Looking back over life at its end, what really will have mattered? What deserves our greatest attention today in the face of countless clamoring demands for time and energy? If we answer, “our Christian faith,” what does that really mean in practical terms? What does God most want from you as a human being redeemed by Jesus? What does the earthly life look like which best brings joy to God and satisfaction to us?
Is the answer to these questions a life committed to detailed study of the Bible itself, perhaps particularly the New Testament Scriptures? Indeed, far too many professing Christians invest far too little time and interest in reading and understanding the Bible now. Every Scripture inspired by God is useful for godliness and ministry (2 Tim. 3:16-17). In the Bible’s longest chapter, Psalm 119, David overflows in praise of the practical benefits of God’s commandments contained in the Torah. David loved God’s law, not because he was a legalist, but because he loved God who lovingly revealed it. Throughout history, ignoring God’s word has led to lives of ruin (Hosea 4:6). The stories preserved in Scripture were written for our education to give us patience, comfort and hope (Rom. 15:4).
We do well to pray, as the Book of Common Prayer so classically puts it, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life . . . ” (BCP, 236). Jesus himself stored the ancient Scriptures in his heart and drew from them freely to meet present spiritual needs. In this, as in all else, he is our great example and model. There is a clear and important link between the right use of the Bible and our growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:14-18).
Yet Bible study itself does not necessarily please God or bring joy to the student. The Scriptures point us to Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). If we study the Bible but miss Jesus, we miss the point of Scripture and indeed life itself (John 5:39-40). The early church did not even have that part of Scripture we call the “New Testament” for several decades and then only gradually and disconnected. For most Christian centuries, most believers have had no personal access to a Bible — and most could not have read it if even if they had. The key to Scripture is Jesus himself. The goal of Scripture is a life of faith and a faithful life. Unless the Spirit gives light and life, mere biblical head-knowledge is only fleshly and ultimately worthless (John 6:63). The mere academic study of Scripture is not in itself the essence of human existence.