17. The brethren can minister the Word
The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.
---I Peter 2:2
I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it also be read in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
---Paul, to the brethren, I Thes. 5:27
Since God has committed the ministry of the Word to the brethren, it makes perfect sense that God has made His Word intelligible to the brethren.
I do not say God has committed the ministry of the Word to the brethren and for that reason He has made His Word intelligible. No, He made His Word clear and intelligible to believers because that is the way He teaches. It is the way His Son taught us, and it is the way the apostles taught us.
God is no respecter of persons. He says to every man and woman, “Come, let us reason together.” This is another manifestation of God’s wonderful condescension to His frail creatures, both saved and unsaved—His Word is intelligible to them. Granted, without the aid of the Holy Spirit we cannot plumb “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” But this is due to the limits of fallen human reason. This is human depravity as God defines it: “men...hold the truth in unrighteousness,” Rom. 1:18. See, the problem is not the difficulty of understanding the Word, it is that men are proud.
The general themes of the Bible ought to be unmistakable even to unbelievers. When they are not understood it is due to man’s blindness. God is holy, man is universally sinful and thus alienated from God. All sinned in Adam. But God Himself provided the remedy so that men are without excuse. We cannot blame God for our heritage from Adam. However, while we were yet sinners, He provided an atonement for our sins, the second Adam, who saves us not only from the wrath to come but unto eternal life. Why chafe at the doctrine of original sin? That is fretting against the Lord. That is the clay judging the Potter. If people do not understand that they are sinners—for whatever reason—it is their problem and not God’s. God made it clear to them and they did not see it. For this reason men will be without excuse in the day of judgment.
When we hear and believe the gospel, thereby receiving the Spirit, the Spirit can clear our minds so that we may understand the rest of the Bible. What is necessary after conversion is that we continue in the Spirit rather than revert to the flesh, cf. Gal. 3:3. In Bible study this means we rely on the Spirit to teach us rather than putting any confidence in our own mental powers. This is surely an application of the Bible teaching, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Prov. 3:5. It does not mean “cease thinking.” But the heart and the mind must work together and not in opposition.
Thus, God’s committing the ministry of the Word to the brethren, and the intelligibility of His Word, are perfectly compatible ideas that reflect His perfect wisdom.
The way God teaches us is a model for the way we are to teach one another. The way the inspired apostles taught is a model for the way we are to teach one another. Of course that is two ways of saying the same thing, since God inspired the apostles. The easiest way to emulate the apostles is to use their words. Paul wrote, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” I Pet. 4:11. Though this speaking is surely not limited to simply reading the Scriptures aloud, that is a good place to start. For us it is safe. For this reason Paul directed that certain of the epistles be read in the churches. Perhaps this is a general practice worthy of imitation. In Hebrews 13:7 the elders were said “(to) have spoken unto you the word of God.” Lacking good reason to interpret this other than literally, it seems the elders had spoken, and not taught or preached or otherwise elaborated on, the Word of God. The elders certainly did those other things, too. But here it is featured that they spoke the Word of God. And since the elders are charged with feeding the flock in I Peter 5, it may very well be that simply speaking the Word is a principal way—if not the principal way—of feeding the flock. This idea is reinforced, in the teaching that husbands are to love their wives, by the analogy that Christ “also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” Eph. 5:25-26. It is the plain and unvarnished Word that washes the church of Jesus Christ. Then, too, we have an inspired guarantee that the Word is “quick and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb. 4:12. So there are good reasons given in Scripture for simply reading the Word in the churches. However it is not enough to simply read the Word, we must believe that this reading of the Word is both efficacious and sufficient in itself. If we are going to simply read the Word in the churches, we must have faith that it is efficacious. In this the saints manifest a real trust in the Lord. I am not saying the churches do not benefit from teachers. But they are aids and not the Master. They are perfecters and not the Teacher. The Teacher uses His Book.
The fact that the Word is intelligible to the brethren does not mean we are free to neglect study of the Word and expect to gain understanding. A training manual may be thoroughly intelligible, but do we expect to understand it without study? The Word is understandable only through study, II Tim. 2:15, a study that a vast majority of Christians are capable of and expected by their Father to be doing. How do we know this? We know it because the word translated study means diligence, and all can be and all are to be diligent in seeking the guidance of the Scriptures.
While the King James says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God...,” other translations have it, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved...” (NIV); ‘Make every effort to present yourself approved to God...” (Berean Study Bible); “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God...” (NASB); “Strive diligently to present thyself approved unto God...” (Darby). This emphasizes the place of the heart and the will in our attitude and use of the Scriptures over the only other approach possible, an approach that relies simply on the reasoning power of man. It is a moral and spiritual approach in which the heart and the mind work together rather than an approach that champions the mind at the expense of the heart. This is fear of the Lord, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The Bible is approached from below, not above. It came down from heaven, but it is still above us here on earth. The best example of how not to approach the Word is the “higher critical school” of Bible interpretation. These “critics” approach the Scriptures “from above,” judging the Word. But the Word judges us, and not the other way round. When one approaches the Word “from above,” he can learn nothing. The Holy Spirit never illuminates the Book to a “higher critic.” (The same is true in all “secular” studies of the Word, e.g., “The Bible as History,” or “The Bible as Literature.” Teachers and students who approach the Word in this way will only be hardened in their conceits.) However the Spirit does indeed turn higher critics into lower critics, “reprov(ing) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” You see, we are all born “higher critics” of the Word of God, for all sinned in Adam, and thus we are born holding the truth of God in unrighteousness. (Atheists and agnostics, along with many professing Christians, will be outraged at this statement. But watch what happens when their “innocent” babies get to be two years old.) I say we are born higher critics; but when the Spirit of God brings us low, we repent of our sins and believe the gospel of Christ crucified. So the difference between the saints and the “higher critics” is that we have repented of thinking we know more than God, while they have made well-paying ecclesiastical careers out of their “theologies.”
Once a man or woman is converted to the faith of Jesus Christ, in due time, with study of the Word, he is able to minister the Word to others. The Word of God is not rocket science. It is far higher than rocket science, but it is intelligible to a vast majority of us in a way that rocket science is not.
Paul did not stipulate a quantity of study. He only told us to be diligent. There is liberty in Christ, but not to indulge the flesh. Many of us think we cannot “study” because we do not have time. But reading one chapter of the Bible every day, in faith, is far more edifying than reading ten chapters a day and scouring dictionaries, concordances, and Bible study notes. These study aids may be put to good use, but not when they replace the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In that event our Bible study becomes “leaning unto thine own understanding.” The Spirit may indeed use Bible study aids to teach us, but not if we place our confidence in these. That is confidence misplaced. Many have placed their confidence in every form of study except for a simple reading, in the Spirit, of the living and active Word. So I say reading even one chapter a day in reliance on the Spirit may well manifest obedience to Paul’s command. How much you study is between you and the Lord.
The principal way we grow in understanding of the Bible is by reading the actual words of the Bible, which things are “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I Cor. 2:13. The Spirit teaches us, comparing Scripture with Scripture in order that we may grow in understanding. You will notice, for example, that mature believers are usually able to answer new believer’s questions about apparent contradictions in the Word. That is because the Spirit taught the mature believer to reconcile Scripture teachings by comparing them.
A ministry of the Word committed to the brethren does not ignore the important function of teachers in the churches.
A ministry of the Word committed to the brethren does not ignore the function of elders in the churches.
A ministry of the Word committed to the brethren does not mean that all of the Word is easy to understand. In it “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” II Pet. 3:16. However the people who “wrest the Scriptures,” i.e., twist them and tear them out of context, are unbelievers headed for destruction. No believer is headed for destruction. Still, there are difficulties in the Bible for believers, of this there is no doubt. But these are not substantial. The gospel, the resurrection, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, sanctification, the indwelling Spirit, Satan, spiritual warfare, heaven, hell, the judgments, etc., are not things hard to understand. Of course unbelievers and nominal Christians have a very hard time with them.
Believers are to “not forsak(e) the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Heb. 10:25. Exhorting, or encouraging (many Bible translations use the latter), is the duty of all the brethren in meeting on the Lord’s day. It is our purpose for meeting, according to the Word. We meet in the name of Jesus Christ in order to encourage one another.
However the point to this little chapter is not to point out the purpose for our assembling on the Lord’s day, it is to say that the reason the brethren are able to encourage one another is that the Word is “easy to be intreated.” Other Bible translations use the word reasonable.
Brethren, if the Word is reasonable, and if the brethren are capable of reasoning, and if we who have believed on Jesus have the further advantage of the Spirit of God indwelling us to lead us into all truth, then it is reasonable that the regular Christian ministry is the province of the brethren. Not only is it reasonable, God ordained it.