I have some personality traits that are stamped into my DNA. For example, I love details. Things are never as simple as they seem. You have to dig a little deeper sometimes to find the nuggets of truth that are in the text.
In my morning reading in 1 Thess. 4:9-12, I actually had to stop and reflect on a word Paul apparently coined in verse 9: theodidaktoi ("God-taught").
When you think about it, that really is an amazing word because of the truth it reflects. Paul is about to take up with the church two topics:
1. Love toward the Christian brotherhood.
2. Diligence in daily conduct.
He begins by stating that it is not even necessary for him to write about brotherly love (philadelphia) because his readers have been taught by God and are already reflecting this teaching in their lives. The verbal adjective theodidaktoi occurs only here in the New Testament but it must have been inspired by such passages as:
- Isa. 54:13
- Jer. 31:33
- Joel 2:28
- Micah 5:2
- Zeph. 3:9
Jesus himself reflects this teaching in John 6:45 when he says, "The prophets wrote, 'Everyone will be taught by God.' Anyone who hears the Father and learns from him comes to me." Here "taught by God" is didaktoi theou instead of theodidaktoi, but the meaning is the same.
Thus, when Paul writes in 1 Thess. 4:9 "you have been taught by God," he is not saying something new. He has just reminded the Thessalonians that God gives his Holy Spirit to the church (verse 8). He now adds that God himself, through his Spirit, has already taught them how to practice love toward each other.
My friend, when it comes to studying the Bible, the ball is ultimately in your court. If the Holy Spirit has come into your life, then you have everything you need to engage in serious Bible study. John writes (1 John 2:27):
The anointing you have received from the Holy Spirit remains in you, and you do not need for anyone to teach you.
John is emphasizing that our relationship with Jesus Christ can be a personal rather than a mediated one that is meant to grow richer and deeper until the day we meet him "face to face" (1 John 3:1). It is the Holy Spirit who grants us understanding of the Scriptures. It is he who allows us to grow in knowledge and in spiritual stature. It is he who illuminates to our hearts and minds not only the person of Christ but his will for our lives. The Spirit is thus the supreme interpreter of God's word. Once you understand this, daily Bible study will become a discipline you can hardly afford to neglect. We have in the Spirit a teacher who is resident within us to show us the mind of Christ!
As Christians, then, our teachers are threefold: gifted leaders and teachers in the church (Eph. 4:11), our fellow believers as we teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), and ultimately the Holy Spirit himself. This is not to belittle the ministry of shepherd-teachers. I have trained a good number of them through the years! Nor am I pleading for an "anything goes" mentality when it comes to Bible study. We are always to be wary of false teaching. As we see from the book of Galatians, Christians are dangerously liable to add something to the finished work of Christ and his sole sufficiency. I am simply pleading that we continue to devote ourselves, both as individuals and as congregations, to the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42).
If you haven't already paused today to open God's word, may I encourage you to do so right now? Begin with prayer. Many blunders of interpretation would never have been made if we had prayed as much in advance as we pined after the damage was already done. So before you open your Bible, ask God to bless you. Just pray a simple prayer like, "God, thank you so much for your word. May your Holy Spirit reveal truth to me today. Not yesterday, not last year, but today." And he will do it.