During my final year of college, I had the privilege of taking what many considered to be the "holy grail" of course offerings: I took a course in civics. I know what you're thinking: "Civics? That doesn't sound very exciting!" And you're right. It wasn't. No, what made this course such a thrill for me wasn't the content of the course itself, but the way in which this course was offered. Because for fourth year college students, it was offered as an independent study course. In other words, I could study the material on my own, visit with my professor every once in a while, and then take the tests. And as long as I did well on the tests, I passed the course. I'll leave it to your imagination as to how much I actually studied for my civics course, but I will say this: It wasn't one of my most studious academic moments.
Thankfully, by the time I got to seminary, I had gained a deeper appreciation for the value of education as I once again did some independent study. And I loved the freedom that independent study afforded me. The freedom to read books that I wanted to read and study theologians that I wanted to study and pursue topics that I wanted to pursue. I also cherished the one on one meetings with my advisor as I was able to share with him all that I was learning and he was able to point me in new directions so that I could investigate new things. I perhaps learned more during my times of independent of study in seminary than I did during any of my formal classes.
One of the greatest values I see in our "Word for Today" Bible reading program is that it allows us, as we read through the New Testament in a year, to do a little bit of independent study. For as we read the Bible, day in and day out, and pause to ponder, pray, and try to better understand the message of Scripture, we do so outside of a classroom setting and a formalized curriculum. And I believe there is great value in that. For all too often, the only Scripture we take in is that which we hear when we're sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning. And although we do indeed need such times of guided teaching, we also need times of independent study.
In our reading for today from Romans 15, Paul extols the value of such independent study: "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me" (verses 14-15). Paul, in these verses, says, "I have taught you, I have trained you, I have written you - quite boldly on some doctrines - and now it's time for some independent study. Now it's time for you to instruct one another. You have all the tools in the bag you need to continue your studies in Scripture. So get to it."
The other day as I was perusing the website blog for our "Word for Today" readings, I noticed that one of our Concordia members had posted a question he had about a passage of Scripture. Wonderfully, rather than waiting for a pastor to respond (because admittedly, we can sometimes be a little slow in our responses), another one of our members responded to his question. He began, "I'll add my two cents worth." And that's exactly to the point of this program. To read, to study, and then to add "your two cents worth." For I myself am convinced, dear brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to instruct one another. So keep up your independent study. And keep instructing one another. And remember that even when you study Scripture "independently," you never study Scripture alone. For the Holy Spirit is there with you to guide you into all truth. Praise be to God for that great gift.