Saturday, December 10, 2005

Academic vs. Spiritual Bible Studies

If you are not in a small group Bible study at your church I highly recommend it. Sometimes known as "small group", "home fellowship", "cell group", etc., they are often where the real "Church" takes place. Especially if you are in a church so large that you can't really get to know too many people.

The key is not to have it merely academic. That is, if it is just "study", you are missing perhaps the greatest blessing of "assembling together". You can thoroughly learn the Bible, but go away cold, unfed, unblessed, and having not blessed others.

What's the alternative? Nothing specific, but the following things help:

1. Plenty of Time.

If it's 30 minutes of structured "study", ending with, "Well, time's up, folks. Let's rush out into our lives. Have a nice day," spiritual assembling isn't going to happen. You may need to be sensitive to the time schedule of some, and give an opportunity for those to leave who need to (without guilt that they're not staying for 7 hours). But if feasible, set it up such that those who can "hang around" will do so.

2. Some "Chat and Snack" Time, or Even Better, A Pot-Luck Meal.

If it's all formal, there won't be a chance to really get to know each other. When it's formal, people tend to put their "adequate masks" on, and you seldom find out what's really on someone's mind. It's also difficult to give individual counsel to one another, without the loose time to do so. You may say, "I'm not a counselor", but the truth is you are. It may be informal, but we should be "counseling" one another on a regular basis, with spiritual, biblical, common sense truths.

3. Understanding What "Fellowship" Really Is.

Fellowship is the Greek word "koinonia", which means "common". So fellowship is sharing in what we have in common. And the most important and satisfying thing we have in common is Jesus Christ Himself. So when we "fellowship" in small groups, it's critical that we have our minds on Him. It's critical that we "feed" each other with Jesus Christ Himself, and not just the academic study of the Scriptures.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, in John 5:39: "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me." The point is that without relating the Scriptures to Jesus, Who is the key subject of those Scriptures, it becomes just academic, or even worse, just a book of legalistic, condemnatory rules to follow.

4. Prayer.

Prayer for one another. Prayer for ourselves. Prayer for others. Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, etc. This is not to be rushed or tacked on to the end of the meeting, squeezed into a fleeting time frame. This potentially can be as spiritual as it gets.

The tried and true method of asking for "prayer requests" can be wonderful. But additionally, the group should be encouraged to pray "as they are led" by the Holy Spirit Himself. Prayer is a form of fellowship itself, as we share something very precious that we have "in common", that is, access to "the throne of grace, for help in time of need."

5. Bible Study.

Yes, we don't want to neglect this, after we've put it in it's proper framework of Plenty of Time, Chat and Snack Time, Understanding Fellowship, and Prayer. It's best if there is at least one gifted "teacher" among you, to avoid the "this is what it means to me, how about you?" syndrome.

Most scriptures have an actual meaning, not a flexible rubber meaning that can be stretched to suit anyone's untamed thought. So studying should be studying, but always with an eye and heart to Jesus Christ. Better to draw near to Him, than to have the exact exegesis right, but miss Jesus and His Holy Spirit. That's what I call Spiritless Exegesis.

6. Fervent Love for One Another.

I wish I could shout this, without being rude. If you don't remember anything else, remember this. Maybe this should be listed first, but I saved it for last for two reasons:

a) Without love, all the rest leaves us nothing, a sounding brass, a clanging cymbal, profiting nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
b) Love covers a multitude of sins. We will sin against one another. That doesn't surprise you, does it? We will sometimes neglect one another, or insult one another, or hurt one another's feelings, and on and on. Unforgiveness and even a root of bitterness can result, UNLESS...we "have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins'." (1 Peter 4:8)

Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.

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