Multiply: Creation

Greetings, Fellow Imitators! Some of us are receiving more snow today on this Spring day, some of us are basking warm sunshine.  Whatever the weather, we are enjoying God’s creation.  And that is what we are going to talk about in this week’s session.  We have, so far, discussed the need for making disciples, talked about the need for the Church, and gone over the awesome importance of God’s Word.  Today, we arrive at my favorite part, actually getting into God’s Word and discovering the amazing story that unfolds within the pages of the Bible.  Today’s session is Part IV: Understanding the Old Testament: Session 1: Creation.  And of course, follow along here: Multiply!

Setting the Stage

First off, we need to realize that Bible is actually a story, not a random collection of historical documents, poetry, and a few moral tales.  It is God’s story.  And even though it begins long ago at the creation of the world, it isn’t finished yet.  The story is still going on right now, and each of us have a part to play.  But don’t get confused.  The story isn’t about us.  It’s about God.  About the world He created, the people He placed in it, and the incredible plan He has to redeem it.  Today our focus is on the beginning.  The word “Genesis” means “beginning” and that is where we are going to start. “In the beginning…”

Discussion Question #1: Read Genesis 1–2. As you read, look for elements that will help orient you to the biblical story. Who are we introduced to in this section? What is being emphasized? What seems to be the point? After reading these two chapters, make some notes.

Who Is God?

In Chapter 1 of Genesis, it starts out with those famous words “In the beginning, God…”. And suddenly we are introduced to our very first character of the Bible.  While Genesis doesn’t actually tell us who God is in theological terms or philosophical terms, it does teach us about God by telling us what He did.  In the very beginning, He created.  Let’s see what we can learn about God in these first two chapters.

Discussion Question #2: Take a minute to reflect on what you read in Genesis 1–2. What do God’s actions in this passage reveal about who He is?

This is God’s World

At the beginning, there is only God.  God exists beyond our own existence.  He is the only eternal being who has always been and always will be.  There was a time when our universe didn’t exist.  Then God spoke.  And with mere words He created our world from nothing.  Let it sink in how supremely different God is from everything you know or will ever know.

Discussion Question #3: How should God’s eternality and power in the creation account affect the way we view and relate to Him?

Human’s love to claim ownership of the earth.  We need to protect “our” earth, claim “our” land, save “our” planet, etc.  But in these first chapters of Genesis, we see that the only being who can claim ownership of the earth is God.  He is the one who spoke it into existence.

This revelation should give us pause to think about our place in universe.  All ownership and authority belongs to God.  As Genesis tells us, we are given a type of authority on the earth, but it is an authority given to us from God and we answer to Him.

Discussion Question #4: How should God’s power, authority, and ownership affect the way we view our place in this world?

In the Image of God

God creates our environment with a word and then He pauses to talk to Himself.  This may sound funny, but look what He says:

Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:16 NASB).

While we can debate over what the “image of God” actually means, the fact remains that God specifically created us to be like Him.  We hold aspects of God and are placed on the Earth to be representations (images) of Himself.  “His handiwork, nature, and attributes are displayed in us in a way that they are not displayed in the rest of the creation” (144).  God’s image in each of us is a reminder of who is King of this world.

Discussion Question #5: In your own words, describe why it is significant that God created us “in His image.” How should this affect the way we view ourselves and the people around us?

The Personal God of Genesis 2

Now here is an interesting bit of information: In the first chapter of Genesis, we are introduced to God in the Hebrew language as “Elohim” (El-oh-heem) which means, simply, “God”.  However, in chapter 2, God is named as “Elohim Yahweh”.  Yahweh is a personal name that God gives Himself and He tends to use it when He is relating to His people in a personal manner (for example, when He began to establish a covenant with Moses and the Israelites in Exodus, but we’ll get to that later in the story).

In Genesis 2, we see God relating directly with Man.  First, He breathes His own breath into Man, and then He speaks to Him.  He tells him about the garden where Man is to live, He tells him what Man should and should not eat, and even gives Man a job to do (naming the animals).  Right from the start, we see that “humanity was made to communicate with God. Even in his perfect state (before sin entered the world), Adam was dependent on revelation from God in order to live in the world that God made“(146-147).

God creates Adam and then for the first time He states that something is “not good”.  “It’s not good for Man to be alone”.  I’ve always found it interesting that God stated that Man was alone when he was with God (in a more perfect relationship than we currently enjoy).  It occurred to me, recently, that Man did not have someone with whom he could relate entirely with.  While God can always relate to us because He created us and knows us even more than we know ourselves, we cannot always relate to God, He is so vastly beyond us.  Adam needed someone to be with him and to help him, someone he could relate to.  So God created a woman.  We can see that, from the beginning, humans were created for relationships with other human beings.  We need other humans.

Discussion Question #6: What can we learn about human beings and their relationship with God and each other by reading Genesis 2?

Life in the Garden

When God places people in the garden, He gave them a job to do, work to keep them busy.  They were to care for the garden and for the rest of God’s creation.  Some people think that work was a result of the Fall, but here we see that God originally desired for Man to have an active role in caring for God’s creation.  “God intended for humanity to have a caring relationship with the surrounding world” (148).  From the very beginning, we see that it is God’s intention to rule the earth together with Man, Man and God working together.  Can you imagine having such a close relationship with God, no guilt or shame or regret to shadow your relationship, no sin to taint it, just you and God?  Alas, as we will soon find out, this harmonious beginning was not to last, it was to be tainted. However, we will see that God has a plan to restore everything to this beautiful beginning, only He promises it will be even more wondrous.

Discussion Question #7: Take some time to consider the picture of the world presented in Genesis 1–2. Why is this picture so appealing? Which aspects of life in the garden of Eden should we long to see restored in our world?

Could you ask for a more amazing start to a story!?  I love reading about the gloriously pure and personal relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed with their Father and I envy them.  Next week we will read on and find out what could spoil this beautiful paradise, lovingly hand-crafted by the Creator.  I hope you’ll join me!

Fill in the Blank

Here is some insight I gathered from my morning bible study:

“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13 NASB).

The church in Corinth was no different than today’s churches in that they still had petty squabbles over who was “right” and who was “wrong” on things that didn’t necessarily matter in the long run. Paul points out that who is “right” or “wrong” isn’t important, what IS important is whether your actions are causing your brother to stumble and are making his walk with God harder than necessary.

It seems we are always finding new things to squabble about in the Lord’s Church. Most of the time the topic of dissension is about tradition or other such topics as are unimportant to the “grand scheme of things”, namely salvation and what actually pleases God. Paul takes a great stance on this issue and introduces an eye-opening concept, we are not only responsible for our own walk with Christ, but we are responsible for our brother’s walk as well! If we are doing anything, anything at all, that causes our brother to stumble, even unintentionally, we seriously need to consider whether that action is truly necessary. If not, we need to stop it!

“…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6)

Let’s take Paul’s statement and fill in the blank “Therefore, if ______ makes my brother stumble, I will never ______, lest I make my brother stumble.”

Lord, may I never do anything to make my brother or sister stumble. I wish only to be an encouragement and a guide, never a stumbling block.

Multiply: Studying Logically

Everybody know what time it is? (No, it’s not Tool Time 😉 ) It’s time for another blog post. This is the third, and final session in Part III: How to Study the Bible.  It is called “Session 3: Studying Logically”.  Hope you’ll follow along! Multiply!

Last week we stressed the importance of studying prayerfully and obediently, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and change you as you absorb the very words of God.  This week, I want to point out the importance of hard work within study.  We have stressed before that merely studying the Bible with an academic approach does not necessarily lead to right results, however, we are actually called to put effort into Bible study:

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 NASB).

Being “diligent” means being “hard-working” or “meticulous”.  Have you ever applied these words to how you study the message God has worked so hard to preserve for you?  Using our minds in effort to understand and absorb God’s word is actually a form of worship that declares our love to Him (Matt. 22:37).  The more we love Him, the more we will want to study, and the more we study, the more we will love Him.  It grows and grows and grows…

And interesting thought brought up in Multiply is that “…we all misunderstand certain passages of Scripture” (124).  Not one of us can understand all parts of the Bible perfectly.  If we could, there would not be so many divisions in the Church.  There are many things that get in the way: our culture, what we have been taught (my hang-up), our own sinful nature and desire to do what we want, etc.  If we throw in haphazardness in study, we are creating a recipe for disaster and sore-abuse of the Bible.  We must carefully analyze the Bible so we may hear what it is actually saying instead of what we think it is saying.

Consider the Context

This is a biggy and a personal pet peeve of mine.  So many people randomly pick out Bible verses and attempt to apply them to all circumstances without the least attention to context.  “Every text belongs to a context. Every chapter, paragraph, sentence, and word derives meaning from its relationship to the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters around it” (124).  The Bible is no different.  Sure, if we pull a verse out of context, we can make it mean something (whatever we want, actually), but are we giving it the right meaning?

An amazing thing about the Bible is that everything is connected, every verse to a chapter, to a book, to the whole Bible.  When we read a verse, we are just taking a “bite” of the whole.  We need to make sure that our interpretation of that “bite” is consistent with the whole.

“One of the best things we can do to understand context is to read the Bible in its entirety”(126).  There are many different ways to actually accomplishing this, for example, following a reading schedule or reading a chapter a day.  Whatever you choose, the fact remains, the more you read, the more you will understand the whole story, God’s wonderful, beautiful, amazing story. (If you are interested in Bible reading plans to get you started, you can go here: YouVersion or Back to the Bible.  LifeJournal also has a great approach to reading through the Bible combined with journaling what you learn.)

Discussion Question #1: Think about the way you tend to study the Bible. Would you say that you make an effort to seek out what the Bible is actually saying? Do you pay attention to the context? If so, how has this helped you? If not, how do you think this might change the way you read the Bible?

Know the Difference between Interpretation and Application

Sometimes we fall into the trap of looking at a Bible verse’s meaning from our own perspective instead of seeking what the verse actually is saying.  If we are not careful, this can lead to the assumption that the Bible is personalized for every individual and can mean whatever we want it to mean within our own situations.  There is no longer such thing as “misinterpretation” and it’s a free-for-all as to what the Bible is actually saying in any context.  This is obviously not the case.  God intends for the Bible to portray a specific meaning.  If we make a request to our children to clean their room, we obviously have one meaning that we wish to portray and we trust that our children will figure out that message and act accordingly.  We, likewise, must be careful to examine God’s Word and discover what He is actually saying to His children.

“With interpretation, we are asking what the passage is saying and what it means. With application, we are applying that meaning to our specific situation. Ultimately, each passage has one meaning, but it might have many different applications…Application depends on our specific life situations, so we may all read the same passage and walk away with different applications. Interpretation, on the other hand, is all about discovering what God has actually said and what He intended to communicate. We should all read the same passage and walk away with the same meaning.”(128).

Discussion Question #2: In your own words, why is it important to distinguish between interpretation and application?

Find the Plain Meaning

Sometimes we allow our own agendas or assumptions to get in the way of what God is actually trying to get across in any particular passage.  If Jesus says “sell all your possessions and give to charity”, we might be tempted to say “Well, Jesus isn’t actually telling me to literally sell all my possessions, so this passage must mean something else.”  What evidence would cause us to make such an assumption?  Within the direct context of the story (Luke 12:33), Jesus is telling His disciples to literally sell all their possessions.  If you know Jesus within the context of the Bible, you would see that Jesus calls for radical living in His disciples, so why would He not ask such a radical thing of today’s disciples?  Now, just because Jesus asked some of His disciples at a specific point in history to sell all their possessions doesn’t necessarily mean that He will ask all of His disciples to do the same, but we need to make sure that our own assumptions do not get in the way of considering that He might.

So much of the Bible is easily understood and can, and should, be taken at face value.  True, there are portions of the Bible that are difficult to understand, but even then, we can still glean meaning in simply taking the words for what they are actually saying.

If we say that we shouldn’t take God’s words at face value, that we need to discover some sort of hidden meaning beneath the plain meaning of the words of Scripture, then we are saying that God is using human language in a way that is different from the way human beings use language. But we have absolutely no indication that this is the case. To the contrary, when God spoke to human beings in the Bible, they understood Him and acted according to the plain meaning of His words. When God told Israel to build a tabernacle, they didn’t perform some sort of dance as a spiritual interpretation of His words. Instead, they took His words at face value and created a tabernacle in accordance with the plain meaning of God’s words. Our approach to Scripture should be the same (130-131).

Discussion Question #3: In your own words, why is it important to look for the plain meaning of each passage rather than seeking out a deeper meaning?

Discussion Question #4: Would you say that your study of the Bible is focused on finding the plain meaning of each passage? Why or why not?

Take the Bible Literally

“…if the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense” (132).  What we mean by this is that we should look for the plain meaning of the words of Scripture.  We accept the Bible as literal truth.  This does not mean that we interpret every passage literally (for example the passage in Matt. 18 about cutting off hands and feet is generally not taken literally).  We see many different literary devices used in the Bible: metaphor, parable, imagery, etc.  When we say that we take the Bible literally, what we actually mean is that we will take the Bible at face value and when the speaker uses a figure of speech (like metaphor), we can acknowledge that and interpret accordingly.

Discussion Question #5: Do you have a tendency to interpret the Bible allegorically or figuratively? If so, why do you think you tend to do this?

Study the Grammatical Context

God used human language to write the Bible and speak His Words to us, so it makes since to pay attention to the grammar of the Bible and how words are used.  You don’t have to be a “grammar nazi”, but the basic grammar of the Bible is worthy of our attention. We can ask ourselves helpful questions that may be valuable in unlocking the meaning of a passage:

  • Who is doing the action here? (Find the subject)
  • What action is the actor performing? (Find the verb)
  • How are the actor and the action described? (Find the adjectives and adverbs)
  • Who or what is being acted upon? (Find the direct and indirect objects)

While you often analyze in this way automatically, deliberately asking these questions can help you break down difficult passages to find their meanings.

Study the Historical Context

Placing a passage within it’s historical context can be very enlightening to the meaning of a passage.  While this can often require outside sources, for example a bible commentary or maybe a study bible, the Bible gives a lot of history within itself.

In the study of Multiply, the authors give the example of the verse Jeremiah 29:11.  I’m sure you’ve come across it at some point or other.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11 NASB).

Now, if we ignore the historical context of the passage, we can assume this passage means that God is going to give us prosperity in every circumstances.  However, if we examine the history of the text, we find out that these were words of encouragement spoken by Jeremiah to the people of Israel who were in exile.  God wasn’t promising that nothing bad would ever happen to them.  He was promising them that even if they did have to experience dire circumstances, He did (and does) have a plan for them and that eventually He would restore them.  Just as God was not promising that nothing bad would happen to the Israelites, He doesn’t promise that nothing bad will happen to us, but He does promise that He has a plan for all of us and that plan will give us hope.

Discussion Question #6: In your own words, explain why paying attention to the grammatical and historical context is important. How should these concepts shape your study of the Bible?

Let Go of Your Baggage

Once again, we need to be careful not to let our own assumptions of life get away in our interpretation of scripture, this can be the biggest danger to biblical interpretation.  Because of our cultural viewpoints and social views, sometimes we make the false assumptions, like that “God wants us to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled because that’s the message we get from everyone around us” (136).  God makes no such promises.  If you are careful to read the Bible, God doesn’t necessarily define happiness and fulfillment in the same terms as the world around us defines them.

Sometimes our experiences in life can also taint our view of the Scriptures.  Perhaps an abusive relationship with your father makes it almost impossible to imagine a ever-loving heavenly Father who wants nothing but our best.  Our experiences can affect what we want scripture to say and in turn may affect our actual interpretation of scripture.  Let the Bible speak for itself, don’t put words in it’s mouth.

Discussion Question #7: What would it mean for you to read the Bible with an awareness of your own baggage and a willingness to get rid of those assumptions for the sake of understanding God’s truth more clearly?

A Note on Application

Remember what we discussed last week, interpreting the Scriptures is not the last step.  We are not merely acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  “The purpose of reading and interpreting the Bible is obedience and fellowship with God” (137).

Discussion Question #8: In light of what you have thought through in this session, how do you need to change your approach to reading and studying the Bible?

Thank you so much for joining me for another week.  Enjoy your Bible study, allow God to speak to you, and it can be one of life’s most fulfilling joys.  God bless!

Multiply: Studying the Bible Prayerfully and Obediently

I hope last week’s study has encouraged you to spend more time in the Word.  Last week we looked into the “why” of Bible study, this week we are going to delve into the “how” we are to study the Bible.  I hope you will join me and as always, feel free to read the study as well: Multiply.  Let us dive into Part III: Session 2: Studying the Bible Prayerfully and Obediently.

First off, we have to ask ourselves, “Is there a ‘right’ way to study the Bible?”  Many of us would argue method.  Perhaps you like to do word studies or only read the well-known stories or maybe you have a journal that you write in while you read or maybe you take the academic approach and pour over the meaning of every word.  Take some time to think about what approach works well for you and why it might be.

Discussion Question #1: Describe your experience with studying the Bible. What approaches have you tried? What has been effective? What has been ineffective? What have you learned in the process?

Studying the Bible Devotionally

Before we decide how to approach Bible study, we need to remind ourselves what the Bible is and why we are studying it.  It is God’s Word, His chosen message to us spoken with all His authority and purpose.  “When we read the Bible we are hearing the voice of God“(110).

How should we approach something like that?  Obviously we are going to be very careful to every word God has to say to us.  We should read the words “devotionally”, meaning we need to be devoted to the word.  It needs to seep into our very lives.

“Have you ever thought to simply enjoy reading the Bible?”(110).

Psalm 119 gives a beautiful picture of what it means to enjoy God’s Word.  The psalmist is writing it like a love letter to the Law.  This reminds us once again to crave God’s Word as a baby craves her mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NASB)

Scripture helps complete us and gives us all we need to accomplish the work God calls us to do.  “As we study the Bible to teach, correct, or encourage other people, we need to let God’s truths saturate every aspect of our minds, hearts, and lifestyles” (111).

Discussion Question #2: What does it look like to take joy in reading the Bible? Have you ever experienced this? If so, what is it like? If not, why do you think you’ve never enjoyed the Bible?

Discussion Question #3: Read through Psalm 119. What do you find striking, challenging, or encouraging?

Prayer and Understanding

Christians often talk about praying and reading their Bibles, but we don’t hear much about praying while reading the Bible”(112).  Prayer is a very important part of understanding Scripture and we are missing out if we are not including prayer in our study of the Bible.

Some believe that if we examine the biblical text closely enough—possibly even learning Hebrew and Greek—if we consult enough commentaries, and if we diagram every passage perfectly, then we can arrive at the true meaning of any biblical text. Each of these elements is important, but this mentality leaves no room for prayer, which means that there is no dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is a mentality of complete self-reliance”(112).  We aren’t called to be self-reliant, we are called to be God-reliant.  We need the Spirit’s help.  Paul describes the difference between human wisdom and God’s wisdom:

“…but just as it is written,

‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.’

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised”(1 Cor. 2:9-14 NASB).

Understand Paul’s point: we cannot understand Scripture without the Spirit’s help.  This is why prayer is foundational in understanding God’s Word poured forth from the mind of God.  Only the Spirit knows the mind of God.

Discussion Question #4: In practical terms, what does it mean to study the Bible prayerfully? What can you do to build prayer and dependence on God into your study of the Bible?

Studying the Bible Obediently

One really good reason for being sure to include prayer in our study is that we desperately need the Spirit’s help in applying the Word of God.  What good is gaining all that wisdom if we do not use what we learn? One of the silliest criticisms of the church that I hear is that the church is full of hypocrites.  I want to say, “Of course it is!  It’s full of humans!”  We need the Spirit’s help to keep us from being those who don’t “practice what they preach”.  We must allow the truth to change us from who we are into who we are meant to be.  If we are only reading to gain knowledge, that knowledge is worthless, maybe even harmful as Paul points out: knowledge puffs up (makes one arrogant), but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1).  “There’s a terrifying irony here: your study of the Bible could actually lead you further away from the Lord”(116).

Discussion Question #5: Take a minute to think through the commands that you know God wants us all to be doing (for example, loving the people around you, forgiving others, praying, etc.). Write down a handful of these things below.

Now think about these commands in view of your own life.  Are you following these commands, are you allowing them an active part in your life? “If these things are not manifested in the way you live, then you’re misusing the Bible“(117).  Sounds like a pretty harsh statement, but if you are not applying God’s Word, you are missing the point of the Bible.

Discussion Question #6: Take a minute to examine your life in light of what you already know about the Bible. If you find that you haven’t been applying biblical truth to your life, then what changes do you need to make to the way you study the Bible?

Studying the Bible with Faith

Sometimes we overlook the importance of studying the Bible with faith.  If the Bible is truly the Word of God, than we can have faith that every promise, every command is backed by the integrity and authority of God, Himself.  When we read the Bible, we must believe what it says.  Sometimes I struggle with this myself.  Intellectually, I know the promises of God, but sometimes I have trouble making my heart believe them.  I know, in my head, I am forgiven (Eph. 2:1-9), but I sometimes still have doubts about my acceptance and my salvation.  If we are going to believe that the Bible is the very words of God, then we had better believe in what they say.

Discussion Question #7: In your own words, explain what it means to study the Bible with faith. Do you see this playing out in your life? How so?

The Bible and Transformation

Good Bible study leads to transformation“(119).  If we are going to believe “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 NASB), then we believe that the Word of God isn’t just for gaining knowledge and wisdom (although those are important), but that it acts in our lives.  It is living. We don’t just read it, it reads us.  Romans 8:1 tells us to “be transformed”, we are transformed by the Bible.  James illustrates our need to be transformed:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (Jam. 1:22-25 NASB).

We don’t want to be like a man who looks into a mirror, sees he’s a mess, and then walks away without doing anything about it.  The Bible becomes our mirror, it shows us our mess and what to do about it. We need to take initiative to follow what it commands and make the changes in ourselves.

So ask yourself again: are you reading the Bible merely to gain knowledge or are you reading to allow it to change you?

Discussion Question #8: Take a minute to consider everything you’ve thought through in this session. What changes do you need to make in the way you study the Bible?

Discussion Question #9: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you a heart for His Word. Ask Him to help you approach His Word devotionally and obediently.

Hope you all are blessed in your Bible study this week and that you will prayerfully allow it to change you into the masterpiece God is designing you to be.  God bless!

Multiply: Why Study the Bible?

Welcome back for another week!  We are entering into another part in our study today, one I have been looking forward to since I got the book because it involves my one favorite topics: Part III: How to Study the Bible. We begin this part with Session 1: Why Study the Bible?  Go ahead and follow along in the study: Multiply.

So far we have talked about the importance of making disciples both in and out of the church.  We have discussed that a key to disciple making is teaching obedience to Jesus’s every command.  Well… what if we don’t KNOW His commands?  How can we teach people His teachings if we don’t know them ourselves?  If only we had a handbook or something of Jesus’s teachings that we could use to help teach others! Well, fellow imitator, God has recorded all these things down for us in this awesome revelation called the Bible.

For a Christian, nothing should seem more natural than reading the Bible” (91). It is our essence.  Our lifeblood.  As Peter puts it, our ‘mother’s milk’:

“like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2-3 NASB).

Babies depend on milk for survival and growth, so should we depend on the Word of God.  I love the Bible, pray that you do too.

Let’s think about what the Bible actually is.  The Bible is the Word of God.  What does that really mean?   “We’re actually talking about something that the all-powerful, all-knowing transcendent God decided to write to us! What could be more important?“(92).

Even if you know what the Bible is, it is helpful to know why you are studying it.  It is possible to misuse the Bible if you are not clear on your motives for studying it.

Studying the Right Book for the Wrong Motives

Now would be a good time to ask yourselves why you study the Bible.  Try to assess your heart.  What drives you? Guilt? A desire to know God? A way to prove yourself right?

Discussion Question #1: Take a few minutes to examine your motivations and write down a few thoughts

Many Christians study the Bible for the wrong reasons.  Let’s take a look at some of those now

Guilt

We all know that reading the Bible is something we are supposed to do.  It’s like going to church on Sundays or not murdering.   While we may not want to admit that we read our Bibles out of guilt, it has to be pointed out that guilt can be a very strong motivator.

Very often this guilt is connected with legalism. We create our own standard (“I must read x chapters per day”) and then hold ourselves to it, never stopping to consider that God has not placed this standard on us, we have placed it on ourselves. It doesn’t take long before we begin holding other people to that standard as well. And thus a culture of guilt is formed, a culture where ‘good Christians’ read their Bibles because they’re afraid not to, and ‘bad Christians’ feel guilty about not meeting their Bible-reading quota” (94).

Status

We should all desire to know God’s Word inside out, but we have to be careful of our motives for doing so.  Think someone you know who seems to have all the answers and just exudes biblical knowledge.  Are you just a little jealous of that guy and so you read your Bible so you can share in some of that prestige? “Too often Christians are motivated by status when we should be motivated by a desire to know God, to be changed by His Word, and to love and serve the people around us…God cares more about your character than your productivity, and let’s face it, studying the Bible in order to be better than someone else is ridiculous”(94-95).  If I’m going to be honest, sometimes I fall into this temptation…

Teaching Material

While it is vital to use the Bible in preparation for teaching someone, sometimes we can fall into the trap of using the Bible only as a source for teaching material.  Instead of using the Bible only as wisdom to be passed on, ask yourself what is it teaching you, how is it trying to change you.

Discussion Question #2: Take a minute to think about your past experience with studying the Bible. Which of the wrong motivations listed above are you guilty of? Can you think of any others?

Why Did God Give Us the Bible?

So maybe we need to reevaluate our motives for studying the Bible.  Let’s start by asking a simple question: why did God give us the Bible in the first place? If the Bible is God’s Word, why is He trying to speak to us?

To Teach Us about Himself

This is God’s book.  From cover to cover it is His story.  Every book from Genesis (the book beginnings) to Revelation (the end) reveals to us God nature, His character, His actions.  God wants us to know Him.  He chose the Bible as the medium for establishing that relationship.  It is very easy to develop a picture of what we want God to look like and act like in our minds, the Bible is there to dispute our images and give us a picture of the real thing.  We search the scriptures so we can know the true God.

To Teach Us about Ourselves and the World We Live In

The Bible also tells us about the world around us and why we are in it.  How many of us have asked the question: “why is the world the way it is”? The Bible has that answer and many more.  “Since this is [God’s] world, it only makes sense to view the world from His perspective and live according to His principles” (97). So when we study, we should be seeking how to live in the world designed by the Creator.

To Enable Us to Live Godly Lives

Peter tells us that God’s:

“…divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NASB).

God has given us all we need to live the lives He expects us to live.  We study so that we can be empowered to follow His will.  Paul says:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NASB).

The Bible was given to us so that we could have everything we need to do every good work that we are called to fulfill.

To Facilitate a Relationship with God

Communication is one of the most important parts of any relationship.  “Every relationship requires communication—the loving expression of each person’s thoughts, emotions, concerns, and dreams that strengthens the relationship and deepens intimacy…The Bible is His means of sharing His thoughts and desires with us!” (99).  From the very beginning with Adam, God has designed us for a relationship with Him and He has maintained that relationship through communication with His people.  We are engaging in communication with God whenever we read from His Word.  Another translation of the 2 Timothy passage we quoted above says that all scripture is “God-breathed”.  “If the Bible is indeed “breathed out by God”—words delivered from the mouth of God Himself—then reading the Bible is listening to the voice of God” (99).

To Exalt Jesus

God uses scripture to introduce Jesus to us as our King and Savior.  It is the story that culminates in His Son triumphing over death, rescuing a fallen people, and taking the throne to reign forever at the right hand of the Father.  It is an amazing story and is written to motivate us to exalt Jesus in our own lives.

To Prepare Us for Our God-Given Mission

From the very beginning, God has had a mission for humanity” (100).  Right after God created the earth, He gave Man (Adam) a job to do and gave him “dominion over creation”.  We are to maintain and care for God’s creation as imitators of the One Who has dominion over us.  When Abraham came along, God made it clear that He planned to bless mankind and restore him to his former glory through Abraham and his descendants, the Israelites.  Israel’s mission was to show the world who their God was.  The New Testament tailors the mission even further, we are established as God’s ambassadors to the world:

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20 NASB).

Though much of Christian thought tells us that we are the center of it all—that it’s all about you and God and nothing else really matters—the reality is that God is the center, and He has saved us so that we can work with Him in His mission to redeem humanity and restore creation to what He originally intended it to be” (101).

All this means is that we need to view the Bible as our central purpose, our modus operandi for life. We should allow it to shape our hopes and dreams.

Discussion Question #3: Take a minute to think through why God gave us the Bible. How should these things affect the way you think about studying the Bible?

Approaching the Mind of God

Ultimately, when we read the Bible, we are approaching the mind of God. Every time you open the Bible, you ought to prepare yourself for an encounter with the Creator of the universe” (102). Wow. This type of encounter would surely demand some preparation, so how do you prepare for an encounter with the Creator of the Universe?

Obviously, we need to approach God’s Word with some measure of humility.  We need to admit that we don’t have all the answers and the Bible does, that’s why we are reading it.  We need to admit that we need to be taught and that the Bible is able to teach.  “Every time you find yourself struggling to accept something the Bible says, you’ve found an area of your life that needs to be brought into submission to Christ… Until we begin reading the Bible in order to draw close to God and do what He says, we are completely missing the point” (103).

Discussion Question #4: How do you tend to respond to the Bible’s teaching? Would you say that you approach it humbly with a desire to change? How do you need to adjust your approach to studying the Bible?

Right Motivation Makes All the Difference

Sometimes we tend to use our knowledge to gain influence over our brothers and sisters.  Paul gives us fair warning:

“Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1 NASB).

The NIV says “Knowledge ‘puffs up'”.  Just imagine a vain bird with his chest puffed out.  Isn’t it amazing that studying the Bible with the wrong motives can actually make people arrogant when it should be making them humble?

Discussion Question #5: Rather than thinking about all of the arrogant people you know, take a minute to consider whether or not your efforts in studying the Bible have simply puffed you up. How has studying the Bible changed you? Are you more arrogant, argumentative, or judgmental? Write down a few thoughts.

This is not the goal of our God.  The Bible should encourage us to be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1).  Instead of being “puffed up” we should look to build others up.  We should want to be fed and nourished by the Word as Peter illustrates:

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2 NASB).

Discussion Question #6: Take a minute to meditate on 1 Peter 2:1–2. What would your life look like if you desired the Word as Peter described?

Before You Move On

“To sum it all up, the right way to approach the Bible is to first let go of everything that we want and expect, and to let God tell us exactly what to think and what to do…before you develop skills in studying the Bible, it’s absolutely essential that you work through your motivation for studying in the first place. Unless your heart is right, you will misuse the Bible, no matter how skilled you are at studying it carefully” (107).

Discussion Question #7: Close this session by praying. Ask God to purify your heart with regard to Scripture. Ask Him to produce in you a longing for the pure milk of the Word.

Today’s study has given us a lot to think about.  I hope you will give this topic some deep thought this week so that you can return next week well-centered and ready to learn more.  God bless you all!

Multiply: The Global Church

Another day, another week, another month. Can’t wait to see what God brings us this week.  Let’s dive into our study.  We are in the last session of Part II: Living as the Church.  So we start: Session 3: The Global Church.  Come follow along: Multiply.

We talked last week about what our mission was in the local church and how that church needed to reach out to the community around them by growing a great love.  So once we reach all the people in our community, we’re done, right?  Take a deep breath and relax, right? Not quite.

All the Families of the Earth

At the beginning of the world, humans made a choice.  They chose their own way instead of God’s.  And they have been making that choice the same way ever since.  However, even at the beginning, God made a promise of redemption.  Even though this redemption was promised to a few, this redemption was not for only one person or group of people. It was for the world. God’s vision is a lot bigger than just your community, however large it may be.  God wants to redeem the WORLD. And as part of His church, we are part of that plan.

Discussion Question #1: In your own words, why is it important to think about God’s plan of redemption in global terms?

Discussion Question #2: When you think about the mission of your church, does the rest of the globe factor in at all? How so?

Where Christ Has Not Been Named

Paul was your classic example of a wandering missionary.  He went everywhere preaching the gospel.  He didn’t do this just because he thought it was a good idea, this was his passion, his ambition:

“And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written,

‘They who had no news of Him shall see,
And they who have not heard shall understand'” (Rom. 15:20-21 NASB).

We believe that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved… but what if they don’t know His name?

 “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!'” (Rom. 10:12-15 NASB).

So… if only those who call on the name of the Lord are saved and God’s plan of redemption includes the whole world and there are people who don’t know the name of the Lord, we need to get the word out!  This is the mission of the church.  Christ commanded we make disciples of all nations, not just the one you live in.

Discussion Question #3: Take some time to think about the following passages (Romans 15:20–21, Isaiah 52:7–10, Romans 10:12–15). How should these truths affect the way we think about our calling?

Before the End Will Come

“This world will not end until God’s plan is accomplished” (82).  We don’t have all the details concerning the end of the world (Even Jesus admitted to not knowing all the details – Mark 13:32).  We do have this, Jesus says:

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14 NASB).

He doesn’t say that everyone will accept the message, but God fully intends for every nation to hear the message.  Most of us living in the United States just take it for granted that the gospel message is readily available for anyone should they take an interest.  But did you know that there are still areas of the world where people “desperately need hope, healing, and salvation, but who don’t have access to the message of redemption” (83)?

Think about Paul’s questions: How will these people call on the name of the Lord if they never hear about Him?  How are they going to hear if the message isn’t preached?  How will the message be preached if no one is sent?

Jesus preached the good news everywhere He went. If we are to be like the Rabbi, we do as He did.

Discussion Question #4:  Have you given much thought to the unreached people groups around the world? If so, how does this affect your thinking and lifestyle? If not, why do you think you have never thought about it?

Working Together for the Gospel

Since we know that God’s mission goes beyond our community, we need to start thinking about what our role may be in completing this mission.  Before you start worrying that you have to sell all your worldly possessions and move to Africa, don’t fret.  Although He may very well call you to that exact thing, there are many other ways to help the mission.  However, we need to be open to God’s plan, not ours.  It’s His plan of redemption, He is the One who knows how to carry it out best, He is the One who dictates what your role in His plan is.  His glory, not ours.  “It may be a terrifying thought,  but we have to trust God more than we trust ourselves” (84).

Discussion Question #5: Take a minute to pause and ask God what He wants for your life. Ask Him to break through any excuses you may be hiding behind and idols you might be clinging to. Ask Him to make you willing to follow Him in whichever direction He might lead. If you have any thoughts based on this time of prayer, make a few notes.

Discussion Question #6: How would you describe your role in furthering the gospel around the world? If nothing comes to mind, write down a few things that you can begin to pursue in order to make missions a part of your life.

A Vision of the End

Before you start having doubts about whether or not this plan can succeed, let me tell you: “There is no doubt about whether or not the church will fulfill its mission; we know for certain that this is how the world will end” (87).  The apostle John was actually chosen by God to see the fulfillment of the promise made so long ago:

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'” (Rev. 7:9-10 NASB).

The mission is going to succeed.  Isn’t it exciting to be part of a mission that you already know will succeed?  About how many of your other endeavors can you say same?

The church needs our hope, our love, our support.  These are our brothers and sisters across the globe.  We make disciples and they make disciples and they make disciples.  We will reach the “ends of the earth”.  And our Rabbi, our Messiah, He will be right there with us “to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 NASB).

Discussion Question #7: In order to faithfully follow Jesus and play your part in God’s plan of redemption, what should your life look like right now? (This is a huge question, but try to write down a few things to guide you as you seek to put the things you’ve learned into practice.)

Discussion Question #8: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to help you submit to Him entirely. Ask Him to guide you and empower you in anything He calls you to do. Pray that God would use you in your neighborhood and around the world in any capacity that He sees fit.

Thank you for joining me this week!  I hope this study has both convicted and encouraged you to get out there and be a part of this awesome mission.  See you next week when we get to dive into God’s Word and learn to use it to help us accomplish this mission.  Until then, God bless!