The Hard Work of Bible Study
In Part Two, Read the Bible Well, we considered the spiritual discipline of reading the Bible, with primary focus on the importance of context. In order to further deepen our relationship with God, we need to fall in love with Him as the author of the Scriptures, while in the midst of the hard work of Bible study.
As Christians, we have the opportunity to experience joy of personal discovery first-hand as God’s Holy Spirit illumines truth. And just as the Word is used in conversion, so it is that the Bible is a critical instrument in our growth.
Charles Spurgeon penned, “Do you know what it is to have a text leap out of the Scriptures upon you, and carry you away? This special energy and flash of truth is always memorable. How often have the waves of this sea of truth been phosphorescent before my eyes—a sea of glass mingled with fire, of which the spray has dashed over me and set my soul on flame!”
Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and react or respond to it with His mind. Because Scripture is the primary means of spiritual growth, immersing ourselves in the Word of God is the pathway to gaining the mind of Christ. After all, our aim as believers should be to be like Jesus. This is why God gave us the Bible. Charles Spurgeon penned, “Bible study is the metal that makes a Christian; this is the strong meat on which holy men are nourished; this is that which makes the bone and sinew of men who keep God’s way in defiance of every adversary.” The value of Bible study depends on this: Are we willing to work at it? Read the following:
- John 14:16-17; 16:12-15
- Romans 8:28-30; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10
- 1 Corinthians 2:9-16
- 2 Timothy 2:7
- Hebrews 5:11-14
- 1 Peter 2:2
- Read John 14:16-17 and John 16:12-15. What the disciples could not bear then, they would need to understand afterwards. How does this passage say the Holy Spirit would act (not as a force but as a person) to their benefit? How might this apply to the believer today in her Bible study?
- Paraphrase what you learn in Romans 8:28-30 with 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Colossians 3:10.
- In 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Paul reasons that no one outside God can know what takes place within God, nobody but the Spirit of God. While ascribing full deity to the Spirit, He knows God from the inside. Because the Spirit who reveals is truly God, in your own words how would you describe (vs. 13-14) what He reveals to the believer in Bible study? How would this differ from what a nonbeliever might glean from study (vs. 16)?
- Referring to the Hebrews 5:11-14 passage, it is noticeable here that a direct relationship is assumed between spiritual condition and understanding. How might this apply to Bible study?
- The Christian woman should be aware that many things are published and marketed under the guise of a “Bible study.” She should be cautious enough to discern whether or not material is psychology based, designed to make women feel good about themselves, or actually God honoring. Might it be possible to “do” a Bible study with nothing more than your Bible, pen, and paper? Support your answer.
If we find Bible study to be hard work, as some Christians suggest, then we cannot be very spiritual. Many people are attracted to something more immediate, as if there would be direct, no need to study, revelation to claim. The Scriptures are not disclosed to lazy minds and hearts.
Yet, His riches are free….but not cheap.
Like any other discipline in life, Bible study’s profits are in proportion to how much effort is made. “I have little confidence in those persons who speak of having received direct revelations from the Lord, as though he appeared otherwise than by and through the gospel. His word is so full, so perfect, that for God to make any fresh revelation to you or me is quite needless. To do so would be to put a dishonour upon the perfection of that word.” writes Spurgeon. The Bible also gives the only guidelines to follow to present ourselves to God in a manner approved of by Him. He tells us that all Scripture is profitable. According to Paul, Bible study requires hard work and a correct approach, involving mental activity. Thus the term “digging in.” Read the following:
- Romans 12:1-2
- 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17
- Referencing Romans 12:1-2, if we are being changed to the likeness of Christ from one degree to another, who is doing the changing?
- Might the transformation have effect on Bible study? If so, list specific ways.
- What are ways the outcome of a Bible study might look different, whether the learner be a Christian with the help of the Spirit (regenerate) or non-Christian without the help of the Spirit (unregenerate)? See 1 Corinthians 2:10-14.
- Have you ever wanted to take something away from Bible study that is a more personal, direct revelation, irrelevant to the intended meaning of the Scripture? Why might this be a dangerous practice?
God-honoring posture is open to study, open to God, and open to change. If we are willing, and have prepared our “perfect postures” (see Perfect Posture, part six of Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible) for the hard work of Bible study, the next stage is to learn to grow: to grow in our ability to actually read the Bible well and follow with understanding. God has given the Bible as a whole to us for its message in its entirety. If handling a study rightly, its goal is never to achieve a quick fix. In a true Bible study, we do not cherry-pick the Scriptures, looking for a “promise box” in a single verse or catchy phrase.
“God wants us to grapple with the great truths of Scripture because they are life-long investments, not daily pick-me-ups.” Contends Sinclair Ferguson.
Much like Bible reading, our basic approach to Bible study should be to first approach passages in their own context; to understand them in the light of the rest of Scripture, remembering that all Scripture has the same ultimate source: the one true and living God. Read the following:
- Genesis 1-3
- Psalm 119:160-162
- Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50
- Romans 15:4
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- In your Christ-centered reading of Genesis 1-3, make note of OT and NT connections you recognize. Can you see where a good commentary might prove helpful in your study of those chapters?
- Regarding Psalm 119:160-162; do you delight in Scripture as a whole, just as the psalmist does? Or do you fall to the trap of selective study?
- Because the woman in the above Gospel passages knew she was such a sinner, she had more gratitude. Would studying the law (thus knowing how far we have fallen) give us the same attitude?
- Just as Paul saw value of the Old Testament in Romans 15:4, we should delight in knowing the law and be encouraged by the fact that Christ has given us a new covenant apart from the law today. Does knowing (and studying) the law and other books of the Old Testament shed new light on the importance of Jesus’ saving blood today?
We study the Bible with the mind and heart to know, love, and enjoy God. We study to know God more intimately, understand God’s word, learn direction in life, and to find comfort and hope. Through our Bible study, God exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
His Word helps us see ourselves as we really are.
The working of the Word convicts us of sin so we might repent, experience its transformation, and be set apart for God’s holy purposes. In the end, we study God’s Word so we might know God, love him, and our neighbor more fully. Read the following:
- Psalm 119:11-18
- Mark 12:29-31
- John 1:1-5; 10:30; 12:44; 13:34-35; 14:7-9; 15:3; 17:17-23
- 1 Timothy 6:17
- Hebrews 4:12-16
- Jesus’ prayer in John 17:17-23 is related to what he said to his disciples in 15:3. Having already accepted Jesus’ word, perhaps he was praying not so much for their purification, but that they be set apart for God’s own use. As you have read the scriptures above and have identified our sinful habits and behaviors, go back and examine your own heart to determine if you are truly “set apart” as a child of God. Understanding that justification is a unconditional, one-time positional leap (moment of salvation), and sanctification is progressive (a life-long process), which areas do you find in your life that need change?
- The working of the Word in the life of the believer lays open her heart and life, honing in on specific shortcomings in faith and practice. Can you see where openness to this process would strengthen the relationship of the believer with her Savior?
Throughout history, God has revealed and fulfilled commands and promises, often illustrated through the lives of biblical characters. The ultimate example of this is Jesus himself. As we study this, we begin to discover what His will is in every situation and circumstance of life. Scripture itself teaches that maturity comes from the “living and active” Word transforming our minds (Hebrews 4:12). Stemming from this maturity comes both correct understanding and correct learning how to apply the Word to us personally.
In the words of R.C. Sproul, “This yields a practical help for bible study: read the Bible with a red pen in hand. I suggest that you put a question mark in the margin beside every passage that you find unclear or hard to understand. Likewise, put an X beside every passage that offends you or makes you uncomfortable. Afterward, you can focus on the areas you struggle with, especially the texts marked with an X. This can be a guide to holiness, as the X’s show us quickly where our thinking is out of line with the mind of Christ. If I don’t like something I read in Scripture, perhaps I simply don’t understand it. If so, studying it again may help. If, in fact, I do understand the passage and still don’t like it, this is not an indication there is something wrong with the Bible. It’s an indication that something is wrong with me, something that needs to change.” Bible study is the means to develop spiritual maturity and godly wisdom. Effective Bible study involves learning how to think, feel, and act every single day. And as with reading, its effect is cumulative.
“Godly wisdom” is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and react or respond to it with His mind. Read the following:
- John 13:15
- Philippians 2:4-11; 3:12-15
- Hebrews 5:12-14
- 1 Peter 2:21
- Refer to the Philippians passages. Believers in Philippi were preoccupied with self-centeredness (which Paul gently reprimanded and corrected in his letter). How might this same ego-centric attitude be presented in Bible Study? What problems stem from this?
- What would be the right example for us regarding attitude, time and attention dedicated to Bible study (alluding to John 13:15 and 1 Peter 2:21)?
- Alongside the biblical posture toward the Scriptures a believer should have, a healthy Bible study involves observation, interpretation, application, and organization. The heart of Bible study is seeing truth for yourself and discerning what it means. Three basic skills we need to develop are to ask the questions, “What do I see?” “What does it mean?” and “How does it work?”
Following that discernment, the believer applies truth to her life. Discipline yourself to not become discouraged in the process. Remember, the Bible was written so that anyone who wants to know who God is and how they are instructed to live can read it and find out, no matter how rough the course. The fruit comes with patience and time. Read the following:
- John 8:42-47
- Revelation 7:14-17
- Are you willing to do the hard work of Bible study? Are you thirsty for His Word and the truths hidden within? Will you invest time that will, in the end, be redeemed (Revelation 7:14-17)?
The 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith states, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them … The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” Read the following:
- Psalm 19:7; 119:130
- Acts 4:13
- 2 Peter 1:20-21; 3:16
- Paraphrase Psalm 19:7 and 119:130.
In the Bible, we become increasingly aware of all that it means to be in Christ. It is vital that we understand the principles of the Bible are universally relevant. Living out God’s truth demands that we plug it into our particular set of modern circumstances, not the other way around.
We do NOT change the truth to fit our cultural agenda. The Bible is eternal and unchanging.
What does change is our application of that truth in light of our needs. However, we need to be thoughtful and careful about which aspects of a passage are transferable to us. We should cautiously bridge the gap between biblical times and our own situation with timeless truth. Read the following:
- Romans 8:28-30
- 1 Timothy 4:6
- James 1:19-27
- 1 Peter 2:2
- Peter implied in 1 Peter 2:2 that spiritual milk (in this context) should be eagerly desired for nourishment. Do you grasp the concept in James 1:19-27 that the Christian must first be nourished, and mature in faith before teaching the Word?
- Paraphrase 1 Timothy 4:6.
- God often uses life circumstances to draw us closer to His scriptures. Can you recall a time in your life when sought the Bible for comfort and/or guidance? Were you cautious and careful notto change the truth to fit your present circumstances?
- With an understanding that Scripture interprets Scripture, can you see where a good, concordance might aid your Bible study? (I recommend Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.)
Accompanying the practice of reading the Bible well, sound and accurate application requires a Godward posture toward the Scriptures. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. The locks of Scripture are only to be opened with the keys of Scripture; and there is no lock in the whole Bible, which God meant us to open, without a key to fit it somewhere in the Bible, and we are to search for it until we find it.” Accurate application is crucial for the believer to honor Scripture rightly.
Beware of the potential ego-centered problems with application.
In personal application, we have a tendency to apply lessons in areas we are already working on but neglect new areas of need. We should also beware of rationalizing our application to fit our present lifestyle. In addition, we need to be careful to never allow an emotional experience to be substituted for a volitional decision. We should also be aware of social pressures causing us to inadvertently compromise what we know to be true. Nevertheless, remember that we cannot apply what we do not know: This takes introspect and deliberate work. For accurate application, it is important to know your applicational context or situation andto know yourself.
In Bible study, we must look for application in the form of a universal principle – truth anywhere, anyplace, and under any circumstance. For relevance, consider the needs, interests, questions, and problems of today.
- We need to think about specific application of biblical truth to life and ask specific questions: Am I open to hear what the Spirit is saying to me (through the Word) in ways I need to adjust my life? Am I willing to make adjustments to my life based on God’s Word?
Maturing in the Word requires that we deal with the appetites of our hearts, and make room for honoring God in sound doctrine and spiritual disciplines. Daily life becomes more than checking off a list of requirements for the day when our thoughts, desires, and energies are focused on the fullness of the Word (rather than all the things offered by this world). Read the following:
- Psalm 119:105-112
- Daniel 11:32
Through diligent study of the Bible, we become anchored. Through application, we begin examining our own hearts. We discover that God’s Word is fully able to satisfy our deepest needs and desires as we stand firm. We can follow the Word to be our guide, trust the Word to give us life, and delight in the Word until the very end.
In Part Nine, Handle With Care, we will consider our aim in spiritual disciplines including further application of reading and study.
Reflect on your relationship with Bible study.
- My goals in Bible study habits are…
- As a result of my Bible study, my hope is…
- My prayer for my work in personal Bible study is…
All sources for this series are listed here: https://debbieswindell.com/2019/05/30/excited-to-share/