Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More Than Reading: The Importance of Bible Study

I read my Bible every day.  I've read the Bible through at least five times in my life.  I have a general idea of the timeline of the Bible, and if you asked me to find a particular story, I could do it in less than five minutes.  Do I sound like I'm bragging?  Probably, but what I'm really doing is setting the table for my slice of humble pie.  You would think after so many times reading the Bible, that I would KNOW the Bible like I know my favorite novel, right?  Not even close. I can find particular stories, but if you asked me the theme of Nahum or to explain the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward, I would fumble to a stop. 

The fact is, the Bible is NOT a novel.  When I read my favorite fiction book, I'm reading to enjoy a good story, which is generally laid out in an easy to understand way.  I can read superficially and still "get it." When I'm done reading, I can set it down, forget about it, and move on. The Bible is a different animal and reading it every day, while a good habit, will not do me any good if I don't dig deeper and apply what I've learned in practical ways. 

There are a few reasons why simply reading the Bible is not enough for Christians.   One is the nature of the Bible itself.  It was written 2000 and more years ago by men in cultures completely different from our own using literary forms we are not always familiar with.  If we want to know what the Bible really means, we have to study the context, and daily reading isn't enough to do that.

Not only does a surface reading not give us the full understanding of the context, sometimes we get completely the wrong impression.  Take 2 Samuel 24 as an example.  David has sinned, and God gives him three choices of punishment.  He can choose seven years of famine, three months of running away from his enemies, or three days of pestilence (like a plague).  David says he doesn't want to fall into the hands of men, so God chooses three days of pestilence.  70,000 people die in Israel in those three days.  With a quick reading, it sounds like David is being awfully selfish.  Wouldn't running from his enemies only affect him?  Wouldn't he rather be the only one punished for his sins?  Why choose an option where thousands die?  However, when you take into account the context of David's life, you can see why he would not have chosen that option  that when he has had to run from his enemies, the entire nation of Israel is engulfed in war.  David is not the only one affected, and three months of war would likely kill just as many people.  David was not being selfish; he knew the entire nation would suffer the consequences, and he trusted God to make the decision for him. 

Bible study is also important because it helps us to do the things we learn.  Jesus says if we hear his words and don't do them, we are like a house built on the sand.
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall. (Matthew 7:26-27)
To avoid the "splat!" the children's song speaks of, we have to apply what we've learned.  I can read about taming the tongue every day, but if I don't look at the places in my own life where my tongue has gotten out of control and pray that God will help me to tame it, then reading James 3 is a waste of my time. 

Unfortunately, many Christians (myself included) do not spend enough time in diligent Bible study.  Maybe we avoid Bible study because we think it's too hard for us.  We have a picture in our head of a Greek scholar reading the Bible in its original language, or maybe a table full of commentaries written in the 1800s.  While those are not bad things, not everyone can do it. I doubt this mother of three will be learning Greek anytime soon, but that doesn't mean I can't study the Bible.

Over the next year, I'd like to help you see Bible study as something you can do.  Each month, I'll be going over one method of Bible study, from the easy to the slightly more challenging.  You don't have to go out and buy a bunch of books.  In this digital age, all the tools you need are online, and most of them are free.  I'll be sharing those with you as we go.  If you have an internet connection, Bible, pen and paper, and maybe a highlighter and colored pencils (my favorite part!), then you'll be ready to learn the skills to study the Word of God deeply.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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