When we are introduced to the man, Ezra, in the Bible, we read the following concerning him: “He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given (Ezra 7:6a; ESV).” Ezra had been trained in many ways, but the one aspect of his training which was most important was his ability to understand God’s word, apply it, and teach it.
In the New Testament, as the writer of Hebrews is rebuking certain Christians for their spiritual immaturity, he chastises them for being “unskilled” in the word. Specifically, he says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child (Hebrews 5:12-13; ESV).”
Being skilled in the word is a desirable thing for those who want to serve God to their fullest ability. It is also a necessary thing, for it is the word of God which instructs us and equips us to do the work of God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). It’s hard to teach someone what they need to do in order to be saved if you yourself don’t actually know what God says about the matter. And it’s hard to do the good works God tells you to do if you don’t know which good works God has told you to do.
A lot of people assume that in order to be skilled in the word of God you must need to attend some sort of special school, or earn a particular degree. In the days of Jesus, certain of the Jews had such a view and assumed that the greatest of rabbis were those who had the most specialized training. But it is a point worth remembering that the greatest rabbi to ever live, and the man most skilled in the handling of God’s word, was for many years, by vocation, a carpenter.
We are speaking of course about Jesus (cf. Mark 6:3).
Some of the Jews were quite put out by Jesus when Jesus presumed to teach them God’s word. They knew He had not gone to any of the great rabbinical schools of the day, and they knew that He had been a carpenter. Despite this, the preaching of Jesus shows his thorough and complete familiarity with the Old Testament, and his ability to teach it was truly masterful. If any man could ever be said to have been skilled in the Law of Moses, it was Jesus. And more than just teaching about the Law, Jesus went on and taught about the Kingdom as well, instructing His apostles to do the same (cf. Matthew 13:52).
And let us take a moment to also consider the apostles of Jesus. While the apostle Paul did have formal rabbinical training (cf. Acts 22:3), four of the apostles had been trained as fishermen, one as a tax-collector. Jesus drew his followers from every walk of life, assuming that they were themselves able to become skilled in God’s word. Which they did. The apostles of Jesus were trained by Jesus to themselves be masterful preachers and teachers, correctly handling God’s word, proving themselves as workmen approved by God (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). When Peter, in Acts 2, preaches the first gospel sermon, he does so as a man skilled in the Law and in the prophets and able to eloquently make application of the same to himself and his audience. Jesus had taken a fisherman and trained him to be a fisher-of-men, skilled in the Word.
They were able to accomplish this because God gave us His Word so as for all men to be able to study and understand it. One might need special training to understand a medical text-book, or the schematics of a rocket-ship; but anyone who has been taught how to read has the all the training they need to begin their study of the Law of God. Fishermen, carpenters, tax-collectors, farmers, shepherds,… all these and more have been able to come to God’s Word, and through spending time in the Word, become skilled in it, able to apply it to themselves and able to teach it to others. God never meant for His Word to be the property of an elite few, but wrote it so as to make it accessible and understandable by anyone and everyone; for God wants all men to learn it and obey it.
We should make no mistake, becoming skilled in the word takes time and effort. It will not happen through osmosis. We must read it, study it and meditate upon it. Jesus, as early as twelve years old was already putting time into the business of learning the Bible better (cf. Luke 2:41-51). But doesn’t that just prove the point – God wrote His word in such a way that a twelve-year old child, if they apply themselves, is able to comprehend and understand it. If we are unskilled in God’s word, it is only because we have not applied ourselves properly.
If you have the desire to learn more of God’s word the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.