November 27, 2013

How to study the Bible . . .

Ever stumbled through something without the instruction book? I’ve some hefty software that came with an equally hefty user’s manual and never cracked it open. Of course, that was foolish. I learned the hard way and the long way what the software would do or not do, missing basic tips that would have made using that software much easier.

While many do not realize it, life also comes with the manufacturer’s book of directions. This manual is not about how to change tires or how to bake a cake. It is information about the Author of life, who is the source of eternal life, how to have that life and how to live it out. It is wise to not only crack it open, but diligently read and study it, for in it we can find what is needed for living well and with purpose.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39–40)

Jesus told the Sadducees that they came to the Scriptures with the wrong attitude. They were looking for ways they could live forever, but rejected Him, the only source of that forever life. Yet even the people of God who have accepted Jesus and have His life need to be urged to search the Scriptures. The main excuse for not doing this is the size and complexity of this book of books. Many people simply don’t know where to start or how to study it.

The above verse gives one clue . . .  Jesus said that the Scriptures bear witness of Him, that is, they tell us the purpose of the Bible. It is God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ — to show us the way of salvation, that is, how to have eternal life. So read it with that goal.

He is the treasure hidden in both the Old and New Testaments. He is depicted in prophesies, types, sacrifices, and shadows, then revealed in a human body to bear our sins. He is shown as a priest and a prophet, a friend of sinners and the “express image” of God, the Father. Again, read it looking for Jesus.

Another instruction is to search the Scriptures in childlike humility. Those who are wise in their own eyes cannot see the marvels in God’s book. They are revealed only to those who sense their own need for His Word.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. (1 Peter 2:1–2)

Notice there is another element in these verses besides hunger. The one who benefits from the Word of God (here called spiritual milk) is the person willing to turn from sin. Repentance changes both our lives and our appetites. When we turn our backs on sin, we are more willing to come to God’s Word and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”

Third, search the Scriptures intending to obey what God says. This attitude works together with being able to understand the Bible. Those who are willing to obey “get it” but those who are not interested in obedience will not understand it. This is because spiritual things must be revealed to us by the Spirit of God. He knows what we need to hear and what we are ready to hear. He also will not give us truth unless our hearts are ready to receive and obey it. This is grace too, and clearly shows the value of being teachable.
If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17)
My sister was saved in Algeria through the ministry of a missionary who risked her life to be in that place. She taught my sister, who then taught me, a wonderful way to read the Bible devotionally. Begin in the New Testament with a notebook and pen in hand. Read until something pops out that you do understand. Write the date, the verses, and then whatever it was that you understood. Repeat daily.

This formula works really well. Taking courses and reading books on how to study will also be helpful, but never underestimate the power of God to open the meaning of His Word to a heart that is willing to hear Him and do what He says.

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