In aviation, attitude is the inclination of the three principal axes of an aircraft relative to a horizontal plane. Simply stated, the idea is that you want to be flying horizontally if you are going to fly at all.
In Bible study, we want to be studying relative to a fixed Christlike position or “attitude.” The mind of Jesus is to be both our search goal and our guide for practicing what we learn. The better we develop the mind of Christ, the better we will see Scripture through His eyes.
There was a reason Jesus saw the Bible differently from most everyone else He encountered. This reason or “attitude,” that is to say the thinking that kept Him on point, this is the thinking we want to both acquire and employ. We want to be learning and doing in the manner of the Christ. We want to straighten up and fly right.
Christianity is, to modify a once was often voiced truism, “a learned religion.” We are, therefore, always one generation from apostasy. Every generation must, with regard to Jesus, “come and see” so as to learn from Him (Jn. 1:46; Matt. 11:28-30). In its most effective and productive form, Bible study is a study of the Person we call Jesus. He distilled, processed, and applied everything that is in the Bible to relate it to life in the Messianic Kingdom. More than even that, He was and is the Word.
In churches of Christ, we have rediscovered and guarded many biblical formulas representing truth; but we have not always done as effective a job looking behind the scenes of patterns and formulas for deeper understandings. Our studies must, however, bring us to a robust comprehension of the principles and purposes behind the patterns, if we are to truly appreciate what God has invested in them.
Having an “attitude” towards study that is Christlike corrects common shortcomings. Jesus was not some kind of bare facts dispensing robot that was absent any real understanding of what He taught. He knew the Father and we are expected to know God as well (John 14:7-12; 15:15; 17:3). His influence on our “attitude” of study is therefore critical.
Jesus was not in the least interested in simply teaching to impart factual understanding. Yes, He did indeed teach facts and knew their nonnegotiable, essential value. He did, however, see facts or truths as a means to a larger, more fundamentally significant, goal. He wanted receptive hearts to be transformed by His words. He wanted people who would enthusiastically latch on to the values that characterize God. He wanted people who would, in their eager reception of the truth, be dramatically changed from within. We have no right to want anything short of His lofty purpose for our studies.
Study, directed by the learned nature of discipleship, is fundamental to both the existence and quality of Christianity (Rom. 10:14-15, Eph. 4:11-16). However, the computer cliché, “garbage in, garbage out” gives us a much-needed warning. We cannot be true to Christlike ideals without truthful, insightful, and convicting teaching that ultimately depends on effective study. We cannot be true to reproducing New Covenant patterns unless we first look to Jesus to show us the way (Col. 3:1-3).
With an unrelenting “Jesus first” emphasis in mind, the purpose of this essay is to encourage study that will instill within us the mind of Christ. Consequently, I want us to consider our relationship to some very basic principles of study to connect us to more productive time spent in Scripture. The central or core pattern in all that we are investigating is, Jesus Himself. In all our talk about patterns, in a practical sense, we rarely give Jesus His due. He is, in all things, the One with Whom we are to conform (Rom. 8:29).
Consider this. In churches of Christ, we have extracted biblical patterns for church government, worship on the Lord’s Day, how to become a Christian, etc., but what about the pattern of Jesus Himself (cf. Jn. 1:18, 14:7-9)? In the particular matter of study, how often do we center our efforts on an understanding and application the identity of the Christ?
With all the programs that come and go among us, where is the overt, practical, reproducible Jesus first model? God does, after all, have a less than subtle message in the fact He made the four Gospels to comprise almost half the content of the New Testament. The Father is, to restate the aforementioned words of Philip, asking us to “Come and see…” (Jn. 1:46).
When we study to discover the “Jesus Pattern,” we encounter something that we might call “a pattern within the pattern.” We discover here a protocol influencing all of our study efforts. This protocol allows us to establish concrete, practical understandings for translating the “Jesus Pattern” into present-day reality.
Some “for instances” are in order. If we are to make the most out of our study opportunities, those opportunities need to be seen as part of a bigger whole. Since we are in essence talking about character development, study alone is not enough. Christ-like maturity isn’t like memorizing state capitals for a U. S. history test. For study to lead to Christlikeness, we also need to apply and practice what we learn (Heb. 5:14).
Notice how Jesus expected people to do something with what they learned from Him. Preceding the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told the inquiring lawyer regarding the two greatest commandments, “…do this and you will live” (Lk. 10:28). After the story, He said, “Go and do the same” (Lk. 10:37). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the folly of just saying “Lord, Lord” and of the need to both hear and do (Matt. 7:21-27). He pointedly asked why people would talk the talk without walking the walk (Matt. 23:3; Lk. 6:46). Therefore, it would seem we need to include “doing” in our overall study agenda.
Study methods are to translate into character development that increasingly allows for intuitive (the new mind, Phil. 2:5) assessments applied appropriately to suit the need of the moment. This living from within “method” or “style” is the absolutely, positively, non-negotiable goal God intends every Christian Bible student to embrace (Gal.2:20).
Our personal integrity, our Christlikeness, is the most important ingredient to develop in our studies. A mature Christian is able to “stand and deliver” because Jesus has been sanctified in the heart (I Pet. 3:15). There is no study goal superior to this (cf. Eph. 4:11-16; I Cor. 3:1-4; Gal. 4:19).
In this transforming, Jesus First protocol, consider the following useful sequence: PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS. Give some thought to how these three steps work together to move us into Christlikeness, the ultimate goal of study (Rom. 8:29).
Jesus taught with a Father-directed purpose (Jn. 4:34; 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10; 17:4; 19:28, 30). This purpose shaped and defined everything He did and spoke. Therefore, because of Jesus’ exact replication of the Father’s will, He serves in His person as our ultimate pattern (cf. Acts 1:1).
Notice how Luke introduces us to Acts. He begins with Jesus before he deals with the church (also notice that the first word Peter uses as He begins the first Gospel sermon is “Jesus,” also Phillip’s starting point with the Ethiopian, also what Paul determined to know in the church at Corinth). Thus, Jesus, not the birth of the church in Acts 2, is the true hub of the Bible. In discovering the identity of Jesus, we can come to understand all of the Scripture’s teachings as they draw upon knowing Christ.
By looking to Jesus, we see that He had a Father-driven purpose totally defining the content of all His words and deeds. This content, when embraced, will transform people into Christ-like disciples (cf. Acts 4:13). PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS, this is the internal protocol that defined the teaching model of Jesus and thus defines our study model. If we choose to let Jesus be our pattern in study, we will welcome this pattern and make it our own.
In this, Jesus is the overarching model, the pattern, or the example for all things, including study. If we do not study with the correct “attitude” our Christian life will veer off course and crash. Jesus is the living, breathing, real-life, personal, “if-you-have-seen-me-you-have-seen the Father” model.
Within this Christ-shaped pattern, we encounter the “pattern within the pattern” of PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS. This alerts us to the importance of associating our study with God’s purpose so that our content will be chosen in a given subject to best achieve the Father’s intended results.
We are not, as learners, simply to acquire information. We are, if following the Jesus model, choosing the information we digest so as to honor God’s overarching purpose for individuals, a discipleship that develops Christ-like character, and for the church, a congregation that is to represent the body of Christ.
Edwin preaches for the Lehman Avenue congregation in Bowling Green, KY.