When it comes to Bible reading, hesitation abounds for a variety of reasons. People ask questions like: What are the benefits of Bible study? What’s in it for me? If I invest my time in this manner, what’s the payoff? What difference will it make in my life?
I want to suggest three benefits you can expect when you invest in a study of God’s Word, which are available nowhere else. And frankly, they’re not luxuries, but necessities. Let’s look at three passages that conspire to build a convincing case for why we must study the Bible. It’s not an option — it’s an essential.
1. Bible Study is Essential to Growth
The first passage is found in 1 Peter 2:2:
Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
Let me give you three words to unpack the truth contained here. Write them in the margin of your Bible, next to this verse. The first one is attitude. Peter is describing the attitude of a newborn baby. Just as the baby grabs for the bottle, so you grab for the Book. The baby has to have milk to sustain its life physically; you have to have the Scriptures to sustain your life spiritually.
Jeanne and I had four children, and when they were babies we learned early on that about every three or four hours a timer goes off inside an infant — and you’d better not ignore it. You’d better get a bottle of milk there fast. As soon as you do, there’s a great calm. Peter picks up that expressive figure and says that’s to be your attitude toward Scripture.
But he also says a word about your appetite for the Word. You should “long” for it, he says. You’re to crave the spiritual milk of God’s Word.
Now to be honest, that’s a cultivated taste. Every now and then somebody will say to me, “You know, Professor Hendricks, I’m really not getting very much out of the Bible.” But that’s a greater commentary on the person than it is on the Book.
Psalm 19:10 says that Scripture is sweeter than honey, but you’d never know that judging by some believers. You see, there are three basic kinds of Bible students. There is the “nasty medicine” type. To them the Word is bitter — yech! — but it’s good for what ails them. Then there is the “shredded wheat” kind. To them Scripture is nourishing but dry. It’s like eating a bale of hay.
But the third kind is what I call the “strawberries-and-cream” folks. They just can’t get enough of the stuff. How did they acquire that taste? By feasting on the Word. They’ve cultivated what Peter describes here—an insatiable appetite for spiritual truth. Which of these three types are you?
There’s a purpose to all of this, which brings us to the third word — aim. What is the aim of the Bible? The text tells us: in order that you might grow. Please note: It is not only that you may know. Certainly you can’t grow without knowing. But you can know and not grow. The Bible was written not to satisfy your curiosity but to help you conform to Christ’s image. Not to make you a smarter sinner but to make you like the Savior. Not to fill your head with a collection of biblical facts but to transform your life.
When our kids were youngsters growing up, we set up a growth chart on the back of a closet door. As they grew, they begged us to measure how tall they had gotten and record it on the chart. It didn’t matter how small the increments were; they bounced up and down with excitement to see their progress.
One time after I measured one of my daughters, she asked me the sort of question you wish kids wouldn’t ask: “Daddy, why do big people stop growing?”
How could I explain that big people don’t stop growing — we just grow in a different direction. I don’t know what I told her, but to this day the Lord is still asking me, “Hendricks, are you growing old, or are you growing up?”
How about you? How long have you been a Christian? Nine months? Seven or eight years? Thirty-nine years? The real issue is, how much have you grown up? Step up to God’s growth chart and measure your progress. That’s what this passage is teaching.
So the first reason for studying Scripture is that it is a means of spiritual growth. There is none apart from the Word. It is God’s primary tool to develop you as an individual.
2. Bible Study is Essential to Spiritual Maturity
The second passage we need to look at is Hebrews 5:11–14:
Concerning [Christ] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
This is an instructive passage in terms of studying Scripture. The writer says he’s got a lot to say, but it is “hard to explain.” Why? Is it the difficulty of the revelation? No, it’s the density of the reception. Peter says, “You have become dull of hearing,” meaning you are slow to learn.
The key word in this passage is time. Underline it in your Bible. The writer tells his readers, when by virtue of the passing of time you ought to be entering college, you’ve got to go back to kindergarten and learn your ABC’s all over again. When you should be communicating the truth to others as teachers, you need to have someone communicate the truth to you.
In fact, he says, you still need milk, not solid food. Solid food is for the mature. Who are the mature? Are they the people who go to seminary? Who can whip anyone in a theological duel? Who know the most Bible verses?
No, the writer says you are mature if you’ve trained yourself through constant use of Scripture to distinguish good from evil. The mark of spiritual maturity is not how much you understand, but how much you use. In the spiritual realm, the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge but obedience.
So that is a second reason Bible study is essential. The Bible is the divine means of developing spiritual maturity. There is no other way.
3. Bible Study is Essential to Spiritual Effectiveness
There’s a third passage, 2 Timothy 3:16–17:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
“All Scripture.” That includes 2 Chronicles. I said that once to an audience, and a guy said, “I didn’t even know there was a first one.”
How about Deuteronomy? Can you even find it? Have you ever had your devotions in it? When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–11), He defeated the devil three times by saying, “It is written.” All three responses are quotations from the Book of Deuteronomy. I’ve often thought, If my spiritual life depended on my knowledge of Deuteronomy, how would I make out?
Paul says all Scripture is profitable. But profitable for what? He mentions four things. First, for doctrine, or teaching. That is, it will structure your thinking. That’s crucial, because if you are not thinking correctly, you are not living correctly. What you believe will determine how you behave.
He also says the Bible is profitable for rebuke. That is, it will tell you where you are out-of-bounds. It’s like an umpire who cries, “Out!” or, “Safe!” It tells you what is sin. It tells you what God wants for your life.
Third, it is profitable for correction. Do you have a closet where you put all the junk you can’t find room for anywhere else? You cram it in, and then one day you forget and open the door and — whoosh! — it all comes out. You say, “Good night, I’d better clean this thing up.” The Bible is like that. It opens up the doors in your life, and provides a purifying dynamic to help you clean out sin and learn to conform to God’s will.
A fourth advantage of the Bible is that it is profitable for training in righteous living. God uses it to show you how to live. Having corrected you on the negatives, He gives you positive guidelines to follow as you go through life.
What is the overall purpose? In order that you might be equipped for every good work. Have you ever said, “I wish my life were more effective for Jesus Christ”? If so, what have you done to prepare yourself? Bible study is a primary means to becoming an effective servant of Jesus Christ.
One time I asked a group of businessmen, “If you didn’t know any more about your business or profession than you know about Christianity after the same number of years of exposure, what would happen?”
One guy blurted out, “They’d fire me.”
I said, “Thank you, sir, for the honesty.”
He was right, you know. The reason God can’t use you more than He wants to may well be that you are not prepared. Maybe you’ve attended church for five, 10, or even 20 years, but you’ve never cracked open the Bible to prepare yourself for effectiveness as His instrument. You’ve been under the Word, but not in it for yourself.
Now the ball is in your court. God wants to communicate with you in the 21st century. He wrote His message in a Book. He asks you to come and study that Book for three compelling reasons: It’s essential to growth. It’s essential to maturity. It’s essential for equipping you, training you, so that you might be an available, clean, sharp instrument in His hands to accomplish His purposes.
So the real question confronting you now is: How can you afford not to be in God’s Word?
— By Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks. This article first appeared on Baptist Press Toolbox.