I was across the room, watching everyone recover from the holiday meal. The people were perched around the room, enjoying visiting with others they had not seen in a while. In an attempt to make conversation, I heard one of them talking about their Sunday school lesson and asked the person what they used to help them study the Bible. The answer still rings in my ears, “I don’t use anything, all I need is the Holy Spirit.” I share this statement with you because it is not wrong, but it is also not entirely right.
The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the truths conveyed in Scripture. Apart from him, we cannot ascertain anything spiritual. Christ affirmed God-given understanding when he acknowledged Peter’s statement that Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16:17) and the role of the Holy Spirit as taught in John 14:26.
Yes, the Holy Spirit is crucial in our understanding of Scripture, but the statement made by this person neglects how the Holy Spirit often works.
The Spirit’s Gift to Mankind
We need to step back for a minute and look at God’s design of the community. Genesis 2:18 tells us “It is not good for man to be alone.” However, to apply this strictly to the marriage context does not do it justice in the scheme of creation. Humanity was not designed to be alone. Adam and Eve were the starting point for population and community . . . We are designed to operate in a community.
This truth continues to resound in the New Testament as the church is established and needed for the fostering of faith. The concept behind Hebrews 10:25 is believers need to meet together to help each other in the faith. As Christians, we were designed to need iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). It is clear – one way the need for community exhibits itself is in the design of the church.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians telling them of gifts given to the faith community, the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers (Eph 4:11). Each of these gifts is for the equipping of the body. No matter how you understand each of these roles, this is the point: God gifted us with each other to help nurture our faith and spiritual growth.
Neglecting the Gift of Community
The statement given above ignores the design of God. In essence, it says it is okay to be alone – in our study. Yes, the Holy Spirit can teach the Word of God and help us understand its contents, but the Holy Spirit has also given us a community in which to foster that knowledge.
Let’s look at the position of a Sunday school teacher that would assert they need no help to guide their study. Aside from ignorance, this might merely be a statement of arrogance. After all, the teacher assumes that the students need to hear what the teacher has studied. In other words, the lesson is essential for people to understand. However, if we genuinely believe that people only need their Bible and the Holy Spirit, then the teacher is irrelevant and not need. Do you understand the hypocrisy and arrogance? The teacher becomes a source that others need to hear, but the teacher needs to hear from no one else.
The same understanding applies to a pastor claiming they need no help in understanding the Bible because the Holy Spirit directs them. I firmly believe the Holy Spirit leads people in learning and preaching. However, if that is all that is needed, then there is no need for him to share a sermon. Instead, he needs to tell the people to go home and read the Bible for themselves, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) We must learn to handle God’s Word properly, and that ability comes from the saints that have gone before us and those with us. Our church and the community of believers are a gift from the Holy Spirit that we should not avoid or neglect.
Embracing the Gift of One Another
There have been many men of God that have touched my life and taught me more than I can record. Men like Earl Taylor and Jim Mays have encouraged and corrected me outside of the seminary structure. Why did I listen to them? Both of these men amassed years of experience and wisdom that I would be foolish to ignore. In the seminary structure, there were men of God that knew Scripture and its intricate parts in a way that I long to experience. These men knew more than me.
The Holy Spirit gifted them in different areas, and when they operated in these areas, they were a gift, used by the Holy Spirit in my life. On my shelves sit works penned by men as they struggled to understand Scripture and how it applied to the Christian life. They knew more than me, they studied more than I have, and they faithfully served the Kingdom of God. Just as I would be foolish to ignore the wisdom and knowledge that have been passed on to me through mentors, it would be just as unreasonable to ignore the works of such fellow believers who are no longer with us.
No, you do not need more than your Bible and the Holy Spirit. However, do not neglect the gift of the saints that the Holy Spirit desires to use in your pursuit of Christian growth and biblical study. Read what others have written. Use the plumb line of Scripture to evaluate their work. Learn from those who know more than you. Treasure the words of those who are wiser than you.
Barnabas helped Paul. Aquilla and Pricilla corrected Apollos. Paul taught Timothy, Titus, and many others. As believers, even in eternity, we do not become omniscient. Therefore, we still need teachers now, those living and those gone on to be with their Savior. Let their works help you understand the Bible.