Reading through the book of Acts highlights the importance of the Word as the center of Christian fellowship. Evidencing the Holy Spirit’s power and providing vignettes of what his work looked like in beginning and growing the church, this book’s record of early church history elevates the Spirit’s power while also noting the disciplines these first Christians embraced. The two major ones that show up repeatedly are prayer and the Word. I find the disciples’ participation with the Spirit in building the church summed up by their declaration in Acts 6:4: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
I want to be devoted to that too, but sometimes my devotion wanes and I fall into seasons of spiritually running on empty. As God brings me back and I move out of those seasons, I often find a direct correlation between my returning passion and some form of experiencing God’s Word with his people. There’s a filling that happens inside me when other believers minister the Bible’s grace to my soul, and when I try to live independent of those experiences of community, it’s impossible to maintain passion for long. Bible-centric group life provides the support we need to persevere in living for the kingdom.
I shared with you yesterday how group Bible study has impacted me, and I fiercely believe the best group studies are the ones that increase your hunger to also be in the Word on your own. A Bible study class that keeps you from studying Scripture yourself is a dangerous one. If all we can do in the Word is what a workbook tells us to, we have a problem. I’ve had several people tell me how much they love their structured Bible study class because without it, they wouldn’t know how to be in the Word. There are so many reasons to love a structured Bible study, but I don’t think that’s a good one. If our classes take a summer or semester break and we’re not equipped to continue conversing with God through Scripture, we’re in trouble. Please don’t get comfortable there. It’s true we all start somewhere, and growth in studying is a grace-filled journey, but we don’t have to be content with staying in that place. God offers us so much more.
There’s nothing wrong with appreciating the accountability these studies provide; some of us thrive on such structure. For many, passion for the Word was birthed and developed in these settings. Some of my major life-changing moments happened because someone was faithful to exercise their spiritual gift of teaching, and I’m not encouraging us to abandon the practice of sitting under such teaching. We need that. But my greatest desire for us in Bible study – and my biggest reason for writing this 31 day series – is that we wouldn’t settle for knowing God only through what others tell us. When we can’t navigate Scripture at all on our own, there is a vacuum in our spiritual lives and we miss sweet opportunities for intimacy with our Savior.
But here’s the other thing: I think it also weakens our group Bible studies.
As we’ve said, studying the Bible in a group setting benefits us individually in numerous ways, hopefully igniting our love for studying God’s Word, yet it also works in the other direction. Learning to study the Bible on our own leads to a much richer experience of group Bible study. In my experience, both enrich the other.
Can you imagine going to study the Bible with a group of women already so filled with biblical wisdom and Jesus’ presence (and hungry for more) because of how they invest personal time in studying God’s Word? How amazing it would be to fellowship together, bonded by what God says and learning from each other, in a group like that. Wouldn’t the hunger be contagious? Perhaps some would come who are empty (like I was that day I met Betty), and they’d sure be in the right place because the other women would have something to pour in. This is the picture – the hope – that drives me to pursue knowing God through his Word because that is the exact type of “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) I long to be a part of. And I’ve found that when I go in to group Bible study with something to give, somehow I always experience being fed too.
What keeps us from having these kinds of Bible study experiences? Could it be that we haven’t let God break our co-dependent Bible study tendencies? Nothing about his invitation to more resembles a guilt-trip. We just have a God who knows us by name and speaks truth into our individual lives, drawing us nearer to his heart. What stops us from wanting that?
As we close our series tomorrow, join me for a last look at these grace-gifts of Bible study we’ve been exploring and a final example from Scripture of how a good friend ministers the Word of God to another.