In the summer time, I like to take a break from my normal routine of teaching through a book of the Bible and have some more interaction with my students. Through the month of June, each Wednesday night I discussed the gospel: what is it, how to present it, and what are its effects. Throughout the month of July, I am taking my students through the basics of Bible study. This is profitable for me as I consider how I study the Bible, but maybe more profitable is discerning how to help others study the Scriptures who have not been to Bible College or seminary. In particular, the teenagers that I shepherd.
It is important to note that the beginning that God desires for all Christians to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us]” (Col 3:16). Also, Studying the Bible is a task that takes time, effort, and work. Just like learning a new skill, Bible study requires discipline and the more discipline you have, the more you get out of that skill and the more you love and worship God. Many people study in different ways. Some go so deep I am not sure they have come out yet. Some love the original languages and have dedicated their life to unpacking Hebrew and Greek. Others take notes and summarize what they are learning. Others like to follow devotionals, like Today in the Word, Days of Praise, or the MacArthur Bible Studies. Today I want to humbly suggest one method of study that could be helpful to you. It is simple (only four steps), but I believe it is best way to do study. In fact, it is the way I study God’s Word.
First, prepare your heart.
Simply, you must be holy. In order for you to approach a holy book and then apply holiness when finished, your heart must be cleansed to receive its truth. Anyone can read a text and understand its meaning. But applying the text to yourself is the difference. This is done only by prayer. Ask God to make you holy through His Word. Ask God to fill you with His knowledge from His Word. “Ask, and it will be given to you … For everyone who asks receives” (Matt 7:7-8).
Second, read, read, read.
Open your Bible and read, then re-read, then re-read again. You’ll be surprised how much you missed on the first go around. One of my professors at seminary regularly repeated, “repetition is the key to learning; the key to learning is repetition.” Applied this to Bible study and you will learn more than you imagined. Don’t study to finish, but study to learn, and learning comes through repetition. One possible way to do this is through a system that John MacArthur recommends. Take a shorter New Testament book (like 1 John or Ephesians) and read through it every day for each day of a month. Through the repetition of reading one book 30-times, you will learn an incredible amount. So read and re-read.
Third, write out the intent of the text
Too often during Bible study we want to jump straight to the application for us. In various places throughout Scripture, that is good to do. For example, when Scripture says “beware of false prophets” (Matt 7:15), we need to recognize this is a command and we must do exactly what Jesus says. Yet in other places, such as the narrative of the book of Judges, personal application is to be stalled because the application may not be immediately clear. In order to determine the application to your life, you must first ask “what was the original intent of this passage? How would the original writer intended for us to understand this and how would the original readers have understood this?” That is where the application to your life is derived from.
So, take a passage story like Samson (Judges 13-16) and read it through. Don’t apply yet. Then go back and read the first chapter of his narrative in Judges 13 and understand the point of this first chapter in relation to the rest. Samson was privileged with such an incredible circumstance to launch the rest of his life in devotion to God. He was born of a barren woman, announced by the Angel of the Lord, and set apart as a judge of Israel. No judge before had this kind of announcement on their life. The only birth narrative throughout the whole Bible that trumps Samson is Jesus’ birth.
So, Samson was set apart, privileged, and special in God’s eyes. Yet (here is the key), in the next few chapters we see him throw it all away. Now, I am not saying that Samson wasn’t a man of faith (Heb 11:32 clearly states he was), but only that he is an example of a child of God who was not faithful to the privilege God bestowed upon him. That is the intention, I believe, of Judges 13. Samson was a man of privilege and the question before Judges 14-16 is “what did Samson do with that privilege?”
Fourth, state the intent of the text generally as a timeless truth
Do you see the timeless truth in Judge 13? The timeless truth is the original intent generalized and applied to your situation. So, in the case of Judge 13, you should ask yourself, “what am I doing with the privilege God has given me?” As a Christian you have been saved by God’s grace (Eph 2:8-9), you have been called out to be His child (1 John 3:1), He gave you His Holy Spirit to abide with you (1 John 4:13), you have been predestined from the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3), He is working in you to conform you into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29), you have gone from spiritual death to spiritual life (Rom 6:3-11), you are now reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:18-19), one day you will stand before God holy and blameless (Eph 5:26-27), and on and on it goes. Do you see your privilege?
Now, what are you doing with that privilege? Are you wasting it like Samson did? Or are you following Romans 6:12-13, 19: “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God … For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification?”
Once you see the true application from the original intent, then go and do. Oh, and if you are wise, you’ll remember that you are completely dependent upon God to change you and mold you and you cannot do this application by yourself. Which takes you back to step one: pray! Prayer must be the finish because “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).