The Means of Growth: Scripture

By James M. Rochford

Mature and stable Christians have developed their own relationship with the Word of God. They read it, interpret it, and apply it for themselves. They often have various insights from God from meeting him daily in his word. Because God’s thoughts, mind, and heart are revealed in the Bible, we should learn to have a deep appreciation and love for God’s word (see video here of Chinese converts getting Bibles for the first time).

Why is Scripture so important?

Scripture helps us not conform to the world-system. We often scoff at how peer pressure influences adolescents to think, talk, and act in certain ways. Yet we would be fools to think that such pressures do not affect all of us. In fact, if we’re honest, we see that all people are influenced by social pressures of this kind. When the entire world says that we should live for personal peace and affluence, it seems to only natural to us. We need the objective perspective of God to bring clarity to our lives (Eph. 4:24; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). The world bombards the believer—day after day—hour after hour. Without reflecting on God’s truth, we tacitly slip into the thinking of the world (Rom. 12:2)!

Scripture helps us to anchor the instability of our emotions. We need an objective authority by which to judge our feelings, experiences, and circumstances because these things are unreliable guides. We need to learn to judge our feelings through the lens of divine facts. Facts can change feelings. For instance, imagine seeing a beautiful girl across the room staring at you. Immediately, you’d experience some pretty strong feelings! Yet imagine if your friend nudged you and whispered, “Hey, FYI, that’s not a girl looking at you… Actually, it’s a boy wearing a wig and a dress!” By reflecting on this fact, your feelings would change pretty quickly (For a funny but inappropriate illustration, see this prank here). Similarly, when we reflect on God’s truth, we find that it affects our feelings.

Scripture helps us understand the other means of growth. Scripture is logically prior to the other means of growth. For instance, effective prayer is based on the Word (Jn. 15:7), and effective ministry is impossible without a knowledge of the Word, since ministry is “speaking the truth” (Eph. 4:15).

Scripture brings transformation, stability, and blessing to us

(Ps. 1:1-6) How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The “law” is the Hebrew term torah. It can refer to either the moral law in particular or to the Bible in general (see Ps. 1:2).

While interpretation is important, so is meditation. Eastern meditation consists of emptying one’s mind, but biblical mediation is based on filling one’s mind with God’s word (“In His law he meditates…”). When we meditate on God’s word, we consider what he says, memorize it, ponder it, discuss it, and repeat. This has been compared to a cow ruminating on some grass. He bites it, chews it, and swallows it. Then he regurgitates it back into his mouth, and he chews on it some more. While this is a particularly gross illustration (!), it is similar to Christian meditation. We squeeze every drop of wisdom out of the passage we’re pondering.

Scripture is powerful

(Isa. 55:10-11) For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

God’s word has tremendous power, and it succeeds in what it sets out to do. But notice that it takes time. Have you ever watched grass grow when watered? It doesn’t look like it’s growing at all. But over time, we can see a difference. In the same way, some people read the Bible once or twice, and they can’t see any impact and give up. We need to show the faith to read over a few weeks or month to see God use this to grow us.

(Heb. 4:12) For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It’s difficult to understand our own motives and thoughts. Jeremiah writes, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). God searches our thoughts and motives for us when we sit in front of his word. As Jeremiah continues, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind” (Jer. 17:10). He often does this when we study the word of God, revealing this to us.

Scripture grows us spiritually

(Rom. 10:17) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

By simply reading the Bible, God produces an ability in us to trust him more. Most believers wish that they would have a stronger faith, and they don’t know why they can’t build their faith stronger. It very well could be the case that they refuse to sit and meditate on Scripture.

(1 Pet. 2:2) Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.

The word is crucial to our spiritual growth—just as milk is crucial to a baby’s physical growth. If newborns go without milk for a few hours, they cry and fuss. The same is true for believers. Going days without the word is a recipe for disaster.

(Jn. 8:31-32) So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

God’s truth has the power to set us free.

(Jn. 15:7) If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Bible study is central to a successful prayer life. Without understanding and integrating God’s promises and will, our prayer life will be unfruitful.

(Eph. 6:14-15, 17 NIV) Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace… 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The context for this passage is spiritual warfare. When Jesus battled Satan in the wilderness, he repeatedly quoted Scripture saying, “It is written… It is written… It is written…” If the son of God used this method to battle Satan, how much more should we?

(1 Cor. 3:1-3) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

Paul is disappointed that this church did not understand the word yet. Paul had just planted this group about 3-5 years earlier. Therefore, it is a reasonable goal to have a good grasp of Scripture only after a few years.

(Heb. 5:12-14) 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. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

This teaches that it is impossible to be a spiritually mature Christian, if we have a shallow understanding of the word. The author calls such a person an “infant.” Spiritual growth doesn’t come through our own novel insights into reality. It comes through understanding the thoughts of God at a deeper and deeper level.

(Jn. 17:17) Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

The key to our spiritual growth (i.e. sanctification) is through a deep understanding and trust in Scripture.

(Acts 20:32) And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

The word (grace-teaching) has the ability to edify or “build you up.”

Scripture is the key to effectively serving others

(Col. 3:16 NLT) Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives.

Teaching and counseling other believers is bound up with a deep understanding of the word (“in all its richness”). This Greek term for “richness” (plousios) is used elsewhere to refer to God’s rich love that he gives to us (Titus 3:6; 2 Pet. 1:11; 1 Tim. 6:17). This must mean that our level of depth in the word needs to be “abundant” or “rich,” rather than superficial platitudes and aphorisms. Many have been counseled by believers who are superficial in the word, and we often leave the encounter more confused and frustrated than when we entered.

(2 Tim. 2:15) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

This implies that some believers do not accurately handle the word of truth. This means that our interpretation matters, implying a depth to our study.

(2 Tim. 3:16-17) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Paul says the word is “profitable” for all different forms of ministry. He also says that it is adequate for training us in doing every good work. We often look for exotic answers to problems while neglecting the word. This is a repudiation of this verse, which says that biblical principles are fully adequate to answer people’s deep needs.

Psalm 119 (NIV)

(Ps. 119:14) I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.

(Ps. 119:18) Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

(Ps. 119:27) Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.

(Ps. 119:32) I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

(Ps. 119:50) My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.

(Ps. 119:71) It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

(Ps. 119:86) All your commands are trustworthy.

(Ps. 119:99) I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

(Ps. 119:102) I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.

(Ps. 119:105) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

(Ps. 119:125) Give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.

(Ps. 119:127) I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold.

(Ps. 119:130) The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

(Ps. 119:131) I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.

(Ps. 119:147) I have put my hope in your word.

(Ps. 119:155) Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek out your decrees.

(Ps. 119:160) All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

How do we motivate others to develop a love for God’s word?

Start simple. Don’t begin with Isaiah or Revelation. We need to handle the garter snake before we try to handle the rattle snake.

Encourage effort. New believers are often very insecure about reading or interpreting Scripture. Encouragement goes a long way in these first few months.

Don’t give them too many answers. This can be difficult, but you need to refrain from spoon-feeding them or talking too much. Let them struggle in interpreting for a little bit before helping them.

Point out good examples and leaders. All good leaders know Scripture well. Point out that powerful Christian leaders gain their influence from God’s word—not themselves. Explain your suspicion towards leaders who don’t know the Word very well.

Gather stories of changed lives due to the Word. It’s powerful to tell stories about workers who had their attitudes changed by becoming a student of the Word.

Use it or lose it. Have them share what they are learning. Get them to use their Bible reading in conversation and ministry.

Don’t settle for clichés or church slogans. Show bewilderment or confusion, when a person spits out a “Christianese” phrase. Act like you’ve never heard it before and encourage them to tie their thoughts into the Word.

Goals for Bible Study

Daily partaking of the Word. Like eating or drinking, we need to have a regular diet of personal Bible study. While sitting under Bible teaching is good, it just isn’t good enough. Instead of being spoon-fed like an infant, we need to learn to feed ourselves.

Drawing personal insights and questions about Scripture. If we aren’t having these, this could be a sign that we are approaching Scripture formalistically.

Having a basic understanding of hermeneutics. Without a proper interpretation, Scripture won’t realize the power of God into our lives (see “Hermeneutics”). This would include having a basic understanding of alternate interpretations (Titus 1:9).

Using Scripture to serve and counsel others. James tells us to be doers of the Word (Jas. 1:22). If we only keep our knowledge of Scripture to ourselves, we are missing a key component to understanding God’s word.

Practical suggestions

Chronological reading plan. These help believers to read through the Bible in a chronological way. Here is a quick one from Bible Gateway, which gets you through the major history of the Bible in two months. Other Bible reading plans would include D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God (volumes 1 & 2).

Suggest a general question for reading a specific book of the Bible. For instance, read the gospel of John and record how Jesus approaches individuals differently (e.g. Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the blind man, etc.). Or study the Book of Acts and study the role of the Holy Spirit or the role of suffering throughout the book.

Explain different methods for inductive study. See our earlier article: “Inductive Bible Study.” This gives a method for getting deeper into Scripture.

Download good, expository Bible teaching. Xenos Christian Fellowship, Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, Ben Stuart, and James Rochford have good expository Bible teachings for free.

Download theological classes. For good class lectures, listen through William Lane Craig’s “Defender’s Class” or classes from Biblical Training or our Systematic Theology Class.