Perhaps you remember the first time you read the Bible in its entirety – or, perhaps you are still working on that goal. As a kid, the Bible intimidated me – it seemed so big, so long, too difficult for me to understand… After all, “only preachers could really understand the Bible.”
To be fair, I wasn’t taught that philosophy, but somewhere, that thinking definitely found an in-road into my thinking. Granted, Bible study can definitely become in-depth and perhaps even require some specialized skills for some passages. Yet, generally speaking, I believe God took the time to give us His word because He expects us to understand it – and by extension, understand what He is doing in this world.
How can we place Bible study, then, on the proverbial “bottom shelf?” These four words provide a simple framework to digging into God’s Word personally.
WHY – Let’s Deal with our Motives
Why are you studying the Scriptures? As Paul wrote to Timothy, he gave the most important motive for studying the Word – to show ourselves approved unto God. Paul gives Timothy a command: Study. Yet, the word includes much more than poring over our mobile devices! The word (σπουδασον) carries the concept of being eager, zealous, hastening to get something accomplished, to have a keen interest, and intense desire.
What helps the believer to present himself as genuine, tested, proven, and approved before God? While many elements could factor into this answer, the immediate context focuses on one factor: Accurately handling the Scriptures. Surely, this is a strong motivation for our study.
When it comes to personal Bible study, our motivation is greater than the applause of man (“Wow, you really know the Bible!). It’s greater than the sense of accomplishment (“Boy, that’s a difficult book you’ve mastered!). God, the One who created all things and provided salvation for those who believe, has given us insight into one of the ways we can be approved, one of the ways we can please Him. Surely, that must be a strong motivation.
HOW – Let’s Deal with the Process
Once we understand our “why” – we can move into the “how” of Bible study. The word examine is a good descriptor for this process. By way of analogy, consider a medical examination – the doctor is thorough, not wanting to miss anything. Do we approach the text that way?
At a bare minimum, if we are going to rightly divide this Book, we need to establish the following:
- A dedicated time to study
- A dedicated place to study
- A trusted method for study
- Trusted resources for study
The Bereans searched the Scriptures daily. This concept of “Bible study” is more specific than simply having regular devotions. In Bible study, we are not looking for a thought for the day. We are attempting to be systematic, to organize the Bible’s teaching into a format we can digest personally.
A suggested approach for tackling a passage would include asking the basic journalist questions. Who is writing the book? To whom was it written? What is the writer speaking about? When was this passage written? Why was it written? Where was it written? Is there a problem or praise in this passage? Is it instruction or is it narrative? Does this writer cover this topic in any of his other writings? Do other Bible writers also cover this topic? If so, are there any differences? The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible. Don’t be afraid to compare Scripture with Scripture.
Sometimes I am asked, “Which reference Bible do you recommend?” I have no answer! You need to find the tool that fits your hand best. “But, should I buy Logos?” Only if you will use it! If not, then start with a trusted Strong’s Concordance, a good Bible dictionary, and a one-volume commentary to get started.
THINK – Let’s Deal with the Internalization
You’ve dealt with your motivation; you’ve gone through an examining process. How do you retain what you learn? I believe Paul gives us a phrase that is appropriate here: “Think on these things…”
Someone once defined meditation as “reflection upon what has been previously considered.” You cannot meditate on something until you have studied it first. Meditation is the opportunity to mull over in your mind the truth from the passage from as many different angles as possible. In effect, you are moving what you have uncovered with your Hands from your Head to the Heart.
This may include repetition or memorization. It may include journaling. It could be that you read the same chapter multiple times in a day (morning, afternoon, and evening). There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The goal is to find a method that allows us to “think on these things…”
If God’s Word is not internalized, it cannot affect our worldview, our daily living, our decision making – our view of the Christian life. We cannot look differently or live differently from the non-believers if we do not think differently.
SO WHAT – Let’s Deal with the Personalization
What do we do with a text that is 2,000 years old (or older depending on the place in Scriptures)? I believe there are a few key questions we can ask to help with this process:
- Is there a command given for me?
- Is there a principle for me?
- Is there a promise for me?
- How would I summarize today’s passage in my own words?
- What are the take-aways from this text that reveal more about my God and my relationship with Him?
- Has this passage, acting as a mirror, revealed any sin that should be confessed and forsaken?
When we can authoritatively say, “This text means this!” – great, but if we don’t answer the “so what” questions of application, what practical good has been accomplished?
In your own Bible study, I challenge you to know your compelling reason to dig deep, utilize a simple process of examining the text, and then work to internalize and personalize those truths for your daily living.