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In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled A Theory of Human Motivation. In this paper, he proposed his now-famous “Hierarchy of Needs.” What Maslow said is that human beings begin with a very basic set of needs that they pursue in order to live. These include such things as hunger, thirst, and physical comfort. Once these immediate needs are met, they pursue more long-term needs such as safety and security. The third tier of needs Maslow suggests includes love and belonging. Fourthly, an individual would pursue respect and accomplishment. Finally, they would seek out things such as philosophy, knowledge, and wisdom.
Likely, Maslow would have considered the things that Biblical study affords its readers to belong to this final tier of human needs, making it the most expendable of all the needs a person might have.
The Bible appears to have the opposite view of its importance to the lives of believers. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the generation of Israelites about to pass into the promise land regarding their history. He says this:
Deuteronomy 8:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 And he [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Jehovah does man live.
Later, Jesus quotes this same passage when responding to Satan’s temptation to break his fasting by turning the stones to bread.
In fact, the practice of fasting itself, recommended throughout the Bible, is a blatant denial of the Maslow Hierarchy. What the Bible seems to suggest is that spiritual needs are superior to physical needs such that physical needs must be placed in subjection to them.
While this may seem counter-intuitive, it makes a great deal more sense when one considers that, no matter how effective a person is in meeting their physical needs, they will still inevitably die. There is no amount of food, water, comfort or safety that can eliminate the possibility of death; they can only delay it. However, if Jesus’ teachings are correct, then the meeting of spiritual needs affords a person eternal life beyond death.
Additionally, it is disputable that, even if one were to rise to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, they would ever truly be satisfied. It needs very little documentation that human beings, no matter what kind of life they have, tend to be restless, unhappy, and discontented.
Gautama Buddha grew up in a wealthy home where all his needs were tended to, but found himself unhappy. Casting about the world, he quickly discovered that everyone he met was unhappy. When he founded Buddhism, it was entirely designed to answer the question of how to satisfy the deep sense of dissatisfaction in all people. In the end, he concluded that this need could not be satisfied; only eliminated.
From whence does this sense of longing come, and more importantly, what in the world could satisfy it. The answer is clearly nothing in the world can. Cast about as they might, people cannot find the missing thing that would finally satisfy them.
When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well who offered him a drink, he told her, ‘if you knew who I was, it would be you who asked me for a drink.’ For, he said, whoever drinks of the water in the well will thirst again and require future drinks. Whoever drinks the water that he has to give will be sated forever.
What Jesus offered the woman, and what he offers all mankind, is satisfaction for the dissatisfied, contentment for the discontent, and rest for the restless. Unlike Buddhism, which says the only way to deal with desires is to suppress and eliminate them, Christianity professes to offer the solution to desire: the object of the desire.
The longest chapter in the Bible is the 119th Psalm. This beautiful piece of Hebrew poetry is a love song directed towards God’s Word. In the Cornerstone Bible Commentary on the book of Psalms, commentator Mark Futato summarizes the message of Psalm 119:
…We love the Lord’s instruction very much (119:167). In fact, we love it more than “the finest gold” (119:127). Our love means we honor that instruction (119:48). We not only love to study it (119:97), we also love to put it into practice (119:127-129). Coupled with our love for the Lord’s instruction is our delight in it: “How I delight in your commands! How I love them!” (119:47). We delight in the Lord’s instruction as we would delight in finding a great treasure (119:111). This delight is joined with our longing to experience more of God’s salvation (119:174) and thus serves as a basis for our appealing to the Lord for his mercy in our lives. Our love and delight in the Lord’s instruction shows that our relation to this instruction is not just a matter of external conformity to principles but a desire that comes from deep within our hearts. We search for God with all our hearts (119:2), hide his instruction within our hearts (119:11), and desire to put his instructions into practice with our hearts (119:34). “Of ‘legalistic piety’ there is not a trace” in this psalm (Kraus 1989:420). Rather, in Psalm 119 we read of a relationship wherein we desire from our hearts to live in keeping with the instructions of our God.
In another passage, the Psalmist outlines specific benefits of biblical study:
Psalms 19:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 The law of Jehovah is perfect,
restoring the soul;
the testimony of Jehovah is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of Jehovah are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of Jehovah is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
According to this passage, the study of Scripture has at least four important benefits. The first is that it meets a person’s vital spiritual needs, as discussed above.
The second is that it “makes wise the simple.” It is a text that is accessible to all people, no matter what their intellectual capacity. By God’s standards, all of humanity is simple fools, but this text performs the miracle of imparting God’s thoughts to humans.
The third benefit it describes is “rejoicing the heart.” This speaks to a benefit above and beyond mere spiritual sustenance. A proper understanding of scriptural truths actually brings joy and satisfaction to the reader.
The final offering that Bible study gives is enlightenment. This is an aspect of spirituality, which practically every religion seeks to obtain. This passage promises that scriptural truths will deliver it. If Christianity is true, then any interpretation of truth that does not consider the teachings of Scripture is fundamentally in error. The study of the Bible provides the framework that gives meaning to the rest of life.
Of course, to receive these benefits, the individual Christian must invest the time and effort into their Biblical study. Sadly, many Christians fall short in this area, and consequently, they do not receive the wisdom and enlightenment of which the Psalmist speaks.
The apostle Paul in Hebrews makes this statement:
Hebrews 5:11-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Warning Against Immaturity
11 Concerning whom we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For in view of the time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sayings of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food belongs to the mature, to those who through practice have their discernment trained to distinguish between good and evil.
The author here is comparing his audience to infants whose bodies cannot handle solid foods. Everything he teaches them must be broken down to the most basic level, and he is having to repeat the fundamentals which they should already know.
As demonstrated by verse 14, the point the author is making is related to maturity. While a person can be a Christian without advancing beyond the basics, the lack of maturity has at least two consequences.
The first consequence is that the immature Christian is not prepared for a great many challenges they are likely to face because of the Gospel.
In his book, Shattered: Struck Down but Not Destroyed, author Frank Pastore describes how, as a baseball pitcher, his Christian teammates were persistent in their attempts to witness to him. This annoyed him, so to end the conversations he would ask them difficult questions about things such as evolution, biblical paradoxes, and suffering in the world. This had the desired effect of ending the conversation, as his teammates never had any real answers to these questions, just telling him he needed to “have faith.”
When Pastore eventually became a Christian, he had to go back to these Christian teammates and train them in how to handle such questions. Even though he was a much newer Christian than they were, his teammates had never matured enough to meet the challenges he had put before them.
The second consequence of never advancing beyond the biblical basics is that the believer never experiences the depth and fulfillment the Scripture offers. Regrettably, they live shallow, one-dimensional lives, constantly distracted by the things of the world, and never meeting the deep thirst believers naturally have for God and his truth. This can be seen in the frustration the author of Hebrews expresses to his audience when he says that he has much more he wishes to tell them, but he cannot because of their immaturity.
In the book of Isaiah, God characterizes the separation between himself and humans:
Isaiah 55:9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
With this fact comes an apparent difficulty: God’s mind is so far above the human ability to comprehend that any communication between God and humanity seems as if it would be impossible. Yet Scripture presents this solution:
1 Corinthians 2:10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
Somehow, with the Holy Spirit, the finite pages of the Bible contain enough wisdom to inform and direct all aspects of a Christian’s life and thought processes in a way that is consistent with God’s will. More than this, in modern times the availability of Scripture to the world’s population is more abundant than it ever has been. Modern Christians have a blessing that was absent for the majority of history. They have the complete Word of God, which tells the narrative of his redemptive plan from beginning to end. This is something that the saints of Scripture could only have dreamed of, with what Scriptures they had being scarcely available, and illiteracy so high that most of them had to be read to and to memorize.
By contrast, the modern reader of Scripture has not just the words of the Bible available to him, but also a vast library of tools for understanding and discerning Scripture. One can go online and view scanned images of the early documents from which Scripture translations have been taken. They can view Greek-English and Hebrew-English dictionaries to obtain the flavor of the words of the Bible. They can cross-reference these words using a concordance to see how they are utilized in Scripture. On the other hand, they can view a variety of commentaries from Biblical Scholars who have devoted their lives to doing this work for the benefit of their readers.
What Does Study Involve?
Near the end of the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul begins to make his fateful journey back to Jerusalem, where he knows that trials and imprisonment await. In a farewell address to the church at Ephesus, Paul emphasizes to them how he has held nothing back in instructing them in the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This illustrates that Bible study should be comprehensive, looking not just at familiar or favorite passages, but studying through the entire Bible, a privilege that relatively few people have had throughout history.
It also illustrates that the Bible should be taken as a unified text, and that any doctrine must be consistent with what the entire Word teaches, not just the passages that seem to indicate this doctrine.
In Romans 15:14, Paul expresses his satisfaction that the people to whom he was writing were equipped to instruct one another. As seen here, it is important that Bible study be informed, that younger Christians should defer to the wisdom of elder Christians to avoid false doctrines and error. However, tradition of men that may be biblically wrong should be set aside. If an older one is biblically wrong because you have studied the issue through, simply respectfully disagree, and share your findings if the opportunity presents itself. In modern day, there are a plethora of resources available to assist in the study and comprehension of the Word, although it is important that these resources always serve the Bible and not the other way around.
Three Best Practices for Bible Study
Ultimately, one’s study of the Bible is an exercise of that individual’s relationship with God, to whom alone they are accountable. This said, there are several practices demonstrated in the body of this article that make for a rewarding Bible Study:
- Make Bible Study a priority
Jesus separated himself into the wilderness, sometimes for days, to commune with his Heavenly Father. As seen in the earlier part of this article, the Word of God is placed at a premium of importance that surpasses both food and material wealth. A person’s relationship with God is the defining relationship of their physical and eternal life. God has revealed himself in the text of Scripture. This, therefore, should be a Christian’s number one priority.
- Take advantage of the available resources
Every Christian begins their converted lives as spiritual infants. The Bible repeatedly instructs its readers to defer to the wisdom of the mature in Christ. Failing to do this could potentially result in a variety of errors in a person’s interpretation of doctrines and of the Biblical text. Fortunately, for the modern believer, the wisdom of scholars and theologians from across the ages have been made readily available, often free in online study resources, books, and audio material. A well-written commentary is a valuable resource for a Christian struggling to understand the wisdom being revealed in the pages of Scripture.
- Submit your life to Biblical Truths
In the book of Joshua, God speaks directly to Joshua with instructions for his coming ordeal in Canaan. In these instructions, God refers Joshua to the revealed truths in the Pentateuch:
Joshua 1:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
The injunction to “meditate on it day and night” is telling. This means that it is not just the Christian duty to spend some time reading the Bible each day, but rather to continually dwell on what is revealed in the Bible. James tells his readers:
James 1:23-25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 for he looks at himself and goes away, and immediately forgets what sort of man he was. 25 But he that looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, being no hearer who forgets but a doer of a work, he will be blessed in his doing.
As James testifies here, Bible Study is not simply a practice, but rather a lifestyle every aspect of the reader’s life should be governed by their pursuit of Biblical truth.
In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells his Roman audience that God’s character and nature are apparent in the created world so that even the unevangelized pagan is “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). How much more so, then, is this current generation – so saturated in the availability of Scripture and biblical teaching – without excuse?
God has placed within each person’s heart a need for spiritual sustenance. He has provided for this need with his Word, which is literally more essential than physical food and literally more precious than any material resource. This Word miraculously transmits the infinite wisdom of God to the finite hearts of its readers in a way that is accessible to the wise and to the simple alike. It is incumbent upon the Christian individual, then, to put aside the variety of distractions of daily living and to invest a regular period of time in the reading and meditating upon the word of God; just as Christ himself fasted, putting his spiritual needs above his physical needs.
By Joel Furches