Did you know that the Rabbis view the study of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) as the highest form of worship? One early Rabbi said, “When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the divine presence dwells among them.” That sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it? Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” Yeah, the Rabbis say that when you pray, you are talking to God, but when you study Torah, God is talking to you. Isn’t it strange, so many of us claim that we never hear God speaking to us when He has provided a book with about 774, 746 of His words that will speak to us as often as we will read them?
When it comes to worship, we place so much emphasis on relevance, worship music, worship style, and whatever else you can think of, but it seems we have overlooked the very important fact that Bible study itself is worship. You’ll hear it said in our churches, “Well, we’ve had a wonderful time in worship today; now let’s turn to the Word.” (Insert wrong answer buzzer sound effect.) No, studying the Word is worship!
After God had delivered the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt, they traveled in the desert for a long time. As they made their way, God told them how he was to be worshiped. He had laws for this, ceremonies for that, different sacrifices and feasts, and at the center of it all was the Shema. Check out Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
“Hear, O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Can you see the application in this for us 21st century Gentile Christians? Can you see the relationship between loving God, and God’s Word? The Israelites were to give prominence to God’s word in their lives, and so are we. In fact, if we are not interacting with the Word, if we are not spending time studying the Word; our worship is incomplete. Just read Psalms119, and you’ll get a clear picture of how the study of God’s word was looked upon as worship. I know it’s unpopular to tell Christians that they must do something. I know we don’t like to hear that we must study. After all, that sounds so Pharisaical. We have reduced worship to merely being entertained, getting’ my praise on, and all of that kind of thing. The truth is that part of our worship is studying God’s word. The reason that deception and apathy are rampant in the churches of America today is due largely to the fact that we have failed to teach our people that the study of God’s word is every bit a part of worship as prayer and singing songs! So what, Shema, Shema you say. That’s that Old Testament legalistic stuff; we’re under the new covenant brother. It’s all about grace and mercy, and we don’t have to do anything.
Jesus himself said that man lives by every word that God speaks (Matthew 4:4). Jesus even said it is those who hear his words and do them that are truly his family (Luke 8:21). How are we to hear and do today? It is in worship, studying his Word. We are exhorted to study God’s word knowing that the scriptures were breathed out by God as he used men to write them down. It is in our worship time of studying the Word that we are made complete and equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16, 17). In his encounters with the Jews of his day, Jesus didn’t condemn them for the emphasis they placed on the scriptures; he rebuked them for failing to understand that it was the scriptures they claimed to love so much that testified of him. This brings me to my next point. Our worship through studying the Bible is to lead us into a living encounter with Jesus. You know, maybe we need to reexamine our definition of “Bible study.”
For so many Christians, Bible study has been reduced to the time they come to church, get situated in their seats, and listen to someone else tell them what the Bible means. I think somehow we’ve missed something. Glance back up at the scripture we looked at in Deuteronomy 6, notice how it speaks of Bible study in an organic way. It was discussed as they were together, as they moved, as they went about living. It was not a static experience; it was a living thing they experienced together. Yes there were teachers, scribes whose job it was to teach the Torah, and we have been given Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers to teach and equip us as well. However, the normal Christian experience is not to come to church, plug in and get the latest download. We are to spend time in personal worship, personal study of the Word, but we are to interact together, experiencing God’s Word together. As we do this, the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, and we become built up and encouraged in the Lord. Remember the words of Paul found in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And again, in his words to the Corinthians, “What then, brothers, when you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (I Corinthians 14:26). Our time spent in personal worship, in personal Bible study is to be that which the Holy Spirit later uses to minister to our brothers and sisters when we come together.
In II Timothy, we find Paul at the time immediately preceding his death. He would soon be beheaded; it was only a matter of weeks or perhaps months. He was in a Roman prison and writing what was to be among his final words, he said to Timothy, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (II Timothy 4:13). We don’t know for sure which books, which parchments he was referring to, but I wonder if maybe he desired to have portions of the scripture with him. Maybe there was an old copy of the Septuagint (Greek translation of Old Testament) he wanted to have with him. Knowing how the Jews (especially a man like Paul) viewed Torah study, I wonder if perhaps being in that prison, that old beat up body of his made it difficult to bow, to kneel, and maybe he figured, “I’ll offer you my worship by studying your word Lord.” Maybe, I don’t know.
Yes, we must worship through prayer, in singing, and in countless other expressions the Spirit may birth in our hearts, but let’s not forget that the study of God’s word is every bit as much a part of worship as those things are. Hear me friends, there is going to be ever increasing deception as this age draws to a close. Be complete in your worship. Spend time in God’s word, and as you do; you will encounter the risen Lord.