20But you need to realize that no one alone can understand any of the prophecies in the Scriptures. 21The prophets did not think these things up on their own, but they were guided by the Spirit of God. — 2 Peter 1:20-21 (CEV)
Here in America we like our independence. â€œThink for yourself,â€ we tell young people. And there is great value in thinking for yourself. There is also great value in listening to God for yourself, and in studying the Bible for yourself.
But that isn’t all there is to it. God gave the Bible to his people, not just to one person, and not to various persons individually (though individuals did bring it to the people). God gave his Bible to the community, the body of Christ, all those who believe.
Notice the reason Peter gives in verse 21 why we can’t understand on our own (the famed â€œprivate interpretationâ€ from the KJV). The prophets didn’t think these things up on their own, and we don’t receive, understand, and apply them on our own either. The Spirit directed the giving of scripture, and thus the Spirit must direct how it is understood and applied in the church.
This is a place we often get off track. God gives spiritual gifts to the church, not to you personally. Now someone, especially someone who has heard me teach on the topic, may ask what I mean. Surely one person is given the gift of teaching and another the gift of discernment. The gifts go to and are exercised by single individuals. Yes, we each are part of the body, and we each receive gifts, but God’s plan is that the giftsâ€”all the gifts he gives to his body in a particular areaâ€”work together for the good of all.
That’s sometimes hard for our western, individualistic minds to comprehend. God thinks of bigger units than us individually or even our family. He’s interested in equipping the body.
At Pentecost, who received the Holy Spirit? Well, the whole church did, at least all those gathered together. It wasn’t one person over here and another over there. God’s Spirit became the breath in God’s church, so that the church could be his body and be alive with his breath.
Do you see the similarity here? We each exercise God’s gifts in ministry, but the ministry is a product of the whole body. We each study individually, but we also need to study together and learn from one another so that the whole body can be built up through a working, effective knowledge of God’s word as it comes to us in scripture.
You can’t do that at home by yourself. It doesn’t really happen in the worship service, because there we listen to the pastor as he imparts the word to us. The engine of this type of Bible study is small groups that gather to study the Bible, from Sunday School classes, to study groups meeting in homes.
Don’t try to go it alone. No matter how good you are in your Bible study and your spiritual life, find a group of people who can challenge you and hold you accountable.