The gathering of brethren and sisters at the mid-week Bible class has long been a feature of ecclesial life in the Brotherhood since the revival of the Truth in the 19th century, but it is not a new concept. “They sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words” (Deut 33:3). These words of Moses beautifully capture the essence of the scene portrayed in Zechariah 3:8 where an earnest group of returned captives sit before their high priest (now clothed in new garments after a day’s work rebuilding the house of God), to hear the Word of God expounded. This is an early example of an ecclesial Bible class – brethren gathering together to learn from the Scriptures and to encourage one another in the way of truth.

Why attend Bible class?

Many regard the Bible class as a barometer of ecclesial health. What better indicator is there of the unity, direction and focus of an ecclesia when members regularly and enthusiastically gather mid week to support the study of the Word? Is there a better place to be in the middle of a working week? Here, those who love the Word of God gather to take refuge from the distracting and deadening influences of daily life in the modern world and to encourage each other in their walk to the Kingdom. Sensitive to the times in which they live, they understand the importance of the apostle’s counsel, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb 10:24–25).

Animated conversation at the end of a Bible class as brethren and sisters discuss the study and relate its principles to daily life is a shared experience of great value in binding an ecclesia together and “exhorting one another”. We know that Yahweh took note of those who “spake often one to another” in the times of Malachi (Mal 3:16). Will He not do so today?

Apart from the benefits of fellowship with those of “like precious faith”, Bible class is a valuable adjunct to personal Bible study, especially for those who may not be natural students. It also provides for those who through individual limitations or circumstance are restricted in their ability to dig deep into the Word of God. Whatever our situation in life, daily reading and meditation on the Scriptures is essential for the maintenance of our faith and growth in wisdom and character. Study classes are designed to give impetus to this process and increase our grasp and appreciation of the deeper things of God’s word.

Bible class a great responsibility

Wise shepherds in the ecclesia will ensure that over the course of a year the ecclesia is fed a thoughtfully selected diet of exposition and exhortation across a variety of fields, including foundation principles, prophecy, character studies, the writings of the apostles, and especially the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The selection of capable teachers is also very important. There is a tendency in the world around us, sorely affected by the spirits of the French Revolution (liberty, equality and fraternity), to “give everyone a go” regardless of suitability. This is not acceptable in the Brotherhood. The Scripture is clear about the responsibilities of teachers. Peter counselled, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11); while Paul noted the varying responsibilities within the body saying, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith… he that teacheth, [focus] on teaching” (Rom 12:6–7).

Responsibilities of leaders and teachers

It is clear from the commandment requiring Israel’s king to write out for himself a copy of the Law (Deut 17:18–20), that successful spiritual leadership depends on the assimilation of Divine principles on a daily basis. The admonition, “And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them”, is unmistakeable in its implications for leaders. Similarly, Joshua in receiving his commission for leadership in Israel on the death of Moses was counselled, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh 1:8). It is not difficult to conclude that the antithesis is also true – failure to daily study and meditate undermines sound spiritual leadership.

Bible class leaders have a solemn duty to teach “sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9; 2:1). They need to have demonstrated their diligence in Bible study, consistency of behaviour and a mature appreciation of the things of God. Paul encouraged Timothy in his role as a teacher in Ephesus to “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim 4:13). There was to be no half-hearted efforts in carrying out this solemn duty – “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim 4:15–16). We learn from this that thorough preparation of Scriptural material in which exhortation is interwoven with sound exposition has the power to save lives – eternally. What an awesome responsibility this is!

Even as he reached the end of his ‘course’, languishing in a cold dungeon, Paul appealed to Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” Despite his age, his discomfort and impending death, Bible study was important to Paul. How else would he save himself and them that heard him?

The example of Ezra the scribe

Ezra too is a wonderful example for teachers to emulate. It is recorded of him that he “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). There are three essential elements here. This “ready scribe” had diligently set himself to seek and understand the law of Yahweh. This required time and effort over a long period. And because he had consistently applied the things he learnt in a life of service and dedication, he was in a position to effectively teach others. There are significant lessons here for Bible class leaders, and for those who select them. A consistent example of diligence, faithful service and association with the brethren is as important as the words spoken from the platform. It was Ezra who was given the responsibility of reading the book of the law to assembled Israel in the time of Nehemiah (Neh 8:1–8). But it was his influence upon, and prior instruction of, the Levites that provided the most valuable outcome that day. While Ezra stood with others on the platform and read from the book, the Levites guided by him performed a vital function among the people. They repeated and then explained the reading so that its meaning and implications for everyone’s life was properly understood – “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh 8:8). Such is the purpose of the ecclesial Bible class.

While the role of Bible class leading should primarily fall to brethren who have the maturity, knowledge and capacity to effectively communicate the word of God, it is important that the ecclesia provide scope for the development of younger speakers into skilled Bible class leaders of the future. Where the necessary qualifications are identified in younger brethren they must be encouraged and scope provided for the gaining of experience – “And the things that thou hast heard of me… the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2)

A final word of exhortation

Few observers over recent decades will argue with the proposition that the pressures of modern living are having a detrimental effect on ecclesial life and especially on our study classes. Ecclesias who have 50% attendance at Bible class regard this as acceptable. Others experience considerably less participation. Should we be happy with this situation at the end of the times of the Gentiles when we can clearly see “the day approaching”? Is there not now a greater need than ever for “assembling ourselves together” that we might be found “exhorting one another” in that day?

Of some it will soon be said, “all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words” (Deut 33:3). May we be found among those who “spake often one to another” – Bible class is a wonderful opportunity to do this.