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Joy in Bible Study

Bible study is work. It is not “fun,” but difficult and strenuous work. It is that for many reasons, but especially because of the weakness of our flesh. To the flesh, searching the Scriptures is boring, unnecessary, too difficult, and is repulsive. Over against our rebellious flesh, Scripture declares that the study of Scripture in connection with the preaching of the Word is vital to the believer’s growth in the grace and knowledge of his Lord Jesus Christ.

Hence, the wise in heart know that although Bible study is work, yet the rewards are blessed. They know that from experience. They know that from many examples in Scripture and Church history. Above all, they know that because Scripture says so. In Psalm 119:162, we read the inspired Psalmist confess: I rejoice at Thy Word, as one that findeth great spoil.

According to this text, the gracious reward upon faithful and diligent Bible study is great joy for the believer. Do you desire to have that spiritual, lasting joy?

The Occasion for Joy

The Psalmist says that the occasion for his rejoicing was the Word of God. In the context of Psalm 119, the Word means the sacred writings that contained all the laws. It included the ten commandments, the ceremonial laws, and the civil laws which governed Israel’s life. It also included the history of creation, the Flood, Abraham, Israel’s bondage and deliverance from Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness, and the history of Joshua and the Judges. Exactly how much of the Old Testament books of the Bible that the Psalmist had is not known.

What is certain is that the Psalmist had the inspired, infallible Word of Jehovah. On the basis of what he had, the Psalmist did know that Jehovah is the Covenant God of His people. He knew that Jehovah was the Redeemer of His people. Psalm 119 itself even reflects the Psalmist’s sure knowledge that only Jehovah could quicken him to see and know the living truths of His Word. He had that knowledge of Jehovah from the Scriptures graciously given him in that age.

Today, you and I have the complete canon of Scripture. We have the full revelation of our God in the infallibly inspired Scriptures from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. In our Bibles, we have been given all that is sufficient to know our God and to rejoice in the knowledge of Him.

How could the Psalmist rejoice when he had only part of the Scriptures? The answer is that whether in Genesis or in Revelation, there God reveals Himself to us in Christ. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is found on all the pages of Scripture. Though the Psalmist lived in the age of types and shadows, and although he did not have all the books of the Bible, yet he had the Truth of the Gospel in the Scriptures infallibly inspired unto his time.

Because he had the Word of Jehovah, he could rejoice. He rejoiced in that Word of Jehovah because that Word was the Good News to him. It was priceless wealth and riches concerning his salvation in the Messiah.

For the very same reason, we rejoice at Jehovah’s Word. Our joy is much fuller because we also have the New Testament Scriptures. We have the revelation of the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the Old Testament. We see the truth in the full revelation which centers in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we see the full accomplishment of the foundation and basis of all our salvation. Jehovah’s Word speaks to His chosen concerning the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jehovah reveals to us in the Scriptures our blessed destination on the basis of Christ’s work. Jehovah tell us that this goal is sure because He sovereignly accomplishes our salvation by His sovereign Spirit and grace. In that Gospel, we rejoice.

Above all, the believer rejoices in God’s Word because there the believer stands face to face with the glory of his God. Principally, his joy is always that God is God, and that God, Who is God, is his God for Jesus’ sake. He rejoices in the truth that God makes known the glory of His Name according to His sovereign and eternal good pleasure. The child of God, who loves God, rejoices that God is glorified in all the works of His hands. Therefore, the child of God rejoices in God’s glory even in the forgiveness of his sins because there God’s mercy and righteousness are gloriously made known in Christ to His honor and praise.

As the believer searches the Scriptures, this is the wealth, the beauty, and the glory of the Word over which he rejoices. For him to daily search the Scriptures and to behold in saving faith the riches of salvation and the glory of his God in Christ is most delightful.

The text goes on to describe that manner in which we receive that great joy in Bible study personally or among those of like-precious faith in a Bible study society.

The Manner of Our Joy

The text implies that there are three ways in which we ought never approach and search the Scriptures. Those who sinfully do such things will experience no joy in Bible study.

First, we must never approach the Bible as if we know it all already. Such pride in thinking that we know all the essentials of the Reformed Faith destroys Bible study. The end result is that we think that there is no more value in Bible study and no more treasure of the Scriptures to be had. Such a proud attitude denies the inehaustibility of the Scriptures, and the smallness of our knowledge of the Scriptures. However, we must penitently realize that we can never “arrive” at an exhaustive knowledge of the inexhaustible riches of the Word.

Secondly, indifference toward the Holy Word is another sin which quenches the fire of joy in Bible study. Spiritual indifference is an evil plague in which one regards the Scriptures in irreverence as unnecessary, worthless, and irrelevant. To be indifferent to the Word is to snub the glory of God revealed in His Word. As His Covenant children, we may never snub Him, but only fear Him in reverence and zeal.

Thirdly, we must avoid approaching Scripture intellectually. We may not treat Bible study merely as a time to stimulate our mental processes or to test our skills at debate. To do so is willfully to overlook the fact that Bible study is always a spiritual activity. It involves not only the mind, but the heart and soul, too. When we gather around the Word, we are gathering in fellowship around the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before that Word, the believer must not stand above Scripture intellectually, but humble himself before the Word as its speaks to his heart and unfolds before him the mysteries of the Truth.

Positively, the text tells us the proper, spiritual approach in Bible study and what will be the inevitable result. The text illustrates this for us in the figure of a man who finds great spoil. This illustration may be applied to Bible study in two ways.

First, the text can be illustrated by this man as a warrior. He fights a long and difficult battle. He overcomes the foe. After the battle, he collects the spoil of victory. He rejoices with great gladness that his foe has been defeated as he counts up the sum total of all his booty.

Similarly, the believer in Bible Study is engaged in a battle. This is part of his work to contend for the faith. His battle is against his own flesh which hinders him from diligent study. His battle is also against false doctrine and heresy. In the way of expending much energy, blood, sweat, and tears, the believer arrives at a greater knowledge of the Word of God.

At the point in which the foe is defeated, great joy resounds in the heart of the believer. He rejoices to know by experience the goodness of Jehovah in delivering him from sin and freely putting in his heart the riches of salvation in Jesus Christ. Peace and joy reign in his heart as the foe is vanquished by the very Word the believer studies.

Secondly, the Psalmist’s discovery of spoil may be illustrated by a farmer. The farmer has plowed the same field for many years. Then one year unexpectedly his plow bumps into a large, hard object in the ground. The farmer stops, hastens to his plow, and quickly grabs and pushes away the dirt from his shiny plow. Suddenly to his delight he discovers a wooden treasure chest containing thousands of gold coins. He had passed over that field for years and years, but this time he has found great treasure.

Similarly, the believer may work with Scripture year after year. Perhaps he has read a passage a hundred times, like Psalm 53. He plows through the meaning of Psalm 53 never aware of the wonderful riches yet buried further below. Then suddenly before his eye of faith God places before him riches and treasures of Jehovah’s tender care as our Shepherd which before he had never seen or known. Joy floods his heart as he grows in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Is that the manner of your rejoicing over Scripture in Bible study? The Lord rewards the faithful and diligent believer with spiritual joy in Bible study. Yes, it will require much warfare against the foe and much plowing through Scripture, commentaries, and concordances, but the wealth of the Scripture reaped requires such effort and affords unspeakable joy.

Understand clearly that the true joy of the believer is only God-ward. For having received the undeserved treasure by God’s grace alone, the believer is joyful in the Lord Who is faithful to lead us by His Spirit into the Truth. We rejoice that God imparts to us who are undeserving those treasures of salvation wrought for us in Christ. He is the substance of our joy and our strength to persevere in diligent Bible study.

Examples of the Text

That is not always the attitude toward Scripture, however. Hostility and rage have often characterized wicked men’s approach and reaction to the Scriptures. An example of that is found in Judah’s wicked king Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36). Jeremiah brought the Word of the LORD to Jehoiakim. After reading three or four leaves of the scroll, Jehoiakim cut them off with his pen knife and tossed them into the lire. Jehoiakim had utter contempt, rebellion, and hostility for Jehovah and His Word.

Such a way of handling Scripture occurred in the time of the early church. False teachers and heretics would literally cut out passages of Scripture that did not suit their own ideas. They wanted a Bible that supported their false doctrines. In pride, they snubbed the glory of God. For such like them there is no joy, nor peace.

As we study the Scriptures, we may not cover the Word of God and cover up His glory. The fact that we must not even change the Scriptures, lest we snub the glory of God in the Truth, implies what version of the Bible we must use in our Bible study as young people. Our delight in the Word of God demands that we use that version of the Bible which is the most faithful to the original languages.

To this day in the English, the Authorized Version (1611) is still the most faithful version of the infallibly, inspired Scriptures in the original languages. For the English-speaking believer who desires the most faithful translation and who desires to delight in the infallibly inspired Word of Jehovah, God has given him in His providence the Authorized Version of 1611. That behooves Protestant Reformed young people to use it alone in society.

The history of the Church also sets forth positive examples of those who rejoiced at the Word of God when they were graciously given a greater understanding of it. There was the publican who came to the temple, and would not even dare lift up his eyes unto heaven. He was burdened with the weight of his guilt. He only prayed, “God be merciful to me the sinner!” That man went home rejoicing because he had found by faith great riches in the Gospel at the house of God.

In addition to the publican, there is also the example of Martin Luther. He struggled with the Word. He fought a warfare against the heresy of Rome’s free-will, works-righteousness, and common grace. He was at a particular point in his life, a lone warrior on the battle field for the Faith as he stood before the Diet of Worms. There in his stand upon the Word of God, he then and throughout his preaching and teaching rejoiced at the riches of the Word graciously given him through his contention for the faith.

Luther had in his own life passed over the passages in Romans many, many times. He had struggled with the question, “How can a man be right with God?” He plowed over the same texts in Romans many times, but found no answers to the struggles of his heart. Then, unexpectedly the Lord revealed to him the treasure of justification by faith alone. He rejoiced at the truth of justification: not by works, not by merit, but by the God-given, God-worked faith alone.

Martin Luther rejoiced at Jehovah’s Word as one who found great spoil! The spoil of victory over the enemy of Rome! The spoil of a treasure unexpectedly and wonderfully revealed to him by God. With that treasure, he enjoyed great comfort, joy, and peace in his soul.

After his godly example, the young Reformed believer walks. He studies in the confidence of the promise of Christ that He will lead us into the truth. He studies by faith in the hope that God will grant him joy in the study of His Word.

In conclusion, that means that he studies after the example of Christ Himself Who rejoiced at the Word of Jehovah. He studies in the power and strength of Christ Who delighted in the Word of Jehovah even in the deepest, hellish agonies on the cross. On the basis of that redeeming delight of Christ, we have in principle the life and strength of delighting in Jehovah’s Word.

In that hope and confidence, the believer must study the Word of God, and may rejoice, for example, with a versification of Psalm 119.

“How I love Thy law, O LORD!

Daily joy its truths afford;

In its constant light I go,

Wise to conquer ev’ry foe.”

(Psalter 333, verse 1) ❖