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Of the many characters in the Bible, Ezra is one of my personal favourites. The Bible describes him to be a man skilled in the Law of the LORD. And God sent him to Jerusalem to rebuild the community of returned exiles upon the Law of the LORD. Ezra – a man of right determination and commitment seems to be the best person for this task because of what the Bible says about him in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had set his heart - to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel”. During the time of his exile, Ezra had set his heart to study the Torah - the first five books of the Old Testament. He has made it his single focus to study and be well-versed in it. He has made it his utmost priority to obey it, to live by it and also to teach it to his fellow Israelites. That’s a noble resolve!
Jonathan Edwards speaks of this resolve in his resolutions which I would like to commend to us through this article. Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, and so constantly, and so frequently, that it becomes evident – even obvious – to myself that my knowledge of them has grown. His resolve is to study the Scriptures – the Word of God – not just to glance through it casually but to slow down and study the text, not just to zip past through the landscape quickly, but to dwell long and ponder upon its beauty. Not just to cover the breadth and width of the text but to dig deep looking for details - the structure of the text, the meaning of the phrases, trying to understand the text in its context, searching for connections across the Bible. All this is to be done with the goal of understanding the text better, to understand the Scriptures better. For sure, this is not going to be an easy task. His desire is to make this strenuous, diligent labour of studying the Scriptures a regular part of his life, a daily habit with the end that he could see an obvious growth in his knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. Further, I admire the motivation behind his resolution. This is how he starts his resolutions – “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” It is worth noticing that he did not intend to pursue his study of the Scriptures with any self-righteous or legalistic motivations, instead, he sought the grace of God to grow in this habit to do the will of God for the sake of Christ – a right determination with a right motivation. Isn’t this a nobler resolve worth imitating, a commitment that every Christian must consider? I think it is because God’s word says it is.
God desires his people to study his Word. That’s what we would see throughout the Scriptures. It is a wonderful privilege and a great responsibility that God has bestowed upon us – his people that we must prayerfully and diligently study his Scriptures for the nourishment of our soul, for our growth in faith, and for bearing fruit in obedience and in joy, and for the guarding of our hearts from attacks of the enemy. We see that in Deuteronomy chapter 6, when God through Moses instructed his people Israel calling them to “keep the commandments of the LORD in their heart, to bind it upon themselves, and to teach it diligently to their children throughout the day.” We see that again in Joshua chapter 1 when God commissioned Joshua to lead his people Israel into the Promised Land, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success”. We know from the Bible that Israel could not keep the Word of the LORD and they failed to meditate on it day and night. Later in Psalm 1, the psalmist calls him blessed the one “who delight in the law of the LORD, the one who meditates on it day and night” for he will receive nourishment from it, and he will be fruitful. Jesus, the blessed one, the eternal Word of God who became the incarnate Word, delighted in the Word of God. He studied the scriptures day and night, and he grew in obedience. He obeyed the scriptures, so perfectly fulfilling every detail of the text. After his death and resurrection, Jesus, our risen Lord, blessed us his people with the everlasting helper – the Spirit of God who dwells in us today and he enables us to know God. He quickens our hearts to delight in the Word of God, to study the Scriptures day and night and to bear fruit in obedience. And so, it becomes our solemn duty to study the scriptures, to grow in the knowledge of God and in obedience depending on the Spirit of God.
It is in his Word, God has graciously revealed himself to us his people. It is in his Word, we see his holy character, and the marvellous works that he performed for the salvation of his people. It is in his Word, we see the promises of God which are fulfilled, and which are yet to be fulfilled. It is in his Word, we see Jesus, the spotless lamb of God who was slain for the sins of God’s people. It is in his Word, we hear the life-giving words of the blessed one who gives us eternal life. Where else can a Christian go, where else can he find his nourishment to grow in faith, find healing to his sin-marred soul, find wisdom and strength to fight against the wicked schemes of the evil one, find comfort and hope in the times of his distress if not for his regular times of dwelling with the Word of God and feasting in the Word of God? I hope and pray that God would plant in our hearts a deep desire to study his Scriptures systematically – from end to end, not neglecting any portions, regularly and consistently in the days and the years to come. I also pray that we would depend on the Spirit of God and his grace to make this as a discipline and pursue this habit.
How can a Christian learn and grow in the discipline of studying the Word of God? If you are not sure where to start, you will do well by starting to attend Bible studies at your church where you can learn the basics of Bible study – Who is the author and who are the recipients? What type of text is this – poetry, a narrative, or a letter? What’s the context of the author and the audience? What’s the main message of the author? How are the various parts of the book linked together? And as you persist in this discipline of attending Bible studies at your church, you would notice that you could make a few of these observations yourself and thus you will slowly and steadily learn to study the Scripture yourself. If there is no Bible study programme currently running at your church, then you could probably talk to your pastor and ask him to help you to study the Bible for he will be able to teach you. After getting a hang of the basics, start studying the gospel of Mark or one of the letters of Paul yourself using the methods and tools that you have learnt. You would find it beneficial to note down your observations, and applications and discuss them with your family members or fellow members in your church. You will do well to make it your commitment to meet with 2 or 3 committed members regularly and discuss with them your learning from the Scriptures. This will serve as a wonderful opportunity around which discipleship and accountability relationships can blossom in your church. You will find this to be a great blessing as the regular study of the Word of God not only helps you to grow in the knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures, but it also nourishes godly relationships within your church. In his book Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul points out that it is a privilege and a duty of every believer to study the Word of God. He says, “There is a great deal of difference between reading and studying the Bible. Reading is something we can do in a leisurely way, something that can be done strictly for entertainment in a casual, cavalier manner. But study suggests labour, serious and diligent work. Here then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. But our problem is that we are lazy… If you have read the whole Bible, you are in a small minority of Christian people. If you have studied the Bible, you are in an even smaller minority.” Isn’t that a wise diagnosis? May God help us to repent of anything that is hindering us to study his Word - be it our laziness or anything other sin and may he help us to delight in his Word and to be committed to the systematic and regular study of the Scriptures that we may grow in the knowledge of God, grow in increasing adoration and obedience towards Jesus and grow in serving his church for the glory of God.