In the first post on spending time with the Lord, I addressed why studying the Bible is necessary and vital and what are the key elements (of holiness) that we need to have when we study. This post will be practical tips for how we would study a particular passage of Scripture.
Before I go on, though, I want to say a word about how long we should actually spend time with the Lord. No doubt people will say that putting a mandate on time in the word will be legalistic. I agree. However, quality is not the only important aspect of our time with God. Quantity is equally important. Here’s why: Imagine that you are married (and some of you are married). You go to work all day, perhaps talk to your spouse once for five minutes, and then come home and chat for 15 minutes. Then you eat dinner (sometimes together depending on the circumstances), but afterward go on to ignore your spouse and watch SportsCenter (or something else). How do you think your spouse would feel if you gave them 15-minutes in a 24-hour day? Would it be legalistic to say that your desire is to spend two quality hours with your spouse on a daily basis? No! It would be an overflow of the love you have for her in your heart. Now, how much more do you think God desires you to spend quality, intentional time with him in his word? If we truly love God, our heart will be passionate about making time (a lot of time!) to spend with him. God has spoken. It’s written in his word. If we desire to know God, we will meet him there daily.
Now, with that said, what does it actually look like to sit down and study the Bible? So often, I think, people do not know what to read in the Bible, nor do they know how to read it, because they simply haven’t had any training. Here are three basic principles of study that will help in your pursuit of learning God’s word.
- First, observe what is going on in the passage. This is simply asking who, what, when, and where. You can take it section by section (some Bibles break up the chapters into sections, you know that). Otherwise, if your Bible doesn’t, just find out where the writer’s idea ends and use that section. So, for example, let’s look at Colossians 1:1-12. I looked for words in this section that describe God the Father, then the Son, then the Holy Spirit. I looked for every time Paul mentioned “I” or “we” or “us”. I looked for connecting words like “for, and, therefore, since, so that, because of, but, yet” etc. You can look for words that are repetitive. In Colossians, I looked for words that describe God’s Word (the truth, the gospel, etc). Finally, look for any words that look important to you or words you don’t know that you want to find out what they mean. I would ask questions like, “What is an apostle” and then proceeded to look the word up. I asked about Colossae the city. What made it special? Who lived there? Where is it located? Observing the passage will help you come to what I call a “Message Big Idea.” It’s simply the overview of the passage. This will help set up a good base for determining the “Theological Big Idea.”
- Secondly, interpret the passage. Here is our “theological big idea.” We could be very detailed in this step, but for simplicity’s sake, I want to discuss one particular interpretation method that has been very rewarding for me (especially in the Old Testament). I will call it the redemptive focus. Every passage in Scripture answers two questions (among many others): What is the fallen nature in man? And what is God’s redemptive plan? From Genesis to Revelation we see this theme. So when we read Ephesians 2, we know that our fallen nature is a dead spirit that is apart from the living God. We also come to know that part from God’s grace and mercy we would remain dead in our spirit. But because of God’s love for us and his preordained choice (from Ephesians 1), we are no longer children of wrath, but become adopted children. Even in the Old Testament, when we read about sacrifices, laws, rituals, exiles, covenants, and on and on, we can see the beauty of the gospel. The whole Bible communicates God’s gospel (“good news”) to his covenant people. Some passages are harder than others to find the redemptive focus. To do this, we need to study parallel and clarifying passages. We must read commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament) lexicons. Remember , our most precious commentary and resource for the Bible is the Bible itself. Use cross references and easier Scriptures to interpret harder Scriptures. Find themes and connect your passage to other Scriptures. God’s plan is to redeem a broken world, a broken people. He has revealed that plan in Scripture. Enjoy studying and learning it!
- Thirdly, and most importantly, we need to apply the passage to our lives. We can call this putting the passage into practice. This part is fairly open to how you want to do things. Give yourself challenges, questions to ask yourself, or maybe goals to meet. You can pick a verse or two to memorize or you could just meditate on that section for a few days. Most importantly, we must pray over and through the passage and have a heart of confession.