seminary library. Nonetheless, they do surround themselves with a few choice resources that help them find out the meaning of important words, discover parallel passages in the Bible, and provide insightful commentary when the meaning of a text is too deep for the grasp of private study.
Yet, more than resources, a man who can handle the Word has a simple method of study, a regular routine that he utilizes to ease the process of investigation. Having a method is useful for two reasons : (1) ensuring that adequate care is taken to discern the meaning of a text and (2) disciple-making. The end goal of every spiritual discipline is always something more than individual growth. The Great Commission is at stake. For Bible study, this means that we ought to develop a method not ony for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of others. By keeping things simple, but effective, we can pass on to others the skills that we ourselves have acquired.
5 - A Commitment to Application
Finally, the Bible is not given to scrath the itch of curiosity, but to subdue a rebellious and misdirected will. Jesus did not say, ‘Blessed are those who take joy in key-word studies,’ but, ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ (Luke 11:28). The final test of study is application. If we are not willing to go where the Word leads, then our study is a mere hobby and the Bible of no more use to us than a Guiness Book of World Records. Jesus’ words are clear and indisputable: ‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (Jn. 14:21).
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
What have you learned about Bible study over the last several weeks of the Decathlon?
Are there any skills you feel that you lack in order to continue to study the Bible? If so, how could you find training to gain these skills?
Time and energy are limited for all of us. How could you rearrange your schedule in order to make regular time for Bible study?
There is no better way to learn than by teaching. By volunteering, for example, to lead a Bible study, or to read the Bible with another person, we are forced to study the Bible ourselves. What opportunities exist for you to teach a Bible study or to lead others in reading the Bible? Be creative and courageous.