The first thing that we need to understand about Bible study is that nobody is above it. There is not a single person in this room, or in any other, that does not need to study the Bible more. We may spend entire lifetimes reading this book, analyzing its words, and considering practical applications, but we will never reach a point where we “know enough” to quit studying. The Bible is a book of inexhaustible divine wisdom that should captivate us until the day we die. It is exciting, interesting, deep, and littered with the marks of inspiration. However, if all of this is true, then why do so many people find Bible study difficult? Why do so many professed believers misinterpret it? Why has the Bible been abused for so long? The answer is that many readers do not know the first thing about how to study the Bible. They have read it the same way they read every other book: with skepticism, preconceived ideas, and through their own colored glasses. Many have refused to actually study the Bible. For the rest of us, it may seem like a daunting book that might as well be written in a different language.
· Do you find many passages difficult to understand?
· Do you read some of the words of Christ and scratch your head?
· Have you tried and tried to read the Bible all the way through, but give up when you hit the book of Leviticus?
· A thousand headache-inducing questions plague the Bible student, not because God made His book too difficult for us, but because we are not striving for the potential that exists within us all. We should not expect God to “dumb-down” His message, because He has already written the Bible in such a way that everybody in the world has the ability to understand it. Television, video games, workaholism, and the general public trend toward stupidity are the reasons we have failed as a culture to properly understand the Bible.
Do not believe people when they tell you that the Bible is too difficult to understand fully. God never designed His Bible to be intimidating, but the agents of Satan want us to feel that way. The very fact that many people do not like what the Bible teaches proves that even sinners can understand it. In Matthew 21:45, “They understood that He was speaking about them”, which shows that the message of Jesus is accessible to all, even those who disagree with it. Not only that, God actually commands us to understand His will (Ephesians 5:17), and He will never ask of us something that is impossible. I can understand that the Bible might seem frightening to some because of its length and supposed complexity, but the secrets of the Lord are not impossible. The wisdom of Paul, Peter, John, and Christ Himself are available to all people. “By referring to this [what Paul wrote], when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). Notice the way Paul states “my insight.” You do not have to be an apostle to know what you need to do in this life, and to know the awesome mystery of salvation.
And even if the Bible can seem very intimidating and difficult to understand, keep in mind that your attitude toward it will have a very profound effect on your ability to understand the message. “In which are some things are hard to understand, which the unstable and untaught distort, as they do the rest of the scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). The only reason somebody misunderstands what the Bible says is his or her own sinful attitudes. The unstable and untaught people of the world find the Bible difficult, so they misapply it, abuse it, and use it to their own selfish ends. But if we have a humble and receptive heart, the message will ring true loud and clear.
Only For The Elite?
There are many others who want us to believe that only certain elite individuals have the ability to understand the Bible. But you do not have to be a preacher, professor, or religious scholar to have a completely healthy understanding of the Gospel. In fact, more often than not, the “smartest” people in the world have the most difficult time understand the Gospel because of their own pride. Supposed earthly intelligence breeds contempt for all things “simple” – and few words describe Christianity better than that (2 Corinthians 11:3).
The Bible actually makes the claim that it is the wise and intelligent (by worldly standards) that reject the Word (1 Corinthians 1:26-27), and that most of the people who obeyed in the first century were ordinary, uneducated folks. Consider the fact that it was the poor and lame, as well as the tax-gatherers and “sinners” who flocked to hear Jesus preach in His day. Most of our Lord’s original twelve disciples were uneducated laborers. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen, hardly the scholarly type of profession that is normally associated with Biblical knowledge by our world’s standards. Jesus tells the Father, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou dist hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes” (Luke 10:21). The most intelligent people of Christ’s day were the scribes and Pharisees, but it was because of their own high self-perception that their intelligence actually hindered them from understanding the Good News of salvation. Even when confronted with plain truths, they could not do anything but deny the obvious (Acts 4:16, Matthew 21:23-27).
When studying the Bible, believe in yourself! God is the One who created you with your brain, so He knows how best to communicate with you. He knows our frame, our weaknesses, and our potential, so give yourself enough credit (“For I am fearfully and wonderfully made” [Psalm 139:14]) and jump in to the Book that was designed for you to understand.
More important than intelligence is an honest heart. Even though men like Peter and the sons of Zebedee were not educated, they had honest hearts which led to high receptivity to the message. A love for truth will always be more vital than a love for intelligence.
· “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15);
· “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17);
· “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37);
· “These are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15).
There is a healthy dose of investigation that should go into our Bible study, but skepticism is going too far. On the one hand, investigation is a sign of deep faith, such as with the Bereans, who “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). On the other hand, though, skepticism is a sign of faith that is lacking (Luke 24:38-39). The Bible commands us to investigate everything carefully (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22), and to believe based on evidence (John 5:36). There is nothing wrong with wanting proof of the Gospel’s validity, but we must be very careful and watch our attitudes. Will you believe the proof that is offered? Will you act and respond when all things that are tested prove true? Caution is advised and commended, but skepticism leads to doubt, and doubt is faithlessness.
Eternity Is On The Line
Unfortunately, many of us do not want to study our Bibles because the task just seems laborious and unrewarding. Some see it as a boring book that does not apply to us today. However, the Bible plainly teaches that the world will be judged by its words (John 12:48). Any departure from what the Bible teaches is a departure from God, and that is condemned (2 John 9-10). Those who obey the Word will be saved, but those who disobey will be very sorry they wasted the opportunity. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Therefore, since our salvation is linked to obedience to the Word (2 Thessalonians 1:8), how much of a priority do you want to place on studying? You need the Bible desperately, friends, and if you cannot somehow convince yourself to spend time reading it, studying it, and applying it, then you will be condemned. It is your choice to study or not.
Do you not think that your effort is demanded? Do you not believe eternity is important enough to take the time, difficult though it might seem at first? We need to have a very clear understanding that Bible study is for the purpose of understanding God and living an obedient life, not to:
· Prove what you already want to believe;
· Come up with new truths or invent your own theology;
· Look for errors or contradictions so you do not have to change your ways;
· Look for loopholes so you do not have to obey;
· Discover truth based on how you “feel”.
Hints For Effective Bible Study
· The Bible never contradicts itself, since God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Any supposed contradictions are nothing more than evidence of your own misunderstanding, or somebody else poor or incomplete study.
· Use simple passages to interpret more difficult ones. Do not allow your stumbling block to be a simple idea written in a complex way. The ideas behind every verse are quite easy, but they are often masked in supposedly complex language. To understand one verse that is difficult, always go back to a verse on the subject that is simple and start from there.
· Since God created the world, and then authored the Bible, it will never contradict true science. Always interpret the Bible from the perspective of scientific accuracy, not mankind’s unscientific theories.
· Continue reading, even if you are puzzled about something. Allow the Bible to interpret itself, for there will always be clarity if you just keep plugging away.
· Always consider context. To whom is the author writing? Who is receiving the letter? When was it written?
· Every word is important and may hold the key to understanding a verse. Be willing to explore scholarly texts and do thorough investigations of what certain words mean in their original language. Keep in mind person, tense, and whether or not the word is singular or plural.
· Truth does not evolve. What we see in the Old Testament is still God-inspired. It was not designed by God to last forever, so it was not a matter of truth somehow becoming more evolved by the first century. In the matter of marriage, for example, Jesus went all the way back to Genesis for His answer. In the same way, do not dismiss certain Bible ideas just because our culture has changed what “truth” is.
· Read often. The Bible is not like riding a bike, which can be dropped and picked up after years. If you do not use it, you will lose it. If you do not study regularly, you will quickly forget important building blocks.