Reading the Bible and studying it are not the same thing. I want to encourage you to make a regular habit of both.
Bible reading is the best way to rapidly drink down the pure milk of the Word. By reading and surveying large portions of Scripture, we can become familiar with the contents of the Bible with relative ease. Like milk, the fare goes down smoothly, doesn’t require mastication, and provides—by the help of God’s Spirit—basic nutrition for the hungry soul. J.C. Ryle said, “Next to praying there is nothing so important in practical religion as Bible-reading…. By reading that book we may learn what to believe, what to be, and what to do; how to live with comfort, and how to die in peace.” Such is the glorious fruit to be enjoyed from a lifetime of reading and re-reading the Book of God. The Bible is far from simplistic but it is nonetheless perspicuous; it yields plenty of low-hanging fruit to be plucked with ease by the smallest of stature.
Yet if we want to move beyond spiritual infancy and grow more exponentially in grace, if we would attain to some degree of maturity in scriptural wisdom, we need to get beyond the milk to the meat of the Word. That can only be done through Bible study. It was said of Jonathan Edwards, commonly dubbed “America’s greatest theologian,” “that the more faithful he was in studying the Bible, the more he prospered in spiritual things.” He typically studied in pursuit of his God, mostly on his knees, for twelve or more hours a day. He made it his practice to pray through every passage of Scripture, thereby burning the truth of the word into his very heart and soul. We certainly don’t pretend to approximate to Edwards’ spiritual stature, but his eminent example is worthy of emulation insofar as our own responsibilities allow for us to spend ample time in the sacred text. Jerry Bridges wrote, “Every Christian who makes progress in holiness is a person who has disciplined his life so that he spends regular time in the Bible. There simply is no other way.”
Like eating a succulent steak compared to drinking milk, studying Scripture is more laborious than reading. To enjoy this more nutrient-dense fare, we’ll need to sit down for a while and focus on what we’re doing. Ingesting it requires that we first cut off smaller pieces to manage (apportion the text or identify a topic for study), utilize the right tools, like a fork and knife (possess and make use of the right study tools and aids), chew the pieces thoroughly (investigate the details of the text and its context and ponder its meaning and significance in the light of the whole theology of Scripture), and take time to let it all digest (assimilate the teaching so that it impacts the totality of our spiritual lives and infuses spiritual vitality into our Christian walk).
Moreover, studying the Bible is necessary because, after all, how can we be edified by what we don’t understand? In that case, we are like the Ethiopian eunuch, who, when Philip asked if he understood what he was reading from Isaiah’s scroll, admitted, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). Our eyes may gloss over the words on paper, but if our mind doesn’t comprehend their meaning, our heart will not be able to embrace the truth with a living and active faith (see Heb. 4:2). Much of the meaning of Scripture isn’t immediately discernible upon a cursory reading; it requires digging, study, contemplation. Our reading, apart from adequate comprehension, will be largely frustrated as a fruitless endeavor.
It is by Bible study that we come to understand the passages we are reading. Nineteenth-century evangelist D. L. Moody went so far as to say, “Merely reading the Bible is no use at all without [unless] we study it thoroughly, and hunt it through, as it were, for some great truth.” Believers who most profit from the Bible are those who regularly engage it as energetic and active readers rather complacent and passive readers. Digging for buried treasure requires diligence and effort.
Listening to sermons, having edifying discussion with other believers, and reading sound books all have a necessary place in spiritual growth, but they all mediate secondhand knowledge of the things of God—knowledge that someone else obtained and assimilated and is re-presenting in his or her own words. Secondhand knowledge is needful; I’m not in any way denigrating it. I have a high view of preaching as the indispensable means God uses to bring the elect to faith and build up His church. But your soul cannot thrive on sermons and books alone. “Think not that because ye hear the preaching, therefore ye may neglect reading the Bible,” said Thomas Boston.
We need to get at the meaning of the pure text of God’s Word in its original context(s) and muse over it for considerable lengths of time. It is that meaning, understood and received in faith, that is Christ’s choice vehicle for revealing Himself in all His sanctifying fullness to His people. Bible study takes us straight to the fount of divine revelation and bids us to drink deeply, as much as we desire, to our soul’s satisfaction.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “A great many persons take all their religion at secondhand. They never go to the good old Book themselves.” He illustrates,
“If you want to get pure water, go to the fountain head. I was once going over the mountains, in Northern Italy, and I wanted to drink of a little stream, but my guide would not allow me to taste of it. I did not understand why, but he went on some considerable distance, and then he allowed me to drink as much as ever I liked; and I noticed that, then, I was drinking at a spring just where the water flowed out; but, the time before, the stream had been running down the mountain side, and was full of all sorts of impurities; and, besides, it had lost its freshness and sweetness by travelling over the earth in the warm sun. The guide wanted me to have water that was worth drinking,—to drink that which was good.”
If you drink downstream, you will ingest the water, to be sure, but you’ll also get all the muck and mire and impurities that the stream picked up along the way. It will not be as fresh, as invigorating, as the cool stream which flows straight from the fount of the mountain of God.
Infants differ from the mature in that they need their parents to feed them, or else they will starve. All too many believers, still in a state of spiritual infancy after many years, rely too much on their pastors and teachers to feed them, while being lazy and negligent in their study of Scripture. Little do they realize what treasure, what grace, and what glory they are missing out on.
Do you have a habit of regularly studying the Bible, dear believer? Have you been subsisting on mere milk, delectable as it is, or are you savoring the hearty meat of the Word on a regular basis? When was the last time you sat down and enjoyed a nice, big, succulent, nourishing feast of divine truth, of the kind that leaves the soul profoundly satisfied, yet longing for more; and so full and invigorated that the heart is stuffed and bursting at the seams? The healthiest Christians are the ones who hunger for scriptural knowledge, who get excited about cracking open the old Book and searching out it profoundest truths, who feast and feast and can never seem to get enough.
Consider all the benefits of making a regular discipline out of both Bible reading and Bible study. If you are new to it, consider taking some courses from a reputable conservative and Reformed institution about what the Bible is and how to make sense of it. You should also invest in a set of tools and study aids that you can use for years to come, the Lord willing. Resources like lexicons (specialized dictionaries that define Greek and Hebrew terms), Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, concordances, Bible handbooks, study Bibles, commentaries (some exegetical, some expositional, and some practical or devotional), creeds and confessions of faith, systematic theology tomes (to inform you and check your conclusions about doctrine), atlases, Bible software with optimized research capabilities, and some classics on Christian thought and theology (from authors both ancient and modern), are all indispensable tools for the serious-minded student of Scripture.
Finally, I urge you to frequent the School of Christ, like Mary, who chose the better part as she sat at the Master’s feet and drank in His teaching. We are busy with many things (like social media!), but we must not neglect to choose the better part. James Montgomery Boice explained, “In Hebrew idiom, sitting at one’s feet meant only to learn from that person. It was the place of a child learning from a parent, or a pupil learning from his rabbi. Today we do the same thing by studying the Book Christ gave us and in which we find him. Do you study the Bible? Do you really study it?”
 Michael S. Heiser, Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study: 80 Expert Insights, Explained in a Single Minute, 60-second Scholar Series (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), 23–24.
 This is one of the reasons that the reading of Scripture—simply reading it out loud from the pulpit with adequate inflection and tonal emphases—should be done in the church’s formal worship gathering. Congregants can be exposed to the entire Bible every several years by following a systematic plan for public reading that covers the entire Bible. The practice is commended by the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:27) and was practiced by ancient Jews and Christians. “Systematic daily reading was first used by Jewish believers and was developed during the time of their exile when, in synagogue worship, readings from different portions were appointed for each day. The first Christians, of course, were Jews. So this tradition continued on into the life of the early church and has been maintained down through the centuries up until the present time. Today many Christians follow what is called the ‘common lectionary,’ which is a two-year cycle of daily readings through the entire Bible and a three-year cycle of weekly readings appointed for Sunday worship. Others adopt readings in accordance with the weekly Sunday School lesson or other devotional guides. Systematic reading in this way has proved to be of great benefit in maintaining balanced, long-term Bible reading.” David S. Dockery, ed., Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 92–93.
 J. C. Ryle, Practical Religion: Being Plain Papers on the Daily Duties, Experience, Dangers, and Privileges of Professing Christians (London: Charles Murray, 1900), 97.
 Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841), 204–205; Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 193.
 Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978), 98.
 Quoted in William Wilberforce and Kevin Belmonte, 365 Days with Wilberforce (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 2006), 53.
 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 2, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 2 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 426.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Soul’s Best Food,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 48 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1902), 323–324.
 R. C. Sproul, 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 26–31.
 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 917–918.