We need less Bible study!

Bible study group

Did I catch your attention?

I hope so. But I am serious about this. I think this is important.

So, can we really have too much of the Word of God? How can the scriptures not be good for us? Read on to see how.

Bad image ….

I don’t know about you, but the words “Bible study” don’t give me a very attractive picture. I see a bunch of well-meaning Christians closeted away from normal life while they discuss words and doctrines. It’s not a good look. It sort of seems inward-looking. Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but that is the image I have.

This is in contrast to Jesus, who was dynamic, always on the move, challenging the religious authorities, standing up for the down-trodden and engaging with friend and foe alike. Of course he must have studied his scriptures, but his focus was outwards.

You might argue that appearances don’t matter. But if living as a Christian isn’t attractive, and seems a little detached and nerdy, then we Christians have a bad PR problem and may be deterring potential converts for no good reason..

But anyway, I think the problem is actually more substantial.

…. bad reality?

Jesus was big on his followers keeping to his teachings.

  • He said if we love him, we’ll keep his commands (John 14:15).
  • He told a little story of a son who said all the right things but didn’t deliver and another who spoke against obedience but ended up obeying anyway (Matthew 21:28-32). And it is clear it was action he approved of, not empty words.
  • He said “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21).
  • His parting command to his followers (Matthew 28:18-20) included making disciples and “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you”.

His brother, James, was even more direct, saying God didn’t want those who merely heard the words of scripture, but those who obeyed (James 1:22). And the apostle Paul says that knowledge without love isn’t helpful (1 Corinthians 13:2).

So if we want to follow Jesus, study or knowledge aren’t the primary reason why we read the Bible. Acting on what we read is the objective. The Bible is the means, not the end.

This ought to be obvious – I think it is obvious. But churches that focus strongly on Bible knowledge and right doctrine (as they define it) sometimes seem to miss it. For them, right belief (as they see it), sometimes even on minor matters, is super important.

My experience over many years is that sermons tend to make people passive listeners at best and often passive without listening. Bible study groups can continue to refresh the church’s dogma without leading to participants focusing on action in response.

I think we can do better.

Bible obedience groups?

Why don’t we have Bible obedience groups? Put the focus less on knowledge and more on putting the teachings into practice.

A lot of the Bible’s teaching is very simple. Love God and love your neighbour. Forgive those who hurt us. Love our enemies. Care for those who are hurting or doing it tough. Believe in Jesus. Make disciples. (Matthew 22:36-40, Luke 17:3-4, Matthew 25:31-46, John 5:24, Matthew 28:18-20.)

It doesn’t take a lot of study to know and understand those teachings. The hard thing is doing them.

Perhaps we should focus on the things we do understand and worry later about the parts that are harder to understand and require deeper study?

How might we do this?

We have found it helpful to look at teachings like the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and choose one virtue at a time to focus on. We read the passage, discuss what it means with an emphasis on how we might obey it, then set ourselves the “homework” of trying to focus on it in the coming week. Next week we share how we went, our successes, what we found difficult, and new perspectives we gained. We pray about our progress and generally give ourselves a second week to keep the focus. Then we move on to another virtue or command.

Other Bible passages that allow this sort of treatment (some of which we have tried) focus on prayer, sharing our faith, the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-20), and Paul’s ethical teachings (e.g. Ephesians 4:17-32).

It is possible to go deeper in our responses, by focusing on the same virtue of 6 weeks or more, long enough to hopefully develop a new habit. Mark Scandrette runs “learning labs” for this purpose, and for those who can’t attend one of these, his books and handbooks are useful sources of inspiration and ideas.

Groups that attempt this approach need to be open, supportive and non-judgmental, recognising that we are all on a journey.

Let’s do it!

Let’s take thoughtful steps to learning to be doers of Jesus’ teachings and not just hearers or studiers.

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