To really understand the Bible – making it our own – takes work. This work consists of three different activities – tasks that must be kept in balance. We must read and study the Bible to find out who God is, who we are in Christ Jesus, and what God’s will is for our lives. We must retain God’s word in our minds. Finally, we must act on what we have learned so that we can see the power of God.
When I taught children’s fellowship, I summarized these steps as “Listen, Remember, and Obey.”
Studying the Bible intellectually, without ever putting it into practice, leads to a life of sterile intellectualism. Forgetting what you have studied leads to – nothing. Attempting to live a Christian life without knowing God’s will results in confusion and brings no glory to God.
Jesus speaks of these three steps as he accuses the religious leaders of failing to follow God.
John 5:38-40 [KJV]
And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
Note the order Jesus uses when speaking to men who, theoretically, have spent their lives studying the Word of God: 1. You are not retaining God’s Word. 2. Study the scriptures, again! 3. But even if you do, you will not believe and act.
I know, you don’t like that word. I didn’t either when I was in school. Fortunately for me I learned that studying the Word of God can be very satisfying – even fun.
2Timothy 2:15 [KJV]
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
For a man of God – a man or woman who speaks for God – to be approved he must study the Word of Truth. There’s no escape clause.
A person might, when he reads this verse, think that it’s a command to go to Bible college. Once he has finished (or so he reasons), studying will be over and he can get on with his life. Hold it! Does this verse say anything about college? This sort of reasoning is, to put it delicately, dead wrong.
In college—any college—you’re sitting in a classroom listening to men’s opinions. Your studying consists of reading textbooks full of men’s opinions. That isn’t studying God’s Word. To study God’s Word is to get your nose in the Bible and let it speak for itself. Search the scriptures!
How often should we study and search the Scriptures? Speaking of the people of the city of Berea, God says:
Acts 17:11 [KJV]
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Uh oh. Every day? Yes, if you want God to call you “noble.” Now, this doesn’t mean that, if you miss a day, the wrath of God will descend upon you. You just do your best. God knows that we’re frail and fall short. Also notice who the teacher was in Berea. It was the Apostle Paul! Yet God calls these people noble because they: 1. Received the Word preached by Paul and 2. Searched the scriptures to check out his words.
Now, to start studying the Bible you’ll need to know a couple of secrets (shh!).
Okay, I won’t keep you waiting. Here’s the first and most important secret. This is almost completely unknown among all the people of the world. Whatever you do, don’t tell anybody! Ready? The Bible, the Word of God, is true. It has integrity and you can trust it – because God doesn’t lie.
Numbers 23:19 [KJV]
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
There are many, many more verses in the Bible that speak to its truth – its integrity. If you’re interested then here’s your assignment: go to the Bible Gateway home page and do a search for “word truth” in any version of the Bible. I promise you, it will be fun! And if you’re not interested, why are you reading this blog?
Here’s secret number two. There is one fundamental, critical skill we must acquire in order to study the Bible. We have to know how to read and understand English. When we read Bible verses we must read exactly what is written. This is harder than it sounds.
Imagine you’ve just finished reading a well-written blog – and you agree with the author. Then you scroll down to the comments and you discover, to your horror, that some of those idiots didn’t understand the essay at all! They have no comprehension of what the author was actually saying!
Or, even worse, those idiots are right and you didn’t understand what you read. It might be a good idea to go back and read it again. Did you really read what you thought you read? Unfortunately, most commentators on the Internet merely skim an article and then say the first thing that pops into their heads. They are a lot like preachers studying the Bible.
Most schools in the United States today are worthless for teaching reading comprehension. It sometimes appears to me that the curriculum is deliberately aimed at making people worse readers. When my sons were in school…but I digress.
I’m not telling you this to frighten you – you can overcome the handicap of having a high school or even college “education.”
There are a whole bunch of tricks you can use to improve your reading comprehension. The best is simply to read a lot. Another good trick is to read aloud – it slows you down and makes sure you don’t miss any words. One more good possibility is to take notes. Read a couple of verses in the Bible and write down what you think you just read. Then go back and carefully check to see if you got it right.
One technique that I use to improve my comprehension is to ask, “what does this verse not say?”
Let’s look at Numbers 23:19, above. It obviously says that God doesn’t lie. Does it say that God reveals everything? No. Does it say that all men lie? It certainly implies it. Does it tell us that everything men say is a lie? No. Does it imply that women don’t lie? No, because in English the word “man,” unless otherwise qualified, includes both male and female.
I encourage you to practice your comprehension skills on everything you read. If it’s not worth comprehending then it’s not worth reading.