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
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).
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…
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!