As a Bible teacher, there have been those times I’ve been tempted to rely on my own abilities, desires, and the approval of other women, but God always draws me back to his Word as a reminder of whose work it is I am participating in. If the focus in preparation of an adult Bible lesson becomes more geared to culture, using popular teaching techniques, words, and phrases, we’ve missed the point entirely. When man is lifted high and God is lowered in our teaching, we are trivializing the intent of the Bible itself. When God is put in His rightful place, it is He that is magnified.
In the Scriptures, God provides a clear example of biblical teaching. We find a call for expositional teaching and preaching (teaching that details the one best meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture) in Nehemiah Chapter Eight when Ezra seeks spiritual renewal related to God’s word, and it is with that as the goal in our teaching, I open with this passage. The marks of Ezra’s God-honoring preaching are seen by the reading of the Word, God’s people hearing in reverence, and God’s people’s response to his Word.
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. – Nehemiah 8:1-3
A huge crowd gathered to make their plea to the leaders to bring them the very Word of God. They were crying out to bring the book, having been in captivity for 70 years. They were hungry to hear the reading and exposition of the Scriptures. God had been preparing Ezra as a man of the book, digging out the truths of God’s word. This is where any profitable ministry begins – commitment and call, leading to time alone with the Word of God, examining the text. Ezra was prepared for the cry of the people.
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and teach his statutes and rules in Israel. – Ezra 7:10
Ezra not only studied the Word, he lived and practiced it. It was with active effort on his part Ezra was injecting the Word of God into every thought and action of his life. In the teaching of God’s word, he allowed the Word to flow through him.
Ezra gave the people a particular type of teaching, reading the Word of God from early morning until mid-day. Ezra honored God by the reading but also through his preaching – The people understood the commandments and comprehended their truths.
And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. – Nehemiah 8:3-4a
Later in V. 4, we see that beside Ezra stood people on his right hand and on his left. It is widely believed these were his partners in ministry, assisting in the teaching and perhaps by leading smaller groups so the people might more fully understand the precepts. There appears to be a full disclosure of the passage and a connectedness to daily lives. God’s word is truth and God’s objective in Ezra’s day and in ours today is that His truth is interpreted rationally. But clearly, Ezra was in an authoritative posture (above all the people) when he reverently expounded God’s word, showing the superiority of God’s word over the people. And the posture of the people was one of humility, respect, and gratitude.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. – Nehemiah 8:5-6
They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. – Nehemiah 8:8
The revelation brought the people to tears and mourning. When confronted with God’s word and its mirror, it allowed them to see themselves as they truly were. Brokenness accompanies genuine spiritual renewal.
For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. – Nehemiah 8:9c
True revival among the people brought celebration and rejoicing. A supernatural joy began to flood their souls because their hearts were cleansed. Ezra had opened the very Word of God and made it known, as teachers and preachers are called to do today.
And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. – Nehemiah 8:12
As Ezra was prepared for his time, we (as teachers) are to be prepared for ours. Our study of lesson preparation encourages application of general and specific principles of Bible interpretation that are necessary to understand biblical text. The work of expounding or interpreting what a passage of Scripture means insures the text is not made to serve the teacher’s intentions rather than those of God’s Word. The main concern is to set forth the truth of God’s revelation in easily understood language.
The expository lesson makes plain what the Bible says, and gives good application to the hearers. Like seen with Ezra’s preaching, it feeds the hearts of God’s people from teaching the meaning of consecutive verses. The wise teacher will take the passage apart to analyze its contents and will examine the text from every possible angle to reveal all its treasure.
Most obvious is the fact that the lesson must be based on a passage from the Bible and the actual meaning of the Bible passage must be found. The meaning of the Bible passage must be related to the immediate and general context of the passage. Eternal, timeless truths in the passage must be gathered around a compelling theme. The main points of the lesson must be drawn from the Scripture verses themselves and the hearers called to obey those truths and live them out. Let’s look at this more closely. Let’s go beyond Ezra so you might better understand.
Two characteristics of expository teaching are seen in the teaching of Jesus Christ himself. Beginning at Moses and in all the prophets He “explained through” the Scriptures, suggesting the idea of consecutive teaching.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27
Furthermore, we see that Jesus gave a Christ-centered presentation of Scripture. We are told Jesus expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. We would be called to do no less in preparation of a Bible lesson today. Scripture reveals the Apostle Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” Effective exposition must be clear and understandable.
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” – Acts 17:2-3
The first step to preparing and adult Bible lesson is prayer for the assistance of the Holy Spirit. A passage should be read prayerfully with the consideration that the Bible in its entirety is the inspired Word of God. Our reading should be done prayerfully with deepest reverence. Remember, it is the same Holy Spirit who inspired men to pen the words of your text, who will illumine the mind of the believer to understand. Pray expectantly but work diligently. A dear friend often reminds me that just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we check our brains at the door. Have you ever been tempted to teach without first doing the hard work on your part?
Secondly, read carefully, taking as much time as is necessary. Ask yourself, what do I see? Observe interesting details putting them in perspective of all redemptive history. These six words are indispensable in your reading:
Ask, who is the speaker and whom is he addressing? What do I know about the people, their time, the place? Why was it important for them to read these words? What was the occasion that called for this writing? What is the purpose of the writing? Is there a truth he is seeking to convey or an error he is seeking to correct? What encouragement is he trying to give? Look for progression in the passage and successive stages. Look for contrasting ideas and especially repetition. Read slowly and imaginatively. Bringing the biblical characters to life. Meditate on the passage.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. – Psalm 1:2
Third, read obediently, looking for theme and main points. Sometimes the writer himself will give us a clue as to the meaning of the passage. John is a good example, telling us why he included particular miracles given in his gospel.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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. – John 20:30-31
Next, apply proper principles of interpretation. This will take some time. It is in this step we take what we see and determine what it means. We must work from the belief that the Bible is authoritative, the very Word of God, allowing the Bible to interpret itself.
Right understanding interprets personal experience in the light of Scripture and not Scripture in the light of personal experience. Always remember, Scripture has only one intended meaning, deposited by its author, and a text cannot mean today what it did not mean then. However, it may have a fuller and more complete meaning than the human author originally understood. We are so needy. We want to make Scripture all about us, what we are doing and have yet to do in life. Is this your attitude when coming to God’s word? If we are not careful, we all find ourselves there. Interpreting the Bible rightly would have us focus on God first.
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. – 2 Timothy 2:15
Ask yourself, what does it mean? This method is not exhaustive but is the most helpful to me as a teacher in application of 2 Timothy 2:15, in dividing the Word of Truth rightly. I find these questions beneficial in both lesson preparation and in my personal Bible reading.
- What does this text teach me about God?
- What does this text teach me about fallen humanity?
- How does this text point to Christ?
- What does God want me to know?
- What does God want me to do?
Asking these questions in preparing a Bible lesson will help answer the question, what was the main point? In search of a theme, the teacher must ask herself, what is the biblical author talking about? And follow with, what is the biblical author saying about what he is talking about? The main point is the main idea of the text and will bridge to the main idea of the message being taught. Outlining the lesson in present tense will help tie all points to the text.
Lastly, is the final step in the process of preparing an adult Bible lesson and one that is of utmost importance – Application. As teachers, our time reading, studying, and examining the text confronts our own souls – Truth becomes increasingly apparent through dedicated study and we should be driven to apply what we uncover. However, we must face God’s truth in our own hearts and life and deal with teaching it to ourselves first. Remember, Scripture has only one intended meaning but many applications.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hear of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty and perseveres being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25
The writers of Scripture were living life alongside the people who would be reading what they wrote and they themselves drew strength from the Word. In keeping that the Bible is a book written for real people, we ask ourselves How does it work? It is through application we are able to span the gap between the world of the Bible and today’s world. Even though we have the task to bridge the gap, we cannot apply what we do not know well. It is important to know yourself and know your audience.
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:16
We should look to the original audience of the text, then to ourselves, then ask four key questions:
- How are we like them?
- How are we unlike them?
- How should we be like them?
- How should we be unlike them?
When stating your application, state it as a universal principle. You are looking for truth anywhere, anytime, anyplace, and under any circumstance. Be specific enough to indicate a course of action with the two most important questions, where is Christ? And where is the gospel?
As teachers, we must do everything we can to enhance the practical nature of our lessons, but we must also be aware that Bible lessons are not solely driven by skill and energy. The Holy Spirit takes the Word and applies timeless truths in his way to the hearers He helps. The work of the Holy Spirit assists both the teacher and the learner in gaining sense and significance of God’s written revelation.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. – John 16:13-14
Scripture is the primary means of spiritual growth and as Bible teachers, we should strive to be like Jesus. After all, this is why God gave us the Bible. Our goal is to lead and mature our learners, like those in the time of Ezra, to spiritual renewal.
Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. – Colossians 1:28
In your lesson preparation, do you come to the Scriptures with your eyes wide open? Do you remove distractions so you might examine the details? Do you take the time necessary to see and learn all God would have for you, or do you rush? May God bless you in your times of preparing an adult Bible lesson. May you be faithful in honoring him in the hard work before you.
Note: this blog post was adapted from the 2019 Mujer Conference at Iglesia Bautista Melquisedec in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador.