The church I serve asked me to create a how-to course on studying the Bible. As with any introduction, the teacher should start by asking, “Why?” When I was a student, the question was: “Why study the Bible?” My Greek professor helped me answer this. Decades ago he told us repeatedly, “I want you to learn Greek so that you can read the Greek New Testament for pleasure and profit.” That’s how many of us read the English translation of the Bible: for pleasure. There’s something sweet, assuring, and reviving when reading Scripture devotionally. It’s even profitable in the way it corrects, instructs, and encourages us (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
But there’s so much more than most people know. Growing in our ability to study Scripture causes our pleasure and profit to expand and explode. Growth in Bible study skills, like a tsunami, causes the truth of the Scriptures to reach the distant shores of our life, areas we thought untouchable. And when the breakers of those profound truths surface and hit us, we are leveled in our awe of God.
I relived some of those tsunami moments preparing for the course I was asked to teach. I’ve tried to distill the skills I taught in that class into seven reasons why you should study the Bible, reasons that will increase your pleasure and profit in the Word of God.
To Know God and Become More Like Him
I have not put these seven in any particular order. However, this first reason is the most precious to me. It appears in Jesus’s prayer the night before he is crucified. Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1–3).
Here, Jesus gives us a richer definition of eternal life. It is to intimately know God through Jesus Christ. The Greek word translated here as know means to know intimately through shared experiences. Those experiences take place long before we spend eternity with God. God, in his kindness, provides experiences in our lives so that we will know him more. Both sweet and hard experiences force deep, life-shaping conversations. Those intimate conversations with God sanctify us. They take place as we seek God through his Word.
“Teachers can only teach as much as they have learned.”—Mark Becton
As Jesus prays that night for his disciples, he adds, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). When I started preaching at sixteen, my grandmother traveled eight hours to hear me. Before we entered the church, she clutched her Bible and told me, “Mark, I’ve been reading Scripture most of my life. Still, each time I do, I see something new. I read it as though it’s a love letter written from God to me.”
Those intimate conversations with God in his Word sanctify us. They are prompted by experiences that force us to seek him, to understand his nature, his will, and ways. It’s the sum of those conversations, us praying and seeking God through his Word, that transforms us. Our nature, thoughts, and passions become more like his (Romans 8:29). Therefore, knowing how to study the Bible helps us have those deep conversations with God through his Word.
To Know How to Feed Ourselves
Hebrews 5 preserves a tragic picture, Jewish followers, weary from being persecuted and fearing it will get worse, threaten to stop following Jesus.1 In verses 12–13, the author of Hebrews points to something they’ve overlooked, another contributing factor behind their readiness to simply walk away: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Heb. 5:12–13).
After nearly four decades of ministry, I’ve seen this repeatedly. Overwhelmed by life, the unknowns of following Jesus, unanswered prayers, jaded looks by family or coworkers, and traps set to embarrass or harm us, we, in Western cultures, may consider compromising or quitting on Jesus. I’ll not even mention the pressures on those put in prison or executed in Eastern cultures.
The Hebrews are tempted to follow Jesus from a distance or to completely abandon him. With the two pictures he gives, the author of Hebrews says it’s understandable. He tells them, “If your only diet is milk from Scripture, you won’t be strong enough to stand long.” He adds, “If all you can read in Scripture are the basic ABCs, how can you grasp all God says about who he is and all he’s given you to stand?”2
My granddaughter recently turned one. Already, she wants to hold the spoon to eat or turn the next page when we read. She naturally longs to grow and mature. We should spiritually long for the same. It is a gift to put the knife and fork in our hands and feed ourselves with Scripture. It’s invigorating to read and grasp the great truths of God and not be limited to the biblical basics of “See Spot run.”
Being able to feed ourselves—read to ourselves—the riches of God’s Word not only enables us to stand but strengthens us to keep walking and discovering even more of God.
To Know How to Feed Others
Beyond the delight of feeding or reading to ourselves is the fulfillment of helping others learn to study the Bible. That’s how sound doctrine is passed from pastor to pastor. Timothy is charged to look for men able to teach and pour into them (2 Tim. 2:2). More than that, older women are expected to teach younger women, as are older men with younger men (Titus 2:1–8; Psalm 71:17–18). The benefits from those relationships and conversations are priceless. I spent two years hosting men in their twenties at my house and ten years providing a monthly lunch for young church planters. Though I loved sharing what I had learned and experienced from Scripture, their questions and insights grew me as well.
Leading and teaching surrender to the same axiom: leaders can only lead as far as they have gone. Teachers can only teach as much as they have learned. Therefore, we study Scripture not only for our own benefit but for those looking to us for biblical leading and teaching. We feed them so that they too will not only learn to feed themselves but will experience the delight of feeding others.
To Use as a Weapon in Spiritual Warfare
In John 8:44, Jesus warns us about the devil. Devil means false accuser or slanderer. Even the name Satan means adversary. He’s against anything of God, especially believers following Jesus and spreading the gospel. Therefore, Satan will lie to you about you, others, God, and your circumstances.
The best way to counter any lie is with the truth. We’ve already heard Jesus pray to God, saying, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Now consider Paul’s description of God’s Word in Ephesians 6:17. He depicts Scripture as the “sword of the Spirit which is God’s word.” Most biblical references to God’s “Word” use the Greek word logos. It’s attached to the person of Jesus (John 1:1–5, 14) and the Bible he inspired. Here, however, Paul uses the Greek word rhema. It emphasizes the spoken Word. Granted, the Holy Spirit was behind the inspired writing of God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:21). But when we speak Scripture, when we say what is true from God’s Word, it cuts away Satan’s lies. Jesus does this when Satan tempts him (Matt. 4:1–11).
Like a double-edged sword, Scripture cuts away the lies attaching themselves to our minds and hearts (Romans 12:1–2; Hebrews 4:12). Therefore, for us to be effective in spiritual warfare, we need to know the sword we hold. We need to know the truths about God and from God to cut away the lies constantly entangling us.
To Explain the Gospel More Clearly
Heavy with the desire to explain the gospel, Paul asks the Christians in Colossae to pray for him, asking that he “may make it clear” (Col. 4:3–4). Peter wants us to share Paul’s burden and prayer when he says, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
But not all explanations need to be seen as debates or defenses. Some need to be as simple as helping those eager to understand. That was the Ethiopian’s request of Philip. When Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading from Isaiah, the Ethiopian answers, “How can I unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). The Greek word guide was occasionally used of a parent taking a child by the hand and leading them. Whether your explanation of the gospel needs to be detailed (i.e., a defense) or parental (i.e., guiding someone hungry to learn), studying Scripture equips you for either.
To Make Prayer More Intimate
In Matthew 6:9, Jesus teaches us to open our prayers saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (KJV). Only after studying each word did I see its purpose and beauty. I quickly run to God with my list of needs. My heart is racing, my tone panicked. Yet Jesus says, “Stop! Consider who you are addressing before erupting with your list of needs.” Seeing that God is our caring Father, with all the clout of heaven, who has been and always will be holy, I breathe. No longer racing to check off everything on my list, in awe, I trust him.
This exercise in acknowledging God now extends beyond the start of my prayers. It’s threaded throughout my time with him. I now check each request with what I know about God, not only his nature but his history with me and others. I also consider what God’s Word says about me. Though covered by Jesus’ righteousness and made acceptable to God, I still have a fallen nature. I know that nature affects how I see my life and even the requests I make. I need God to refine my heart even as I pray. Knowing God through Scripture—his nature, purposes, and promises—shapes the language I use. I’m quoting Scripture as I pray not to hold God accountable but to assure my heart of what I already know to be true about him as well as his goodness in what he’s already promised.
To Build an Internal Library
As mentioned earlier, I hosted lunch with church planters for ten years. There was no agenda, only a box lunch, conversation, and prayer. One day I encouraged them,
Don’t underestimate the value of the time given to studying Scripture. Though God may not have you use everything you learned in Sunday’s sermon, it’s all been shelved. With each book, text, and doctrine you study, God is guiding you in building a personal library. It’s better cataloged in your heart and mind than you know. Months later, you’ll be studying a different text. The Holy Spirit unexpectedly draws from the shelf something he revealed to you while studying for a past sermon. The truth not only supports what you’re now reading, it likely adds depth and perspective. God’s good about that.
This sense of building an internal library is not just for pastors. It’s for everyone who studies Scripture. You hear it in Jesus’s promise regarding the Holy Spirit in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” What a gift! Each time we study God’s Word, the Holy Spirit builds in us a library he can draw from at any time. Oh, the priceless treasure of studying Scripture.
From a Pond to an Ocean
I can still see the kind eyes of my Greek professor peering over his reading glasses. His slow southern drawl may have masked his intellect, but not his tenderness. He opened one semester telling us a German tale dear to him. It went something like this:
Walking through a field, a man happened upon a pond. Everything about it spoke to him. Feeling both rested and invigorated by the sight, he wanted to see more. So, he began walking around it. That’s when he discovered the carefree stream trickling from the pond. As he followed it, its banks widened. Soon, the trickle became a current. His stride, always in pace with the current, kept him close to the banks. Mesmerized by it all, he didn’t know when the moment happened. At some point, the stream became a river. Wondering where it would lead, he continued until he came to the place where the river poured into the ocean. There, he stood for the longest time in awe over it all.
His eyes now gleaming above his glasses, he added, “This story captures the beauty of Scripture.” He explained how we can read Scripture and suddenly be captivated by what God is saying in a passage or verse. Wanting to know more of what God meant by it, or how it speaks to our culture or personal experience, we decide to take it all in, to study it more and more.
As we do, we find a stream emerging, a sweet truth about God or us. Following the truth further, we see it widens into a doctrine whose banks now touch so much of life. Wanting to better understand this doctrine, we keep on studying. But at some point, we stop in awe. We realize that like an ocean, no matter how much we study, we’ll never fathom the depths of God’s Word. And yet, that does not discourage us from the study. The discovery of all it says about God, us, and life is too meaningful. Each study leaves us in awe, not only over what we’ve discovered but in how much more there is to know.
- William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, Revised Edition (Philadelphia; The Westminster Press, 1976), 6. Barclay asserts, “It is clear that at one time their leaders had died for their faith (13:7). It is clear that they themselves had not yet suffered persecution, for they had not yet resisted to the point of shedding their blood (12:4). It is also clear that they have had ill-treatment to suffer for they have had to undergo the pillaging of their goods (10:32–34). And it is clear from the outlook of the letter that there is a risk of persecution about to come. From all that it is safe to say that this letter must have been written between two persecutions.” In Herschel H. Hobbs, Hebrews: Challenges to Bold Discipleship (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 4–5, Hobbs concurs that it seems the recipients receive the letter between two persecutions. Hobbs believes it’s between Nero’s persecution of believers (AD 64–68) and Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem a few years later (AD 70). Barclay on the other hand offers it was between Nero’s persecution of believers (AD 64–68) and Emperor Domitian’s seventeen years later (AD 85). ↩
- Herschel H. Hobbs, Hebrews: Challenges to Bold Discipleship (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1971), 53. Hobbs explains that the word translated oracle was used by Plato. He voiced it when venting his frustration with “stupid students.” It wasn’t that they lacked the capacity to learn. They failed to put forth the effort. ↩