By now, things seem to have settled back into regular routines. Summer, broken up by vacation and other activities, is now over (and the weather has confirmed that!). Sunday school has begun, and adult Bible study continues. So this is my short note of encouragement not to neglect the corporate study of God’s Word.
Bad habits are easy to fall into. Good habits require work and cultivation. One good habit is to set aside time not only to hear the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel during the Divine Service itself, but to set aside that additional hour for going deeper into parts of God’s Word that we might not hear within the lectionary (series of readings).
While in some Christian traditions, the sermon is essentially a verse-by-verse exposition, running straight through a book of the Bible, we most often use that time for the Holy Spirit’s work of killing our sinful nature and raising us up as new creatures in Christ (something that, as Luther points out in the fourth part of the catechism on Holy Baptism, also happens every day as we live in our baptism).
But our hour of Bible study offers more opportunities for exploring God’s Word through questions and answers and the combined experience and wisdom of those Christians gathered there. Finally, then, both the proclamation of the Word in the Divine Service and the study of God’s Word with other Christians under the guidance of your pastor lead together to a better hearing of the living voice of Christ who speaks to us in His Word.
“Blessed is the man,” Psalm 1 says, whose “delight is in the [Instruction] of Yahweh and on [whose Instruction] he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (1:1-3; see also Joshua 1:8).
As Moses tells the people, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children [by word and example!], and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
The danger—which we are seeing again played out before us—is what happened to the people at the time of the Judges, after Joshua and that generation died: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know Yahweh or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
“But as for you,” Paul writes to Pastor Timothy, but which applies to all of us individually, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:14-16). He says that this is so the “man of God,” the pastor, “may be competent, equipped for every good work, but that, too, applies to each of us in our vocations.
Let us all devote ourselves to the Word of Christ through His prophets and apostles, not only within the Divine Service, but also during our Bible study together and our individual study throughout the week, that we may be confirmed and strengthened to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”