Saturday, August 8, 2015

Read the Bible for All Its Worth!

Today I would like to share some guidelines for you that will help you read your Bible for all its worth. 

Step One 
Open in Prayer (but also remain in an attitude of prayer throughout the study).

Don't read the Bible like a newspaper, magazine, or any other book. Don't rely on your own understanding. Approach it with reverence and awe, beginning with prayer for help from God.

The psalmist prayed, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." (Ps 119:18, NIV).

As the proverb says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." (Pr 3:5, NIV).

As the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (Is 55:8-9, NIV)

God's thoughts are higher than ours, and we cannot understand them except by the Spirit. As the apostle said:

"These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God...The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit...for, 'Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor 2:10-12,16, NIV).

Humble yourself before God and admit that you cannot understand the Scriptures unless He enables you to do so. Ask for wisdom, insight, and understanding. Ask Him to show you the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. Ask for the Holy Spirit to teach you, and have an open mind that loves the Truth. When you do, the Holy Spirit will guide you into all Truth (Jn 16:13). 

Step Two
Read the Bible Passage, using the following questions for discovery:

1. What is the context (location, historical, time, period, person speaking, Biblical context, etc.)?


The time of Moses.
Before the flood.
In the beginning at the creation.
While the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.
The birth of Jesus.
The baptism of Jesus.
After the resurrection of Jesus.
Paul’s second missionary journey.

2.    What do you observe in this passage? Be specific.

Possible answers (your answers are not limited to these, but they are intended to give you examples of the types of observations to make):

Identify key words you observed
Interrogate the passage with 5 W's and H (i.e., who, what why, where, when, how?)
Terms of conclusion (e.g., Therefore, So, For this reason, So then, etc)
Terms of contrasts (e.g., For, Because (for the reason explained next), Since, etc)
Expressions of time (Before, After, During, While, When, Meanwhile, Months, Years, Hour, etc.)
Terms of comparison: simile, metaphor, and hyperbole (e.g., As, Like, So that, In order that, That. Not all uses of "that" but often those at the beginning of a sentence or clause)

Once you have completed making your observations, you can move on to interpretation step.

3.    What does the passage mean? 
Use any one of the questions below to help you interpret the passage:

What is one of the things this passage is meant to teach us?
What did it mean to its original hearers or the people it was written to?
What is a lesson it teaches?

Step Three
Apply the meaning of the passage by asking the following question:

How does this (the meaning you described in question #3 of Step Two) apply to our lives today?

“We should not fight or argue with each other.”
"We should strive earnestly to enter the kingdom of God."

Once you determine how the passage applies to our lives today, then you need to put it into practice. As Jesus said:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Mt 7:24-27, NIV).

And James said, "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (James 1:23-24, NIV).

At this point, I'd like to mention that as you read the Word, when the Holy Spirit convicts you of something you are doing that you should not be doing, or something you are not doing that you should be doing, you should repent immediately. That should be your response, asking the Lord to forgive you and help you do His will. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 7:21, NIV).

Common Mistakes
I would like to mention some common mistakes to avoid when reading the Bible.

Taking Things Out of Context
One mistake people make is to take things out of context. Remember that every text has a context.  That immediate context will be the verses before and after it. The wider context will include the chapters before and after it. And the broadest context includes the whole Bible. Scripture interprets Scripture. So remember that no verse can be made to contradict the rest of the Bible.

Reading into the Text
Another common mistake is reading into the text.  This is when you come to the Bible with your idea, you assume it is supporting your idea.  The same happens when you come to the Bible with your pastor's idea, or what your Church believes, or your denomination, and when you read the Scriptures, you think those verses uphold what you have been taught to believe.  That has led many people into error, so please don't do it. Instead of reading your meaning into the text, you should be letting the text speak for itself, and draw out of it the meaning that God originally intended.

Allegorizing Scripture
It's common for people to allegorize passages of the Bible, when that is not what was intended by God. This is when you assign a figurative or spiritual meaning to something rather than the literal meaning. Of course, if the original speaker or writer of the Bible passage clearly indicates that they are speaking figuratively, then you should understand it the same way (e.g., Jn 10:6; 16:29; Gal 4:24-25). For example, if it is a parable, then understand it that way. But be careful you don't take the liberty on your own to do this with things that are meant to be taken literally. You should always begin by assuming the text was meant to be taken literally, unless it is impossible to do so or the text itself says it is figurative.

When reading the hard sayings of Jesus, because they are hard, people often assume He meant something other than what He said. But always keep in mind that Jesus said what He meant, and He meant what He said.

Incorrectly Assigning Meanings
Another error is to take the meanings explicitly assigned to the parts of one parable and assume that the same meaning always applies in every parable.  An example would be that while oil is often used to represent the Holy Spirit, don't assume that is necessarily so in every passage where oil is mentioned. If you did that, it would lead to false interpretations. For example, then you would incorrectly assume that the shrewd manager in Luke 16:5-6 was trying to settle with his master's customers on a price for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that he was commended for doing so. You need to understand that in each parable, the characters and objects may represent something different than what they represented in another parable.

Using the Apostles to Interpret Jesus 
I think another mistake is using the words of the apostles in their inspired writings to interpret what Jesus meant in His teachings. This is especially dangerous when it is used to soften or lessen the severity of something Jesus said. Be careful with this! Jesus is the foundation upon which the apostles and prophets built. Therefore, you should use the words and teachings of Jesus to interpret the writings of the apostles and prophets. For more on this, see my article, The Law of Christ.

Putting it All Together
So always begin with prayer and follow the steps of observation, interpretation, and application in that sequence. Always have an open mind that loves the Truth. At the same time, you should avoid common mistakes like taking things out of context, reading your own meaning into the text, allegorizing, and incorrectly assigning meanings to things in parables based on other parables. I trust that in following this approach and asking these questions, you will see things you would not have seen otherwise. You will receive more from God in His Word than ever before. The passage will open up to you and you will find the wonderful treasures buried within in its pages.You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.

Attributions: Some elements of this approach have been derived from what I learned from the late Dr. Charles Holman in his courses at the Regent University graduate School of Divinity, called, Principles of Bible Study I and II.  And a book I found very helpful was How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page, such as The Bible is the Word of God, The Uniqueness of God's Word, All Scripture must be fulfilled and The Bible Never Fails. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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