The canon of Scripture was not an after the fact development, but something woven deep into the fabric of God’s redemptive plan. Since the close of the canon in the first century, the Word of God alone is the means by which God speaks to his church.
Previously, He spoke to His people in various ways – In Old Testament times, He spoke to people directly on occasion, revealed Himself through dreams or particular signs (as with Gideon), revealed Himself through the casting of lots and through theophanies. The primary way God communicated with the people of Israel was through the prophets, beginning with, “Thus says the Lord.” The words of the prophets were set down in writing and became the Word of God. Thus the Old Testament was produced.
“Whatever Scripture says God says.” – B.B. Warfield
In the New Testament, the counterpart to the prophet was the Apostle. Having received a direct call by Christ, the term “apostle” refers to one who is sent or commissioned with authority of the One doing the sending.
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” – Matthew 10:40
The prophets and the apostles together form the very foundation of the church. Through both the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament, we were given a written record of special revelation. It has come to us by Christ’s authorized agents of revelation, His emissaries.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” – Ephesians 2:19 – 21
Christianity is based ultimately on knowledge that comes to us from God himself. Holding to that conviction is vitally important for our determination of truth. When we open the pages of Scripture, may we humbly bow before the Lord. God has spoken. As His church, may we learn the Bible, live the Bible, and love the Bible.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” – Hebrews 1:1-2
Praise God who humbled himself by using mere mortals to communicate his infallible word. We have the written Word, but we also have the Word incarnate, the One about whom the written Word speaks. The One who embodies the very word of God.
“I think I will just read dead people,” I remarked as the penned words (freshly planted in my memory) hit the trash can. Confirmation of early morning news revealed the deplorable acts committed by a popular author, grandson of an evangelical icon. Yet, the flow of his work, piercing words camouflaged as wisdom, lurked in the crevices of my mind. Developing discernment in choices for reading is vital.
Reading Christian authors can help guide us into growth-producing habits fostering well being. Although, when lacking theological wisdom, they can distort readers’ understanding of the gospel and encourage practices that foster spiritual ill being. Sadly, reliance on a best seller’s list or label is not helpful – Popularity is no indicator of solidity. How can Christians learn to discern which books are worth reading and which to avoid?
TIP ONE: Never judge a book by its cover.
Do your homework.Jackets are marketing ploys using catchy titles and trendy graphics. Drawing the reader’s eye, they rarely offer hints to an unbiblical worldview promoted by some well-intentioned Christian authors. Today’s publishers meet responsible Christians with a need to do research beyond summaries and endorsements: At the very least, Google the author’s church membership and education. Remember, guard your heart and mind: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7
TIP TWO: Question modern-day writings. They are not the Gospel.
Today’s authors often prey on emotions and vulnerability of women. Mysticism and felt-needs psychology are woven into writings, subtly leading the reader to a spirituality more about experiences than beliefs. Publications undermining Scripture (masked in “I feel” and “I think” and not what God’s Word says) warrant rejection. These unhealthy core teachings of a writer’s work spill over into the reader’s thinking. Stand guard against the enemy: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” – Romans 1:21
We’ve become reckless and lazy in our choices, reading memes of positivity and superficial devotionals. Despite their use of biblical language, the voice of many authors is not the Gospel. Whitewashing our sin and desperation of forgiveness diminishes the central message of the Christian faith. The uniqueness of salvation and our identity in Jesus Christ is at the heart of spiritual growth.
Above all, any book distorting the gospel has no place in the hands of a Christian reader. Quite the contrary, works on the attributes of God, apologetics, and spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are faith building! When coupled with Scripture, Christ-centered reading inspires awe and prompts change. Seeking God-honoring life enrichment, rooted in biblical truth, acknowledges He has spoken amidst the pages of Scripture. Period. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8
TIP THREE: Read!
Return to the classics. Pick up a novel. Read for sheer pleasure and have a heart of gratitude for all of God’s good gifts to us! That is to say, not all books at our bedside must bear the name of Christ. In the event they do, His name deserves being represented rightly.
Having concluded the series, Doctrine and Disciplines of the Bible, I’m wrapping up with a refresher. We must be reminded of my original objective in developing these lessons: In my observation and humble opinion, there is an unmet call for evangelical women to devote themselves to actual reading and study of God’s Word itself. We are so full of all kinds of stuff offered by this world, which stagnates our growth and maturity. Our thoughts, our desires, and our energies are so used up, there’s little space left for the Word of God. Sadly, in many cases, the extent that most people read the Bible is checking off their time in YouVersion for the day. I find sincere women, who take the easy route of doing a Bible study, with good intentions. Yet they rely on the popular author’s writing far more than the words printed in their own Bibles.
In my quest, I began to scrutinize popular materials marketed as “Christian” and “Bible Studies” in the women’s market. Instead of finding support and teaching in sound doctrine, I found an abundance of world-based material, but a gaping hole which can only be filled by key theology (which creates confusion). My analysis showed me that the majority of materials marketed today more accurately fall into the categories of “Self-Help” or “Self-Care,” which are psychology-based. These “Christian” materials do not further biblical knowledge. Many popular titles outright contradict the Scriptures, or suffer poor exegesis (interpretation and explanation of the Scriptures).
However, I’ve perceived that women often desire further instruction in disciplines and doctrines, so in turn they can implement them appropriately and soundly.
Therefore, it is evident that the essential doctrine and God-honoring technique in practicing our disciplines has begun to fall to the wayside. Reading “Christian” authors can help guide us into growth-producing habits, fostering wellbeing. Hence when lacking theological wisdom, they can distort the readers’ understanding of the gospel, and encourage practices that tend to foster spiritual illbeing. Recent decades, filled with this sort of teaching, have resulted in bad theology.
When we do not know and understand good theology, we risk living out bad theology.
As Christian women, we need theology; the study of God is not merely for our good but for the glory of God himself. Doctrine of the Word of God (only briefly covered in this series) is the very foundation of theology: Christian belief is based on Scripture. In its four applications, doctrine is believed, practiced, confessed, and taught.
1 Timothy 1:18-19; 4:7; 6:21
2 Timothy 2:16
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ. – Colossians 1:28
Take note that the study in its entirety can be easily accessed at any time through the categories menu at www.debbieswindell.com, but let’s recap what we’ve covered in this series:
In Part One, Won’t You Join Me at The Table?, we established the invitation to every Christian to delight in God and things of God. The invitation of the spiritual disciplines is extended to all in whom the Spirit of God dwells, in order to taste the joy and contentment found in a Christ-centered lifestyle. Rightly practicing the disciplines requires our consideration of the Doctrine of the Word of God, as to understanding properly our reading of the Scriptures and applying appropriately our hearing and studies.
In Part Two, Trustworthiness of the Scriptures, the reader was confronted by our tendency to be relativists and the societal pressures that would have us believe that the Bible is no more than an old book left behind. Yet for 2,000 years, the Bible has taken hold of people’s lives, revealing both humanity’s sin and God’s grace through faith. And in the views of science, archaeology, and a vast amount of textual criticism, Scripture has in reality withstood the test of trustworthiness. It is imperative that the Christian places her confidence in the Bible as the voice of God when approaching her Bible reading and study. An accurate understanding of doctrinal truths reflects what the church is bound to believe, and good theology flowing from this stands in direct contrast to false doctrine. Sound doctrine of the Word of God is the foundation of all good theology.
In Parts Three and Four, Inspiration of the Scriptures and Inerrancy & Infallibility of the Scriptures, we established the importance of a right theology that affirms the trustworthiness of the Bible by way of its divine inspiration, calling for affirmation of its inerrancy and infallibility. God’s Word is trustworthy, conveying what is true and demanding what is right. Affirmation of the inspiration of the Bible furthers Christians’ maturity in their attitudes toward the Scriptures, the truthful voice of God. If we claim our Lord and Savior to be Jesus Christ, and that Jesus himself affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture, we must accordingly embrace the Scriptures as true and right. As God’s voice, the Bible is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
In Part Five, Authority & Sufficiency of the Scriptures, we explored authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We discussed that God speaks sufficiently through the Bible with ultimate, comprehensive, final authority. He also has the right to command our thoughts, desires, beliefs, words, actions, and overall behavior. The supremacy of Scripture qualifies it as functional, instrumental, conferred, and the traditional guidebook in every aspect of life. Scripture contains all the words of God that He intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history. Now, it contains everything that we need God to tell us for salvation, trusting him perfectly, and obeying. God does not require us to believe anything about himself or his work that is not in the Scriptures.
In Part Six, Perfect Posture, we took a glance at the importance of the posture of the heart when coming to the Bible, whether for reading or for study. With perfect posture, we as His children are supernaturally renewed, moment by moment, day by day, as we read, hear, learn, and live out the Scriptures. God’s Word is precise, not ambiguous. We don’t need to merely admire the Bible; we need to understand it. By the renewal of our minds, rejecting conformity to the world’s rampant individualism, our Bible reading enables spiritual growth. We can know the truth, enabling us to think clearly about what God says is true and right.
In Parts Seven, Read the Bible Well, and Eight, The Hard Work of Bible Study, we acknowledged the cumulative benefits of the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and study: God may impress a verse on our hearts and minds in order to help us, but he has given Scripture as a whole to us so that its entire message will become the framework of reference for the rest of our lives. We do not occupy ourselves in Bible disciplines in order to get a “quick fix” to last for today, but rather to learn how to think, feel, and act in a God-honoring way every single day. When we rightly handle the Word of God, we engage in Bible reading and study for innumerable long-term benefits.
In Part Nine, Handle With Care, we looked at the importance of handling the Scriptures with care. There is a direct correlation between salvation, growth and maturity, and one’s ability to handle the Scriptures correctly. It is not a simple matter to understand the Scriptures, but with right understanding, they must also be applied rightly: A Christian is often known by how she handles the Word of God. It is the woman who lives in the Word and whose life is shaped and governed by the Word who is the kind of “worker” God approves in 2 Timothy 2:15. As we encounter the Bible rightly, with humility and thankfulness, we should handle the Scriptures rightly. But instead, we are maxed out in terms of our time, our ability to focus, and tied to our desires. We need to examine our own hearts, carve out time, and discover that God’s Word alone can satisfy our deepest desires in life. Foundationally, we must deal with the appetites of our hearts and make room for God’s satisfying Word.
“If I were the devil, one of my first aims would be to stop folk from digging into the Bible. Knowing that it is the Word of God, teaching people to know and love and serve the God of the Word, I should do all I could to surround it with the spiritual equivalent of pits, thorn hedges and traps, to frighten people off.” – J.I. Packer
Recreated from fall 2018 teaching notes, for the purpose of supplementing my teaching and discipleship, this online series is meant to be more than information transfer. With a correct posture, the reader has been invited to read the Bible well and do the hard work of Bible study while handling the Word of God with care. When Bible literacy is coupled with the ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines, the believer provides a pathway for maturity (by work of the Holy Spirit). And as the church matures, we become better equipped to further the kingdom’s work. Thus, it is to the glory of God.
Consider these questions as we close.
As a result of this study…
Have you put Scripture reading and study into practice, as biblical spiritual disciplines?
Have you been confronted with core doctrinal truths that resulted in heart change and application?
Do you believe you might now have a more discerning attitude?
Has it been necessary for you to make theological adjustments?
In what ways does your daily routine provide space for the Spirit to work?
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20
In Parts 7-8 of Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible, our focus was the disciplines of reading and studying the Scriptures. In Parts 2-5, we explored the Doctrine of the Word of God. We have now established a shallow foundation for Bible reading and study. Continuing along this route, we must look practically into furthering the disciplines, and furthering them in a God-honoring way. And while not all believers have the gift of teaching, we will address such: All are responsible to pass on the truths they have learned in God’s Word. Thus, this part of the study focuses on “rightly handling the Word of truth.”
Once salvation occurs, growth and maturity comes before correctly handling the Scriptures. The Scriptures can be complicated: It is not simple to understand them. With right understanding, they must also be applied rightly. It is the woman who lives in the Word and whose life is shaped and governed by the Word of Truth who is the kind of “worker” God approves, as described in 2 Timothy 2:15. Also: As with all things done in the name of Christ, prayer is a vital element.
John 5:39; 14:6, 9
1 Corinthians 12:29
1 Timothy 4:14
2 Timothy 1:6; 2:15
2 Peter 1:3
How does prayer before study and a determination to handle the Bible carefully reflect your theology? Support your answer.
Keep in mind that we will handle the word of truth better if we know the word of truth. Like Israel’s kings, we should develop a habit of reading God’s word daily (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). “I’m afraid that’s the condition of many people today. They assume that our faith means taking a deep breath, shutting our eyes, and believing what we know deep down inside is absolutely incredible. In fact, Christianity has often been caricatured as the nonthinking man’s religion. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. When you become a Christian, you don’t throw your brain into neutral…You don’t commit intellectual suicide.” states Howard Hendrix, author and seminary professor. The Christian is often known by how she handles the Word of God, and mishandling the truth leads to misconceptions by the world.
Have you developed an intentional pattern in your Bible reading and study? What efforts do you make to know and retain what you study?
Read John 5:39, then Hebrews 1:3. God wants us to know Him. The way to know Him is through the Son. Do you look for the revelation of Jesus Christ when reading the Scriptures?
Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective, and react or respond to it with His mind. Why might it be important that we anchor our lives in God’s character?
Joel Beeke, professor of systematic theology, writes, “Spiritual growth begins with knowledge. We must be increasingly filled with the knowledge of Christ as the Agent of the Father’s will. If our spiritual life is a fire burning in our hearts, then doctrinal truth received by grace is the well-seasoned wood that fuels the fire, so that it burns hotter and higher.” A slow, steady fire gives light, but if the fire roars, it also provides warmth. Likewise, Bible reading and study is the means to develop spiritual maturity and godly wisdom. Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective, and react or respond to it with His mind.
Referencing Hebrews 5:11-14, have you become “dull of hearing?” Would you say your diet consists of spiritual milk, or solid food? Are you mature enough to discern truth?
We do not grow as Christians merely by using a spiritual barometer. We grow from the life-transforming renewal of our minds. Matthew Henry said, “Spiritual growth consists most in the growth of the root, which is out of sight. The more we depend upon Christ and draw sap and virtue from him…the more we cast forth our roots.” This spiritual maturity, in turn, comes from actually understanding and learning to apply God’s word to our lives. In doing so, we walk in Him.
Read Ezra 7:6-10. Having been a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses, Ezra is presented as the ideal priest in Israel. His mission was to lead God’s people in worship and holiness. This stemmed from a life of faithfulness. In the living of Ezra’s daily life, what specific words or phrases do you find in verse 10 revealing to us that he earnestly learned and applied what he knew to be true?
Why was Ezra’s expert knowledge of the law badly needed to those who had been exiled for 70 years?
1 Corinthians 8:3
1 Peter 2:2
2 Peter 3:18
How do we benefit today from teachers who have studied the Word vs. those attempts without proper study? Would you consider study of the Bible vital to handling the Word rightly in the teaching or counsel of scriptures? Explain.
What benefits might we find in reading, studying, and teaching the Bible within the community of God’s people, His church?
When Romans 8:28-30 is read alongside 1 Corinthians 8:3 and Galatians 4:9, the people of God clearly responded to his call in faith, and the faith required for justification is illustrated. In the fulfillment of God’s purposes, the redemptive work of Christ (by way of the Spirit) enables the believer. Do you see how fitting it was that Paul wrote these words, himself being a great example of someone who endured a great deal of suffering, yet continued to grow in his faith and love for Christ?
In Colossians 2:3-10, we read a portion of Paul’s appeal for Christian maturity. Where does it indicate the treasures of wisdom and knowledge to be found? In verses 6-7, which phrases describe believers who are alive in Christ?
In verses 4 and 5 of Colossians 2, Paul does not say that the church at Colossae has already been deceived, but from long experience he is familiar with times of attack from the enemy following a work of grace. Can you see where and why such an act could have a devastating effect on both individuals and the church?
Peter and Paul both understood the significance in the fact that Scripture confirms Scripture. In their writings, they make several points about holiness. Peter even quoted God’s holiness commands from several places in Leviticus. As we noted in previous posts, Jesus himself quoted Scripture in support and confirmation. Exhibiting the same humility and integrity, we can confidently build all of our beliefs upon the sufficient Word of God, which proves itself true.
Matthew 11:10, 16-17; 13:14-15; 15:4-9
1 Thessalonians 2:4
1 Peter 1:15-16; 5:5
Although Christians are commanded to share God’s words with others, can you clearly see the importance of doing so graciously,with dignity, honor, and respectfor the God whose holy Word you are sharing? Support your answer.
With interpretation, 2 Timothy 2:15 lays out the need to rightly handle the scriptures. The Greek verb orthotomeo means “to cut straight,” which is used here to refer to the accurate handling of Scripture. The reference here is to plowing, cutting leather, or cutting bricks or stones. Since the word “workman” most often refers to an agricultural worker in the New Testament, the word likely refers to “plowing a straight furrow.” This word serves as a metaphor for doing something carefully, accurately, and precisely. When interpretation is done carefully in Bible reading, study, or teaching, we are rightly handling the Scriptures.
Ezra 1:1-11; 6:8-12; 7:1-28
2 Timothy 2:12-15
Refer back to Ezra 7. Note some important details mentioned in Ezra 7:1-11 regarding Ezra’s study, what he learned, and what he taught. It’s possible that the king, in making the provisions mentioned in Ezra 6:8-12 and 7:22, actually intended to ward off the wrath of God against His kingdom. Nonetheless, we can note some of the benefits from Ezra’s dedication to God and His Law seen in 7:11-25. Identify them.
Did God’s people ultimately gain from Ezra’s study, dedication, and faithful leadership, as “the Lord, the God of our fathers” extended his steadfast love? Support your answer.
In light of Isaiah 60:5-7 and Ezra 1:1, whose hand controlled the blessing of provisions mentioned in Ezra 7:27-28? List these blessings.
In Titus 2:1, we see Paul’s charge to Timothy. When coupled with 2 Timothy 2:12-15, how might this apply to all God’s children? How would you present yourself to God?
Hendrix writes, “You see, it’s one thing to struggle with difficulties in interpretation; it’s another thing to distort the meaning of God’s Word. That’s serious. That’s something He will bring to judgment. So we need to be careful to learn how to interpret Scripture accurately, practically, and profitably.” Hendrix then mentions six pitfalls of interpretation to watch out for:
Misreading the text
Distorting the text
Contradicting the text
It is significant that Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God, recognizing that everything written in the past was written to still teach us today. This was so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. He also noted that Israel’s history contains examples that were written as warnings to us. The entirety of the Bible has value for all of us. With careful attention, we can glean important truths from every word it contains.
1 Corinthians 10:1-11
In 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul sums up his teaching by saying that these things are examples and have been recorded as warnings. It is significant that in the same verse he refers to “the end” as the fulfilment of the ages. The culmination of all past ages having arrived in the coming of Christ has the implication that all previous ages come to their appointed end in him.
Past ages having been completed, their lessons are now teaching us. From this, we might reap the fruits of learning from those events. In verses 1-10, which experiences can you discern as being sins? List them. What lessons can be learned regarding these sins?
Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, the “word of truth” refers to the gospel message. On this basis, some infer that the Word refers specifically to the gospel, not the Scriptures as a whole. However, the connection between 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 4:2 suggests otherwise.
2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2
Reading 2 Timothy 3:16 and 4:2, are you able to identify the proper context of “word of truth” in this passage? Why might the context matter?
Whether reading, studying, or preparing to teach the Bible, the key is the context.
What was the context then?
What is the context now?
What is the truth that remains true, regardless of the cultural context?
Studying culture includes the areas of power, communication, money and economics, ethnicity, gender, generations, religion and worldview, the arts, history and time, place, and resources. If you can discern the accurate, author-intended principles from your reading and study of Scripture, you’ll have some powerful tools to help you apply this biblical truth. You’ll bridge the gap between the ancient world and your own situation with the timeless truth of God’s Word.
The principles of Scripture are universally relevant.
In the work of interpretation and application, we must be cautious of extrabiblical statements that might seem to reflect biblical truth. Persons may be using the same words, or presenting the same concepts that God mentions in His Word, but they may also be filling those words and concepts with completely different meanings. With the reader’s or teacher’s private interpretation comes the obligation to interpret Scripture correctly.
R.C. Sproul penned, “The doctrine of the sola Scriptura does not mean that the Christians are to pay attention only to their personal understanding of the Bible or that we can make the Scriptures mean whatever we want them to mean. After all, Martin Luther is often quoted as saying, ‘The Holy Spirit is no skeptic.’ The meaning of Scripture is not so uncertain that we can all come up with our own views and never know the truth. That would be a skeptical view of divine truth that says it is wholly subjective and objectively unknowable.”
Can you describe God-honoring interpretation and application, as contrasted to poor interpretation and application? Make a chart if needed.
Many times, scriptural teaching can even become distorted when a teacher or writer puts her own spin on it. It’s true that well-intentioned people may have been influenced by unbiblical teaching through various means, and not even be aware of it. But in reality, the Bible tells us that oftentimes men will suppress, deny, and distort the truth even if it is staring them in the face. If we are not rooted in the basics of the Bible, we are more likely to be swept away by half-truths and false doctrine. As a warning, God also tells us through His Word that Satan has been given limited power until Christ’s return. We should not be surprised by His attempt at sabotage.
Isaiah 5:20-21, 24
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
2 Thessalonians 2:3-12
Hebrews 2:7-8; 5:14
2 Peter 2:1-3
1 John 4:1-6
Along with outsiders, the apostle Paul mentions the possibility of people from within the church adopting false teachings and seducing the congregation (Acts 20:30, Romans 16:17, Colossians 2:8). How could this be applied to the church today?
Read Ephesians 4:11-16. How might the Christian woman avoid being “tossed to and fro” by crafty schemes and foolish teachings?
The Bible, being God’s own voice, means that when we dishonor doctrinal truth, we also dishonor God himself. Where in your life is there evidence of being “tossed to and fro” that has weakened your resolve to do what God says in his Word?
Evil often disguises itself as truth. How can we most quickly recognize error?
God does not want us to be spiritual babies: It is important to sit under solid, biblical teaching, and to fellowship with mature Christian women. In reading Hebrews 5:12-14, how might this make us able to discern what is best?
Stop. Pray that the Lord would expose your weakness and dependency on “popular” teaching, catchy phrases, and simple (sometimes comical) illustrations, rather than taking time and effort to seek doctrinal truth. Pray that He might show you where you are lacking discernment, in order to enable correct theological adjustment.
When Paul was meeting with the Ephesian elders, he said, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.” He gave them everything profitable. Remember, they all had the life struggles we have. They had all the spiritual needs we have. Hence, be careful of what you accept as truth, influencing your own personal interpretation and application of a passage. If not, you risk passing on error. The Word, in and of itself, is the ultimate profitable source. The Word will strengthen the believer.
Identify warnings in the Acts passage. List them.
Sound application must begin with sound interpretation; it begins as soon as we sit down to read the biblical text; it includes our attitudes and our posture toward the Word.
As we reflect on a passage, we need to think about a specific application of the biblical truth to life and ask:
Am I open to hearing what the Spirit is saying to me through the Word about ways I need to adjust my life?
Am I characterized by making adjustments to my life based on God’s Word?
We need to be constantly aware that Scripture may have multiple applications, but we recognize only one best meaning and strict interpretation of Holy Scripture. Essentials for application would be:
a commitment to a high view of Scripture.
recognizing the Bible as our authority for daily living.
a conviction of the profitability of all of Scripture.
an understanding that only what the Bible says is truly important, as we accurately divide and plow into the Word of Truth.
a commitment to correct application of the instruction of the Scripture. This includes going beyond reading the Bible, and actually doing what it says.
In the “actually doing” what the Scriptures teach, how can our awareness of truth become a workroom for the Holy Spirit? Why is this encouraging?
In addition, we must have a willingness to be confined to the author’s intent. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul charges Timothy to be a diligent student of the scriptures, honoring the text in his teaching as he preaches the Word. All teachers of God’s Word automatically assume that same responsibility today.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
1 Timothy 1:3-20; 6:12; 6:17-21
2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:18; 4:1-22
Titus 1:1; 1:9-11; 2:1
Do you deny your difficulties with Bible interpretation and application? Do you allow pride to get in the way of consulting credible resources (print or persons)?
Read 2 Timothy Chapter 4. Paraphrase the sections indicated below. Make certain to note Paul’s words of encouragement, exhortation, and warning, and include these words in your paraphrase.
In verses 4:1-8, why was it important for Paul to urge Timothy to preach sound doctrine? What was happening at Ephesus? What event is mentioned in 4:1 to motivate Timothy? How might this motivate us today to handle the Word rightly?
What is the connection in correct interpretation and right application? How does slowly progressing, unchecked poor application take control of your Bible study?
In application of the Scriptures, it is important that we strive to know what is true. We must not contradict the Bible in any form or fashion, understanding that in most cases, the application can be easily seen from the text.
Application is the thoughtful appropriation of biblical truth to our lives – how we take it in, embrace it, and adjust our lives to bring them in line with the truth of God’s Word.
This application can be difficult to do consistently: our sinfulness tries to distort the text, and many of us have also been indirectly trained to think in vague terms rather than specific action. Application will likely take the form of a tangible action, worship, meditation, or adjusting our theology.
How does having an overall understanding of a passage and belief in God help you to think through the appropriation of biblical truth to your life?
In light of this study, identify some passages or biblical stories you now believe you have possibly misinterpreted or misapplied.
While determining your application of the Scriptures, discern what might be controlling your methods of meditation on them. Where is this happening in your life? Would you say your focus is more horizontal or vertical?
The Bible’s grand and glorious narrative helps frame our interpretation. It leads us to a balanced theology. The “big story” helps us to better understand the Bible’s “little stories”: In this sense, we can view the “big story” from above, before viewing the “little stories” from below. Even in our application, we should recognize that the Bible is one overarching saga.
1 Timothy 4:1-8
2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17
2 Peter 1:19-2:3
Which overarching theme of the Bible is seen in Matthew 5:17-18? Why would this be an important passage in interpretation and application?
List specific instructions in Paul’s charge to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-8. What is the warning found here, which applies to Bible teachers today?
Can you see the scope of application in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Paraphrase this passage.
In James 1:22-25, do we learn that application should be taken from our hearing, reading, and study of the Bible? Do you find a warning in this passage? Explain.
Which warnings do you find in 2 Peter 1:19 – 2 Peter 2:3?
What might be the implications of the warnings found throughout this study? How does this encourage you to be diligent in proper technique of your personal Bible reading and study?
The Word of God is eternal and unchanging, but our world is not. Therefore, living out God’s truth demands that we plug it into our particular set of modern circumstances. However, we do not change the truth to fit our cultural agenda. We change our application of the truth in light of our needs, while remaining thoughtful and diligent about which aspects of a biblical passage are meant to be transferable to us.
Teachers of the Bible must handle God’s Word accurately as the “workmen.” We must emphasize what Scripture itself emphasizes, and focus on what Scripture itself focuses on. Although it is true that mishandling Scripture has eternal consequences, it is also true that handling the Scriptures rightly comes with reward.
2 Timothy 2:15
“Pooling of knowledge is edifying to the church; pooling of ignorance is destructive,” R.C. Sproul wisely penned.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank your Bible literacy? Do you believe it has improved since you first began this study? What difference might that make to both yourself and others? Pray for the Lord’s conviction of where and how you need to fight biblical illiteracy.
In this study, we have established that God expects the believer to seek and obtain biblical knowledge. Why would only seeking horizontal, worldly knowledge be insufficient?
What areas of your life show (or lack) evidence of biblical awareness? Where are you knowledgeable and biblically aware, but your heart isn’t fully engaged? How might you be encouraged by God’s intervening grace?
In this series, we’ve established our goal: in applying sound doctrine and using proper technique, in reading and studying the Bible, we must have an intimate acquaintance with the mind of God. He has revealed all we need to live a life of godliness in commands and promises (illustrated in and through the lives of biblical saints and in Jesus supremely). Together, let’s continually feast on His words! As we do so, we will begin to slowly discover the rich treasure of God’s will in every situation and every circumstance of life.
Is it possible that past or present biblical illiteracy has caused you to begin to believe things that are not true, and in turn say things that are not true? Are there lies that might have been rooted in your past theology that have affected your actions? What lies could you be currently repeating? Be specific.
How is your view of Scripture, and God’s involvement in your study, connected to your daily life? How is your view of Scripture connected to your obedience to the great commission?
Our lifelong journey into knowing and loving God fuels growth, as we allow ourselves to be conformed to the knowledge and love of the Scriptures. The earthly reward of handling the Bible carefully (that which is God’s voice) is to enjoy the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: And the heavenly reward will be so much more!
An inability to understand the Bible obviously hurts the church, but it also hinders our efforts in furthering the gospel. Our purpose in these disciplines is not justreading for the sake of enjoyment or to havea Bible study, but it is so that we might know God more deeply, and ultimately, that we might walk away better equipped to join Him in His work, telling the nations how great our God is. Therefore, the goal of Bible literacy, in both reading and study, is to give God glory in making Jesus Christ known in a greater way.
Reflect on what you’ve gained in this study.
My goals after completing this study are…
As a result of my studies, I hope…
My prayer following the completion of this study is…
In a previous post, Do You Listen Wisely?, we considered the discernment and importance of life influencers who impact our daily decisions. Many times, we get distracted and confused in decision-making because we lose sight of the overarching agenda of our lives. Achieving worthwhile goals requires clear decision-making, rather than floundering aimlessly like a fish out of water. So, it is appropriate that wise decision-making must begin with our eyes firmly fixed on the goal. How do we ensure that life’s tough decisions draw us closer to God, instead of creating distance?
Greater intentionality could alleviate some unpleasant outcomes, but it’s sometimes hard to determine what level of decision-making warrants a process. We don’t always have the time for extensive research and study before making every decision. Nevertheless, there are practical elements in seeking God’s will in decision making.
Reminder: the studies are more than a devotional but less than a Bible study. However, the reader will need to read through the indicated scriptures to fully grasp the content.
It’s important to remember that before we began thinking biblically, all of us were making daily decisions. Early on, decision-making reveals a personality which continues to have effect. For instance, if we have a tendency toward analytical, we look at principles. If we are experiential, we rely on feelings. The different elements of personality are apt to guide our decisions, even when we consult Scripture. The precedence of how we made decisions (before becoming a Christian) especially affects our snap-decisions.
Whether we focus on past, present, or future in our decision-making, we should still consider executing, deciding, and preparing for the future. Each personality is likely to prefer one over the other – for instance, anger over the past, anxiety for the future. It is important to remember misinterpretation of the present can easily be caused by our past hurts and future fears. Emotions tend to inform our decisions as much as decisions inform our emotions.
Something else we fail to recognize is that generally big decisions are fed by little decisions with a cumulative effect. For example, we rarely think of time and energy as commodities we must steward. We can say “yes” to so many little things, affecting our availability to say “yes” to the big things.
Oftentimes, the decisions we struggle the most with are when saying “yes” to one good desire means saying “no” to another; our desires compete with each other. Nonetheless, the most basic form of learning good decision-making is trial-and-error. In our times of wavering, we have a tendency to entertain hypothetical questions we can never know the answer to: The “What-ifs”.
Despite all of our own aforementioned efforts, there are some specific areas in which the Bible provides guidance. This reference list is by no means exhaustive.
1 Thessalonians 4:3
1 Peter 2:15
Ephesians 5:22 & 25
2 Corinthians 9:6-7
2 Corinthians 6:14
John MacArthur explains that God’s personal guidance is for the believer, “…in the sense that the Apostle Paul meant when he told the pagan Athenians that it is ‘in Him we live, and move, and have our being.’ Christ is the sustainer of the entire universe, and nobody would be where he is today without Him. But as to God personally leading those who have not received Jesus Christ as personal Savior, there is not a line of Scripture to indicate that this ordinarily happens. Instead we read, ‘And when He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.’ Without Christ, man is a stranger to God. He is a rebel against God, a foreigner to God’s universe.”
From what I have learned, our personal decision making becomes the battleground on which the vast majority of spiritual warfare is fought. If we prayerfully address our weak tendencies in decision-making, it prepares us to stand firm. What we believe about God and what He reveals in our lives determines how we make decisions. Even with right beliefs about God, decision-making still requires a process, especially when there is no clear right or wrong answer. God’s primary concern in our personal decision-making is our character. Remember, finding God’s will involves thankfulness as God leads.
1 Thessalonians 4:1
2 Corinthians 5:17
2 Timothy 3:16-17
1 Corinthians 6:20
God’s Word is nourishment for the soul, sustaining us in the day-to-day. Cumulatively, our time in the Bible provides wisdom for daily decision-making. There are over 600 commands in the Bible. However, Scripture’s warnings of consequences and promises of reward become ever the clearer as we proceed to obey Christ’s commands, but not before. In seeking God’s will, the Bible is always the best set of guidelines to follow. Ask yourself if your decision will bring glory to God.
1 Thessalonians 3:10
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
One thing we can know for certain: We should never make a decision that goes against the Word of God. Write down decisions you must make, and evaluate them according to Scripture.
Often, we can fixate on finding the right answer. In most decision making, we are really looking for God’s will of direction (God’s individual will). We are looking for His guidance. This action is admirable, but it is also important to understand our liberties in choices that are not moral decisions. A superstitious approach to decision making is not helpful and has the ability to make a Christian feel paralyzed by God’s silence. One of the primary responsibilities in decision making is dividing the moral from the non-moral. Failing to make this distinction, we can unmistakably attribute God’s leading.
Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung makes an interesting observation: “I’m convinced that previous generations did not struggle like we do trying to discover God’s will because they didn’t have as many choices. In many ways, our preoccupation with the will of God is a Western, middle-class phenomenon of the last fifty years.”
In biblical decision making, what does the revealed will of God say? (The will of God that belongs to us is found in the Scriptures, and we are to obey.) Determining God’s will includes seeking the advice of mature believers. Following sound advice and divine counsel, spend time in fasting, prayer, and biblical meditation.
1 Thessalonians 4:3
Determining God’s will for our lives not only requires us to pray personally, but to also recruit others to pray on our behalf. In addition, we should remember God’s past faithfulness. Take time and do not rush.
Dr. James Petty, a counselor and former Pastor, writes, “When we need guidance; it usually involves a situation in which the basic alternatives are all legitimate – legally and biblically…In other words, in this area [Christian liberty] God has revealed no preference about our choices between this and that, but he is not indifferent to our motives about which one we choose…Our motives for everything we do are always deeply and spiritually relevant to our relationship to God.”
1 Peter 3:17
When seeking God’s will in decision making, it is important to have clear understanding of the three uses of the phrase “God’s will”. Professor Brad Hambrick, from the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains, “God’s sovereign will is what we refer to when we say ‘God is the author of history’ or ‘Nothing happens without God’s permission.’ There is nothing in our decisions that can interrupt God’s sovereign will. We are never out of God’s sovereign will. God does not make a Plan B for anyone’s life. God’s moral will refers to God’s commandments and God’s character. God’s moral will is the ideal that defines how things should be on earth and how they will be in heaven. God’s individual will is what most people want to know when they ask questions about God’s will. This arena of God’s will seeks to answer the questions, ‘What does God want me to do through the experiences, passions, and talents he has given me?”
DeYoung’s book, Just Do Something, approaches our perplexity: “The will of God is one of the most confusing phrases in the Christian vocabulary. Sometimes we speak of all things happening according to God’s will. Other times we talk about being obedient and doing the will of God. And still other times we talk about finding the will of God. The confusion is due to our using the phrase ‘the will of God’ in at least three different ways, typified in the previous three sentences…One the first side is God’s will of decree…The other side of the coin is God’s will of desire.“
How do we know that our decisions will fit with God’s plan? It’s best said that God’s plan and our actions work in concert. “We tend to think that while God has a best plan for our life, he also has some other, cheaper plans for people who miss the best. We remember certain foolish or sinful decisions we’ve made and, because of the consequences, see ourselves on a permanent Plan B regarding God’s will for our lives. Each time we make another bad decision, we drop down a notch to Plan C, Plan D, and – being the sinners that we are – we soon run out of letters in the alphabet. We think of what could have been if we hadn’t married so-and-so, hadn’t gotten pregnant before marriage, had not turned down the job that would have made our career, or had not blown up at our teenage son,” explains Petty. With all the decisions we face, and despite the mistakes we make, God works in all things for the good, transforming us into the image of Christ.
Even Jesus’ teaching did not establish an abstract principle to be applied in any direction we might imagine. He gave principles to minister to fear, death, and suffering. Providence is never used to discourage prayer or human effort, but rather the exact opposite. Because God can intervene, we should pray and work. It is important to note that it is never used to establish God’s authorship of evil. “But for those who are in Christ, there is only one plan, Plan A. This plan holds despite all our stupid mistakes and sins. It reveals the wonder of God’s shepherding care, the detail of his love through his decreed plan for our lives. It is a truth that is awe-inspiring, deeply comforting, and yet sometimes intimidating for us, God’s proud creatures,” concludes Petty. But does God control all circumstances, in all situations?
Positive outcomes are not the only verification of wisdom. When executed poorly, good decisions can wind up looking bad. Hence, we must consider how many good decisions get derailed by poor follow-through. In addition, we tend to gravitate toward decisions warranting no risk. We can become immobilized in decision making, even when our genuine desire is godly decision making. Desiring a risk-free life, we think making decisions within God’s will should be safe. Faith makes informed decisions in real moments, not knowing for sure what God would do.
Is hardship evidence of poor decision-making? Sometimes. However, God does not promise to protect us from life’s trials, and godly decision-making should not be viewed as assurance against hardships. Life’s storms following the best of decision making often causes Christians to question what they know to be true.
It is important to note that decision-making that is Word-focused and gospel-centered does not simply excuse bad decisions. Yet God is patient, and as He makes us wise, His goal for our decision-making is refinement of our character to become more like Christ’s. From what I have witnessed, even our failures can become avenues for Him to work if we trust God with them. In some instances, however, repentance becomes necessary if our decisions are sinful. Choosing not to sin is always the will of God. To maintain a clean conscience through the decision-making process, seek to trust God in each small step. A yielded heart is required to determine the will of God.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
2 Timothy 2:22
When posed with a decision, we should first consider the facts and which biblical principles should inform the decision. ACBC Counselor and adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at The Master’s University, Dr. Wayne Mack, advises that “Circumstances are not an infallible guide in determining the will of God for your particular situation. However, circumstances may be used to buttress the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit and to solidify the specific biblical principles relating to the situation…While it is true that God providentially arranges circumstances in our lives in order to direct us according to His will, circumstances may be misinterpreted. That is why it is of utmost importance to wait upon God and have biblical confirmation of your course of action. God has given us His Word as an authoritative guide to evaluate circumstantial evidence.” God is sovereign. He has a plan, in which we can have full confidence.
Proverbs 16:3 & 9
1 Corinthians 2:12 & 14
2 Timothy 1:7
1 Peter 1:13
We are wise to weigh motives and past experiences that might warrant caution to most snap-decision-making. When time allows, consider all possible outcomes and options: As Christians, we need not check our brains at the door. Three standard questions in biblical decision making would be: 1) What does the Bible say about this decision? 2) Who can help me better understand what God’s Word says about this decision? 3) How does my decision impact God’s Kingdom?
1 Timothy 5:1-2
1 Corinthians 10:31
DeYoung proposes, “God does have a specific plan for our lives, but it is not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision…What I am saying is that we should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel…Many of us fear we’ll take the wrong job, or buy the wrong house, or declare the wrong major, or marry the wrong person, and suddenly our lives will blow up. We’ll be out of God’s will, doomed to spiritual, relational, and physical failure.”
May God bless you through this process of biblical decision making. For further study:
In this informational age, we are inundated with choices and decisions. Whether we admit it or not, it is simply fact that we are highly swayed by those around us. Almost subtly, we even take on ambient attitudes and characteristics. There are several important factors influencing decision-making, including (but not limited to) past experiences, a variety of cognitive biases, previous commitments and outcomes, personal values, individual differences, and belief systems. Yet “influencers” affect our decision-making on a daily basis. Who are your life-influencers? Parents? Social media profiles? Friends and coworkers? Counselors? Is their message pointing you back to the word of God, and asking you to do what is biblically consistent?
Oftentimes, God provides people who can help us when we don’t know what to do. But we must be cautious, because not all advice is beneficial. Biblical influencers offer conversation that stays in line with scripture. The Bible itself is the means by which God speaks to His Bride. Life’s decisions require discernment, but we are not left to figure all this out by ourselves. God has given us instructions in the Scriptures for wise decision making, and promises guidance if we will listen.
Scripture is clear that Christians should have the power to influence. Before Christ ascended, he told his disciples to go, and encouraged them to be influencers. His own teachings emphasized the importance of leading others to a life of love and obedience. Nevertheless, fewer and fewer who call themselves Christian have a biblical understanding of Jesus. We can become so invested in personalities and positions that we do not address blind spots in our discernment. Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right, penned Charles Spurgeon.
2 Timothy 3:5; Proverbs 14:12; John 14:15; James 1:25; Titus 2; Romans 16:17-18
Everyone is a theologian. We all have ideas affecting how we relate to other people. Wrong ideas about life matter; bad theologians make for bad influencers. Good theologians make good counselors. The difference in good or bad theologians is how biblically grounded these theologians are. Our goal should always be to seek godly counsel. We should be ever-mindful that if someone is not living in God’s will, it is doubtful they will be able to give advice according to His will. The apostles recognized authenticity with rich discernment. The person and/or people who influence the decision-making process will ultimately impact the outcomes.
It is important to note that the Bible warns about the possibility of influencers addressing the hurts and concerns of others in ways that can do harm. Influence without manipulation is a process. Questions to ask might be, “What makes this person credible in this particular subject?” “What have they seen and who have they been around?” or “How have their experiences informed their faith?” There is a fine line between influence and manipulation. This border often comes down to intent. Those influencers who truly care for us and seek to do what’s best for us are without regard for what they get in return. To the contrary of ill advice, godly counsel recognizes that God’s Word transforms and makes those who would be simple wise.
When influencers bring the Word of God to bear, it must represent the Truth rightfully. In the way of counsel, scripture is both ours to study and ours to present for comfort, care, and decision-making. Everything we need about salvation, life, and godliness is sufficiently addressed in the Bible. The matter at hand is whether one receives the needed counsel. If we want to know God’s will, what He desires, we must go to his Word, or to someone who knows it well and lives in obedience to it. Theologian B.B. Warfield puts it this way:
Let us cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day. None should be more zealous in them than we. None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it wherever it leads.
Jeremiah 6:14; Psalm 19
Do you listen wisely? We live in a world of competing messages. Merely experiential advice is neither helpful or healthy, and many times comes with ulterior motive. Consider who influences your personal decision making. Remember, someone who doesn’t know God or his Word will never be able to give godly advice. Be careful who you listen to.