How to Get the Most from the Bible

We recently went on our first “mens” retreat as a church. It was a fantastic time, talking about how to benefit from the Bible.

I thought I could pass along the study guide we handed out in case it would be of help to anyone.

Aims of the Weekend

* To help you learn basic principles for interpreting the Scripture competently.

* To help you develop a great love for God and His Word.

* To give a plan for understanding and applying God’s Word to your everyday life.

Why do I need to learn how to study the Bible?

* Widespread Ignorance: Many people who don’t know how to study the Bible.

* Biblical Command: God wants us to study the Bible.

* Personal Necessity: We need to study the Bible for our own good.

Benefits of Studying the Bible:

Read the following verses and write down what it tells us about the value of studying the Bible:

Psalm 19:7-11

Psalm 119:5,18,21,23,25,37,45,50,74,93,98,155

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Dangers of neglecting the Bible:

* Practical Reality: It takes work to understand your Bible.

Putting it into Practice:

How would you respond to the following person?

* “I pay attention to what I understand in the Bible but the rest of the stuff I leave to my pastor. I mean, he understands all that stuff and if I ever have a problem, I can just go to him. He seems to know what it all means. Me, I just try to live it out the best I can.”

What do I need to do to benefit from the Bible?

I am convinced that believers can understand and benefit from the Bible. If God speaks, He wants you to hear, understand and apply what He says to your life. The message the Bible contains is not only intended for pastors but for all God’s people. To help you experience the joy of studying and benefiting from God’s Word, here’s a simple process to follow.

If you are going to benefit from the Bible you need to:

READ IT

Why would a person who claims to be a believer and agrees that the Scriptures are important fail to work hard to listen when the pastor is preaching from it?

Consider several common objections to reading the Bible. Fill in your response:

Sometimes people will say, “I’m too busy. I’ve got lots on my mind. I don’t have time to study the Bible. And I’m too tired to really pay attention at church.”

Sometimes people will say, “The Bible’s too difficult. I can’t understand it no matter how hard I try.”

Sometimes people will say, “I don’t understand why you are making this a big deal. I don’t need to work hard at reading the Bible, I just need to love Jesus.”

If we are going to understand why many professing believers fail to study the Scriptures we need to move past the excuses and get to the root of the issue. I’m convinced, at the root, one of the primary reasons, if not the primary reason, why many professing believers fail to discipline themselves to study God’s Word is because they don’t recognize its’ value.

As one author has said, “The diligence with which you approach the study of Scripture which is so critical to the blessing of your life, so critical to your joy, so critical to your usefulness, so critical to the glory of God, the diligence with which you approach this critical study of Scripture is directly correlated to your view of Scripture…directly. If you have a weak view of Scripture, I promise you, you will have a weak interest in it. It is the seriousness with which you hold this document that is the initial compelling matter to motivate you to study it.”

It’s not about the Scripture being difficult to read. It’s not about not having enough time. It’s all about what you value. If you value something enough you’ll work hard to understand it even if it’s difficult, you’ll find the time even if you are busy, you’ll put down your excuses and get to work. To really profit from the Scriptures and if you are going to read the Scriptures you have to discipline yourself to study it whether you feel like it or not. But perhaps you are thinking, “That’s the problem. I’m not disciplined. Maybe Paul or someone else like that could discipline themselves to do all this work. But I’m not a student. I’m not able to discipline myself to study God’s Word on a regular basis.”

You can’t?

I don’t buy it. What you really mean is you don’t desire to be that disciplined. Self-discipline is all wrapped up with desire. There have been many people who have thought they could never stop smoking, who suddenly stopped smoking after the doctor told them that unless they change they are going to die. After hearing that, they discipline themselves in ways they never had previously. Why? Their desire has increased.

If you are going to stop being lazy what you need is a greater desire for God’s Word.

But you say, “O.k., then that’s the problem. Maybe I could discipline myself. There are areas of my life in which I am disciplined, but I don’t desire God’s Word like that.”

I’m glad you are being honest, but please don’t be content with saying something like that. That’s not the end of the story. Many times people think because they don’t desire God’s Word they are just stuck. They think they just have to wait around until God zaps them with desire. No, a lack of desire is not an excuse. It’s a reason to repent.

A lack of desire for God’s Word is a sin. Peter commands us in 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn infants long for the pure milk of the word.” Peter is saying we should long for the world like a baby longs for his mother’s milk. I have had many babies in the house so I can give personal testimony to the way a baby longs for his mother’s milk. We’re talking an overwhelming, all-consuming desire. Our baby doesn’t look on eating as something optional. Actually, her little life basically centers on eating. She sleeps, she wakes up, and she wants to eat. Then she sleeps. And then she wakes up and wants to eat. Not all that complicated. And that is the kind of attitude God says we must have towards His Word. Anything less is sin.

If you are going to benefit from the Bible you need to read it and if you are going to read it on a regular basis you need to discipline yourself and if you are going to discipline yourself you need to desire the Word of God.

Yes, but how?

Since we are commanded to desire God’s Word we can be confident there are specific things we can do to grow in our desire for God’s Word. Here are four things you can do to strengthen your desire for God’s Word.

* If you are going to strengthen your desire for God’s Word you need to deal with the sin in your life.

* If you are going to strengthen your desire for God’s Word you need to constantly remind yourself how much you need God’s Word.

* If you are going to strengthen your desire for the Word refuse to study the Bible in a half-hearted way.

* If you are going to strengthen your desire for the Word, cry out to God that change your desires and help you love to hear Him speak.

Now let’s get a little more specific. You see the importance of reading the Scripture, you are working on developing a desire for Scripture, now what?

Where do I start?

Here are some suggestions for putting what we’ve discussed into practice.

1. Pick a version of the Bible.

2. Get a plan for studying the Bible.

•Acts 17:11 The Berean Method:

Review during the week the material covered in Sunday’s sermons, Bible hour, or week night Bible studies.

•Proverbs:

Read one chapter of Proverbs each day for a month. Write down and review all the verses on a certain topics, such as: anger, speech, money, family, relationships, etc.). Next month start over! The Psalms can also be read on this basis – one per day.

•”John MacArthur” Method:

Read the same book or portion of a book fifteen to thirty times in a row, picking out key words, themes, and noting the flow of the author’s argument. This quickly increases your knowledge of Scripture.

•Old Testament and New Testament in a year:

Read the entire Bible in a year by following the OT and NT reading course laid out in Drawing Near by John MacArthur.

•Topical Study:

Use a Bible concordance to look up every use of a word or theological concept of interest (e.g., grace, love, election, faithfulness, etc.). Write down what you observe from each use of the word or concept.

3. Decide when you are going to study the Bible each day and do it.

4. When you read the Bible, commit yourself to reading the Bible in the following ways:

Read often
Read slowly
Read praying
Read to understand
Read and think
Read to remember
Read asking questions
Read to change

If you are going to benefit from the Bible you need to:

UNDERSTAND IT

Read the following sentence:

Adjpa jakdjoaijpe ajkdjpoe ckeoqpl.

Did that help you? Why not?

We all need to read our Bibles, but please don’t be mistaken, there’s no special benefit that comes from merely looking at words in your Bible for fifteen minutes a day. The Bible is not magic. To benefit from studying the Bible you have to understand what it means.

But how do we do that? Let me give you two questions that will help you unlock the meaning of the text.

What does the passage say?

James 1:2-8

Make an initial list of observations:

What to look for:

* What is emphasized in this passage? What does the author spend the most time talking about?
* Is there anything that is repeated? Are there any specific words that he repeats? Are there any ideas that he repeats?
* What does the author tell us to do?
* What are the connections in this passage? How does the verse fit together? Does he give any reasons for what he is telling us to do?
* Are there any illustrations in the passage? Are there any word-pictures, similes or metaphors?
* What does it not say that you might have expected it to say?
* Does it give evidence of what the author is passionate about?
* What words need further explanation?
* How much space does the writer devote to a certain subject?
* Things that are surprising. Things that the author says in a different way than you would. Things that go against the grain of how humans normally think.

One way to do this is to write the main phrases you see in the passage on one side of the paper and then observations you make about the passage on the other.

For example:

Phrases of the text | Your observations

Consider it pure joy

Whenever you face trials
of various kinds

It is very important to pay a great deal of attention to this part of the Bible study process because this is where a lot of people go wrong. One author (Howard Hendricks) writes, “Nearly every major heresy begins with a misreading of the biblical text.” He then gives the following test, “Here are a handful of common misstatements…I want you to identify what the Bible actually says.

What some people say: What the Bible says:

Money is the root of all evil. 1 Tim.6:10

Jesus never claimed to be God. John 5:18,10:20

We are all gods. Is. 44:8

Jesus was just a great moral teacher. John 20:31

The Bible says that work is a curse. Gen.3:17,Col.3:23,24

All religions lead to the same end. Acts 4:12”

Here are some other kinds of questions you can ask yourself as you study a passage of Scripture.

1. Who?
2. What?
3. Where?
4. When?
5. Why?
6. How?
7. How much?

James 1:2-4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Who?

Where?

What?

When?

Why?

How?

How much?

Another step you can take in the observation stage is to make a list of questions that you need answered about the text.

Phrases of the text | Your Questions

Count it all joy

When you meet trials

The testing of your faith

Produces steadfastness

And let steadfastness have its full
effect

That you may be perfect and complete

Lacking in nothing

What does the passage mean?

There are several common mistakes you must avoid when interpreting the Bible.

* Don’t take the Scripture out of context.
* Don’t use the right Scripture to say the wrong thing.
* Don’t spiritualize the Bible.
* Don’t start with what it means to you but instead what it means.

Examples of misinterpretation and misapplication:
(Given by my hermeneutics professor in seminary)

1. A girl at college miserably flunked an exam. The professor called her in and asked why. She said, ‘I read the verse that says the Spirit will give you in that day what you shall say and so I did not feel I needed to study.”

2. A Christian in military service read his Bible one morning to get his verse for the day. Later he turned up AWOL. When he had been located and dealt with in military fashion, one of his buddies asked what had possessed him to do such a thing. He replied, ‘I read the Word to get some guidance for the day. The verse I read said, ‘Arise, get you out from this land.’ So I took that as God speaking to me, and I got out of this place!’ In this case, he read Genesis 31;13, a verse which in its context is intended to apply specifically to the case of Jacob, not necessarily to another person.

Instead, if you are going to understand what a passage means, there are several important steps you need to take:

* Pray!

* Figure out what kind of passage you are reading.

– Is it poetry?
– Is it prophecy?
– Is it historical?
– Is it a parable?
– Is it proverbs?
– Is it a letter?

* Look at the words the author is using and make sure you understand them the way he understood them.

Identify the main words in the following passage: James 1:2-4

I will get you started and you fill in the rest –

Consider
Pure
Joy

Write the words down on a sheet of paper and then next to those words, fill in the definitions. You can start with your own definition and then some day, you might purchase a Vine’s Dictionary or an equivalent.

Be very careful not to assume that just because you use a word a certain way the author uses it that way!

Another help way to understand the words an author uses is to look the word up in a concordance. For example, you might look up the word trial and examine the different ways James uses this word throughout his letter.

* Think about how the words in the sentence work.

Look at the specific words and ask yourself, what is this word doing?

For example:

Is it describing?
Is it something a person is supposed to do?
Is it commanding?
Is it the main idea?
Is it explaining?
Is it a question?
Is it a certainty?

Look for connecting words/contrasting words. Make a note of how the words highlight the author’s main point.

For example in James 1:2ff, “for you know…”

What does the word for do?

Some examples of grammatical keys to look for:
(From Richard Ramesh)

Cause: for, because, since, as
Reason: for, because, since, as, that
Result: that, so that, so, which, for
Purpose: in order that, which, to, unto, until, towards,
for
Means: by, from, through, that, out of, in
Time: until, till, to, when, whenever, from, through,
of, in, by, according to, against, with,
concerning, out of
Place: where, wherever, from, in, through, into, upon,
with, concerning, till
Manner: just as, just, as, with, to

* Think about how the individual words fit with the words that went before and after.

You might write each phrase in the verse down, explain it in your own words, and then make a note of what that phrase is doing and how it connects to the phrase that goes before it and the phrase that goes after it.

“Count it all joy” – James is telling me that I need to think about trials as a reason for complete joy.

“For you know” – James is explaining the reason why I should consider trials a reason for joy.

Now try it with the following:

“If any of you lacks wisdom” –

Here are some questions you might ask to see how sentences fit together.

– Is he giving a general principle and then a specific illustration?

– Is he stating a cause and then an effect?

– Is he restating something for emphasis?

– Is he making a contrast or offering a comparison?

– Is he offering an explanation of what he has previously said?

– Is he offering a reason for something he just said?

– Is he telling you how to do something that he has spoken about?

Always interpret single verses in light of their immediate context.

For example, Luke 17:5.
Then verses 1-10.

Or “Flee youthful lusts…”

* Consider how the passage you are studying fits into the chapter and book as a whole.

Interpret paragraphs and episodes in light of the paragraphs or events around them.

James 1:5-8

* Think about the culture and historical setting of the people who were originally being addressed and how that will impact your understanding of what is being said.

For example, what does James 1:1 say about the historical situation the readers of this letter were experiencing? How does that help you understand this passage better?

* Try to summarize the main point of the passage in a few sentences.

Look at the passage for the plain and obvious meaning of the text. Think about how you might tell a child in a couple words what the text is about.

Focus on the writer’s intended original meaning. The text cannot mean what it never meant. What did the writer seem to have in mind? Look back over your original work and attempt to determine the purpose of the passage.

Try to answer the following two questions about your passage –

What is the author talking about?
What is he saying about it?

* Check your findings in light of the teaching of the rest of Scripture.

James’ theme in these verses is trials. What other passages speak on this issue? Look at two of these passages and compare what they say with what James tells us.

* Check your findings in light of what other godly men have taught about the passage.

Finally, if you are going to benefit from Scripture you have to:

APPLY IT

I once heard a silly story about a group of ducks that went to church that illustrates one of the greatest dangers we face when it comes to studying the Bible. “On a balmy Sunday morning in the land of ducks, all the ducks awoke, preened their feathers, and waddled to church. When they had found their respective pews and squatted down, their duck minister waddled arduously to the pulpit. Opening the duck Bible, he turned to the place where it spoke of God’s great gift to ducks – wings. ‘With wings,’ the duck preacher orated, ‘you ducks can fly. You can mount up like eagles and soar to the heavens. You can know freedom from the confinement of pens and fences. You can give thanks to God for so great a gift as wings.’ All the ducks in the congregation heartily agreed, shouting, ’Amen.’ Then they picked up their duck Bibles and all waddled home.”

You see the problem?

Those ducks agreed with what was said, but didn’t apply it. They whooped and hollered and shouted amen, but for all that, what they learned made no practical difference in their every day life.

I don’t want to be like one of those ducks.

And I don’t want you to be either.

You’ve seen the value of the Word. You’ve come to understand the importance of studying God’s Word. But all that knowledge won’t be of much real benefit to you, unless you do more than whoop and holler and shout amen. You need to take what you believe and put it into practice.

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