Today, I am beginning a short series on how I study the Bible. I hope you will forgive the “I” in the title. I am not claiming to know all there is to know on this subject, but I did want to distinguish between “how I study the Bible” versus “how you should study the Bible.” I don’t think my way is the best way; it’s just the best way for me—because I do it. The purpose of this series is to give some direction to readers who have not yet discovered their best way.
I am writing from experience on this topic. I have been a student of the Word of God for years—most of my life, in fact. Just as with everything else that one does for that period of time, it has gone through some tweaks and upgrades over the years. Even this year, I have made changes to my “style.” Still, the one thing that remains consistent is I do read the Word regularly, and I get something out of it (that’s actually two things).
I have also been a teacher of the Word for most of my adult life. To small groups, to large groups. In Bible studies in my home, in large conference settings. In the U.S. and in countries throughout the world.
Reading the Bible is not like reading any other book. It is living and active.2 It changes me as I read—even when I don’t feel it. It has an effect. It leaves an impact. I know there are non-believers that would say they get the same effect out of other kinds of inspirational reading, but there is no other book that makes the claim to being “alive.” Furthermore, I read other kinds of inspirational reading, too, and nothing compares to the Word of God.
Can you tell that I love the Word? Good. That’s my credentials for this series: I read the Bible, I teach it, and I love it.
Study for the right reasons.
In this post, before getting into the how of Bible study, I think it is always important to first clarify the “why?” For some, reading the Bible is an exercise in “head knowledge.” Others read in order to make a good impression or to win a Biblical debate regarding some issue they have strong feelings about. Paul (the Apostle who wrote much of the New Testament) wrote, “…we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”1 The point? “Knowledge” in and of itself is not the end goal; it is the wrong motivation. It will not produce that transformative effect that I mentioned. It only puffs us up.
Rather than Bible study being an intellectual or “heady” activity, I like to approach it as a means to get to know God—the Author of the book—better. Consistently making the time to study the Word of God reflects my heart’s hunger for relationship with Him (it’s how He talks to me!). Through Bible study, I search out His ways, His laws, His principles, His Heart! It’s like going on a treasure hunt for the most valuable treasure of all!
So with “Relationship” being my paramount reason for studying the Bible, there are three “sub-reasons” that naturally fall under that heading for me.
Read for personal transformation.
We are transformed by renewing our minds; i.e., by changing the way we think. How are we to think? Why, like God thinks, of course. And we can only do that by reading what He thinks in His book. So study the Bible to change you, your thinking, your life! It’s just common sense that if I am in relationship with God, then I will be changed. Right?
Read for the joy of discovery.
Approach the Word knowing that God wants to reveal to you. I like the way the Amplified Bible puts it in Mark 4:22. “[Things are hidden temporarily only as a means to revelation.] For there is nothing hidden except to be revealed, nor is anything [temporarily] kept secret except in order that it may be made known.” (italics mine)
Discovering “secrets” about the ways of God, discovering a principle that is perfectly befitting a struggle you are currently engaged in, discovering a key for relating to others in an accurate way—these are the types of treasures that await the student of the Word of God. The discovery does impart knowledge, but it enters through the heart, not the head. It imparts divine energy, creativity, and joy. It changes the way we live (which leads us back to the first point above—it transforms us).
Read to learn from the example of those who have gone before.
“It takes a wise man to learn from his own mistakes and a genius to learn and profit from the mistakes and experiences of others.”
I don’t know who originated that quote, but so true, huh? Learning from the mistakes of others is partially what the scriptures are speaking of in the following two verses:
“Everything written long ago was written to teach us so that we would have confidence through the endurance and encouragement which the Scriptures give us.”3
“These things happened to make them an example for others. These things were written down as a warning for us who are living in the closing days of history.”4
Learning from the mistakes of those in Scripture is just the beginning. Much of the Old Testament is actually allegorical for how we are to live today. The story of the Israelites leaving Egypt comes to mind. We don’t only learn from their mistakes, per se, but we can look “behind the story” and discover the principles for how we are to depart the land of our own personal ‘bondage’ today. This approach certainly livens up the reading of the Old Testament stories and makes the stories relevant to me today!
So back to the opening premise. The accurate motivation for studying the Word of God is namely to build relationship with Him, to know Him better. That includes learning to think like Him (personal transformation through renewing my mind), discovering His “secrets”5 (building intimacy with Him), and learning the principles He has provided us via the lives of others (learning His ways).
With these purposes in mind, when we read the Bible, we should be asking ourselves questions like:
- What is God saying to me?
- What can I learn from their example?
- How must I change to comply with the ways of God?
For me, reading like this truly moves the Bible study habit from a dry ritual to a colorful relationship.
Do you read the Bible regularly? Do you read with these purposes in mind (or others like them)? Please share your motivation for Bible reading in the comments.
11 Cor 8:1, ESV
2Heb 4:12, NIV
3Rom 15:4, GWT
41 Cor 10:11, GWT
5Luke 8:10, NIV