#13 How to Study the Bible (Part 1 of 2)

Good morning, brothers and sisters, may the grace and peace of our Lord be with you!

Why do we still study the Bible?

Many churches today do not study the Bible much anymore.  Most fellowship meetings consist of sharing, seminars, outings, social activities, etc.  Even if there are Bible studies, these are mostly sparsely interspersed between other activities.  Why do we at CBCWLA place such importance on Bible study, so that it is the main event at every fellowship meeting?

The reason why Bible studies are disappearing is because churches do not know how to study the Bible.  The Bible study leaders don’t know how to lead, and the Bible students don’t know how to study.  After a while, people start to lose interest.  When faced with these challenges, churches aren’t able to provide effective remedies, and so Bible studies become an abandoned practice.  It is God’s grace that has enabled us to stay the course and persevere in our Bible study endeavors.  As a result, we are seeing the fruit of this long-term effort.  At the core is the belief that the church is the people of God, and God’s people obey God’s word.  We believe that “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pet 1:25, Is 40:8), eternal yet still very relevant and practical for us in the twenty-first century.  Since the church must obey God’s word, how can we obey if we do not know what God’s word says?  So we must continue to study the Bible.

Shared Life Together (koinonia)–  Eating God’s word Together

Koinonia is our shared life together in Christ, and those who share life together must share meals together.  Our food is the word of God, and we must eat His word together.  His word is sweet as honey, a joy and delight to our hearts, and enables us to grow spiritually fit and strong.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. (Jer 15:16)
And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. (Ez 3:1-3)
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. (1 Pet 2:2)
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:14)

The spiritual lives of some Christians are frail and weak, because they do not feed upon God’s word.  This is true of the church as well.  A church that is rooted in God’s word thrives spiritually and is a strong witness for the Lord.  People are continually coming to Christ and getting baptized.  Brothers and sisters live together in harmony, and the sounds of joy and praise can be heard constantly.  A church without God’s word is spiritually sluggish and cannot be a witness for the Lord.  Very few people trust in Christ and get baptized.  Internal disagreements abound, and the pastor is so busy putting out these fires that his energy is spent and his mind cannot be focused on preparing for his sermons.

When God’s people love His word and the pastor is faithful to God’s word, the church is blessed.  The Bible talks about two ways to receive God’s word.  The first is to hear God’s word, and the second is to study the Scriptures.  To use an analogy, hearing God’s word is like eating a feast prepared by the minister, and studying the Scriptures is like a family gathering together to wrap dumplings, chatting and eating at the same time.  The center of both meals is God’s word, but the way of eating is different.  The most direct method, which also appears in the Bible the most often, is to hear God’s word.  However, hearing God’s word only allows for the receiving of the word, and does not provide opportunities for discussion.  Such discussion can happen during Bible studies and will allow God’s word to sink in deeper and be more applicable to daily life.  With regular Bible study supporting the primary activity of hearing God’s word, the church will become healthier day by day, and the believers will grow spiritually strong as they experience this koinonia together.

Putting Knowledge into Action

The purpose of receiving God’s word is twofold.  First, to understand His word.  Second, to do His word.  The purpose of listening to God’s word is to do what it says.  The purpose of studying Scriptures is to practice what it says.  Through the hearing of God’s word and the studying of Scriptures, we have knowledge of what God says to us.  The purpose of knowing His word is to “abide in His word”, and to keep His commandments and do what He says.  God told the Israelites, “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples.”  Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”  The fellowship groups and believers who obey God’s word are wise indeed, and are approved by God.

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ (Dt 4:5-6)
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:31-32)
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (Jn 14:21)

The basis of koinonia is fellowship with God, and the ultimate expression of such fellowship is to love God.  According to Jesus’ teaching, to love God is not a feeling, but an action.  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me”!  Why do we study the Bible?  Because there are believers who hunger for God’s word and are eager to understand it.  The purpose of studying the Bible is to put God’s word into action in our daily lives.  To these people who study the truth to put it into practice, God says, “this will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples”.

A Heartfelt Moment in History

The Old Testament book of Nehemiah tells the story of the Israelite exiles who returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their homeland and their city walls.  The temple had already been destroyed for quite some time, leaving the people without opportunity to hear God’s word for a long period of time.  The governor Nehemiah asked Ezra the scribe to teach God’s word to the people.  The people were filled with thankfulness and awe, and when Ezra opened the book of the law, the people all stood up (Neh 8:5).   Both men and women were at the square in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, giving full attention to the book of the law (Neh 8:3).  When they heard the word of God, they all wept (Neh 8:9).

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.  And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Neh 8:8-12)

In this passage, we see a group of people who did not have access to hear God’s word, but their hearts hungered after His word.  Once they heard and understood God’s word, they were filled with emotions and unspeakable joy.  This story touches my heart and encourages me and makes me treasure God’s word even more.  I am very thankful to God that I live in a place where I can hear God’s word and study the Bible any time.  I thank Him for giving me the grace to preach His word, that I may enjoy the koinonia of God’s word with a group of Jesus’ disciples who have become my brothers and sisters.  Together, we can serve God.  Praise the Lord!

Unhealthy Practices in Bible Study

Before I talk about how to study the Bible, let me point out some frequently observed unhealthy practices that must be avoided:

  1. Gathering to gossip:  The Bible study becomes a sharing circle and devolves into useless drivel and gossip.  There are those who complain, those who love to talk, and those who pretend to know a lot.  In the end, most of what is shared is unrelated to the Bible.
  2. Sharing personal enlightenment:  Instead of studying the Bible, the participants are invited to share their personal enlightenment regarding the passage.  Some of these “insights” are absurd, with no basis and no purpose.  Some steal words from others to use as their own, some pretend to be wise, some try to act spiritual.  If nobody shares, then they move on to the next passage.  This is an irresponsible way to lead a Bible study, and it shows that the leader is not prepared.  In a Bible study, we must first seek to understand the original intent of the Bible passage.  Only when we know what the passage means can we have further discussion about it.
  3. Forcing own interpretation:  Incorrectly handling the word of truth and forcing your own interpretation into God’s word.  Once you voice your interpretation, even if you realize it was wrong, you do not admit your mistake, because of your pride.  A student of the Bible must fear the Lord and explain God’s word carefully.  He must lay down his pride and be humble before God’s word.  We all make mistakes when interpreting God’s word.  If you make a mistake, be willing to admit it.  It is not a big deal for me to say something incorrect, but it is a very big deal if I mislead others to misunderstand God’s word.
  4. Deviating from the topic:  The saying “to chase rabbits” means to be diverted away from the main path in order to catch rabbits.  In the end, you may have caught a whole basket of rabbits, but you completely forgot to return to the main road.  In the same way, a Bible study topic may have started out as “Holiness”, but one digression after another led to discussions about loving one another, husband and wife relationships, how to raise up children, etc.  Time passes by and before you know it, it is time to end the study.  The leader rushes to a conclusion, and the topic of Holiness was never actually discussed.