We read in Acts 2:42 that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”. But what was the apostles’ teaching?
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Acts 2:42 (NIV)
Teaching of Jesus
It seems fairly likely that the apostles would have carried on, as far as they could, the teaching that they had received from Jesus. That teaching from Jesus was grounded on the old Hebrew Scriptures – what we would now call the Old Testament. Not only did Jesus teach his disciples, and others, what God was saying to them through the Scriptures, he acted out a perfect God-centred life. In turn, we can learn not only from the words of Jesus, but also from his actions.
We see how members of the early church, people like Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached from the Scriptures. But, of course, Peter and the other apostles, did not simply preach. Not only were their words and writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, but their lives were too, and we read of many instances of them continuing the work that Jesus had started with them.
For example, in Acts 3 we read about how God healed a lame beggar through Peter’s actions:
6 Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
Acts 3:6-8 (NIV)
And when Philip went to Samaria:
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.
Acts 8:4-6 (NIV)
God’s Great Story
One way of looking at the Bible is as God’s great story – the story of how he has worked with his creation, and how he continues and will continue to work. One of the children’s books in our Holy Habits library is “The Big Picture Story Bible”, and it underlines the fact that the whole of the Bible is the telling of God’s story, running through both the Old and New Testaments. It’s an account of God’s love for the world. But only looking at the Bible in that way, as a story of God’s work, is to miss so much. God wants us to learn from him, so that our lives can be transformed. If our biblical teaching and learning is simply an academic exercise then we have missed the point.
You will know the stories of many great people who have helped to change the world because of their faith. People such as William Wilberforce, William Booth, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. They were taught by God, through his written word, and then they put their knowledge into action.
Becoming Better Disciples
But biblical teaching should not just inspire us to get to know our Bibles better – it should also spur us on to become better disciples of Jesus Christ, in both words and action. It’s also a two-way process. We shouldn’t think of biblical teaching only as a way of preparing ourselves for going out into the world to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth. That is worthwhile, but those who read the Bible are also offered a great treasure themselves. John wrote towards the end of his gospel,
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:30-31 (NIV)
Continued in Part 2, where we shall look at how the Holy Spirit guides and helps us in our understanding of the Bible, and then in Part 3, where we will look at how our faith (including knowing our Bibles) should affect the way we live…