Suggestions for Bible Study- Part 4
Co-pastor, 1st Baptist Church
Des Moines, NM 88424
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been examining some suggestions for Bible study. Last time we looked at word study and this week, we’ll examine the value of history, commentaries, preaching, and like-minded believers. As always, your study should start with prayer and a humble and contrite heart (Isa 66:1-5, Luke 18:10-14). I may sound like a broken record, but this point cannot be over-emphasized. Also, even though the Bible tells us to study (1 Tim 2:15), the exact studying process is left partially up to us. What follows, then, are some of my suggestions which you are free to change and/or modify as God leads you.
Up to this point, I’ve encouraged you to study passages in context of the Bible as a whole, in context of the surrounding passages, to examine each individual word in your native language, and then to look at the Hebrew and Greek words behind your translation. My personal approach is to get familiar with the text, examine it, and ask questions about it myself before going into further study. But once the foundation is laid, it can be very edifying to see what others say. My goal at this point is to "check" my thoughts against those of like-minded believers, to look at history to avoid heresies and mistakes, and even to use critics to point out things I maybe hadn’t considered.
First, I like to see what history has to say. By "history", I mean early church fathers ranging from the very earliest to those more recent. There is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9) and virtually every controversy or interpretation has already been argued and discussed. When studying, say, "free will", it is instructive to study the dialogue between Augustine and Pelagius, Luther and Erasmus, and Calvin and Arminius. As I mentioned above, I like to read opposing views as much or more than supporting views because it sharpens my sword to prepare my own defense, and I check my form by seeing how more experienced colleagues defended their stance. "Free will" is just one example; baptisms, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the inerrancy and accuracy of Scripture, and so on, all have history. Studying Christian history can help us recognize and avoid traps such as modern Gnosticism and man-centric doctrines.
Commentaries and sermons come into play at this point, as they are the writings and teachings of other Godly men. For a time, I didn’t use either of these, relying more on my own study. It finally occurred to me that these men were men gifted by God and why should I ask others to consider my teaching if I, myself, didn’t consider the teaching of others? But, I do like to come prepared so that I won’t be tossed about by the winds of doctrine (Eph 4:14). In this same vein, discussion with like-minded believers who’ve also wrestled with issues can be very edifying. Even if we don’t agree on every point, if we’re both seeking truth in Christ from a Biblical standard, discussion can bear fruit. When studying "controversial" topics, I try to keep in mind the principles expressed in this passage:
Romans 14:1-8 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. (2) For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. (3) Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. (4) Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (5) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. (6) He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. (7) For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. (8) For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
I hope we can see that there is so much more to Bible study than merely reading it as we’d read a novel or a newspaper. The Bible is a deep, rich book and it rewards diligent study. Yes, it is work, but we are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37) God has given us minds to study- is there any object more worthy of study that our Creator? And is any reward greater than drawing closer to God? Therefore, apply yourself to the best of your God-given ability, for His glory (Matt 25:14-30).
Next time, I’ll summarize. In the meantime, I urge you to participate in your local church and if you are not congregating with fellow believers, I urge you to start so doing. May the light of Christ shine in your heart to the glory of God the Father. Amen
Suggestions Part 3