We’re studying the Four Core Christian Disciplines right now. Can you remember what they are? Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance and Serving Others. Last week we talked about “How to Pray” which brings us to this week’s topic: “Why and How to Study the Bible”. Lets begin with “Why” and start with this question:
How You See It Affects How You Treat It
What is the Bible to you?
There are people in every corner in the world who know how they should answer that question… but they don’t really treat the Bible the way they talk about it.
People see the Bible in different ways. Some see it as an emotional antacid that you read only when your life has your stomach tied in knots. Or a sleeping pill that you read to cure insomnia. Some see it as an insurance policy where you may not have read all the fine print but you hope that owning one will get you out of some kind of trouble some day. Some see it as a holy book reserved for monks and gurus but not really something normal people would ever want to read. Others see it as a story book filled with fables and fairytales. Others wouldn’t say it’s fiction, but is interesting, but useless – an ancient book pertinent to a bygone culture, but not relevant for today.
How you treat the bible is directly connected to how you see it. The time you spend in it, the effort you make to understand it, and the authority level you give the words within it will directly correspond to your view of it – even if you would never say so.
Why Study the Bible?
So, before we begin talking about Bible Study let me give a bit of a plug for why this is such a big deal. You may cringe at the word “study” because it conjures up bad memories of math-quizzes, long classes with a boring teacher going through boring material, dusty books without any pictures full of useless facts that need to be regurgitated for some test. I can completely understand why you’d tune out if that’s what comes to mind when you think of studying. But let me assure you: this kind of study is different.
Listen to the words of Hebrews 4:12-13:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
This book contains the very words of God, given through human agents, to all of humanity, to guide us in this world, and ultimately lead us to salvation from hell and into eternal life. It is the greatest source of moral authority and perfect truth in this world, contains the very words of our Creator, and teaches us about the most important figure in the history of the world – Jesus Christ. It helps us understand the very core of what it means to be human, and speaks to us so individually that at times it feels like it was written to us alone. It shows us our sin, our desperation, our damnation, and the deep and abiding love God has for us, showing us the cost of what it took to come and save us from our sin so we could be with Him.
If you believe that, then you need to read it that way. If you don’t believe that, then you should study this book anyways to see if these claims are true or not. You can’t afford to be wrong about this one. This is a very important book.
5 Reasons to Study the Bible
I came up with 5 reasons why Christians need to study the Bible, and why you should probably pay attention to this sermon.
First, without bible study we soon forget God’s promises. If we are not in the word regularly, we can forget what God has done for us, and is doing through us. We can get bitter, afraid, confused, or prideful if we are not reminding ourselves of the presence and promises of God regularly. It’s amazing how often God will use the Bible to remind us of His goodness, greatness, love for us, and tell us what we need to hear that day.
Second, if we are not studying the Bible we become an easy target for the devil’s schemes.
Think of the Garden of Eden. What was Satan’s opening line there? The first line he ever spoke to humanity in Genesis 3:1 “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” He challenged God’s word. The whole conversation between Satan and Eve was based on God’s Word. Can you trust God’s word? What did God really say? Can God’s word be modified for this situation? When Jesus was facing His temptation in the desert He didn’t dialogue with the Tempter at all, but quoted the Bible and shut down the conversation. Most of us don’t know our Bibles well enough to shut down temptation so Satan sucks us unto into a dialogue with him, and then we fall. If we don’t know our Bibles… if we don’t know the truth… then we are open to being deceived.
Third, without consisting bible study habits, we become closed-minded. Some people learn one or two verses and use them as the rule for their whole lives, their church, their families, and relationships. For example, think of the person who knows Matthew 7:1, “judge not lest ye be judged” but doesn’t know the rest. They never get to Matthew 18:15 where Jesus says, “If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” They never confront anyone about their sin because they think that they “aren’t supposed to judge people”. When in actual fact the Bible tells us to lovingly challenge one another to make sure we are all doing the right thing and growing our obedience to God. We need the whole counsel of scripture to have the right picture of what it means to be a Christian, not just picking and choosing a few favourites that fit with what we want to believe.
Fourth, if we don’t have good bible study habits then we won’t be able to, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I’m convinced that this is a big reason why people don’t share their faith. A some point they were told the truth, believed it, but never locked that truth inside of them to share with others. They are afraid that questions will come up that they won’t have answers for so they don’t start conversations about faith at all. But if we are good students of the Bible, then we will have the answers to many (not all, but many) questions and have more confidence when we tell the story of what Jesus has been doing in our lives and in this world.
Fifth and finally, and most seriously, without diligent study we can be led, and lead others into heresy. The word heresy literally means, “to choose other beliefs.” If God’s word is a revealed word – meaning God gave it to us for a purpose, with a meaning in mind – then there is a right way to read it.
When we read the bible, we are not reading opinion, but the words of God, and we let them speak to us. If we stop reading the bible and start reading into the bible, we will begin to introduce heresies… or “other beliefs”, that can lead us and others away from the truth.
Listen to how serious God takes heresy as I continue to read 2 Peter 2:1-3:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
We need to have good bible study habits and consistent accountability or we run the risk of promoting heresy, and what we think about a subject, rather than what God thinks.
What is Bible Study?
Like last week, I wrote a definition that we can take apart:
Bible Study is “making the choice, under God’s direction, to methodologically spend time, energy and concentration to deepen our faith in Jesus through His Word.”
“Making the choice” – Getting to know the bible better is a choice. Anything we do that doesn’t come naturally or will require effort requires us to make a choice. Becoming healthier in mind, body or spirit doesn’t happen to us, by chance or through osmosis or proximity to healthy people. Bible Study is no different.
Sitting through sermon after sermon and attending various bible-based groups does not make you a student of the bible. You need to make the choice to engage your mind, heart and hands in the process. One must say, “I see value in knowing the scriptures, and therefore I choose to invest my time and energy into studying them.” I know many Christians who have attended church functions for a loooong time but don’t know any more about the bible than they did after their first few years of salvation.
In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul says to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Another translation says “Be diligent…” Bible Study requires us to decide to do our best and be diligent to make the effort to learn.
“Under God’s direction”. Listen to the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9-13:
“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
We cannot really understand the bible without God’s help. Yes, we can learn about the people and places the Bible speaks about, but we cannot truly be impacted by the full worth of God’s Word unless He works within us to help us understand it. It is His letter to us, and when He is not involved in the reading of it, it becomes stale and fruitless. If we don’t come to God before we study it, the bible will be foolishness to our ears, and produce nothing but guilt, showing us all the ways we don’t measure up. But if we seek God when we come to His world, then inside of it we will not only find conviction, but also wisdom and freedom.
That’s why I started with prayer last week. In a previous incarnation of this study I started with Bible Study, but realized that really wasn’t where we need to start. We need to start in prayer, and then come to study.
“Methodologically” – That’s just a fancy word meaning that we need to have a plan.
Let me say this: I strongly believe that God speaks to individuals all the time as they faithfully read their bibles. I have often counselled people to read their bibles as though God is speaking directly to them and has a message for them from the verses they are reading that day. I believe that with all my heart, and I know many people who have met God in powerful ways during their daily Bible reading.
I also believe that the Bible was written to be understood. The message of scripture is simple to grasp and God can speak to people of all levels of experience, intelligence and education through His word. It is not merely a book for scholars and linguists – it is a book written for every person in every place at every time. I have no doubt in my mind that if you grab a Bible and start faithfully reading it that God will teach you something about Himself and dramatically change your life.
However, like anything else we learn, be it cars, sports, quilting, cooking or cheese-making, a good student of the Bible requires a plan. Reading the bible “Devotionally” – by which I mean simply reading the words of God and asking God to speak through them – is of great benefit. However, we also need to “Study” our bible – meaning that we need to have a plan to go deeper than devotional reading.
This is a huge stumbling block to some people. They don’t like being told what to do. They don’t want to admit that they need someone else to teach them about the bible. That’s called pride. When a prideful person comes to the Bible they will often make one of three mistakes: They will assume they know it all and don’t need anyone’s help. Or, they will ignore anything they don’t understand and assume it’s not important. Or, they will just start making things up try to make it up all by themselves. That’s a great path to ignorance and heresy.
God has raised people up (Eph 4:11, 1 Peter 5:1-2) who He has specially gifted with the ability to teach us things about the Bible. It is our responsibility to make sure they are good teachers who are following Jesus and submitting to the Holy Spirit (Romans 16:17-18; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:10-11), and then it is our responsibility to humbly and attentively to them (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thess 5:12) – through their sermons, books, study guides, or one on one. They are a gift from God to us.
Reading the Bible is wonderful, but when we study the Bible, we need a good guide to help us, a plan to complete the task, and a system by which we gather the knowledge. If we come to Bible Study without techniques and tools, then we cannot say we are studying it, any more than a scientist can say they are studying something if they have no equipment, system, process, reports, or methodology.
“Time, Energy and Concentration” Bible study will take your time. This is probably the greatest expense to us, because our time is very valuable. It seems that we would much rather spend any other resource we have other than time. Devotional reading will take less time, but Study will require more.
Bible study will also take energy. It’s not something we can do very well when we are tired at the end of the day. I’m sure you’ve realized that if you are to learn anything that it will require some dedicated energy – not leftovers.
And it will require concentration. We have to choose… there’s that word again… to put our concentration into the study. Anyone who has ever taken a class knows that you can sit through class, take notes, and even do the assignments, and not learn a thing because you’re just going through the motions to get the grade! To get anything out of Bible Study you will be required to concentrate and invest some brain-power.
“to deepen our faith in Jesus through His Word.” At the end of the Gospel of John in 20:31 we read:
“…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The goal of Bible Study is not merely to understand the Bible, but to understand our salvation from God through Jesus Christ as it is revealed in scripture. The Bible helps us know our Creator, Lord, and Saviour. The whole story is about Jesus, from beginning to end, and it is He whom we are learning about in every verse.
We are not there to figure out ways to manipulate and bend the words of the Bible for our own purposes. We are not there to become “bible-thumpers” who use the word of God to make others feel guilty or stupid. Our goal when coming to Bible Study is to have God speak to us through it, to bring us to an understanding of what God has revealed about Jesus, and to connect to Him for our daily hope.
Tomorrow we will go through the How-To’s of Bible Study — the Tools and Techniques — but my hope today is that you take our first question (“What is the Bible to you?”) and spend some time thinking about it. How do you see the Bible? What do you believe about it? Does how you see the Bible line up with how you treat it? If someone were to see how much time you spend reading it, the effort you put into understanding it, and the authority level it has for you – would they say that it’s the most important book in your life because it points to the most important person in your life? If they would, then praise God and keep up the good work! I’m not trying to put a guilt trip on you – ok, maybe a little – but it is my deep desire for you to love the scriptures and be built up in them so you can be a strong Christian.
So if you feel convicted today that you might say that the Bible is important to you, but you don’t spend much time in it, today is the day to change that. Today is the day you can recommit yourself to learning about Jesus in scripture.