You Study the Bible Without Looking for God
Never come to the Scriptures with anything less than a devotional approach.
I’m ashamed at how many times I read my Bible as if it were something other than God revealing himself to my soul. I can study the Bible each day without prayer. I can prepare to lead Bible studies as if the Bible is an academic text. I can prepare sermons as if the Bible is a puzzle to solve.
The Bible isn’t an academic text. The Bible isn’t a puzzle to solve.
The Bible is God’s communication to us. And what does he communicate to us through it? Himself.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
We often read the Bible without awe. Without looking for God’s heart in the text.
If I read the Bible without looking for God to reveal himself, I’m not reading the Bible at all.
Solution: This one is pretty simple: We must pray every time we approach the Bible. We must seek God out in his word every time we go to it.
You Only Study the Bible in Isolation
There are many reasons not to neglect to meet together (Heb 10:24-25) including encouragement (Col 3:16) and comfort (2 Cor 1:4).
Meeting together also helps us read the Bible better.
God humbles me – conforming me more to the likeness of Christ – when I need to ask for help to understand a passage. I cannot tell you how many times I have prepared a Bible study where someone who hadn’t prepared all those hours explained the most challenging verse beautifully. That’s cause for some serious humility.
We need to read the Bible in community because:
- We tend to miss important observations individually
- We tend to misinterpret the text individually
- We tend to narrow our focus in both exegesis and application individually
Solution: If you aren’t in a small group Bible study, join one. If you can’t find one, start one. This will pay dividends not just in the study itself, but in your own study habits. You’ll learn to look for things in the text you used to miss.
Use commentaries as conversation partners too. I recommend using commentaries only after you’ve studied a passage on your own. Make sure you don’t let commentators do the thinking for you!
You Study the Bible to Support Your Preconceptions
I constantly struggle against this.
I read a passage and am blown away by how well a particular idea fits my theological framework. Take, for instance, my interpretation of Galatians 1:6. My worldview is built around John 17:3 so of course I’m going to grab onto Paul’s relational language and hold on for dear life.
Am I wrong to do so? I don’t think so. But when I see someone else do it with their “pet doctrine” I cry foul. How do we fix this?
Solution: I recommend two things:
1. State your preconceptions up front. It’s hard to do this but it will help you in the long run. If you clearly articulate what you believe you’ll begin to notice when you take a passage and push it down that road.
2. Make sure you don’t focus solely on one interpretation. This looks back to studying the Bible in isolation. Make sure you study the Bible in conversation with other Christians. This could be through a Bible study, commentaries or even online. You are more likely to see God’s main point when you allow others to challenge your main point.
Your Focus is Too Narrow
Paul wants you to understand how adoption (Galatians chapter 3 and 4) leads to a Christ-like life (Galatians 5). But it’s easier to flip through Strong’s concordance to discuss the various uses of “emasculate” (Gal 5:12) than seriously analyze his argument.
Remember that books, like the epistles, were originally meant to be read all at once as sermons.
To quote the cliché, you’re missing the forest for the trees.
Solution: I have a few tips.
1. Read the whole book in one sitting before you begin studying chapter 1. Familiarize yourself with where the book ends, what themes it develops and what conclusions it draws. When you see these ideas pop up again you’ll know why they are there and where they are headed.
2. Ask how you’ve gotten to where you are. Romans 8:1 begins with the word, “therefore.” Without a foundation you will never build anything useful. So ask yourself (personal study), your group (group study) or your congregation (sermon), “How did we get here?”
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