In Ezra 7:6-10 we are introduced to the man for whom this book is named, and its likely author, Ezra the scribe and priest (and prophet). In this passage we read, “6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. 7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
Ezra, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the post-exilic time period, introduces himself after the reconstruction of the temple and its dedication. He was sent by King Artaxerxes to Jerusalem with very specific instructions outlined in the remainder of this chapter, but largely he was to instruct the people in accordance with the law of God; reinstituting, as it were, the statutes and commands of the Lord. But in order for Ezra to effectively perform the duty that was assigned him, he had to first know the law of the Lord and be obedient to it himself. This we see explicitly stated in verse 10, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” This is the proper order for all those who desire to teach God’s Word to people, especially preachers and teachers, but inclusively of all believers.
There is a natural resistance to studying. Perhaps it is caused by a default towards laziness or disinterest, but overwhelmingly society as a whole seems to carry with it an attitude of opposition towards study. This is particularly true in the Church, where study is perceived to be for theologians and pastors and those who are overachievers. Studying the things of God is not for everyone else, those deep things are left for the professionals, or so the thought goes; the layman ought to read devotionally and stick to simplicity. The argument even goes so far as to quote Deuteronomy 29:29 or Isaiah 55:8-9 as an apologetic against effort to discern and otherwise understand what God hath written in His Word.
That is not the attitude portrayed in this passage about Ezra. His desire to study the things of God was from the heart. Interestingly, the word disciple means learner. The Gospels give us an in-depth account of the disciples of Christ, those who were called by Him to come sit at His feet and learn all that He has commanded. In fact, the very “Great Commission” that Christ gave to the disciples (apostles) and has extended to the Church is a command to make disciples, i.e. learners. Learning doesn’t come by osmosis, but by diligent study and in this case, of God’s Word. How are we to know about the character of God unless we study His revelation of Himself? How are we to embrace the majesty of the Son or realize the depravity of ourselves without study? It simply isn’t enough to be satisfied with a superficial knowledge or understanding of God’s Word. We need to plow, not rake. And when we encounter a large root within the text of Scripture that we cannot easily plow through, then we are in greater need of the Spirit of God to illumine our path, not simply to give up and move on, but to grasp hold of God and wrestle Him as did Jacob for the blessing of understanding until He is delighted to reveal more of Himself to us. The author of Hebrews offers the following exhortation,
“12 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, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14
By implication, the author here through the Holy Spirit is conveying dissatisfaction towards those who should have progressed in their study of God’s Word to the point of teaching others. But instead, he compares them to spiritual babes suckling on the bottle of the Word, rather than ingesting the meat of God’s Word. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV We are called to Study.
James 1:22-25 offers the classic warning towards those who would be hearers of the Word only
“22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
There is a call on the believer’s life to apply those things which he or she has studied. Those who don’t can wear proudly the badge of hypocrite. For the disciple of Christ, doing, or better obeying, should be a natural outcome of studying. This is the great duty of the Christian life. At some point, we’ve become so paralyzed by the thought of legalism that anything resembling effort on the part of the Spirit-filled believer is neglected. We need often to be reminded that we are called to do the things of Scripture, to obey the commands of God. These are action words, not passive. Paul writes:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” Romans 6:12
“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 6:13
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice” Romans 12:1
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” Romans 12:2
“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Romans 12:9
Love, outdo, Do not be slothful, Rejoice, Contribute, Bless, Live in harmony. (Summarizing Romans 12)
“Run the race with endurance” Hebrews 12:1 (1 Cor. 9:24, 26; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 2:2; 5:7)
“Fight” 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7
The two verses below especially highlight the effort of the believer and the power of God to bring about obedience:
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Phil. 2:12
Obedience for the believer is not legalism and it’s also not optional, lest we drown in licentiousness. Clear consistent thinking on this issue will go a long way to avoid antinomianism, legalism, and other forms of Roman Catholic justification by works. We are bondservants to Christ, literally slaves. That requires doing what we are commanded to do. Any objection or resistance to obeying the commandments of God is at its heart, sin. “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:19 We are called to Do.
Christ in His commission to His Church, as given first to the disciples, states clearly that we are to “teach them [those who have been made disciples] to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” Here we see the relationship between Christ the Master Teacher and His disciples, whom He has taught to obey. Again, their is a connection between study and obedience. Study and Do. But there is a shift here among the disciples from being “learners”, i.e. disciples, to being “apostles”, i.e. sent ones. This is because a fundamental purpose for all disciples of Christ is to teach others all that He has commanded. In a sense, we are like Christ’s first disciples learning from Him (Hebrews 1:2), obeying His commands (John 14:15), and being sent to teach others (Matthew 28:19).
Just as there is sometimes confusion with study and with obedience, similarly there is confusion with teaching. Yes, God has ordained an office of preacher/teacher (I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11) and yes God has gifted some to teach (Romans 12:7), but in a generic sense teaching is not restricted to certain people, but as is made clear in the Great Commission it is an expected duty by all who would call themselves disciples of Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16 We are called to Teach.
Study, Do, and Teach. The Word of God is central in its function for each of those duties. It’s not a complicated formula. It doesn’t require grand programs or budgets. It’s simple and for good reason, so that we may rely solely on the power of the Holy Spirit and the sufficiency of God’s Word. This is the pattern for faithful discipleship, both for making and for being.