I was Eager to Learn, but I Didn’t Really Understand

Guest Post by Jennifer Pipes

Jennifer Pipes is passionate about knowing God through Bible study. She believes we live in a time when many Christians are at risk of falling prey to false teaching disguised as right teaching. She is married to James Pipes and is mom/stepmom to three sons, two adults and a 16 year old. When Jennifer isn’t working as a benefits manager with a growing company, she enjoys the study of church history, theology, and the Bible. Jennifer studies and assists with the class Knowing the Bible, where women explore books of the Bible through in-depth study of the Scriptures. 

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.- Matthew 4:4

For many years, I associated the words Bible study with the next best study of a specific set of scriptures, written by the most popular women authors at the time. I was usually first in line to buy the study and was always eager to sign up when one of the studies was offered at church. But, almost always, my enthusiasm fizzled a week or two into the study – The homework would inevitably overwhelm me. When I think back on those times (and there were plenty of them) I would say I was eager to learn, but I didn’t really understand how to study scripture. I was putting these popular authors and their studies on a pedestal and calling it Bible study. In doing this, I lost sight of what I really needed and more importantly, what God wanted for me.

My Needs vs. God’s Wants for Me

Sometimes I find that it is hard for me to remember that what God wants for me is always better than what I want or think I need. By trying to learn God’s word from authored studies, I thought I was fulfilling my need to read the Bible because it was the only way I knew to “study” God’s word. Looking back, I recognize I was really fulfilling a want more than a need. I wanted someone else to tell me how I should interpret scripture: I wanted someone else to research what words meant or to tell me the cross-referenced verses related to the topic. I wanted someone else to make it easier for me to learn God’s word. Bottom line is I wanted someone else to do the work for me. These highly regarded authors sold a lot of books and studies, sold out conferences, and became the rock stars of women’s Bible studies. Why shouldn’t I do their studies? And if I didn’t do their studies, how else would I learn to study the Bible?

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. - Romans 15:4

Another way I confused my needs with what God wanted for me was in the way I applied scripture when I read it on my own. I developed a dangerous habit of randomly picking out one verse and forcing its application into my current situation and/or emotions. I wanted scripture to affirm my feelings, but what I needed was scripture to help me discern sin to confess, promises to hold onto, commands to obey, and understand the Holy Spirit’s ability to give me peace through God’s word. The problem with the pick-a-verse-a-day method of “Bible study” is that it is misleading. This method is centered around what I think I need, instead of what God wants me to learn. If I don’t learn to rightly study God’s word, then how can I rightly apply it to my life’s circumstances?

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. - Revelation 22:18-19
My Bible Study vs. Someone Else’s Bible Study 

Over the past two years or so, the Holy Spirit has really pressed upon my heart, a desire to learn how to study the Bible on my own, as opposed to relying on someone else’s study of the Bible. Prewritten Bible studies have their place in my spiritual walk but shouldn’t be a replacement for my own Bible study. There are many godly, smart people who have written great studies based on scripture. They are convenient because most of the hard work is done. I’m a visual learner so their engaging videos are easy for me to watch. But my own tendency, using them as a crutch and replacement for my own Bible study, often left me yearning for more.

Instead of opening God’s word to a random verse and trying to force application to my life, He gave me a desire to actually study the Bible so I can rightly apply it. Randomly picking a verse and justifying it as applicable to my circumstances is dangerous because it considers my context instead of God’s intended context. Suddenly, the sin that caused my situation, and more importantly, the Person who can forgive my sin, would no longer be the focus. If I only pick a verse and I don’t ask questions in an effort to study it, I fail to recognize what God wants me to learn.

Randomly picking a verse and justifying it as applicable to my circumstances is dangerous because it considers my context instead of God’s intended context.

-Jennifer Pipes –

Learning how to study the Bible on my own enhances understanding because I am the one asking and answering important questions that lead me to proper application. Not only does it help with proper application, but it helps strengthen me against the lies of the world. The more I read and study God’s word, the more likely I am to discern if something doesn’t align with theological truths or doctrinal beliefs.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. - Proverbs 2:1-5

According to Proverbs 2:1-5, I am to understand what I read by being attentive and inclining my heart. I am to call out for insight and raise my voice (read it aloud) to understand. I am supposed to seek it and search for it like I would a treasure. When I take time to pour over the Bible’s words myself, I interact with it in a way I don’t when I’m reading someone else’s study. When I take time to write out the who, what, when, where and why questions and their answers I find through my study, I experience God’s word more intimately. 

Right vs. Almost Right

Charles Spurgeon has been credited with this quote: “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” According to Merriam-Webster, discernment is a noun that means the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure. When applied to Bible study, the definition of discernment can be scary because it implies God’s word is some sort of secret book that is difficult to understand. But the Bible is not full of hard-to-understand secrets. In fact, it is full of clear promises, commands, and guidance. Every answer I ever need about living an obedient life in Christ, can be found in His holy, trustworthy, completely true word.

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. -2 Corinthians 11:3-4

But, when I only rely on other people to learn about the Bible and I don’t learn to study it on my own, how do I learn to discern between right and almost right? And if I don’t know how to discern between right and almost right, how will I keep from falling prey to the half-truths the world is constantly trying to sell? If I don’t learn to study the Bible on my own, how will I gain confidence in my understanding? And if I don’t gain confidence in my understanding, then how will I share with others?

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. - 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

As a mom, one of my greatest blessings has been teaching my boys about Jesus and God’s Word and one of my heart’s greatest burdens has been teaching them to discern between right and almost right. If discernment is difficult for me, imagine how much more difficult it will be for them as they go through life living in this world while trying not to be of this world. If learning to study God’s Word on my own improves my discernment and confidence, then it stands to reason I am better equipped to help my boys (and others) learn how to study God’s Word on their own, thereby improving their discernment and confidence. 

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. - 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

The Bible says the devil disguises himself as light. That means he is so sneaky and clever his schemes appear almost right; they appear as though they are from God. That verse on its own should stir up a desire to fight rightly and stand firmly against Satan’s schemes. Learning to study God’s Word on my own improves my ability to discern the times in which Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

Risk vs. Reward
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. - 1 Corinthians 2:12-13

As I mentioned earlier, doing someone else’s study of the Bible is not altogether bad. But there are risks when studying someone else’s take on the Bible. Learning to study God’s word on my own helps me learn what to look for when choosing someone else’s study. Being able to discern right from almost right, enables me to identify false doctrines or ideas that take God’s word out of context. Learning how to study God’s word myself, in context and with my focus on Jesus (Christological Hermeneutics), sets me up to avoid being led astray without realizing it. I will also add that this same concept applies to discerning Christian books, podcasts, and even music. 

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godlinesshe is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. - 1 Timothy 6:3-5

About 3-4 years ago, I began to question some of the studies and authors I mentioned previously. But I didn’t really know what I was questioning. I just felt something wasn’t lining up. Not long after, I connected with Debbie Swindell when she hosted a ladies Bible study session (summer seminar) from her home. During the session, we learned the meaning of the Bible study terms homiletics, hermeneutics, and exegesis. Since that time, God has continued to fan the flame of learning in my heart. I’ve continued learning how to study God’s word on my own and I’ve experienced the reward of growth because of it. I continue to learn from Debbie. She is my valued friend, teacher, and mentor.

In addition to one-on-one time I spend with Debbie, I attend theology and Bible study classes each semester at our church, through the Acts Institute. The theology class teaches me about God, his church, and how he relates to our world. We also spend time digging into the history of the Church while looking at catechisms, creeds, and confessions. As evangelicals why is that important you might ask? Learning theology has helped so much with my understanding of who God is. It has helped me better understand why I believe what I believe as a Christian.

The Bible study class is an opportunity to apply Bible study methods to specific passages of scripture, alongside other eager-to-learn ladies. We read verses together and ask the who, what, where, when, and how questions in small groups. There might be times when we have different perspectives, but because we are studying in community, in context, and research each passage with good resources, the risk of God’s word being added to or taken away from, is minimized. Our small group time is followed up with verse-by-verse teaching and application for the specific passage for the week. To me, our time together is a beautiful picture of authentic Bible study. 

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, - 2 Peter 1:19

If you’d like to learn more about Bible study and/or Christian theology, let me know. I’d love for you to join us when we meet for a new semester this fall. Knowing the Bible will study the book of Ruth. Registration begins in August for both classes, and all that is required is a willingness to listen and learn. There is not much homework required (unless you are taking for an elective credit), but there are plenty of opportunities to take your studies further. Recommendations are provided for good books and Bible study resources for those who want to get the most from the classes. These class times of study bring us together for sweet fellowship. We are like-minded ladies of the Church learning and growing together. Most importantly, I believe it is authentic Bible study that teaches and equips women to learn more about God.

. . .and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, - Ephesians 6:17