John is the gospel I love the most—I hope it’s okay that I have a favorite. Luke is a close second. A few months ago, I decided to reread the gospels and reacquaint myself with The Savior: what He said, what He did, how He lived. The decision was spurred by a commentary that stated more people know what Paul said and did than Jesus. This time, I didn’t want to breeze past the stories, the conversations, the interactions, I wanted to understand them and the circumstances surrounding them. Beginning with the book of Matthew, I moved through the stories with the familiarity the comes from knowing, but when I came to John chapter three, I couldn’t move on. I got stuck. For the last month, I have been studying the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus in the first part of the chapter. By studying I mean reading and listening to a series of sermons by John Piper. Piper is a great resource. His doctrine is sound and his passion for the Lord palpable.
My former pastor said that when you read scripture, do so slowly, deliberately with the intention to understand what it says. He said to read a verse, stop, and then think about it. How many people do that? Think while reading the Bible? Some are falling asleep, others are annoyed, and many are confused. Know that it does not have to be that way. What he was teaching was how to study the Bible as opposed to simply reading it. Here are some practical approaches to studying scripture:
First, Pray. When you sit down to study your Bible begin with prayer. Ask the Lord to give you understanding. There are many people who read the bible and have no idea what it is saying. It does not have to be this way with you—unless that is the Lord’s will. Ask Him to reveal the mysteries of scripture to you. To open your eyes to see, ears to hear, and mind to understand.
Be Focused. Sometimes I can be distracted when reading scripture. My mind starts wandering, I read a paragraph but have comprehended nothing. This is one of the reasons beginning with prayer is so important. It gets your mind right. Turn off or put your phone on “do not disturb”. Get your water. Close the door. Turn off the radio. Remove anything from your purview that has the potential to take your attention off the scriptures. Studying God’s Word is serious business and should be approached seriously.
Get the Gear. An exhaustive concordance, study manual, and, of course, your Bible. A concordance is a book that contains an alphabetical list of words present in the bible and defines them. This is handy! You will want your Bible and concordance to be the same version. For example, if you are using the NIV translation of the Bible then you will want to use an NIV concordance. A study manual for whatever book or section of scripture you are studying. Not just any study manual, a reliable one. The reliability of your resource cannot be overstated. As discussed in Christianese there are a lot of people out there expounding on scripture who are not a part of the body of Christ. Additionally, you will want to check your resources. Can this person’s interpretation of the scripture be verified through the scripture? Of all the Christian scholars out there, is he or she the only one to come to this conclusion? If so, I have questions. Lastly, your Bible because that is the book you are studying. Pick a book or a section and dive in.
Ask Questions. Who is speaking? To whom are they speaking? Why is this being said? What is happening in this passage? What else was going on at the time? Is this text descriptive or prescriptive? What does this mean? Asking the right questions assists with the application. Remember that the Bible reports facts. It is a historically accurate document and reports events as they happened. Also, scripture interprets scripture, not feelings or personal circumstances. A verse does not mean something today that it did not mean at the time it was written. Yes, times have changed but God has not. This is not The Constitution of The United States. The Bible is alive and unlike our founding fathers God knew everything before he laid the foundations of the earth. Everything a believer needs to navigate the windy road of life is in there from beginning to end.
Approach the Text Correctly. All scripture leads to Christ. Not to you. Not to me. Christ. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. One cannot begin to understand the conversation Jesus and Nicodemus were having without the Old Testament. Some say the Old Testament is obsolete, I beg to differ. If the Old Testament were outdated and was of no importance today, I assume God would not have included it. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped, for every good work.”
Studying scripture takes time and intention. Do not get frustrated or impatient. Stay the course. Remember this is something you will be doing for the rest of your life. Thank God that you can study and discuss His Word openly. All believers do not currently have that privilege. Remember there is a difference between studying God’s Word and reading it. Find the joy in studying scripture, spending quality time with the Lord, and growing in intimacy with Him.