BIBLE STUDY: HEARING CHRIST TODAY
by Fr. Ted Bobosh
As a father of four children, I have observed many sporting events over the past several years. Yes, I have even become a "soccer dad," working as an assistant coach on my sons' soccer teams. I have noted that the coaches I like the best are ones who themselves know the game and can develop basic skills in the players. They are the coaches who actually have something to give to the kids. When they speak, they expect the kids to listen, learn and then do what they were told — at practice and during the games. And the kids do.
Now you might be wondering what my soccer anecdote has to do with an article on introductory bible study. I want to establish a modern, though imperfect, image with what the goal of bible study is.
As Orthodox Christians, we are disciples of a Master. Our Master is our Lord Jesus Christ. The imagery of Master and disciple is not as clear to us as it was in Christ's day. (Probably, we have given a mostly negative connotation to "Master" as in slave master and see it as a word denying us personal freedoms.) To be an Orthodox Christian means that we have a particular relationship to our Master Jesus Christ. The image I am offering you for that relationship is that of the good soccer coach and his players. Remember I said the good coach has something to give to the kids — some wisdom, skills, knowledge, insight, perspective on how to play the game. His expectation of the kids is that they will listen (pay attention), learn, do what they are told in order to be better players, and team players. We are those kids. Christ is the one who has something to offer us. We are to develop that trusting relationship with him, to train ourselves to listen to him, to learn from him and then to put into practice the lessons we have learned.
What does Christ have to say to us today? What lessons do we need to learn?
This, my friends, is where bible study comes in. For our goal in studying the scriptures is to train ourselves to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus the Son of God. Our goal is to know God in order to know what is expected of us today, here and now.
Bible study does not offer us simply a better understanding of a book. Rather bible study is one way that we as disciples of Christ come to know God. We train ourselves to listen to Him speaking to us and we form our relationship with Him. And we are talking about forming a real relationship with a real being. Like all relationships, our relationship with Christ our Lord also grows hot and cold, sometimes we listen other times we don't. Sometimes we are in love and other times we are indifferent. But if we persist in the relationship that relationship grows deeper and more meaningful, as does our love for Him, and our understanding of how we must maintain our relationship with Him.
Bible study does give us some information about God, ourselves and the world. More importantly bible study forms our relationship with God and His world. It goes far beyond learning a few verses, or a few laws or a few facts. In studying the bible, we as God's people receive the mind of Christ, the wisdom, word and power of God. This Word of God comes to live in our hearts and minds and souls, so that we can know at every moment, "what would Jesus do if he were me right now?"
In youth soccer, the coaches teach the kids to "play their position." The child first understands this as "law." Some children will virtually stand in one place lest they violate the "law" of the coach. In so doing they often lose the chance to make a great play or score a goal. It takes time for the child to gain wisdom and confidence in playing. It takes time and experience for the child to understand and be able to move about "playing their position" while at the same time risking going out of position to be where they are needed to help the team. This is learning the game rather than just following the game's rules. This is wisdom.
In our Christian life, we too often see bible study as memorizing verses, learning the law and holding to our position. It takes time for us to gain confidence in being a disciple. It takes time for us to gain experience and learn wisdom. This is why we must be studying the scriptures, to gain experience and wisdom and to apply the teachings of our God to different situations of our life, in different times and circumstances. In doing this we will learn how to contribute to the team [=the Church]. We grow beyond knowing a few facts and laws. We grow beyond merely fearing we might violate a rule. We come to understand that we are in a living relationship with Christ which requires us to learn the one true rule of the Master — the law of love. We learn how to apply this law to every situation. "Love God first, then love your neighbor as yourself." This Law of love moves us beyond the fear of breaking rules to imitating Christ our Lord.
While we can do this bible study by ourselves, it is in the Church, within the community of God's people that we have the best opportunity to grow in wisdom and understanding. In the Church we can "practice" our discipleship, make our mistakes within the safety of a loving nurturing community, be forgiven, and grow in faith and love. Within the community we also can observe the witness of others who are struggling with being disciples. Not only do we have the saints as examples of people who struggled to live the gospel teaching daily, but we can see the examples of living Christians, our fellow members striving to lead the evangelical life, or even falling and then having to get up and continue their walk with the Lord.
Having said all of this, take time this Lent to study the teachings of our Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, and see how they apply to your daily life. Study the Lenten Sunday Gospel Lessons with a group of fellow parishioners. Some one or two of you may want to read what some commentaries say about these Gospel lessons. But rather than merely learning information about the Bible, look at yourselves and ask, "What lesson does our Lord want us to hear, learn and do?" "How can I apply these lessons to my daily life? How will I incorporate them into my self understanding and my perspective? What do they tell me about how to relate to Christ? To my fellow parishioners? To the world?"
When we read the Holy Scriptures, the proper method is not to have it in our minds to read, page after page, but rather to reflect over each word. When some words make us go deeply into ourselves or stir us to repentance, or fill our heart with spiritual joy and love, let us pause with them. The stirring they give us means that God draws near us, so that we may receive Him humbly with an open heart - for He Himself wishes us to partake of Him. (Jack Sparks, Victory in the Unseen Warfare)
For 1997, here is a list of the Sunday Gospels for the pre-Lenten and Lenten period. Each week take the lesson and discuss it with your group. Remember the lesson is for you. Christ is speaking to you as his disciples to train you. This is your chance to form that proper relationship with Christ our Master. Take time in each lesson to list the characteristics of each character (good and bad). Of what and whom does Christ approve? How are we to be to receive Christ's approval?
Fr. Ted Bobosh is the Director of Religious Education, OCA Diocese of the Midwest, and pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church, Dayton, OH.
From Jacob's Well
Newspaper of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey
Orthodox Church in America