Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Traversing the Testaments: The Word STUDY, Part 1

One hot evening this past summer, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment the moment I got off my bike in downtown Milwaukee.  My husband and I had started earlier that Saturday morning, trekking across country highways and pedaling across bike paths, to make my longest bike trip so far--from our home in Mukwonago to his workplace in downtown Milwaukee.  Moving forward through city after city and county after county, we rode.  Arriving at our destination, I felt a surge of strength and energy from the cardio-vascular activity, almost as if I had conquered something.  To top it off, we had ridden for hours on pretty standard Walmart mountain bikes--not the best selection for on-road cycling--and had that day completed more of a challenge than many of the cyclists who pedaled portions of the same trails with us.
Completing a worthwhile task always has its share of blessings.  "Desire accomplished is sweet to the soul," was one of my mother's favorite verses as we worked together in the kitchen canning beans, in the garden picking corn, or in the house preparing for guests.  But Heaven, that final destination for believers, will be alive with wonder and gratitude as we embrace the kinds of challenges for which God intends us to vie on this side of eternity.  
In a very real way, my first word study and my first trek to Milwaukee parallel, for they illustrate a kind of attainment for which we are to reach in our Christian experience.
                          Studying the Word “Study”
Responding to my husband’s prompting to more closely investigate God’s Word for myself, I decided my very first question to pursue would be, “What does the Bible say about studying?”  To discover this answer, I popped open the lid of my six-year-old laptop and began searching, using my handy Bible software, to discover instances where the word study was used and noting its underlying original language definitions. 
            I’d taught piano since I was fourteen, had majored in education in Bible college, had been employed as a Christian school teacher for nearly a decade, and had engaged in countless discussions concerning correct study techniques. I’d even read books on increasing memory ability and written papers about how best to study, but never before had I searched out what God had to say concerning this topic!  Isn’t that a most typical response? To learn what “experts” say about an issue or to view it from many perspectives except the one inspired by God?
My doctrinal statement, though never written out as a man’s who is presenting his call before a board of pastors at an ordination council, would have indicated that I believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture.  I would say that God has preserved His words and that His Book is my only guide in life.  As a Baptist, I would affirm that His Word is my “only rule of faith and practice.”  And yet, I could go for years without even considering that the Bible should be my sourcebook not merely for devotional reading but also for personal study in every area of life!  As I began to study out this word, I realized how sorely I lacked biblical study habits.  But, as time went on, my view of personal devotional time became revolutionized as I was introduced to the depth with which God desires to cut into the pride of our hearts as we experience the sharpened sword of His Word.
A word of caution:  While studying the Scripture is certainly commendable and something commanded by God, our time in the Bible ought be continually coupled with an attitude of deep humility and contrition.  Proverbs 2 indicates the kind of attitude with which God’s Word is to be approached: 
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
A heart cry that desires God’s Word above our own way, that longs for His wisdom, that searches out His truth—these characteristics allow us to discover the fear of God and perceive His knowledge.  A will to obey whatever God says will outflow from such a heart cry.  Second Peter explains, “Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue, knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5).  Thus, learning God’s Word is another layer of the building a believer’s life.  The basement is that initial faith and the first floor is made up of the lasting material, virtue—a will to obey it.  Certainly, study without application or without proper motivation produces only pride:  “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (I Cor. 8:1).  With a driving motivation, then, to live by God’s every word, understanding that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” let us begin our journey and consider how we can better understand the words which God has preserved for us.
Study:  An Introduction to the Word Itself

In my first investigation of this word, I learned that study in our English Bibles is used only twice in the New Testament—first in I Thessalonians 4:11 and again in 2 Timothy 2:15. However, the Greek word translated study in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 is translated strive in Romans 15:20, where Paul writes, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation” and as labor in 2 Corinthians 5:9— “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.”  Thus, these two very picturesque English verbs, labor and strive, blend to connote this verb, study.  I hadn’t before realized there was such force behind this word!
First Thessalonians 4:11, the initial instance of this word in the Greek New Testament, sees Paul commanding the Thessalonians, “ And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.”  I will be dealing with each of the study habits described in this verse (quietness, doing one’s own business, and working with one’s own hands) and will be applying them to the lives of Christian women.  First, however, it is important to realize that the Greek word here used is philotimeomai, which has as its definition, “to vie for, to aspire to.”  BDAG rounds out the semantic scope of the word this way:  “having as one’s ambition, considering it an honor.”
The primal New Testament command to study, then, concerns one vying for and aspiring to, among other traits, the habit of quietness.  Now that concept struck my interest immediately, for linking itself in my mind to Paul’s direction to these believers was Peter’s clear admonition that women specifically adorn themselves with the trait of quietness.  How exactly does one study to be quiet? I wondered.  Having grown up in a pastor’s family with nine siblings, I knew quietness may not exist in my circumstances.  And yet, while it may be far removed from our physical condition, with all our striving and labor and diligence, we are to labor to “be quiet. . .”   
And I began to wonder….how does one vie for quietness?  It seemed paradoxical and well nigh impossible, as I observed various Christian women around me disturbed by a worried spirit, on the verge of emotional breakdowns, and even dealing with panic attacks.  As I considered these things more deeply, I discovered areas in my life that I, too, had become plagued by worry.  I hadn’t meant for it to happen.  But it had crept in, slowly and surely, since those first days of marital bliss, to wrap about me as a kudzu vine wraps about the redwoods in California.  
In my next article, I will explain how I realized that my aspiration for quietness was an ongoing endeavor and not something that could be solved immediately forever. I will demonstrate how easily we fall from this worthwhile pursuit and commit the sins of worry and fear, which hinder our ability to truly embrace the quiet spirit for which we are to vie. Because of the constant vigilance required to study quietness, I have not always succeeded in achieving the kind of demeanor for which Peter calls or which Paul here commends.  Like any worthwhile pursuit, our study to be quiet must initially be viewed as the serious endeavor that it is.  In my next entry, I will discuss how this investigation for quietness has truly begun to transform my Christian walk and demeanor of life in many practical ways. 

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