Sermons, formal classes, and small groups aren’t the only ways the church teaches us to read Scripture better. We’ll also become better Bible readers by simply investing in relationships with fellow members. Christian fellowship centers around our shared commitment to Jesus and the gospel.
We are united in Christ even if we are separated by gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. Despite all of our differences, Christ has formed us into a new humanity committed to living in biblical solidarity (Eph. 2:18–19) and speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
What does this mean practically? Well, when Christians hang out they tend to talk about the Bible. Of course, Christians have their share of opinions about sports, work, hobbies, and politics. But if you’re around mature Christians, it won’t be long until you hear someone start connecting the Bible to their daily life. Perhaps a sister shares about her parenting struggles and how a particular promise from Scripture is encouraging her. Maybe a brother mentions how what he’s been reading in Matthew has helped his struggle with anxiety. At soccer fields, in the backyard, or over the dinner table, Christians share the faith they hold in common and often unintentionally teach one another the Bible (Rom. 15:14).
The benefit of these relationships for understanding Scripture has certainly proved true in my own life. For instance, some time ago I visited my friend Aaron’s house for a Super Bowl party. We enjoyed some of the game, plenty of hilarious commercials, and an abundance of good food. But what I recall most about that night is our conversations about the Bible, theology, and how it all applied to our lives. None of it was planned—it’s just something that happens when Christians get together. I left that party loving Jesus more than when I came in. I left that party knowing the Bible better than when I had first arrived. That simple act of Christian fellowship drove me back to God’s word with greater understanding and affection.
But we don’t just learn Scripture in informal Christian fellowship. We also learn to read Scripture better through intentional discipling relationships. Discipling means helping others learn from Jesus so that they can follow Jesus more faithfully. If you’re not in a discipling relationship, you should be! Jesus calls all of us to go and make disciples who follow him and to teach these disciples to obey all that he commanded (Matt. 28:19–20). Jesus wants us to be discipled and disciple others. If you need help getting started in discipling relationships check out Garrett Kell’s How Can I Find Someone to Disciple Me?.
Are you struggling to understand the Bible? Why not ask a mature Christian to meet for lunch once a week to read a book of the Bible with you and to explain how he reads it? Want to sharpen your reading skills so you can see more of what Scripture says? Get with a group of peers to read and discuss what you’re reading for your devotional time. Maybe even ask a pastor or elder in your church to meet with you.
Are you struggling in a particular area of life? Why not ask a mature believer to apply the Bible to your life and help you see how Scripture speaks to your situation? But don’t just look for those who can help you. Who can you help? Find someone in your church who needs discipling, reach out, and meet with him or her to talk through the Bible together. I regularly mentor several young men in this way. I hope they benefit from the time we have together. But they’re not the only ones benefitting from our relationship. I’m amazed how these young men regularly increase my love for God and my knowledge of the word even as I strive to help them do the same.
Models of Obedience
Another way fellow church members help us read our Bibles better is by modeling obedience. Scripture’s vision of the Christian life comes alive in God’s people. In the local church, we witness people living out the commands of Scripture. We get a front-row seat to watch others trust Christ’s promises.
The Bible demands that we not be hearers of the word only, but doers (James 1:22). Observing others obey Scripture helps us understand and obey it. This isn’t just a clever idea I came up with. Imitating the faith of others is all over the Bible. Scripture regularly calls us to observe how others obey God’s commands and follow after them. We imitate them as they imitate Christ (1 Cor. 4:14–17; 11:1; Phil. 3:12–17; 4:8–9; 1 Thess. 1:4–7; 2 Thess. 3:6–9; Heb. 13:7).
Imitation comes quite naturally to us. When my children were young and needed to be spoon fed, my wife would humorously imitate them when they opened their mouth to take a bite. I would tease her but often found myself doing the exact same thing. As they grow older, children imitate their parents—whether through their accent, their hobbies, or even their wardrobe (my son still loves to coordinate with me). My wife and I often hear my daughter Hannah say things that we know she heard from us (this trait can be good or bad). My son loves to ride his bike with bike shorts and a jersey because he sees me doing it. No person remains uninfluenced. Imitation is inevitable, so we need to make sure we’re imitating the right people.
Scripture’s vision of the Christian life comes alive in God’s people.
The church provides us models of obedience that show us how to understand and apply Scripture. Here are just a few examples:
Want to know what Paul means when he says “Love your wife like Christ loves the church” (see Eph. 5:25)? Look at a man in your church who models what it means to be a godly leader in his home.
Want to know what it means when Jesus says cut off your hand if it causes you to stumble (Matt. 5:30)? Look at the guy in your small group who got rid of all his Internet devices in an effort to cut off any access to illicit material.
Want to know what it means when Paul commands us to put away bitterness and empty rivalries (Phil. 2:1–4)? Look at those two elderly women sitting in the next pew who don’t compare themselves to one another or take offense at one another’s foolish comments from the past, but continue to serve each other despite their differences.
As God’s school for Bible instruction, the church teaches us how to rightly interpret the Scriptures and also models—albeit imperfectly—how to live it out.
Reading Scripture for the Sake of Others
Here’s one final consideration for how the church teaches you to read Scripture: your Bible reading is not just about you! What you read each day in private and what you hear in services each week at your local church is meant to reverberate through you into your church community. The preacher stewards and heralds the word so that we become stewards and heralds of that same word. We may never do that through formal teaching, but every church member has numerous opportunities to read the Bible with others in mind and then speak biblical truth to them: “Speak the truth [to] his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25; see also Eph. 4:15–16, 29).
I need to speak the Bible to others, and I need to have it spoken to me. It may surprise you, but the world of competitive cycling illustrates this point. I love cycling. The bike trails near my house go in various directions for hundreds of miles. For a long time, I mostly rode alone. But after a couple of years, I decided to enter an event that would involve about a thousand riders.
At the starting line, I saw a friend who knew I was new to competitive cycling. He leaned over and told me, “Take advantage of the drafting. Get a couple feet behind the bike in front of you—it reduces air resistance by like 30 percent.” As I settled into the event, I joined a group of about ten riders. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to go the distance simply by drafting others around me!
When people speak the word of God into my life, it has a similar drafting effect. It helps me as I run the race of the Christian life. Paul tells us to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom (Col. 3:16). You see, God wants all of us to be word-filled people who regularly encourage and instruct one another from the Bible. This requires reading and hearing that goes beyond our own individual lives. When we learn to read Scripture in the church, we remember that we’re reading Scripture not to bolster our knowledge and puff ourselves up through our own great insights. Rather, we read Scripture to serve one another with the word—our family, our friends, our small group. We read Scripture for the good of others as much as we read for the good of ourselves.