One of the first steps to benefiting from the Bible is to actually read the Bible.
Shocking, I know.
This is actually part of why we have started the African Bible Training Centre. The primary course we offer is very simple. It is an overview of the entire Bible. The homework is even simpler. We require our students to read their Bibles. The reason for this is perhaps simplest of all. We want to help Christians learn more about God by actually reading their Bibles.
We believe that simply holding people accountable to studying Scriptures on a regular basis could have a tremendous impact on their lives.
Unfortunately, I do have to say could.
Because not all Bible reading is profitable Bible reading. It’s very possible to read the Bible once, twice, three times in a year and not actually be all that much better for it, but maybe even worse.
One of the keys to benefiting from the Bible is understanding it. There are lots of people who know lots of facts about the Bible but don’t really know the Bible, because they don’t understand it. It’s quite common actually for some people to be so far away from understanding the Bible that while they can quote all sorts of different verses they don’t really even comprehend the main things the Bible is about.
One way to make sure you are on track as you study the Bible is to make sure you know what are the very main things of Scripture.
This actually becomes a great help as you read through your Bibles, because it helps you know what you should be looking for. There are so many fascinating details in the Bible that it is easy to become distracted. All too often people end up wasting a great deal of time on matters of relatively little importance. Knowing what really matters helps us avoid that. It enables us to hear what God is actually trying to communicate.
While there are an almost endless number of important themes we could identify, let me point out five of the key truths that you should be looking for every time you study the Scriptures:
The glory of God
The Bible has a point. It was written for a reason. And I am convinced that the primary reason the Bible was written was to help us see how great God is. In the Bible, God puts His character on display, and it’s beautiful.
As Jonathan Edwards has written,
“The gloriousness of God is the very principal thing of all that we are taught concerning God in the holy Scriptures. All that we are told concerning the attributes of God, or the works of God, is to this end: to teach us the gloriousness, the majesty and excellency of God.”
This means when you read the Scriptures, to benefit, you might then ask yourself, what does this passage show me about the greatness and beauty of God? It is hard to go wrong if you start here. What can I learn from what I am reading about God?
Here are some places you might look:
Are there direct statements the passage makes about God? Are there illustrations the passage uses to describe God? Are there implications from the story or text that can be drawn about the character of God? What needs to be true about God for what took place in the passage to have happened?
How does this passage make God look great? Is there any way I would have responded in this situation differently than God did, and if so, obviously God’s response is correct, so what am I missing about God that I need to remember if I am going to appreciate Him for who He is?
The excellency and fullness of Christ
If you somehow had the chance to ask Jesus what the Bible is all about, I wouldn’t be very surprised if He looked back at you and said simply, “Me.” The Bible is written to show us the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
This is part of why we love the Bible so much. We don’t love the Bible just because it tells us a whole lot of interesting facts. We don’t love the Bible just because it tells us some really good stories. We love the Bible because it helps us see Jesus.
As John Piper has written, “I love the Bible the way I love my eyes—not because my eyes are lovely, but because without them I can’t see what’s lovely. Without the Bible I could not see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Without the Bible I could not know “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Without the Bible I would not know that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior. I love the Bible because it gives the wisdom that leads to salvation, and shows me that this salvation is nothing less than seeing and savoring the glory of Christ forever, and then provides for me inexhaustible ways of seeing and knowing and enjoying Christ.”
One of the ways you can benefit from the reading the Scriptures then is to ask yourself, are there any ways this passage points me to Jesus? Is there a way it prepares me for Jesus, or reveals Jesus to me?
The way of salvation
When Paul talked with Timothy about the Scriptures, he encouraged him not to ever give up on the Word of God, because it had the ability to make him wise unto salvation. (2 Timothy 3:14)
Because our hearts are so prone to think about salvation differently than God does, it is helpful to look carefully at what you are reading to be reminded of just how God goes about saving people. When you read the Scriptures, to benefit, you might then ask yourself, what does this passage teach me about my need of a Savior? How does this passage show me what God has provided for sinners like me? How does God rescue the person or group of people in this text? What does God demand of the people as He rescues them? Why does the passage say God went about delivering them? If it is a passage of judgment, you might ask, why exactly are the people being judged?
This is important because as Tim Keller explains, “At the root…of all Christian failures to live right…is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ, not living out of our new identity in Christ. This means that every week in a different way the minister must apply the gospel of salvation by grace through faith through Christ work. Thus every week non-Christians get exposed to the gospel, and in its most practical and varied forms, not just in a repetitious ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ way.”
As you read, you might pray that God would help you believe and feel and embrace deep down in your heart either what the passage teaches you about your need of salvation or the nature of the salvation God has provided.
The nature of holy living
Paul describes the purpose of Scripture as a whole in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17: teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. In a very general way every passage we study is performing these basic functions.
This means as we read a passage of Scripture we should ask what does it teach and how should we change as a result of what is being taught in the text and also how exactly can we go about making those changes in their day to day lives?
If we only learn more information about the Hizzites and the Jebusites, etc. as we study, but are not learning how what we are reading should effect the way we think, how we feel, what we want, then our Bible reading isn’t accomplishing all God desires.
As we study the Scripture then, we shouldn’t stop with asking ourselves what the passage means. We must also ask ourselves, how does it apply? To accomplish that, we might ask ourselves questions like: What does the passage teach us about the way people think, feel, or do? What problem does the passage address? What are some different ways that problem expresses itself in our lives today? What comfort does this passage give? What are some common objections people have to what this passage teaches? How does my own heart object to what this passage teaches? What are some specific ways people live contrary to what this passage teaches? What are some biblical examples of ways characters in Scripture lived contrary to the teaching of this passage? And what are some specific ways people have applied this passage to their lives effectively? What did the person do right or wrong in this passage? Is there something the person did in this passage that is commended or condemned elsewhere in the Scripture? A clear biblical principle that he followed or failed to follow? What is that principle and what would it look like for me to do what he did in my own particular cultural context? Does the Scripture itself draw applications from this situation I am reading anywhere else? What does it say? In what way does this story reflect what I learn elsewhere in the Bible about the character of God and His plans for human life? Does the narrator of the story draw your attention to any specific failures or lessons that could be drawn from what is happening? Is there a judgment the writer is making about the character that I can learn from today? Is there any illustration in the passage about wrong ways of thinking about God? How is the person or people thinking wrongly about God, and how might I do so in my situation today?
The foundation of our duty
The Bible doesn’t only tell us what to do, it also tells us why we must do it. Almost everywhere there is command, there’s a reason for that command attached to it. God doesn’t only want us to perform the right external actions, He desires the right inward motivations and the fact is, those motivations are part of what make actions good. Without the right motivation, the best action, can really be ugly.
As you study the Scriptures, you might ask yourself, what does this passage say about how I should obey God? And what does it tell me about why? Specifically, you might look for motivations regarding either the glory and majesty of God or His grace and kindness.
Because the Bible is a big book, there is a lot to think about, and many different ideas and concepts that are taught throughout. There are times for all of us when finish reading a passage and scratch our heads and wonder what we just read. It’s easy to get confused and it is easy to get distracted. That’s why I suggest as you read the Scriptures, begin by making sure you are looking for the very main things it teaches.
What does what you have read teach you about God, about Jesus, about salvation, about why you should obey God, and about how you can obey God in your every day life?