Bible Study and “The Ezra Principle”

Posted on October 23, 2011 by

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The Psalmist pleads to the Lord, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous  things out of your law” (Psa. 119.18 ESV). In this great Psalm, David recounts the wonders of the Law of God and exalts its beauty, richness, guidance, and its loftiness as it is grounded in God’s righteousness.

One of the empowering aspects of this Psalm is not actually found in what is written, but the very process by which we see an engagement by the Psalmist with the Word of God, the Law of the Lord. The entire Psalm flows with a powerful example of losing oneself in with world of God’s Law.

Knowing is the Beginning

This observation begins to shift my thinking towards the idea of being absorbed in the Word of God; and yet, that is not as entirely the big picture. Knowledge by itself is useless; just as James writes:  “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of  you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the  things needed for the body, what good is that?” (2.15-16).

In terms of Christian thinking, this behavior is incomplete at best, and fraudulent at worst. To be  sure, we are called to know the Lord (Jer. 31.34), and Solomon writes, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1.7). Our mind is to be  infused with the Lord’s teaching for a specific purpose: to serve God. We must “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3.9-10, 16-17).

Knowing the beginning (knowledge) is one thing, and knowing the end (action) is another thing, but the big picture is the process which takes from the beginning to the end; from learning our responsibility and applying the scripture to our lives. Essentially, we are focusing on how to live with the Word of God as the guiding force behind all our actions.

Obedience is the End

If were to borrow an analogy from camping, we may think of this process of applying Scripture as a daily camping trip. We have our map and we have our directions (i.e. the Scripture): (a) our starting point (i.e. the command), and we have (b) our destination (i.e. the action). But how to we use our map and directions to get from point A to point B?

Here are four practical ways to engage Scripture so that we too can begin with the same process which enraptured David’s soul with God’s Word. We must always begin with reading the Scriptures, a reflection and meditation to understand what is read, a prayerful consideration of the demands of the Scriptures, and finally  the application of these demands in our lives.

The Ezra Principle

These “basics” are best summarized in Ezra 7.10, which describes a man of similar passions as we in his efforts to be a servant of God. It reads as follows:

Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. (ESV)

At the heart of it, Ezra commits himself to at least six commitments: (1) he set his heart, (2) to energy need to study, (3) to focus his energies to study only God’s word, (4) to practice God’s word, and (5) to equip himself to teach God’s word.

(1) We Must Set Our Hearts.

If the heart is not “into it” the body and life will not follow. Paul, speaking  of the Macedonian’s benevolent efforts despite their deep poverty, describes the basis of their commitment: “they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then by the will of God to us” (2 Cor. 8.5). Great advancements always stem from great commitments.

In the study and application of God’s Word, the commitment which begins at our spiritual core – the heart – will continue to be the driving force throughout our life of service to God (Deut. 6.5, Lev. 19.18).

(2) We Must Spend Time in Study.

Near the end of the apostle Paul’s life, he requested that Timothy come to be with him and bring his cloak, and his books and the parchments (2 Tim. 4.13).  There are many speculations about the nature of these last two items, but at the very least the books and parchments would include copies of his letters to other churches.[1] Paul would spend that last days of his life with those volumes he penned through inspiration to those in need of strength and faith.

The point we draw from here is that Paul was a studying man. In fact, he would encourage Timothy to be well equipped in the word aptly able to “divide” the Scripture clearly and carefully (2 Tim. 2.15). Ezra likewise spent renewed focus in studying the Law as he found himself and Israel back in the Land of their faith. Ezra knew, as we ought to today, that in order to rebuild our lives it must be based upon God’s word.

(3) We Must Select Only God’s Word as the Object of our Study.

There are many philosophical writings and even religious “scriptures”, however, the Bible is the only set of “Sacred Writings” which are able to make a person wise to obtain salvation (2 Tim. 3.14-15). One may argue that this is an arrogant statement; however, despite the fact that such “writings” may provide insight into our lives, they pale in comparison with the never surpassed guidance given in the divine books of the Bible.

When one analyzes the Bible from the vantage point of predictive prophecy, historical accuracy, scientific foreknowledge, and literary harmony of this great anthology of 66 books in contrast to such other works, the Bible stands alone.[2]

(4) We Must Steadfastly Practice God’s Word.

It is only by the conviction that the words inscribed on the paper we read are not mere words of human being, but are instead the very words which God himself would breath out (1 Thess. 2.13; 2 Tim. 3.16-17). Jesus teaches quite clearly that our lives are to reflect this type of respect, for in our prayers we are to express the sentiment: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10). The Lord declares: “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15.22)

(5) We Must Share both our Learning and Experiences.

In many ways, teaching is not only the sharing of facts and principles. At various instances anecdotal interactions with God’s word can be very revealing and helpful in understanding and teaching God’s word. For example, consider all those who continue to leave the denominational world for the practice of pure New Testament Christianity.

The process of filtering out unbiblical accretions while adding to their learning and practice the biblical faith can be a very helpful experience to teach others going through the same process. The bottom line is that God’s word was never designed to be a mental exercise to the exclusion of action and sharing; indeed, we must make “disciples” (Matt. 28.19-20).

Sources

  1. E. Randolph Richards, 1998, “The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 8: 161. The term “parchments” (Grk. membranas) is rather interesting since Paul, according to Richards, “is the only Greek writer of the first century to refer to membranai, a Roman invention”. Furthermore, parchments codices were used to retain copies of letters for future use to prepare rough drafts of other letters later written for dispatchment. It is reasonable to suggest then that Paul  was calling on Timothy to bring him the emerging bulk of the New Testament letters.
  2. There are a number of books we might recommend on this subject, and for that matter websites. Kenny Barfield as two valuable works: Why the Bible Is Number 1: The Sacred World’s Sacred Writings in the Light of Science (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1988), and The Prophet Motive: Examining the Reliability of the Biblical Prophets (Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate, 1995). Wayne Jackson has produced a number of excellent resources in this area as well: Fortify Your Faith in Age of Doubt (Montgomery, Ala.: Apologetics Press, 1982),  The Bible and Science (Stockton, Calif.: Courier Publications, 2000), and The Bible on Trial (Stockton, Calif.: Courier Publications, 2009). See also the following websites: ChristianCourier.com and ApologeticsPress.org.
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