Getting People to Understand the Bible
and Study the Scriptures
by Missionary David R. Cox
Outline of this document:
A. General Issues in Study and Learning
Spiritual change only comes by understanding and obeying Scripture
Let us be very clear, that there can be no improvement spiritually speaking with certain elements present. These elements take the form of (1) the Word of God (actual words read or heard), (2) understanding through study, meditation, explanation, AND through the Holy Spirit opening their meaning, (3) a means, place, and occasion for the above to happen.
(1) the Word of God (actual words read or heard),
Nehemiah 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
This is the pattern for preaching. This also focuses on the expository nature of preaching. The three parts of any expository preaching are (1) actually deal with a Scriptural text, reading aloud the words of God. (2 Explain what it means, and (3) make the people understand this meaning by illustration and application.
The first point is that without actually dealing with the very words of God (the Scriptural text) there exists no spiritual power nor spiritual authority from God to make any change of consequence. We do not change people. Preaching does not change people. Convincing, arguing, nor any other type of thing changes people. Only the Word of God changes people. Without using the formula for spiritual change that God has prescribed, nothing of eternal spiritual value will happen.
1 Corinthians 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
The power of change exists in preaching THE WORD OF GOD. The efficacious power of God is only in His word, not in anything else. Here we would attack philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and anything else that promises lasting change and benefit without using God’s word as God has directed.
(2) understanding through study, meditation, explanation, AND through the Holy Spirit opening their meaning,
The word of God is not complete as a change agent without another important element or two. Here we see that God’s plan is not to write the word of God in the clouds for all to see, and then let it take effect from that point. God uses men and women. It is only through instruments or means that God does His word. This is important for the recipient of God’s blessing (the unsaved or unprincipled Christian) and also for the person who acts as that means. God has blessed us by allowing us to enter into the process of the work of God.
The ramifications for this are many, but the most important are: (1) we will receive blessings in eternity for what and how we do God’s work. (2) God demands that the means that He uses be pure and holy. (3) God also demands that the means that He uses be ordered according to His way of doing things.
Another important aspect of the means of God doing His will is the element of the Holy Spirit. This is more elusive than one might first think. Man cannot understand (and thus be benefited) simply by hearing the Word of God, but there is a spiritual element that is also necessary.
1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
Wise men do not seek God, only men who wish to please God seek God. Wisdom in this world is of Satan and leads men away from God not to Him. This is in spite of the fact that creation as a whole and as individual parts are screaming out the existence of God and the judgment of God.
How do we get the Spirit of God in what we do? This only happens by our seeking holiness and to walk and live in God’s will all the time. It only comes through submission to God.
Personal devotions and meditation – Every Christian should daily study and meditate on the Word of God. This is the avenue through which we can learn of God’s will. Without knowing what is the will of God, there can be no planned, knowing submission to that will. Anything we do would be “right” would be by shear chance or accident. (Of course God does guide us through the Holy Spirit acting on our conscience, but the conscience by its is very imperfect, and only by a disciplined life of Bible study can the conscience be trusted even a little bit.)
It has been taught by some groups that personal daily devotions are the key to spirituality. I doubt that. Spirituality comes from walking with God. An important element of that walk with God comes from a deep, intense personal Bible study, but in itself, a Bible study will not make a personal spiritual.
Salvation is a relationship with Jesus. That is the foundation or basis, not specific “works” related to that relationship. I have a wife and I buy her things. Buying her things will not establish or better a relationship with her per se, but when I do these things because I love her and show her that love, it does better our relationship. If an old boyfriend does it, that does not mean she will drop me and go back to him. If somebody which she utterly detests does it, it does not mean it will open a new relationship with that person.
Even the things that are done don’t transfer over from one situation to another. One girl might like rose, candy, and perfume. In my personal case, I did give my wife these things before marrying her, but she is allergic, so the roses and perfume caused her headaches, and she said that the candy made her gain weight. So once in our relationship it was made clear that these things do not please her but displease her, I can no longer give her these things without offending her rather than pleasing her.
Devotions should be seen as a study time where we learn of God’s pleasure through His word. We also pray to God over our personal problems, but there is nothing magic about it that would “produce” spirituality. The bond and relationship one has with God is seen in personal devotions, but this is hollow and vain if it is done to try to produce spirituality or to impress others of your spirituality.
Every teaching demands a spiritual response – Part of the great “missing link” in Christianity is this element. When God teaches us something, He demands a spiritual response from us. The possible responses are (1) rebellion, (2) deferment (wait until later), (3) obedience, or (4) “I don’t understand how that affects me or what to do with it, teach me more”. Once we have gotten a hold of a spiritual principle, God waits to see how we respond before revealing more spiritual principles. Because of this, many people who have years of training, teaching, personal devotions, and hearing even good preaching are spiritual dwarfs because they are slow and unresponsive to what God has already revealed, and God will not reveal more to that kind of person.
(3) a means, place, and occasion for the above to happen.
Let’s just insert here that all teaching needs a circumstance and occasion for it to happen. Without a time and place, a circumstance and a teacher, there can be no education. In general the two principal places, means, and occasions for spiritual learning are (1) personal wrestling with the Scriptures on an individual level (personal devotions and meditation) which should be the most powerful situation, and (2) preaching and teaching in the local church during the normal services on Sunday.
Search the Scriptures and this becomes the main focus of God teaching us spiritually what we should do. We do not see spiritual understanding and teaching coming from home Bible studies (cell group meetings), from seminaries or Christian college educational structures, Bible Camps, Christian radio stations, or any other typical “ministry” as presented to us today by modern Christianity. We must understand what God has prescribed for our spiritual growth, and how that works in the scheme of things which God has given us. We have to understand how modern Christianity has perverted this structure God has imposed, and try to return things to what is biblical.
Place of Teacher in Spiritual Change of Character.
God has placed a principle in effect in this process of spiritual change. This principle is that of a teacher guiding a student into understanding so that the student can dominate the spiritual principle and use it. This is a process that God has demanded (existence of teachers), and that in God’s structuring of things, the teacher must be a spiritual example first of a man of God, then secondly of somebody who has mastered the principle he is teaching. Anything else results in hypocrisy.
There are people and movements to destroy the teacher symbol entirely (programmed or computer educational models), or to remove the requirement for being an example (the false prophet capitalizes on this making a system that he himself does not submit to often). Other movements seek to carry the teacher beyond what God has dictated to make the teacher a dictator to control excessively the life of the student.
The Bible places squarely in the center of spiritual change the pastor of the local church. Here it is important to grasp just what the Bible says about the pastor. First he is the person who governs the local church. This is seen in the OT use of Ra’ah (pastor) in contexts of governing in Israel like Ezekiel 34. In the NT 1 Timothy 3:4-5 speaks directly to this governing. But 1 Peter 5:3 prohibits the pastor from being a dictator (lord) over his brethren, but he must govern by personal example. This hinges on a proper understanding of the relationship between Christians in a context of a family with brotherly love. In such a situation, the authority of the parents overrides the desire or authority or even the example of a brother. What the parents have instituted as moral principles is more important. But we can exhort a brother and show him the way by our own personal example and life.
Here is the importance of this teaching on teachers. We teach by doing correctly (personal example) and then by revealing the eternal principles of God of why we do what we do.
The local church is the principle place of learning.
Another issue here is the place of learning. It is always right and correct for a believer to reflect on his life and events surrounding his life to gain spiritual understanding. I think Daniel in the lions’ den learned a lot about trusting God (more agreeable confirmation that learning though), and the three youths in the fiery furnace also learned from the experience.
But the principle place of learning apart from a personal type or nature where one is thinking or meditating on his own is the local church. God has instituted the local church as the place where Christians learn spiritually. I think that many people do not understand this, and many Christian “ministries” have broken away from this structure of God to take a part of it and form something else to replace the church really.
Here we must understand that church is a community of believers uniting, organizing, sacrificing, and working to accomplish the will and work of God. It is not a building, and it is not just a bunch of saved people. Get a bunch of believers together in a restaurant, and it is not church. The organization, purpose (God’s will and word), and other factors bear heavily on deciding whether a group of believers is a church or not. Unity on a local level would also dictate somewhat. A national meeting of Christians on the White House lawn for some purpose is not a church. A revival where many churches have members come is not a new church.
What is a church is when these people organize and come together to fulfill God’s will in planned and excellent way. This is what God planned and structured, but man messes that up by breaking with the plan and doing things in other ways.
Almost all Christian ministry should be done in “church”. By this I mean that the New Testament reveals the majority of Christian ministry, gifts, abilities, talents, etc. happening in a local church during a regular planned service. We must insist on this being of utmost importance in our modern rendering of things. The exceptions are very important also. Evangelism is not foreign or unwelcomed to the local church services (it is always right to lead an unsaved person to the Lord even in a regular church service), but it is not the principle activity of “church”. Evangelism demands that we go to where the unsaved live, work, and rest. That is not in a local church normally. Evangelism has a demand to “go”.
Christ explained salvation to those who heard Him, but in the NT epistles we are hard put to find one single church service or an epistle to a local church explaining things apparently for unsaved sitting in a church service. So the point here is that it is not wrong to teach on salvation, but we who preach do not plan the majority of the sermon topics to be evangelistic, nor do we twist every Scriptural text we preach from to somehow make it evangelistic when it is forcing the passage.
The other major exception of a local church service being where ministry is done is missions, and even there as soon as converts are gained, they are organized into a local church, and again it a local church context where missions are done.
If what we see in the NT epistles are people ministering always in local churches (except for evangelism and missions) then why do we break this trend, example, and structuring of God for dragging the majority of ministry outside of the local church? Spiritual teaching and learning must be principally happening in a local church or it will have drastic and horrible distortions.
B. Specific Issues and Problems
Even though many try to propose a “teacherless” class system, they in fact do have authority figures in even these systems. What comes to mind is a program the Southern Baptist Convention put out some years back called the Master Plan. The idea was to put an empty chair in the room, and say that Jesus was teaching us directly, and that this group had no “teacher” except Christ.
This is ridiculous. First of all Christ is in heaven, and if and when He comes back, He will not be leading your Bible study group, but busy in other things. The point he is to take the “heat” off the actual leader of the Master Plan Bible study group. Take the focus off of the teacher. Why? Because this works best where the teacher has no formal preparation and if people buy the Master Plan, then you have a very experienced Pastor sitting under a kid of 20 years old teaching him. There is not anything wrong with a younger man teaching an older, but their point was to introduce hidden teachers that we are not supposed to see their lack of personal example in their own personal life. Not only are we not to object, we are to remain ignorant because “they are not the teachers, we have no teachers.”
Some Christian homeschooling materials also try this approach which is just based in error.
I have already mentioned that the key to spiritual learning is the Pastor-Teacher, and that he must be exemplary in his own life of the principles that he teaches others. I also mentioned that he must not be a dictator to control others in an authoritative manner, but must use a leadership style of being exemplary.
A thorough study of false prophets and teachers in the Bible will reveal that this issue of control and authority is exactly what all of the NT comments on false prophets rotate around. The false prophet always wants influence, control, power, and authority based on his person, not on his message. He wants other to elevate him to a place of authority over them, and usually this can only happen if they deemphasize the importance and authority of Scriptures. It was interesting to me to find on the Jehovah’s Witness website, a page to their Kingdom Hall leaders, which specifically stated that they must demand that all their groups use the JW material with the Bible. They made the statement that if they allow their people to use only the Bible to study these things, that in 6 months they will lose the majority of those people. This was stated as a hard and fast rule in their investigations of groups that did well and groups that disintegrated.
The judiazers wanted to impose their take on the legal system of Moses as a requirement beside believing Christ as Savior. Matthew 23:8-10 speaks the Pharisees and Scribes and Rabbis. The Rabbis were experts among the Pharisees, and the Pharisees were basically those legal experts dedicated to understanding the applications of the OT law. The rabbi was someone who once he spoke on an issue, it was illegal to make further comment on the issue and taking a contrary or complimentary position to the rabbi’s position was simple heresy. The Scribes copied the scriptural texts and were experts in what is where. They were the living walking Bible concordances. The whole thing was to enslave the brethren in human systems devoid of God’s blessing.