The 17th century clergyman Dr. Thomas Fuller once remarked, “He that would have the fruit must climb the tree.” The point? Rewards and hard work are inseparable. If we want to reap the rewards of a venture, we must first put in the sweat it takes to reach them. As believers, we all have in our hands a powerful book, but to really gain all the rewards this book has to offer, we must put forth some effort. We must climb the tree of Scripture in order to gather the fruit on its branches.
But what is this climbing activity? Well, of course, most obviously we need to open the book up and start reading it, right? But there is more needed than that. The Bible is a book of depth and complexity. Thus it not only begs for readers, it begs for students. It begs for those with not only faith but diligence to seek all the richness it has to offer. But what is it about the nature of this book that requires a little mind labor?
There are many reasons we can put forth for why the Bible, as God’s sacred communication to us, needs to be studied. Let me set forth just three:
1. The Bible needs to be studied because it is an ancient text. There is a reason that not many of us grab an original edition of Homer’s Iliad and curl up in front of the fireplace for a juicy nighttime read. Why? Because it is not easy reading. And part of the reason that it is not easy reading is because it is an ancient text. It is difficult to study such a book without at least some knowledge of that Greek world long ago in which it was written. Ancient texts contain ancient wording, ancient concepts, and detail ancient events about ancient people and ancient places! Thus, ancient texts require study for a thorough understanding and for transferring timeless principle into our present context. The same goes for Scripture. Yes, some of the Bible is easier to read than other parts. Some parts of the Bible carry a plainer sense than others, easily understood by a quick reading. But many parts of the Bible do not. This is why we need to dig out tools to be able to understand the Bible in its own historical context.
2. The Bible needs to be studied because of its unity in diversity. With over 40 authors writing a total of 66 books over a span of at least 1500 years, there is much diversity in author, genre, and culture. This diversity is one reason we need to apply our minds to the Scriptures and to understand how each author in each culture was communicating God’s truths for all time. However, the Bible has another author who supercedes the human authors: a divine author who is behind every word. Thus, the Bible needs to be studied not only in its diversity, but also in its unity, for the Bible is not made up of just human words but God’s words to us. How do the words of Ezekiel connect to the words of Matthew? How does what Paul is saying in his letters correspond to what Peter said in his? How are different themes like forgiveness or grace reflected in each book and genre? Most importantly, how does the divine pen of God tie all these together? These connections require observation and analysis…aka study.
3. The Bible needs to be studied because it is God’s only written word to us. As God’s written word to us, we have a responsibility to know and understand it thoroughly. As God’s written word to us, we should slow down and give it our full attention. As God’s written word to us, we need to make sure we get what he is saying to us right. This is important! It is our life map for everything we do and who we are. Thus, we must apply the best of ourselves to it, and this includes our minds. For some of us, this will come easier than others. And not everyone will study God’s Word at the same level or with the same intensity. But we are all called to engage our minds to some level and in some way in the riches of Scripture.
Thus, the Bible as a book, because of its unique character as God’s unified yet diverse written word to us deserves not simply our reading, but also our diligent study. When we apply ourselves in this way to God’s written word to us, we will find the fruit is well worth the effort.
(In Part Two and Three of this series, we will look at how to study the Word, with practical tips and tools for study. For a great time of studying the Word, join us Nov. 2-3 at the 2012 Word Conference: Jesus, Faith in the Facts in Denver, Colorado.)