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Tuesday
Aug102010

People of the Book

The phrase, “People of the Book,” is used to describe a certain subset of Christians or churchgoers who are more intimately acquainted with the Bible than is usually true among disciples. In many churches, the dirty work of studying the Bible and sharing its truths with others is left to the clergy or the priesthood and ordinary members are not expected or even authorized to expound upon the Scriptures. It was formerly said of members of churches of Christ that they were people of the book, who could be expected from top to bottom to give book, chapter and verse explanations of their convictions. One wonders how true this is today, when the pressures and pleasures of our culture have pushed the Bible to the back of the table.

I. Studying the Scriptures

    A. Essence of Discipleship

        1. when Isaiah wrote, “Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples,” he had in mind those people among the Israelites who were true believers in God, even beyond simply being born into the right tribe or nation

            a. today, the word disciple should apply equally to everyone called a Christian, but the definition of the term makes it much more specialized and uncommon

            b. it is not simply a matter of being raised in the church or even born again of water and the Spirit that makes one a disciple in the purest sense of the word

        2. a disciple – from the Greek mathetes (pr. math-ay-tes', maqhth/v) – is more than just a believer, even a wet one; a disciple is literally “a learner, pupil,” a follower in the sense of knowledgeable obedience, rather than ignorant submission to customs or clergy oppression

            a. although the terms might be used interchangeable in Scripture, we must confront the reality that not all nominal Christians are truly disciples

            b. and the difference comes down to Bible study and application, beginning here when we assemble for teaching, but extending beyond this refuge and into the real world where other pressures and pleasures make it more challenging to be faithful to the discipline of Christ

        3. Jesus gathered a following during his earthly ministry and motivated the faithful to put his edicts and axioms into practice (John 8:28-32)

            a. the word “disciple” appears hundreds of times throughout the gospels and was also useful in the Acts of the Apostles, but appears nowhere in the epistles

            b. that puts the emphasis upon the teaching of Christ and the requirement that members of his body be learners and followers, not just wet believers

 

    B. Preaching is Only Supplementary

        1. the problem arises when believers begin transferring their responsibilities for worship, evangelism and study to others of a professional caste of ministers – choirs, preachers, priests, theologians – and reduce their obligations to funding and presence

        2. the Reformation interpretation that the church was to be a priesthood of believers, devoid of Levitical or Catholic priests and popes, was accurate, but it still made enough room for clergy so that the reforms never reached restoration (First Peter 2:9-12)

        3. the church’s teaching moments are only supplementary to the study that everyone can do on their own, and much easier today than in the first century when the Scriptures were only just being inspired, or the Middle Ages when the relatively rare scrolls were locked up in the cathedrals, or even after Gutenberg when Bibles were still expensive and rare or even recent centuries before the digital revolution that put a copy of the text on every smart phone and web-enabled device

            a. Ezra spent four months traveling from his post in Babylonia to his homeland in Jerusalem, “for the good hand of his God was on him. 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” (Ezra 7:9-10).

            b. if Ezra did his job well, the people would have something to ponder and apply even after they left the assembly (Nehemiah 8:1-8)

 

    C. More than Reading

        1. we have long subscribed to the overwhelming truth and clarity of Peter’s commandment: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever” (First Peter 4:11, NKJV).

        2. the only way that we can accomplish that goal and be certain we have is to know God’s word in advance and to make our knowledge grow as we mature as disciples

        3. Timothy was just getting started as a preacher, but his mission was to preach the word, regardless of his audience’s reaction (see Second Timothy 4:1-5)

            a. that depended upon courage and confidence, but also attention to study (First Timothy 4:11-16)

            b. knowledge does not osmose; the student must study (Second Timothy 2:14-16)

                1. the word translated “Be diligent” in newer translations is rendered “Study” in older ones

                    a. KJV: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

                    b. Douay-Rheims: “Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

                2. in the Greek, the concept is simpler; the word is spoudazo (pr. spoo-dad'-zo, spoudazw) and it means, “to hasten … to exert one’s self, endeavour, give diligence”

            c. study will always be a part of diligent discipleship

 

II. A Little Knowledge Goes A Long Way

    A. In Being A Good Listener

        1. private study and meditation upon the meaning of God’s words is important to make you a better listener when being taught (First Corinthians 2:1-5, 12-16)

        2. preaching was not designed to entertain, but to enlighten, and it takes work on the part of the listener to remain connected to the message, to look for its emphases and to discern anything that might be inaccurate or heretical (Hebrews 5:7-14)

        3. when I was in college, someone recommended spending three hours studying for every one hour in class and while we could never impose something like that on Bible students, it remains true that we must not allow preaching and Bible class to be all the Bible study we ever do

        4. a good listener is attentive and prepared to learn and discern (Acts 17:10-12)

 

    B. In Rejecting False Teachers

        1. in the first century, some of the preachers who traveled about were not only uninspired, but were also self-willed and intent on imposing their own doctrines upon the church

        2. whether it was the Judaizing teacher or the Gnostics or some other faction, entire congregations could fall prey to heresy unless they were schooled in truth (Colossians 2:1-4, 20-23)

            a. even then, the plausible arguments were powerful and difficult to discern (Galatians 1:6-9)

            b. churches today are falling prey to errors on divorce and remarriage, fellowship, the second coming, autonomy and modesty and it happens often because the members are unprepared to discern truth from error, depending too heavily instead upon their leaders or ministers who may themselves go astray (Second Corinthians 11:1-4, 12-15)

        3. knowing a little about the Bible will enable us to discover false teachers according to their fruits, even if they are wolves disguised as fellow sheep (see Matthew 7:15)

        4. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (First John 4:1).

 

    C. In Parrying Arguments

        1. Bible knowledge also helps us on a much more individual basis as we are reading other things or talking with our friends or enemies about religious matters

            a. it certainly helped Jesus (Matthew 22:23-29)

            b. he was able to tell them that they were wrong because they had misinterpreted very clear Bible passages and we should be able to do the same thing, although with the humility that comes from being a sinner rather than the sinless

        2. our battles are not usually the kind that involve actual military weaponry or armament, but those that originate in words and concepts and behaviors, and we need to be prepared to do battle with false doctrines even if they appear in books, magazines or commentaries or arise from ordinary conversation with well-meaning people (Second Corinthians 10:3-6)

            a. we are not simply out to win debates or put our opponents to shame, but to magnify truth and glorify Christ

            b. if we put him first, we will be able to correct our own wrong ideas and speak the truth in love to the people around us as well (see Ephesians 4:15)

        3. the problems that arose during Israel’s exodus came from ignorance; God said, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways” (Hebrews 3:10).

        4. if we will not be led astray by the things that we read or the neighbors who seek to win us over to Catholicism or Mormonism or Protestantism or liberalism or Islam, we must know his ways

 

    D. In Convicting the Lost

        1. God’s word is also valuable as a part of the whole armor of God, which includes an offensive weapon to metaphorically get at the truth, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17)

        2. ultimately, we do not want simply to defeat an enemy of the cross or to embarrass a sincerely mistaken seeker; we want to be able to convert them wholly to Christ, for he is the author of eternal life for all who obey him and his Father wishes to multiply his brethren exponentially

        3. the Holy Spirit revealed the New Testament toward that end (John 16:7-11)

            a. he reminded the apostles of what Christ had taught them and led them and the prophets into further truths that they taught and inscribed upon the pages of the New Testament

            b. they produced together a volume of information that is sharper than any two-edged sword and which is able to pierce every human pretense until it reaches the very thoughts and intents of his heart (see Hebrews 4:12)

        4. God’s word will lay bare a man’s sinfulness and destroy his every defense; it’s a painful process, but without such spiritual surgery, there is no hope of remission and renewal (First Peter 3:13-16)

 

    E. In Resisting Temptation

        1. for the disciple, God’s word is indispensable when it comes to resisting temptation, for it serves to identify what things are sinful and what things are noble, so that the discerning might know the difference through warnings and promises and examples

        2. Jesus deflected every one of Satan’s fiery darts by appealing to what he knew of Scripture (Luke 4:3-12)

        3. like the preacher, every disciple is thoroughly equipped to comprehend all that pertains to life and godliness when his focus is upon being a person of the Book

            a. “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care” (Ecclesiastes 12:9).

            b. wisdom chases away ignorance where study is regular and application is consistent; the devil’s devices are made plain and less potent

 

Conclusion

God’s word reveals to us the very nature of our creator and redeemer so that we cannot be saved or safe without it.

 

Questions For Review

  1. True or false: All church members can be described accurately as “disciples.”
  2. What did Jesus say would make people disciples?
  3. What is the difference between reading and studying?
  4. What role should preaching/teaching play in one’s personal study?
  5. What does it take to be a good listener?
  6. Why is it unwise to leave all the studying to the clergy or minister?
  7. What is the individual’s responsibility in winning souls?

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