So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).
The Lord Jesus uses God’s word to equip the church for her spiritual progress. Along with the word, he has given us the Spirit of God, whom he poured out on his people. The work of the Spirit is essential for anyone truly to profit spiritually. And along with the Spirit and the word, the Lord has given us gifted men. How can you profit from these gifted men?
Hopefully, you have a pastor-teacher that preaches and teaches regularly through entire books of the Bible. I will offer no objection to the occasional stand-alone message or even to occasional textual and topical messages. Sometimes there are glaring needs to be addressed in a local congregation. Sometimes a pastor and the congregation need a break from a long teaching series, like one through the book of Genesis or Acts. The people should not need to ask for a break. A pastor should be sensitive enough to lead his flock into other pastures for a short time. For example, I used to break from a regular teaching series in the summer, especially during July and August when people went on vacation. In the Bible studies I lead, we usually study an entire book of the Bible. For example, on Thursday mornings, we are going through the Gospel of John. But currently, we are looking at some of the Psalms during the summer months.
However, you may not have access to a sound teacher that leads you through whole books of the Book of books. And even if you do, you need to supplement such teaching with study on your own. To do that requires two actions that we might be reluctant to do: work and invest our time in the Scriptures. People use up too much time in “binge watching” TV shows and movies. I can understand the perceived need to escape from pressure by chilling in recreational activities. What would you do if you didn’t have such things and still had the pressure? Consider David’s thoughts in Psalm 19:7-11, in particular 19:8. The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up (CSB).
So then, how can you profit? Here are a few suggestions:
- Read the text of a Bible book at least five times. Always begin with your personal reading and read slowly, attentively, and carefully. Look for words or ideas that are repeated, like in Christ in Ephesians. Pay attention to connecting words, such as but, for, therefore, if… then, if, so then. Read by paragraphs to gain entire thoughts. What is the main point the writer is making? Read like this with a friend to gain their insights.
- Have a good study Bible, like the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. As a pastor, I accumulated many study Bibles, and the notes in most of them are not worthwhile or are theologically biased. Doctrinal bias affects everyone, but unless you are well-versed in where the editors are coming from, you can easily be misled. You need a worthwhile study Bible for its introductory material about the particular book you plan to study, and for a good outline of the book. A worthwhile Study Bible will not only have an outline, but will point you to the book’s purpose and to its major themes.
- Read a worthwhile book on Biblical Theology. This will help you grasp the overall message of the Bible while you focus on a certain book. I will suggest three: According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ from Beginning to End by Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum, and for the ambitious, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by James Hamilton.
This is a starting place to give you access to teachers of the Bible. But you must invest time and work into reading them. I try to walk outside a lot, when the weather permits. (My doctors tell me to avoid extreme heat and cold.) After years of experience in walking, I will testify that the hardest steps to take are those first steps to get up and begin walking. I have climbed mountains, and the sight of the elevation of the peaks seemed too difficult to make the attempt. But for the good of your soul, I plead with you to invest the time and the work to study God’s word and to learn from the wisdom of teachers that the Lord Jesus has provided for you.
Grace and peace, David