This is the expressed teaching of scripture (Psalm 119:18, Romans 15:4, Colossians 3:16, II Timothy 3:16). Not only that, it is our obligation. We must study the Bible not only to keep ourselves close to God's will (Psalm 119:105), but also so that we can be used of God to express His will to others (II Timothy 2:15, I Peter 3:15).
Bible study is not just for experts upon whom we rely and whose teaching we accept blindly. The prime qualification for Bible study is a saved heart, thirsting for and loving God's Word. We have no excuse for thinking that the Bible is too difficult or that we are not capable of doing any significant study because of our limited training and ability. Today we have all the helps we need in the original languages of the Bible, such as good concordances, lexicons and interlinear Bibles. God has guided men in the past to write these helps so that we can go back to the original language and conduct an effective investigation without previously acquiring an advanced degree in Greek or Hebrew. We have just as much right, privilege and ability to discover truth in God's Word as anyone else.
B. Bible study helps further Bible study.
It is an old but true saying that the best way to study the Bible is to study the Bible. No matter what we do, if we spend time in the Bible, we will be learning to think like God. Then we will discover that passages begin to open up to us because we have, through constant exposure to God's Word, acquired His patterns of thought and His vocabulary. Knowledge is cumulative and in Bible study we find that insights lead to other insights. As time goes by, we will accelerate in our ability to pick out key ideas and in our ability to see the big picture.
Finding the solution to a problem reinforces us. When we finally find a good answer to the questions we posed to ourselves, we experience the joy of discovery which motivates us to continue to study and instills in us a wonder and respect for the Bible.
C. Bible study is hard.
We must expect that. Bible study is an acquired skill that takes years of practice. We cannot expect instant wisdom. Instead, we must spend lots of time in the Bible. It could very well be that we will struggle with a question for years. Perhaps, as we study an issue for weeks at a time we must then lay it aside for a while and then pick it up later for further investigation, only to have made a small amount of progress.
Because Bible study is hard, it requires a commitment. We must want to study. We must love to do it. It is not too much to say that Bible study is a career into which we all enter when we become saved.
There are no easy, quick ways to acquire Bible knowledge. But it is good that there are difficulties as we study the Bible. They force us to study more and to study harder, as we compare, cross-check and practically memorize the information with which we are wrestling. It is not surprising that it should be so. Think of it. We are studying the thoughts of infinite God. Can we really expect it to be a snap? Not only that, remember what we are - sinful and weak, in great need of God's help. It is a wonder of God's grace that we even have the Bible at all, and further, that we are able to read it and understand some of it.
We don't study the Bible for some ego trip, seeking for neat discoveries. We may never discover some big insight. But we must come boldly to God to seek wisdom. We will find it if we ask in faith and seek it diligently. It may be that our study will be at a slower pace than someone else's. But we must never compare our progress with someone else's and make an evaluation thereby.
But resist the temptation to desire some big truth or exciting discovery. These kinds of results are not the measure of good Bible study. The Bible is God talking to us and it is up to Him to show us what He thinks is best for us to know. We must wait upon the Lord. If we love God and therefore His Word, our delight will be simply to spend time with Him. What we learn will be what God wants us to learn. II Corinthians 9:8 teaches that no matter what God gives us, He supplies it to us because He has a job in mind for us to do. Therefore we must learn to be content in our Bible study. It will keep our minds cleaner and our senses sharp.
D. God has a specific time for revealing truth to us.
God opens our understanding when He sees fit. As always, God is in control. For one thing, God has a time to reveal truth to us each individually. It begins when we become saved and start to read the Bible. And it continues as we take the time to study it.
Also, we must realize that it takes time for us to come around to truth. Sometimes we happen to have a sin bias that blocks our vision. In other words, there are times when we would rather not be shown the facts because they show up our rebellion in certain areas. We just are not willing to listen to God in a certain area and as time goes on, He must beat us down so that, as we give up, we are freed of our sinful pride and prejudices in order to study with a clearer mind. Sometimes we have been unduly influenced by a church that we attend. We are locked into their doctrines, or the doctrines of someone we respect, or those to which our family holds. Some of those doctrines are very good, but others are not true. Because a few verses are quickly quoted does not mean they support a doctrine. We must learn to think in details. Specifics, the little parts of the verse that can challenge a widely held doctrine, are very important. Therefore, when we feel threatened and stubbornly turn away from a challenge to a doctrine, we are not ready to learn new truths. At that point, it is not our time to know.
Additionally, God has a time to reveal truth because it fits into His command of history. For example, God deliberately withheld information from Daniel (Daniel 12:4). Today we have the complete revelation that God desires to give to us in the Bible. Therefore in our case God's timing simply means we do not know all things about the Bible at once. God provides us with insight into one thing and allows us to pass over another to be studied at a later time. Therefore one trait that is very appropriate for Bible students is patience...patience with God's timing, patience with other people, and patience with the results of our own study.
E. Bible study is not always successful.
We might as well face it. There will be times when all our diligent efforts will not yield an understanding of a passage. In a way that is good. For it means that we are honest in our study and not prone to jump at just anything that pops into our head. It means that we really desire that our conclusions stand up to the scrutiny of serious tests. Just the same we study the Bible because we want to know the meaning of what we read therein. So then what can we do when we can't find answers to the questions we ask about a passage?
One thing we can do is to drop it. Leave the passage for a while, maybe a long while, and study in another part of the Bible. Perhaps something elsewhere will be the clue we need to understand the more difficult passage with which we have been struggling. Maybe we have been thinking and rethinking the same thoughts and need to get out of that pattern by leaving the passage long enough to forget our old line of attack and start again much later with a fresh mind and new thoughts.
Another and quite surprising idea is to try something bold. When we can't think of anything significant about a particular word or phrase, we could take a guess. As long as our analytical and inductive procedures are faithfully followed, honest testing will keep us from getting carried away with some of our wildest leaps of speculation. Maybe some bold new idea will be just the thing to force us into a new pattern of thought. Who knows? Maybe it might lead to something helpful. As a matter of fact, since our guess is a last straw, coming after a great deal of routine analysis and reflection, it is likely to be more of an educated guess, tempered and guided by all the things we do know about the Bible.
Thirdly, we could consult others who have studied the same passage with which we have been struggling. Yes, there is a place for asking other people what they think about a passage or reading a commentary to see what light it can shed. Respected Bible teachers may be helpful and commentaries have real value when used properly. We should never be so arrogant as to think that no one can teach us anything we do not already know, or that we are completely autonomous in our ability to find Biblical truth. But (and this is a big BUT) these sources of help should be consulted only after we have first thoroughly studied a passage and have many of the details firmly fixed in our minds. In that way we will be armed with enough knowledge to help us sort out the bad advice from the good.
It is dangerous to run for help too soon. Too often a Bible student's first reaction to a difficult problem, motivated either by fear of making a mistake or of plain sloth, is to seek an easy and sure explanation of a passage in a commentary. And often, if he has read in a commentary of a possible meaning of the passage with which he is struggling, that interpretation will alter his thinking of that passage from then on. There is a real temptation to seek the relief of a solution to our struggles which a commentary can provide. And many times a student will allow the strengths of an easy solution to his problem to blind him to its weaknesses.
On the other hand, there are some valuable Bible study aids which should be companions from the start. Concordances, lexicons, analytical Bibles and interlinear Bibles are powerful tools for helping us gather data, and are musts for serious Bible students. However, the place for other helps such as commentaries is on our shelves until we are very familiar with the passage at hand and have answered most of the questions ourselves. Bible dictionaries have some data gathering value; but they contain a lot of commentary along with the factual information. These sorts of aids should be used with caution, fully realizing their strengths and deficiencies.
In all fairness, commentaries make some real contributions in certain circumstances. Teachers of a Bible class, for example, can go over the passage they have studied in a commentary in order to make sure they haven't missed something obvious. Furthermore commentaries can help teachers in their desire to give some helpful applications to their class. In this regard teachers have the advantage of drawing upon a wider base of experience, namely, the lives and illustrations of the authors of the commentaries.
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