For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15.4
Memorizing a verse like Romans 15.4 can be immensely helpful. Simple and fairly self-explanatory, this verse reinforces the importance, the benefits, and the goal of the Scriptures. Paul is referring back to the whole of the Old Testament. The Torah. The books of wisdom. The prophets. And he says it was all written for the same purpose - and produces the same result.
Paul's assertion implies that whatever was written down (though actually written by men), was given by God. Only He can instruct. Only He can offer hope. Then Paul says it was written "for our instruction." Not only their instruction. Paul's present tense indicates that the Scriptures were written down not only for the ones who directly received them, but for us also! Whatever was written, though written hundreds or thousands of years before, was written for Paul...
And for us today.
Because we are familiar with the Scriptures and treasure them in our heart, we can have hope.
So if it was written for them (and for us!), why is it so important? What is it for? What does it do? The answers are found in three short parts to this verse.
1. The Scriptures were written for our instruction (the Importance). By studying the Scriptures, we are "instructed" in the ways of holiness, we learn who Jesus is and how to be more like Him, we learn about God's purposes and we are instructed in properly responding to Him. Granted, not everyone can be a scholar - or study their Bible all day, every day. However, every Christian should see the Word as the best instruction, and honor God by using their time and talent wisely to study it. John Piper says it like this*: "We [all] need a systematic diet of instruction, not just a few crumbs a day, if we are going to fight successfully to maintain the full assurance of hope to the end."
2. The Scriptures were written to encourage (the Benefit). When the instruction of the Word makes its way from the head to the heart, it encourages us. The closer we get to Jesus and the more we let His words shape our lives, the easier it is to find peace and encouragement. Instruction says, "Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works" (Ps. 119.27). Encouragement understands and applies that, and says, "The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces (Ps. 119.72).
3. The Scriptures were written to give hope (the Goal). Once instruction renews our mind (Rom. 12.2), and encouragement gives peace to our heart (John 16.33), then we can say with the psalmist, "My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word (Ps. 119.81). Because we are familiar with the Scriptures and treasure them in our heart, we can have hope. We can hold on. We can suffer in many situations where the world would say "give up." The Scriptures give hope. Hope for an escape from this fallen world - hope for an eternity spent with Jesus. That hope sustained three Turkish missionaries through brutal torture before finally being killed. You can read their story and see how hope sustained them here. But that kind of hope doesn't come without the instruction or the encouragement of the Word first.
*Taken from the sermon "How Can I Keep On Hoping? The Scriptures!" preached by John Piper on Romans 15.4, on May 4, 1986.