Paul said to "study to show yourself approved unto God." He said the man of God must be "thoroughly furnished unto all good works." What did he mean? And, more important, what are you doing about it?
IN WRITING his New Testament epistles, the Apostle Paul lost no opportunity to stress with vigor the urgent need for Christians to grow up in Christ. He urged that no true convert to Christianity remain a babe in Christ — merely a superficial believer. Forcefully, he emphasized the need for Christians to go beyond the simple principles of the doctrine of Christ, and to strive toward perfection (Heb. 5:13-14; 6:1). Paul was anxious that we should all "come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
Knowledge Alone Cannot Save
But how should we aim toward this goal of perfection? How can we set about growing in Christ? Jesus gave the answer when He said: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Here is a clear instruction from our very Creator and Savior to turn to God's Word, the Bible, to learn how to direct our lives in accordance with His requirements. But it is one thing simply to read the Bible, another to study it, and yet something else again to apply what we study. Paul indicated it is not enough just to grasp "the principles of the doctrine of Christ." It is not enough simply to understand something of what Christ taught. Knowledge alone cannot save us. Rather it can destroy us. It can cause us to exude vanity — to become sycophantic know-it-alls of the Christian faith. "Knowledge," said Paul, "puffeth up" (I Cor. 8:1). The Eternal God frowns upon the accumulation of knowledge merely to boost intellectual prowess. "To him that knoweth to do good [who has knowledge of God's way of life], and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). With this all-important truth in mind, it behooves everyone of us to seriously ask ourselves, what are we doing about what we know? What are we doing with the knowledge that God reveals to us in His Word? Or, putting it another way, why do we study the Bible in the first place? Is it so that we can use what we learn to help us grow more and more like its Author, Christ, day by day? Are we prepared to go beyond the basic tenets of the Christian faith and use God's Word in our lives to help us strive toward perfection?
Living by the Law
The Word of God is not just another novel to be read and put to one side. It is not a college textbook to be studied and absorbed, and yet denied any part in molding our lives and character. In the Old Testament, God stressed to the Israelites: "For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.... But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it" (Deut. 30:11, 14). King David wrote in Psalm 111:10: "... A good understanding have all they that do his commandments." Yes, God expects us to act on what we learn in His Word, and as we act on it, we will come to understand it all the more. In the New Testament, James stresses: "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (James 1:22-25). What is the good, then, of studying the Bible if we are not going to apply what we learn in our lives? In Hebrews 5:12-14 Paul uses the term "strong meat" to depict an in-depth knowledge of the Bible. Physical meat needs to be digested. We cannot take too much at once. Our bodies have to use the food we eat before we can take more. Physical meat gives us the strength we need to live day by day, and as we use up the energy it provides, we take more. If we just ate, and did not work and exercise, we would become obese and sluggish. So it is with spiritual meat. If we simply study the Bible — digging deep into the meaning and intent of God's laws — and yet never apply them in our lives, we become spiritually obese and sluggish. In fact, in time we could choke on the strong meat of the Scriptures (John 12:47-48). And we could miss out on that eventual marriage feast between Christ and His Church (Rev. 19:9). "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also " (James 2:24, 26). Satan and his demons understand God's Word, said James (verse 19). They believe. And they tremble. Yet what good is mere knowledge going to do them?
Be Fruitful in Christ
Clearly, then, we should be more than mere "armchair" Christians. We should be applying all that we learn in our lives, correcting errors in our behavior as they are revealed to us through study. The Apostle Peter wrote: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (II Pet. 1:10). But do what things? How should we give diligence? Go back to verse five in the same chapter. Peter says: "...Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity" (verses 5-7). What is Peter stressing here? Obviously he is emphasizing the need not just to grow in the knowledge of God's Word, but also in the application of that knowledge to our lives. We must grow in virtue (goodness), in temperance (moderation in all things), in patience, in kindness and in love. And love — the love of God — is "that we keep his commandments" (I John 5:3). Peter is stressing purely and simply that we have to live "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Then, "If these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 1:8). But if these things are not in us, then what does any amount of knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ do for us? Peter added: "... He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (verse 9). And that is one of the most dangerous traps a Christian can fall into.
On to Perfection
Significantly, in the verses immediately following the passage in which he uses the term "strong meat" (to depict a good understanding of God's Word), Paul explains what happens to a man who forgets that he was purged from his old sins. Paul urges all of us to get beyond the stage of a simple understanding of the "principles of the doctrine of Christ," and to "go on unto perfection" (Heb. 6:1). He is anxious that we should not get bogged down in the rudiments of the Christian faith, and fail to get on with living a Christian life. He wants us to use what we learn. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come. if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance ; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:4-6). And that is the very real danger if we fail to apply God's Word and God's law in our lives. Through lack of use, we will even forget what we have learned — forget we were ever forgiven our old sins. Then comes the danger of falling away. And all because we failed to be doers as well as hearers of the word! Why was the unprofitable servant in the parable of the talents consigned to outer darkness? Because he was afraid, and went and hid his talent in the earth (Matt. 25:25). He didn't do anything with what he was given. He hid it! He failed to use it to advantage. And so he had it taken from him and given to someone who would make good use of it. So God will take away from you or me the knowledge he has given us of the only true way of life — unless we use that knowledge and live that way. "But, beloved," Paul continued, "we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation .... For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.... And we desire that everyone of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (Heb. 6:9-11).
Study Is Essential
There is no question that God requires all of us to attain a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures. But the primary motive for this, which we should always keep foremost in our minds, is to come to a better understanding of God's commandments in order to apply them more effectively in our lives. Paul said: "Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15). But he went on to warn against giving any heed at all to "profane and vain babblings" which "increase unto more ungodliness" (verses 16-17). A clear warning to us to shun the kind of vain and futile study that simply increases dubious personal knowledge but contributes nothing to our spiritual growth. One of the clearest scriptures on the purpose of study is II Timothy 3:15-17. It tells us very plainly why we should study. Paul is writing to Timothy, but what he has to say is directly applicable to us. "... From a child thou [Timothy] hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Living the Commandments
King David of Israel was a man who fully understood the need to apply the teachings of the Scriptures to his own life — to live the commandments of God. He was a man after God's heart, and he loved his Creator's laws. We can better understand how to love the commandments and live by them if we study David's approach to life by reading the Psalms. Let's turn to Psalm 119 in particular. How can we go about correcting our faults? "Wherewithal shall a young man [anyone] cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word" (Ps. 119:9). David continued: "With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (verses 10-11). Notice David's motive for studying the Scriptures — for hiding them in his heart. It was not just to increase his personal knowledge. It was not vain study. It was to build up his defenses — "that I might not sin against thee." He was determined to learn to live God's way. In verses 97-104, David writes: "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." He declares that the commandments of God have made him wiser than his enemies and have given him more understanding than his teachers — more understanding than even the wise men of old. Why? "... Because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.... Through your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way." David used the Scriptures as a training manual on God's way of life, and he was striving to apply all that he learned. Read verse 105. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." He used God's Word to guide his every step, to govern his whole life. In verse 113 David expresses his hatred for vain thoughts; but his love for God's law. Why did he hate vain thoughts? Christ said that "from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). How fully King David understood this. And he realized that his only line of defense was to stay close to God — to study and apply his Creator's precepts. That's why he loved God's law. No wonder King David wrote: "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple. I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments .... Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me" (Ps. 119:130-131, 133).
Discern and Choose
Yes, the entrance of God's words gives light. The Bible teaches us how we should live — it is our guide in all of life's affairs. And we should constantly study it and use it to ensure that we always conduct our lives correctly in the sight of our Creator. We should not study it simply to accumulate knowledge to be stored but never put to use — except to display our intellectual prowess in a spirit of vanity! So let's remember the vital purpose of our daily Bible study. Let's remember the admonition of the Apostle Paul that we should grow up in Christ, that we should strive for perfection. And let's always bear in mind what he had to say about the real reason for acquiring the "strong meat" of God's Word — the reason for real in-depth Bible study: "But strong meat [attained through constant devoted study of God's Word] belongeth to them that are of full age [the spiritually mature], even to those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). The spiritually mature — those who regularly study the Bible with the aim of directing their lives by it — are practiced in recognizing evil when they are confronted with it. And they are experienced in using the law of God (God's Word) to counter evil — even to the extent of ousting wrong thoughts and substituting right thoughts (Phil. 4:8). They can discern both good and evil — and they are trained in choosing the good. Through living by what they study, they are practiced in the habit of obedience.