A couple weeks before I played my first softball season in middle school, my mom suggested that I familiarize myself with the basic concept of softball.
As I read through the rules, I worked to understand as much as possible, but some parts of the game confused me. I was especially curious about the best way to carry around a stolen base during a game. I tried to picture a lot of the rules in my head to form a cohesive idea of what an entire game would be like, but it was difficult. Many of the rules seemed arbitrary, random, or seemingly useless.
It wasn’t until I started attending practice regularly that I finally understood the game. The watchful eye of my coach, encouraging words and the different skills of my teammates, and opportunities to practice new plays or techniques allowed me to learn and naturally follow the softball rules that once confused me on my own.
Although no analogy is perfect, I think this story illustrates well the importance of studying Scripture in community. On our own, we often can’t see or understand the full scope of Scripture, the full range of gifts within the body of Christ, and the robust character of God. Studying Scripture outside of the influence of God’s people often leaves us building shanty homes next to the beautiful, unshakeable house of God. There are countless advantages to studying God’s Word in community, but I’d like to highlight three the Spirit brought to my mind:
Diversity in Unity
Practicing with my teammates showed me our differences: some were better hitters, some were great runners, and some were smart fielders, but everyone had clear strengths to bring to the table. This allowed our coach to play us in positions best suited for our talent. As we practiced together, we learned to anticipate each other’s movements, complement each other’s abilities, and identify areas of need.
Likewise, Paul reminds the Corinthian church of their need for diversity in unity within the church in 1 Corinthians 12:12–31 by using the human body as an analogy. Each part serves a unique purpose and glorifies God alone as a part of the body. Studying Scripture in community brings diverse people, giftings, vocations, abilities, knowledge, and cultures together under the lordship of Christ and allows us to learn from and understand each other through the lens of the gospel.
As we study Scripture in community, the church grows together in Christ by allowing the Holy Spirit to employ unique, God-ordained aspects of our humanity to expand our knowledge of Scripture, God, and God’s people as He guides our study of the Bible. My knowledge of Scripture would be severely stunted if God had not used specific people in my life to help me understand Hebrew poetry, agricultural cycles and metaphors, or Ancient Near Eastern cultures, because God had given them expertise, wisdom, or experience in these topics.
Consider one or two of the ways God brought a brother or sister in Christ to you in order to reveal something in Scripture or something about Him that you never considered. Were you ever able to do the same for someone? How can you encourage this kind of “one another” atmosphere while keeping a Christ-centered focus?
Iron Sharpens Iron
One of my favorite parts about being on a team is that you receive helpful correction and guidance from others. I didn’t have extensive hitting lessons, but many of my teammates did. So when they saw parts of my swing that could use improvement, they freely offered their help out of kindness, without making fun of me.
Studying Scripture in community is the same way! Acts provides two of my favorite examples. The first is in Acts 8:26–40 when Phillip helps a eunuch understand Isaiah’s prophecy in light of Jesus’ person and work. The second is in Acts 18:24–28 when Priscilla and Aquila hear that Apollos’ preaching needs some refinement. We can compare the eunuch and Apollos to me trying to piece together a softball game from a list of rules; both needed people more experienced in the faith to help them understand Scripture and the story of God’s saving work on behalf of His people. While seeking unity in diversity broadens our knowledge, sharpening such as this fine-tunes the specific details of our faith and our grasp of Scripture in order to ensure the body of Christ properly understands essential beliefs.
Iron sharpening iron depends entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit. Without the prompting of the Spirit, Phillip would not have approached the eunuch. And without the Spirit’s imparted wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6–16), Phillip, Priscilla, and Aquila would not have had the understanding to guide these new believers. Likewise, because of the Holy Spirit’s kindness to me, he appointed a mentor to help me grasp the relevance of the Old Testament to the New Testament. The community cannot grow in Scripture apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
When sharpening or correcting another Christian, do you approach them under the leading of the Holy Spirit, seeking to unify and sharpen the body of Christ? Or, in your own spirit, do you seek to exhibit your knowledge? How does the Holy Spirit go before, with, and after us as we guide one another in the faith? How can we be sure it is the Holy Spirit and not our flesh prompting us to correct one another?
Edification and Hope
Teams have their ups and downs, but regardless of whether we had to run because someone skipped class or, on the other hand, we got to celebrate a big win, my teammates lifted each other up. The church similarly edifies one another through studying God’s Word.
As the church studies Scripture, we discover more about the present and future hope that we have in Christ. We build each other up through our words, service, wisdom, and prayers, and we can offer comfort to those enduring hardship when we come together to study the Bible. Studying troubling passages allows Christian communities to explore difficulties together while offering promises of redemption, renewal, and fulfillment through testimonies to God’s faithfulness and goodness in the lives of His saints past and present. Additionally, seeing the fervor other brothers or sisters have for the Lord can ignite the same excitement for learning more about God through His Word.
When the church studies the Bible in community, we get a glimpse of our future: brothers and sisters from all over the world with different backgrounds and gifts coming together in the Spirit to worship God because of the salvation offered to us through Christ. Asaph writes about this hope offered by the gathering of God’s people to worship in Psalm 73:16–17. Broken and despairing, Asaph considers joining the ranks of the wicked until he begins to worship in the sanctuary surrounded by God’s people, singing and reciting Scripture. While we are not a perfect church right now, when we gather together God offers us a taste of His promise that we will be his people and he will be our God (Rev 21:3).
How has studying God’s Word with others encouraged you? Have you been able to edify a brother or sister by sharing the Lord’s goodness to you while discussing difficult topics or passages of Scripture?
The Lord created each of us to live and worship in community with one another. God’s Word is a gift that is sweeter when shared than when stashed away. Studying together provides us with a more holistic view of God, His gospel, and His people. Without each other, we gravitate toward a lopsided view of God who is simply a magnified version of ourselves; we also end up with a stunted gospel and a crippled people. But when we come together, we can taste and see just how good the Lord is.