Young people and young adults in our Protestant Reformed Churches, you have a tremendous gift! That gift is the ability to discuss the Scriptures intelligently and rationally with your fellow young people, your parents, and others in the church of Jesus Christ.
Do not take that gift for granted, but give thanks to God for it.
To help appreciate this gift, you might consider a couple of miserable alternatives. For example, you could be a true believer in a false, apostate church. Somehow, in that case, God was pleased to make you one of His children, giving you a lively interest in and desire to know Him as He has revealed Himself in His holy Word. You open up that Word. You read it, you study it, you meditate upon it. Your language reflects that knowledge. You expect others around you, even in your own church, to be excited about the truth. But when you talk to them, you are met with the opposite reaction. Some have no interest at all. They react as if you are speaking in another language to them. They shrug their shoulders. Others might show interest for a while, but you soon realize they have no idea what you are saying. They are interested only in your zeal and delight, wanting to feel the same way that you feel. But from others still you receive a strong negative reaction: contempt and ill will! You feel their scorn and ridicule. Born again? Know-it-all! Fundamentalist!
Another alternative to your blessed place in your church among your fellow-believers is to be totally alone in your love for God’s Word. You have that Word, you have plenty of materials to read and study, and your fellowship with the Lord is strong. But you have not a single soul with whom you might share your love for God’s Word. No one with whom you can speak. No one to whom you can listen. There may be some readers of this periodical who are in such a state. They feel lonely, and they may even weep when they read the above. They will also tell you what a gift the Lord has given you. Listen to them! Treasure that gift, and treasure it by using it.
You have Bible studies in your church. Such study begins in Young People’s Society, which is followed by a Young Adults group of some kind. Then there are the Bible study societies for men, for women, for couples of the church, and for the older saints. It is a beautiful thing to see flourishing Bible studies in our churches. They signify spiritual growth and vitality in our churches. On the other hand, a lack of participation in Bible studies shows a grave weakness in churches and among the members. It can betray a kind of legalism: meeting only what is a standard requirement—church attendance. As a child of God you naturally desire growth in the knowledge of your heavenly Father shown in His Word. In love you will seize opportunities to grow in that knowledge. You will also seize opportunities to be helped in that growth by your fellow saints. And you will seize any opportunity to help your fellow saints in their growth.
Similarly, think about what kind of Bible study will help you grow in this knowledge of God. Not the kind of Bible study in which the members sit in the room or around the table in stony silence, when questions hang in the air for seconds that seem to stretch out into minutes, or when members’ names are called and the response is a downward look or a shrug of the shoulders or an “I dunno.” Nor is Bible study helpful when the leader feels obligated to fill the silence with his own voice. That is a Bible lecture, not a Biblestudy. When the members of the society can carry on a discussion, a lively, thought-provoking discussion, there is a proper Bible study. Where discussion leads to members’ new appreciation for Bible passages, there is a proper Bible study. Where there is growth in the faith and in the living knowledge of God’s Word, there is a proper Bible study. Who is responsible for this proper Bible study? It is not the leader’s responsibility first of all. Nor is it second, or third. In first and second and third place that responsibility is yours. Where young men and women come to Bible study prepared, motivated, and eager to discuss, good results are all but guaranteed.
First, you must be mentally and intellectually prepared for discussion. There are two parts to preparation. The first part is easy to miss because many overlook it. The first part of any good preparation is to ask the right questions of any given passage. Do not suppose the passage is going to say what you think it is going to say. You can easily jump to an erroneous conclusion. Or your pride might keep you from understanding the passage in such a way that would bring you to your knees. Additionally, a passage might tell you of your calling, the responsibilities of which you want to avoid. A passage might confront you with a sin that you wish to harbor in your life or heart. You can ask of a passage: how does the Word of God confront me here? What does the Spirit tell me in this passage? Required here is a prayerful, submissive approach to the Word.
Preparation also involves concentrated study. Read the passage, taking note of its context, even the context of the book of the Bible in which the passage is found. Looking at the passage itself, think about the relationships among the words and phrases. What truths do they represent? How do they bring these truths to bear on each other? What is described? How is it described? What truth or what doctrine does the passage address? What light does it bring to this truth or doctrine, or what facet of this truth does the passage touch?
Make sure that your study of God’s Word includes two characteristic attitudes about each passage you study. First, ensure that you are in submissive awe and wonder toward it. Your study ought to give you a deeper respect for the Word. You can ask yourself, what wonder of God’s glory or of salvation is brought out by this passage? Or: how does this passage bring glory to God’s holy name? The second characteristic attitude ought to be deeper devotion and love for the Word of God that you have studied. If you have truly learned something new about your heavenly Father, you will certainly have a greater delight in the Word. Having these attitudes will strengthen your ability to participate in Bible studies.
Next is your actual, live participation in Bible study. Participation requires two things: good listening and good speaking. Of the two, good listening is more important. Good listening will make you a good speaker. If you do not listen, you will not be able to speak properly. If you listen carefully to the questions that are asked, and to the answers of others, you will promote good understanding and knowledge. Ask yourself whether you really understand what another is saying? The alternative is wholly unproductive in Bible study: people only talk past or over each other. Misunderstandings due to poor listening easily squelch participation and growth. Growth in knowledge of God and His Word is threatened.
Important also is how you give answers to questions. Speak clearly, loudly enough to be heard by the other participants. Speak succinctly and avoid needless repetition. For every statement that you make, you should add a reason or ground for that statement. Make sure your “what” is followed by “because” or “how.” Demonstrate what you are saying by an appeal to the context, the language, or other Scriptures.
As you answer, show that you are open to correction, especially from the leader of the study. Do not be demeaning or belittling in your comments. Instead be respectful of others’ comments—even if you believe them to be wrong. Humility and meekness in your speech will strengthen good, solid discussion. Also, expect a certain give-and-take in a discussion. Be prepared to concede your point. Certainly you need to be ready to be corrected by the Word! You must also be able to be corrected by others when they talk about the Word and what it means.
In participation, be ready not only to give answers, but also to ask questions. Ask good questions and you can expect good, helpful answers. Those answers will be helpful to you and to the other participants. By asking good questions you will also help your fellows to think about a passage more thoroughly and gain a better understanding of Scripture.
In your discussion avoid certain pitfalls in the comments you make. There are certain phrases that you should work to avoid saying. Do not say, “My Bible says…,” when you are referring to marginal notes in your Bible. Make it clear that you are not quoting Scripture itself. Another pitfall to avoid is saying something like, “I just feel that….” You may have even strong feelings about something, but that kind of speech is not helpful for discussion. Your fellows will not want to argue about your feelings, lest they hurt them. That kind of language also tends to suppress debate, as it is difficult to debate feelings. It is better to say, “I think that….” Another phrase that ought to be avoided is, “What is this passage saying to you?” That phrase has the same tendency to stifle discussion. It implies that the passage can be saying something different to you than it does to me. The goal should be to reach a common understanding of the passage. Avoiding these pitfalls will help keep your attention on what you are studying, the Word of God. Avoiding them will also keep your discussion on the right track: leading to the truth of God’s Word and seeing yourself in the light of that Word.
With these points in mind, expect to receive much from each other in your Bible studies. Expect also to give much to each other. Look for the strengthening of your faith and the faith of your fellow saints. Then you will have every reason to be grateful to God for this blessed gift: Bible study!