Spiritual Disciplines: Study

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Covenant
A Message on 2 Timothy 3:14-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 21, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NRSV)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

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Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter, and during Lent we will be exploring some of the spiritual disciplines that are good to focus on during this season of preparation.

We start off today by looking at “study.”

Now for some folks that word brings back memories of school and some of those memories are not pleasant. I know folks that graduated from high school and college for whom the word “study” brings back bad memories. They figure that they had to study in school, and now that they’re out they’re not going to study unless it is a mandatory requirement for their job.

I find that sad. Somewhere along the way they never developed a love of learning.

My dad was a learning machine. He was Google before there was Google or even the internet. He was knowledgeable about more things than probably anyone I have known, and he stressed the importance of lifelong learning to all six of us kids.

I think the challenge of our educational system should be to focus on creating lifelong learners. It seems to me like we are focusing too much on passing grade level tests, which is how teachers and school districts are evaluated, than on creating a love of learning in students.

It’s almost like that fishing parable: Give a person a fish, and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime. Teach a child the facts, and they may remember those facts for a while. But teach a child how to love to learn, and that child has no limits.

As Christians, we should be lifelong learners as well.

It amazes me how many Christians never read the Bible. Now don’t get me wrong, I know this because I used to be one of them. I grew up in the church and as an adult attended church regularly, but I just didn’t read or study the Bible. I’d listen to the preacher read from it on Sunday, but that was pretty much it.

I can point to the specific moment in time when all that changed for me. We were living in Kilgore and I was working in public relations at Kilgore College. The church we were attending, St. Luke’s UMC in Kilgore, offered a brown bag lunch Bible study. Not only that, they were offering Wesley Study Bibles (not the one that is out now but an older one) at a very affordable price. I bought one of those Bibles, started going to the Bible studies, and I really started to get a better and deeper understanding of the Holy Scriptures. I discovered what a “study” Bible was, how to use one, and it was awesome!

It’s amazing what you can discover in the Bible! When I first started reading through Song of Solomon I discovered some incredibly beautiful poetry which I wished I had known when I was a teenage boy trying to impress girls. (Then again, maybe it’s best that I DIDN’T know those scriptures then…)

There are many Christians who take strong stances on the Bible being allowed in schools, who want the 10 Commandments to be displayed in public, and maybe even protest things with signs that have scripture on them. Ironically many of those doing those things rarely or never read the Bible. That kind of strikes me as sad.

The Bible is the overall number one best selling book of all time. But unfortunately it’s not the number one best read book of all time.

Why is that? If we, as Christians, claim this book to be as important as we say it is, then why aren’t we reading and studying it more?

One of the things I get asked pretty often as a pastor is which translation of the Bible do I think is the best. My response, which is sort of a smart-alec one, is “The one you read.”

There is a reason that I give that answer. Research shows that 87 percent of American households own a Bible. The average number of Bibles per household is actually 3. But when it comes to actually reading the Bible, the numbers are much, much lower. [Source: https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/04/25/lifeway-research-americans-are-fond-of-the-bible-dont-actually-read-it/\

There is a research group known as the Pew Research Center that does all kinds of studies on the religious life of people. According to these folks, only about 35 percent of adults read scripture at least once per week, 10 percent read it once or twice a month, 8 percent read it several times a year, and 45 percent acknowledge that they read scripture seldom or never. (And there is 1 percent who responded that they “don’t know.” I really worry about those folks…) [Source: https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/frequency-of-reading-scripture/]

In the scripture we read today, the Apostle Paul is writing to his young protege Timothy and giving him some advice. Remember, Paul never met Jesus when he was physically on earth, but first encountered him on the road to Damascus when he (Paul) was on the way to arrest some Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned or even killed. Paul was a “bad guy” before he became a follower of Jesus.

So Paul’s knowledge of Jesus came from his experiences with the risen Jesus as well as the scriptures as they were at the time. Being a leader, a Pharisee, of the Jewish faith, Paul had an excellent knowledge of what we call the Old Testament. He knew the writing of the prophets about the messiah as well as all the Jewish purity laws. But he also likely had access to some manuscripts of what we know as the gospels, although they were probably not compiled together in what we know as the New Testament. (And Paul, after all, wrote about ¼ of the New Testament.)

In the scripture we read today from 2 Timothy he is telling Timothy just how extremely important the scriptures are for Christians.

Paul tells him that the “sacred writings” which Timothy has been exposed to since he was a child contain instruction “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The scriptures tell the way to salvation.

Some denominations emphasize what is called the “Romans Road.” This is a series of readings from the book of Romans (written by Paul) that point out the need for salvation, how God provides salvation, how people can receive salvation, and then what we are to do after receiving salvation. In one single book in the Bible are the instructions necessary for salvation.

Of course that is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.

John Wesley emphasized the importance of the Bible. “I want to know one thing, – the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be [a man of one book].”

He also wrote, “I am determined to be a Bible Christian, not almost, but altogether. Who will meet me on this ground? Join me on this, or not at all.” [Sermon #116 “Causes Of The Inefficacy Of Christianity”]

How many of us are willing to meet John Wesley (and Jesus) on this ground? Is your Christian faith important enough to you that you will make it a priority in your life to study God’s word?

Our Grow Team is providing every member (and even guests) with an incredible resource for Christian study. It’s called “RightNow Media” and is an online Bible study service.

Here’s how it works: this church pays a monthly fee to RightNow media, which the Grow Team has worked into their annual budget. In paying that fee, which is based on our average attendance (pre-COVID), every member (and guest) of the church is given access to all the materials in the RightNow Media library. They currently have more than 10,000 Bible study videos available from a wide variety of teachers, such as Max Lucado, Jennie Allen, Francis Chan, Tim Tebow, Louie Giglio, Tony Evans, Les and Leslie Parrott, Matt Chandler, and on and on and on.

While most of these folks are not United Methodists, I think it is still good to hear what they have to say and then reflect on that from a Wesleyan perspective. I’ll be glad to visit with you on any questions you have.

And they have videos based on age groups as well. They have some awesome children’s studies, teenage studies, college and young adult studies, and of course, adult studies.

And it’s free to you. Like salvation, the price has already been paid. To quote the Turbo Tax commercials, it’s “Free. Free, free, free. Free.”

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

Paul knew the value of the scriptures. We should too. If they are as important as we say they are (and they really are), then we should study them, and the season of Lent is a great time to start if you haven’t already.

So my challenge to you this week, the first full week of Lent, is to study the Bible. Take advantage of the RightNow bible studies online. And if you are not an online-type-of-person, I will be glad to offer suggestions to you in the form of books, study bibles, or reading plans (such as reading through the Bible in a year.)

If the Bible is as important to the Christian faith as we say it is, then we need to be studying it. Become trained in righteousness. Study the Bible.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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