Gaining Maturity Through Personal Study Is Joyful
“Wisdom . . . is good and is advantageous . . . preserves alive its owners.”—Eccl. 7:11, 12.
1. How may we expect to acquire maturity?
WORKING toward maturity is the most gratifying experience that a Christian can have. It is not an inherited quality, rather, it comes within the scope of Paul’s words at Ephesians 4:12, 13 as being the result of training or building up to reach full growth, the stature of a man: “Training . . . for the building up of the body of the Christ, . . . to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of growth that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.” Attainment of this goal requires acquisition of knowledge, and that means study. Personal study is undoubtedly one of the most favored avenues through which an individual can acquire maturity. It is satisfying and joyful.
2. (a) What qualities measure maturity? (b) And what effect will progress in this direction bring to the individual?
2 Since we are to be Christlike, it means that the mind must be thoroughly nurtured on the proper spiritual food in order to develop the qualities that reflect maturity; such as devotion, love, perspective, faith, dependability and spiritual discernment. Building maturity constitutes a training program because it requires rigid exercise of the mental faculties. When the goal of Christian success is kept in mind, with the proper mental attitude, study is enjoyable.
3. (a) How may some look upon study? (b) Is the effort expended worthwhile?
3 Some may find study tedious and difficult, but if this is the case, why not do something about it so it is no longer a drudgery; so it can be part of your everyday life, and enjoyed just as the body enjoys taking in food? Others may conclude, ‘I’m just not a student; I don’t really care about studying or reading.’ Could this not be attributed, rather, to mental laziness? But again, even though eating may be a chore, would this one refrain from the effort and starve? Worthwhile accomplishments and especially those concerning everlasting life require effort—lots of effort, but the results are most gratifying, bringing contentment, peace and joy.
4. Under what conditions may one not have enough time to study?
4 Many times the thought is expressed, ‘I just don’t have time to study.’ You will not if you plan to do all other things first and then, if there is any time left, study. Do you treat eating the same way? Or do you take time to eat regularly? Certainly you do, and eating is delightful. You should train yourself to study and enjoy it just as you savor good food.
SUCCESS THROUGH STUDY
5. (a) How should a Christian measure success? (b) As shown at Proverbs 7:1, 2 and 1:5, 6, what should be our attitude toward understanding God’s Word?
5 In any endeavor, it is the wish of an individual to be successful. Joshua was told regarding the “book of the law” that he should “read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.” (Josh. 1:8) Christian success is gained by doing that which is in accord with God’s will. So, then, if one takes in knowledge regularly, he can expect to have that inward satisfaction that brings deep joy. It is most vital, then, that we highly treasure the commandments that Jehovah has given; ‘we should treasure them and continue living.’ Permitting our minds to dwell on this Scriptural expression brings our thoughts right back to study: “A wise person will listen and take in more instruction, and a man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction, to understand a proverb.” To listen does not mean only to hear the voice of an individual and to take in knowledge through our sense of hearing. The same is true when we read and study the words from the printed page, information taken in through the sense of sight. In this way, too, we are “listening” to the author of the words and being taught. Thus we gradually gain understanding and progress toward maturity.—Prov. 7:1, 2; 1:5, 6.
6. (a) What effort should be put forth to gain knowledge? (b) What was the feeling of the disciples when Jesus explained scriptures concerning himself?
6 A keen desire to search and dig for knowledge should be burning within us just as desire moves a prospector in pursuit of gold, as shown by the proverb: “If you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.” As a diamond has many facets, so there are many worthwhile aspects of learning to be gained from God’s Word. We should feel inwardly as did the disciples of Jesus during the seven-and-a-half-mile walk to Emmaus after Jesus had “interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” They could not help but express themselves: “Were not our hearts burning as he was speaking to us on the road, as he was fully opening up the Scriptures to us?” This same burning or desire can be ours too, as we are brought into unity with God’s congregation through study; and a keen awareness of pleasing God on our part certainly contributes to our joy.—Prov. 2:4, 5; Luke 24:13, 27, 32; Rom. 11:33.
7. (a) What is meditation, and how may it be employed? (b) Under what conditions may it be the only way of maintaining a healthy spirit?
7 Meditation by a person results in improvement of the mind. Would not this come within the scope of the words of Paul: “Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons. Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching”? (1 Tim. 4:15, 16) Meditation is not daydreaming or letting the mind just wander aimlessly, but, rather, it is bridled thought upon a specific subject. For instance, by considering prophecies that point to the all-important date of 1914, one might catalog in his mind the scriptures that point to it and call to mind all that he possibly can. This would be rewarding and stimulating and would all come within the category of personal study. David expressed it well in these words: “I shall certainly meditate on all your activity, and with your dealings I will concern myself.” (Ps. 77:12) Under certain circumstances, that may be the only manner in which one could carry on personal study if incarcerated and being denied a Bible or communication with others. Meditation under such circumstances would be vital to keep oneself healthy spiritually, and would lead to maturity.
DISPEL PREOCCUPATION OF MIND
8. What is necessary to make study effective?
8 In personal study, it is important that the individual clear the mind of preoccupation with other thoughts, to enable one to concentrate and to be single-minded relative to the matter at hand; and, when one is reading the Bible, God’s Word, “give constant thought” to it. Then “the Lord will really give you discernment in all things.” Spiritual perception is a progressive step toward maturity. In that way Jehovah will aid you to “treasure up practical wisdom; . . . and he will guard the very way of his loyal ones.” Consequently, we should pursue spiritual adulthood by keeping the mind alert, vigorous and active, just as an athlete trains his body.—2 Tim. 2:7; Prov. 2:7, 8.
9. What may interfere with retaining what we read or study?
9 But how often when we sit down to study we find our minds still racing over various activities of the day. We may still be keyed up over some happening in our secular work, or upset over some incident of the day. We may sit down to study The Watchtower. We read a moment and then think, ‘What did I read in that paragraph?’ We must get other matters off our minds as we study specific subjects. It is true our minds can be sidetracked by the prevalencies of the day, but this only hinders study and its joy. On the other hand, we do not want to be so relaxed that we become drowsy after reading one paragraph.
10. What varied sources of material are there, and how should they be used?
10 There are many sources that are valuable aids in working toward personal maturity. Some of the principal sources are the study articles in each issue of The Watchtower. But there are also short articles and questions that are most valuable to us. Do we neglect these? Or do we only surface-read them? Do we pay attention to the theme? After we have studied any article, do we remember the important points, and can we recall the scriptures emphasized? If counsel to Christian ministers is given through its pages, do we accept the counsel and make personal application? Do God’s thoughts as expressed in The Watchtower portray your confidence? The psalmist stated: “You will cause me to know the path of life.” (Ps. 16:11) Does this mirror your attitude? If so, then God’s thoughts are molding your thoughts. What about the journal Awake!? Do you read it and benefit from its diversified instruction? Do you study the other Watch Tower publications? The Yearbook, current books? And do you refer to and use other Bible helps? They can be very valuable in developing a background and can be a source for personal study, considering all this in the light of theocratic thinking. Bible concordances are also valuable for research work, particularly if you are studying topically. The Watch Tower Society’s topical index of all its publications since 1930 is most useful for locating material in personal study. Topical reviewing is most beneficial. For example, if one wants to look up “reviewing” in the index, one would find information on it in the 1962 Watchtower, pages 499 and 527. In considering the thought of acquiring information, one might look up the value of memory in personal study. Source information there will refer to the book Qualified to Be Ministers, pages 151 and 152.
11. (a) How effective will our studying be? (b) How often should we study the Bible, and what will be effective?
11 In studying, the acquisition of information will be in direct proportion to the amount of time and effort put into study. If one is diligent in school study of arithmetic for eight years in one’s secular school courses, much knowledge will be accrued. By having subjected the mind diligently for the duration of this arithmetic course, one will come out much more qualified than those who “coast” along. The same is true with the student of the Bible. Yes, the student that sows bountifully in time will reap bountifully of spiritual riches. Obviously, it is most advantageous to buy out opportune time for Bible study. The best way to do this is by setting aside time regularly for it. Reading God’s Word the Bible is what Jehovah’s witnesses seek to do themselves and invite others to do daily.
VALUE OF GOD’S WORD
12. (a) Why is the Bible so valuable to us? (b) What benefits are derived by “listening” to Paul in his counsel to the Colossians?
12 In reading the Bible, our thinking acquiesces to the thoughts of wise men who are noted for integrity. It is advantageous to let them impart information to us. It goes even beyond receiving instructions from individuals. The Bible is a product of the inspiration of Jehovah God and, when we read it, we are actually “listening” to Him. How could we spend time more advantageously? Immediately this shows how we need to guard ourselves against a passive mind. We “go on walking in union with him [Christ], rooted and being built up in him and being stabilized in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with faith in thanksgiving.” This gives us a marvelous safeguard against the flood of propaganda and time-consuming and deceptive knowledge of this world, which is foolishness with God. This counsel of Paul to the Colossians continues: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.” Yes, there is a superabundance of deceptive information upon which those of this world are feeding their minds, and Bible study is a precautionary measure so we are not swept into this same current that leads to sorrow, distress and disaster. In this same letter, Paul prayed for others, that they might be filled with this accurate knowledge, as recorded at Col chapter one, verses 9 and 10. Now listen to Paul talk to you: “We . . . have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the accurate knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual discernment, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as you go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God.”—Col. 2:6-10.
13. What satisfaction will one derive from gaining understanding?
13 To gain understanding is exhilarating. It brings joy to the Christian heart and is refreshing as waters upon vegetation, as shown by Deuteronomy 32:2, which states: “As gentle rains upon grass and as copious showers upon vegetation.” This produces good growth. With joy come contentment and tranquillity, qualities that are looked upon with great eagerness and desire by all people. In other words, to be free of anxieties, stresses of this world. Jesus qualified this very well when he stated: “If you remain in my word, . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) This is the happiness that one gains only through the progressive advancement to Christian maturity.
HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE
14. What is one way to study the Bible?
14 An individual may be overwhelmed by the statement, “Study the Bible.” The initial thought coming to mind is, “Where should I start?” First of all, it might be said that if you have not read the Bible straight through from beginning to end, this is an excellent place to start. It will give you a more comprehensive understanding of events as they have occurred.
15, 16. (a) Why is the topical method of study beneficial? (b) Why will attempting to visualize a situation help one to remember? Show this by illustration.
15 But perhaps the most beneficial method of Bible study is the topical one, that is, by subject. One might try to live an event or an occurrence as he reads and, by doing so, the mind will grasp the picture much more readily. Endeavoring to visualize the situation will help you to understand the picture or understand the event more comprehensively. Think of the crucial night, after sundown, Nisan 14, in 1513 B.C.E. There is a cloudless sky and the moon is full. You see an Israelite father, his family assisting, slaughtering a lamb, an unblemished creature not over one year old. The blood is caught in a basin, splashed on the side post and lintel only of the door of their home. The streets are empty, the doors shut. Think too of the feeling of an Egyptian walking through one of these quiet, deserted streets in Goshen that night, and observe the blood dripping from the doorposts. Inside are the families eating the lamb, herbs and unleavened bread. At this time they are not reclining at the table; they are standing erect, loins girded, staff in hand, fully shod, ready to move at a moment’s notice. Midnight approaches; there is danger out in the streets of Egypt. What frantic cries soon rise from the homes of the Egyptians throughout the land as the firstborn are killed! Yes, the pride of the land, all the firstborn both of humans, starting with the king’s son, and of the animals.
16 Quickly now after midnight the Israelites move out. Think of it! Several million of them, with no confusion, no wild rout, no one trampled underfoot or crushed in the rush to escape from the land of Goshen. Old men, young men, old women, young women, even little children and babes in arms. What a scene this is! An army of people on the move, escaping bondage under the Egyptians, and now being liberated from it by the hand of Jehovah! Let this become a living reality as you read Exodus chapters 11 to 15. The whole picture unfolds vividly.
17. What will help us to remember the destruction of Babylon as recorded at Daniel chapter 5?
17 Similarly, one can take up and read of the destruction of Babylon on that night of the rollicking festival of the king, and then the awestricken atmosphere when the handwriting on the wall was interpreted by Daniel and he told of the imminent destruction ahead. The onslaught of the Median and Persian armies came in through the open doors of the city, ransacked and seized control of it. (Daniel 5) Our having these pictures live in our minds will be most helpful in studying this destruction of Babylon.
USING TIME AND EFFORT ADVANTAGEOUSLY
18. (a) What will help us to get more value from our study time? (b) What brings the greatest satisfaction and joy?
18 There are so many things that one can do with time, and it is important that time be guarded carefully so that it is used advantageously, not wasted. We can see the importance of budgeting it so that important things will not be crowded out. Take, for example, the Christian minister that works forty hours a week for the support of his family. His time is budgeted rigidly by his employer, who sets aside those eight hours each day for five days every single week, regularly, without any breaks in it. What about the times we set aside for personal study? Is it not just as important to maintain our intake of spiritual nutrition by regularly reading and studying the Bible? This regularity cannot be overemphasized when it comes to peering into the perfect law, as James admonished: “But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in it, this man, because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing it.” (Jas. 1:25) Actual satisfaction and joy will become one’s possession by persistently acquiring information, if one is not a forgetful hearer, and one will advance to maturity. Happiness does not only come with acquisition of knowledge, but comes by also being able to tell others so they too can share the same gladness of heart. Sharing happiness brings more happiness, just as the reward for good works is more work and responsibility for the Christian minister.
MATURITY—A LIFETIME GOAL
19. (a) What will aid our progress toward maturity? (b) What examples illustrate means of developing maturity?
19 The steady diet of personal study enhances one’s ability to understand clearly, and that matures the individual. Budgeting of time includes making time to speak truth to others. Notice what Paul says about speaking the truth at Ephesians 4:15, when he writes: “Speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.” When we are speaking the truth and explaining a point of God’s Word to someone else, it is interesting to note how that matures the thought and depth of appreciation of that particular subject in one’s own mind. Have you ever noticed how much better you retain the thoughts of any given Watchtower study when you have made comment on a particular paragraph? That thought is embedded in your mind much more deeply than even by listening to others comment. Obviously, through the latter we benefit too, but not nearly so much as when we talk, or express ourselves on the subject. This can be illustrated very well in the Theocratic Ministry School when a mature minister delivers a talk on one of the books of the Bible. It will be very beneficial to the listeners, but the speaker will have it much more indelibly fixed in his mind because he will have gone over it thoroughly and, through intensive practice, made it his own. Many times you have heard the expression after such a talk, ‘My, I wish I knew every book of the Bible as well as the one book upon which I have given a talk.’ The extra effort put forth in study, practice and imparting information to others is valuable as another stepping-stone to maturity.
20. (a) What did Paul consider the amount of progress in his pursuit of his goal, and what suggestion did he offer for others? (b) How can one advance to maturity with years? and with what result?
20 We all readily recognize the maturity of the apostle Paul, but even then the thoughts that he expressed to the Philippians illustrated that he had not reached the zenith. He related how it is a continuous progressive process: “I do not yet consider myself as having laid hold of it; but there is one thing about it: Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus. Let us, then, as many of us as are mature, be of this mental attitude; and if you are mentally inclined otherwise in any respect, God will reveal the above attitude to you. At any rate, to what extent we have made progress, let us go on walking orderly in this same routine.” (Phil. 3:13-16) Yes, maturity is a lifetime proposition. Just for an example, we see a young man who has applied his mind diligently through his adolescent years and has studied carefully until the time he is thirty. He has acquired a great deal of knowledge through personal study up till this time. He may be considered a mature man; he may be a circuit or district overseer, or have an overseership in one of the branch offices. But let that man continue to study another ten years, and then see how much more he has gained by the time he is forty. If he continues the same procedure for another ten years, just think how much more progress he will have made at fifty, and then sixty years of age. Along with this maturing process, which is a lifetime job, his joy grows and his appreciation and satisfaction increase, and the same is true of anyone who studies diligently and never relents. He can reach the position of a “full-grown man.”