You, as a member of God's Church, are a disciple — a "learner" or "student" — of Jesus Christ. Are you taking full advantage of the classroom sessions He has provided for your spiritual edification? Read how you can profit the most from local Bible studies.
GOD, with forethought and an understanding of human nature, knew thousands of years in advance what the end-time age would be like. And since He realized our time would be characterized by a lawless, calloused society — a society deviating from His laws which give life, happiness, true success and prosperity — He provided for us His written Word, the Bible. But for His called-out flock to benefit the most from that Bible, a systematic program of Bible study needed to be provided. So just as God guided and inspired the writing and preservation of His Word, He has guided and inspired the ministry of His true Church to teach that Word at local Bible studies designed and tailored for the edification of each local church. But exactly how are Bible studies helpful and beneficial to spiritual growth? And how can you help them to help you more?
Spiritual "Higher Education"
The Bible studies are a classroom situation for brethren of God's Church. You will recall that Christians. are called "disciples" in the Bible, which means they are "learners" or "students." Oral instruction, note taking and sometimes even tests to check for comprehension and retention are combined to give you many of the same principles, concepts and guidelines for successful living which are taught at the Ambassador Colleges. For spiritual growth, one must be nourished and sustained by spiritual food — God's Word (Matt. 4:4). Local Bible studies are one of the principal ways God is feeding and nurturing His people. The organized studies strengthen the Body of Christ against Satan's propaganda, his demon cohorts, and the manifold pulls and pressures of "this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). They form a part of a "boot-camp" type training program for God's "army" — Christian soldiers of Jesus Christ. In this, of course, major emphasis must be placed on unlearning the old, ingrained false concepts, the un true knowledge and the age-old traditions of men which we have so gullibly swallowed in the past. And this unlearning process necessarily takes time. Making a "clod" (as we all are) into God is a process that requires lengthy and repeated exposure to the spiritual meat of God's Word. Therefore, God's educational plan goes on and on, week after week, month after month, year in and year out — not just for so many semesters or nine-month terms. We do work, figuratively, toward degrees in this classroom analogy. We hope by the time Christ comes we may have our M.A. (Mastery of Attitude) degree, "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ..." (II Cor. 10:5), and at the resurrection our B.A. (Born Again) degree. We are making preparation for the "Commencement" of the World Tomorrow. Of course, what we learn is very useful now — if we pay attention to, retain and also use the vital knowledge being disseminated. But we need the vision to realize we are being groomed for the future. What we learn today does relate to the future and our jobs in the Kingdom of God.
The men sent to serve and aid us as teachers are men trained, tutored and molded by the Ambassador Colleges and the Headquarters Church — teaching what they likewise were taught at Ambassador College. As Paul shows in Ephesians 4:11-12: "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...." Did you ever enjoy "singing along with Mitch" on TV? Well, here is your chance to "study along" with your pastor or local elder. Many have remarked that the minister always seems to be able to "get more out of it" (the Bible) as he explains and knits together spiritual lessons that most of us read right over. Weekly Bible studies are a chance to see his mind in action as he explores, verse by verse, little nuggets and precious jewels of understanding which you may never before have understood. We all have need for a teacher — someone more spiritually mature than ourselves — just as the Ethiopian eunuch did (Acts 8:30-31). Here was a man of ability, entrusted with heavy responsibilities. Yet this mature man realized he needed a spiritual superior to help him understand God's will. He certainly displayed a right approach and a golden attitude. When Philip asked him, "... Understandest thou what thou readest?" he answered, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" The eunuch was not too proud to get help. He realized, as we all should, that Christ uses human instruments to disclose His word to us. Verse 31 goes on to show, "He desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him." So Philip explained the truth the eunuch needed at that time. If you give him a chance by attending Bible studies, your pastor will similarly explain much vital information you need in your particular area and time.
News of the Work and World
Month in and month out, God's desire is that we continue to grow in grace and knowledge. To be fed and edified spiritually is a means to this end. At the Bible studies, subjects, books and ideas are amplified for the needs of your church individually. News from Headquarters and other pertinent information is given for your edification and enlightenment. Also, more of an in-depth analysis of current events is generally given than in the Sabbath church services. Here the ministers have more time to analyze world news, trends, and how it all relates to us and our dynamic commission. Having the news made clear to us helps give us prayer material and prayer ammunition. Above all, it aids us in obeying Christ's command: "Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36).
Opportunity for Fellowship
Numerous additional benefits and advantages are also made available by your local Bible studies. Bible study night is an excellent opportunity for temporarily getting away from the regular routine. You can have some good fellowship and uplifting discussions with others in the Church. It's just good to be with God's people, and to be able to talk to someone who thinks as you do. Fellowship with the body of Christ is also very important as a tool in our overall spiritual development and growth. We learn to work together as a unit, to worship together and even study together in an organized and profitable manner. This is vital training for the smooth functioning of all the members of the body of Christ (I Cor. 12). Bible study night is also an opportunity to obtain general member-to-member information. Perhaps you learn of someone who is sick, or someone else whom you can be praying for, and perhaps can visit and encourage sometime soon. So look at the weekly Bible study as resembling a "family reunion." It is the best time for fellowship you will ever spend, other than Sabbath services. We should all hate to miss it! However, the Bible studies are not just "social clubs." And definitely they are not a waste of time. What can we do to profit yet more from weekly Bible studies? Here are some basic guidelines that will help us derive even more benefit, and help everyone else involved as well.
Participation Is Important
To our detriment, we live in an age of noninvolvement. It is difficult for most of us to respond to others as we should because this society has so calloused and numbed us. But Bible study night is your chance to get personally involved. As Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong has stated so often, those who are wrapped up in and involved with all the many facets of this Work are those who generally are the growing and overcoming Christians. So go each time if you possibly can — and go with the attitude of giving, not getting. You can serve someone in some way if you try. Perhaps someone needs a ride. I Maybe by your going you can influence another member to go who would otherwise stay at home. You can also be setting a good example for the newer members of the Church.
Ask Good Questions
Some of the brethren bring useful newspaper clippings to their minister. This may aid him during that particular Bible study, and may even inspire a sermon or two. If your minister has announced what subject he will cover that night, then study ahead in anticipation. Preparation is the keynote. By being familiar with the subject material, your understanding will be increased. As the minister goes through his lesson for that night, you will be ensured a deeper overall understanding of the subject matter. And here is your golden opportunity to get that question answered that you have wondered about for a long time, and have always forgotten to ask when the minister came to your home. Interesting, well-thought-out, non-picky questions can be very helpful and profitable also for all the others present. Want to know something? Ministers enjoy good mind-provoking questions. It is a challenge to them and they rally to the occasion with an answer that feeds and helps many. You might even be surprised how often the questions actually help the minister in conducting the study. How? By stimulating him to think out a question he had perhaps never thought about before from that point of view. He may even go home and do extra study or research on that particular subject — thus broadening his understanding of it — and then present this information to all the brethren at a later time. We all need to ask questions from time to time, so don't be afraid or hold back due to false reasoning that you may appear dumb. Above all things, don't let pride or vanity keep you from growth and education, because we all need to continue learning.
Familiarity can breed contempt if allowed to. So occasionally we need to diagnose our inward thoughts and motives to verify our spiritual temperature. Be careful and watchful lest a "ho-hum" half-hearted, half-interested approach begins to creep into your thinking processes concerning the weekly Bible studies. Beware of this attitude: "I wonder if he'll bring out anything new I haven't already heard twenty times before?" Or, "Well, we HAVE to attend." With either approach, little wonder the studies do not seem to some as interesting as they should be. We need to keep the childlike, "teach me" attitude Christ spoke of: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children [humble], ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3-4). Guard against your enemies. Realize Satan does not want you to attend at all. Expect that your own human nature can always come up with a number of good-sounding reasons why you should stay home that night. A good attitude goes a long way in God's Church. We must want to attend and not feel forced into it. We must inculcate the habit of wanting to learn and being mentally submissive enough to be taught. We must "... desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby..." (I Pet. 2:2). It is a truism that we get out of something what we put into it. God can educate a man or woman much more quickly who has an open, submissive, teachable attitude coupled with only average ability than He can a person with many talents who has a know-it-all, cocky concept of himself or of the Bible. Many who could attend Bible study and do not should be more zealous by simply swallowing their excuses or justifications. Evaluate your own circumstances. You know whether you can attend or not. You are missing out if you could come but don't. Certainly it takes some sacrifice on your part to attend the studies. It does take organization, pre-planning and extra effort to be there. But that extra effort won't go unnoticed by God. Don't come just to be seen or to "check in," to avoid possibly being asked about your lack of attendance. Rekindle that original first love for God's truth. Help yourself study the Bible. Any temporary inconveniences now will ultimately turn out to be well worth that extra effort. The lessons learned and character built now will be set, usable and enduring throughout eternity.
Use the Studies
Absorb the studies. Mark your Bible and take good notes for your own benefit. The Apostle Paul explains that the Sabbath meetings and other meetings are important: "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more. as you see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:24-25). That day is fast approaching — perhaps faster than most of us realize I God wants to intensify our knowledge in these last days. One reason is to offset the mountain of false knowledge spawned by Satan and his world (II Cor. 4:4). God also is preparing and conditioning us for the times ahead when additional false prophets will arise and deceive many. Deceiving miracles will actually occur and astound the world. Do your part now to ensure you will continue to be among the elite group that cannot be deceived I (Matt. 24:24.) God wants His flock to be solid and unmovable in the true doctrines. Now is the time to learn and implant principles and doctrines deeply in your mind and character. And be sure to pray for the other Bible studies — worldwide. Ask our heavenly Father to inspire the ministers around the world that they may teach the local churches the things they need every week, so they too will be spiritually edified.