How to Study the Bible Part 1

How to Study the Bible Part 1

Hebrews 4:12, Philemon 1:1-25

We’ve been examining the greatest Book ever written, the Holy Bible. So far, we’ve looked at the history of the Bible and how it got to us through the last few thousand years. We looked at some the people who gave their lives fighting with everything in them to help God’s living and active Word be available to people, let alone passed all the way down to us. The history is quite astonishing.

We’ve also talked about how the Bible is the number one best-selling book in the history of the world. It’s also the most shoplifted book in the history of the world. Out of all the fun facts about the Bible that I gave you last week, they are the two you remember, right? Five to seven billion copies have been printed. The Bible consist of sixty-six different books, yet it’s all one story. The Bible was written by all sorts of different people, in all sorts of different places, in three different languages, and it talks about every subject you can think of.

Then, we tested the Bible to see if it is actually reliable. Is it trustworthy, true, and accurate? With flying colors, it passed the Internal test (what do the authors say about the truth of it), the External test (what do outside resources say), and the Bibliographic test (how well were the original documents translated to today). And what we found over and over again is that beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Bible stands alone and unquestionably passes all of those tests.

The Bible is the living Word of God. That’s what it says about itself.
Hebrews 4:12
12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

It’s living, it’s active, it’s powerful, sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, meaning it’s going to speak to you separating the good and the bad. The Word of God will guide you. It will protect you. It will empower you. It will guard you against temptation. It will renew your mind. It will build your faith. It will show you all the heavenly riches that you have in Christ Jesus. It is truth, and it is the truth that will set you free.

There is no greater way to get to know God, His character, His nature, His goodness, and the life that He has for you than reading His Living Word. And yet most people don’t do it. Some reasons why are that we are just too busy. We forget about it and neglect it. Other say they don’t believe it or it doesn’t apply to their life. Yet some are just imitated by it. Maybe we don’t want to face what God is going to tell us in it, or maybe we just don’t understand it.

I would argue that, especially for Christians, the biggest reason so many aren’t faithfully studying the Bible is that the devil tries to talk us out of it by telling us we don’t know how to do it. So today and next week, I’m going to begin to show you how to study the Bible. We can get into more of this in our small group studies, but this will absolutely be enough to get anyone started.

So where do you start if you’re going to study the Bible? In my experience, I have found that a lot of people typically do one of two different things. They’ll do what I did when I first got on fire for God and simply start at the very beginning, at Genesis which is a relatively interesting and exciting book. Then they move onto Exodus, which is also pretty interesting and exciting. Then, they get to the book of Leviticus, and that’s where it stops. If you’re not laughing right now, it’s because you’ve never read the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus goes deep in the instructions for how a covenant people (Israel) were to worship God and govern themselves. It talks about the requirements of the sacrificial system that would allow God to overlook the sins of His people until Jesus came as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice. It gives instruction on all sorts of wild and crazy things. (chapter 11-27) It’s an important book, but a tough read.

The other thing people do to start reading the Bible is what I’ll call the Lucky Dip Method. The Lucky Dip Method is when you open the Bible and just point your finger to a verse and whatever that verse says, you will do. Like this…
Ezekiel 4:12
12 Prepare and eat this food as you would barley cakes. While all the people are watching, bake it over a fire using dried human dung as fuel and then eat the bread.”

That is in the Bible, and I actually pre-planned that, but that is a real verse. That is a method, but I’m just not sure this is the best method.

I want to sincerely and very practically help you learn how to study the Bible. And when I tell you that this week and next week could be two of the most important weeks in your journey with God, that is not an overstatement. Please take this seriously because if you learn to study the Word of God, it can be one of the most important things you ever do, and it will be something no one can ever take from you.

I’ll start by giving five tips of how to study the Bible. Then, we’re actually going to apply those tips by studying the Book of Philemon.

Tips to Studying the Bible:

  1. CHOOSE A TRANSLATION THAT YOU UNDERSTAND. Let me demonstrate why this is important by having everyone read these two verses aloud together.
    Philemon 1:7-8
    7 For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. 8 Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient.

Wow, that was awkward. That didn’t make any sense at all. Why did that not make any sense? Tip number one, choose a translation you understand. That was the King James version. Nothing wrong with the KJ version, but we don’t talk like that anymore. When do you think the King James version was translated? In the year 1611. Do you think the English language has changed any since the year 1611? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s changed since this morning. I got a Gen Zer in my home, and they make us new words every day. So yes, language changes over time.

Remember, the original scriptures were written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Hebrew for instance can be a tricky language. One Hebrew word could mean up to seven English words. The Bible scholars who translate choose the best and most accurate words to fit the intended meaning of the scripture.

Look at verse 7. Back in 1611, people thought that humans felt emotions in their bowels. Today, people say we feel them in our heart. So a modern translation would take the original word and would translate it into a language today based on the original intent. There are over 450 known versions of the Bible in English alone. How in the world do you choose one?

I’ll tell you which ones I prefer and those that are most popular today. My top four are the New Living Translation (NLT), the New International Version (NIV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New King James (NKJ) and the English Standard Version (ESV). NIV, NLT, and NRSV would be on the side of more current language, accurate, but more like people speak today. NKJ and ESV are more on the very accurate side without being as current in the language. So I personally study NIV and NLT, and then I look at other versions to compare and dig deeper on particular words. In my opinion, those are all very strong translations. You can choose your own as you go, but we’re going to start with choosing a translation that we understand.

  1. CHOOSE A TIME, A PLACE, AND A PLAN TO STUDY THE BIBLE. I highly recommend, that you have a consistent time and place. It doesn’t really matter when or where, but consistency makes all the difference. If you don’t have a consistent time and a place, you’re not likely to do it. Personally, I prefer the morning because it starts your day with God’s Word. What better thing to have on your mind, setting your focus on Him, to get the day going. Now, if that’s not possible with your schedule, don’t make that your excuse to not read your Bible. There are still other times of the day to do it.

As for the place, just make sure it’s a place you like to be, a comfortable place, but not too comfortable you fall asleep. It might be your favorite chair, it might be your kitchen table with your morning coffee, or if you have kids maybe it’s the back of your closet where you can find peace and quiet.

As for the type of Bible, some prefer a paper Bible so you can write in it, feel it, and turn the pages. Others might only have time on a commute so they prefer to listen to an audio version. You might prefer digital because you have the Bible with you everywhere you have your phone. There are great study Bibles that you can use. Some of my favorites are the Life Application Study Bible, The Jeremiah Study Bible, and the Tyndale Chronological Study Bible. YouVersion is a free online option that also has an app for your phone, as well as BibleGateway.com.

You might go through a book of the Bible at a time or try a one-year plan. In the January newsletter, we started with a chronological order plan to read the Bible in one year. You could use a devotional book that gives you scriptures to look up and a reflection story to read along with it, like the Daily Bread or Upper Room.

  1. UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT OF WHAT YOU READ. Context is so important. Let me give you an example. When my oldest son was a late teenager, I got mistaken for his girlfriend. Now you know as a mom, that made me feel young, so I didn’t let that one go for a while. But overall, he didn’t like it. In fact, for the longest time, he didn’t want to be seen with just me at school functions like football games and so forth because he was afraid all the girls his age would think I was his girlfriend. Context matters more than you can imagine.

Think about the big picture of the Bible. The Bible consist of 66 different books, written in three languages across three continents, over a 1500-year period by 40 different authors. It’s a collection of poems, prophecies, letters, laws, histories and accounts written by people inspired by God telling one unified story that shows us our need for Jesus and teaches us to become like Him.

When we understand what the Bible is, then we can begin to understand its context. To learn the context as we read along, there are three simple questions we can ask every time. Who wrote the book, to whom was it written, and what is its purpose?

Today we’re going to look at the context of the book of Philemon, then next week we’ll dive more into the story. Let’s try to gather the context of this book.

Philemon 1-2 NLT
1 This letter is from Paul, a prisoner for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. I am writing to Philemon, our beloved co-worker, 2 and to our sister Apphia, and to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church that meets in your house.
Who wrote the book and to whom was it written? The apostle Paul wrote the letter from prison to Philemon, a church leader, and Apphia, Archippus and the church that meets in Philemon’s house. What’s interesting here that we can see in the NIV that Paul calls himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus, instead of “Paul an apostle” like he does in almost every other letter he wrote. The reason he didn’t is because he doesn’t want to pull his official rank on his dear friend and co-worker, Philemon.

The purpose of this letter:
Philemon 4-11
4 I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

8 That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. 9 But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus. 10 I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. 11 Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us.

Onesimus was Philemon’s save who ran away to Rome, and by the providence of God, he meets Paul and Paul leads him to Christ. So Paul’s purpose of this letter was to encourage Philemon, the church leader and wealthy business owner, to forgive Onesimus, his runaway slave and accept him now as a brother in Christ.

This was a pretty big deal. If you dive in a bit using a study Bible you’ll find that slavery was widespread throughout the Roman Empire. Slavery has never been right, but in the early days, Christians did not have the political power to change the slavery system. Paul didn’t condemn or condone slavery, but he worked to transform relationships within that structure. At that time because there were so many slaves, if a slave owner didn’t deal with a rebellious slave, the slaves might revolt. So anytime a slave ran away, they could beat or even killed.

When you know this, it shapes the words you’re reading. Looking again at verse 4, do you think Paul is being sincere or is he buttering up Philemon because this is a lot to ask for? I don’t know, but I have to ask, what are Paul’s motives? Maybe he’s genuinely being sincere, maybe he’s buttering up, maybe both. But when you understand the context, you start to ask some very real questions, which leads me to the next tip.

  1. READ SLOWLY AND ASK QUESTIONS. The two biggest questions we should always ask of anything we’re reading in the Bible is, what does this say about God, and what is God saying to me? What does this say about the character, the nature, the goodness of God, and what is God saying to me?”

Paul says in verse 9 (NLT),
9 Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.

He’s saying, “I’ve been serving God for a long time and may be near the end of my life, and I’m in prison for Christ.” Is he using that as a little leverage? We don’t know for sure. He said it’s on these terms, “I appeal to you,” and watch what he calls Onesimus.

10 I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison.

This is massive because Onesimus likely stole from Philemon, runs to Rome, meets Paul. Paul leads him to Christ and now he’s saying, “I don’t see him as a slave, I see him as a son.” If you go a little deeper, you can Google the Greek language, you’ll find that Onesimus’ name means useful or profitable.

Verse 11 says, (ESV)
11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.

Other versions translate it as profitable. Paul is evidently using a play on words. He’s taking the name Onesimus, which means useful and he’s saying formerly he was useless. Now he’s useful, now he’s profitable.

So if I’m reading this and I’m asking, what is this saying about God, and what is God saying to me? Well, first thing that comes to mind is that God is pretty gracious. My life was formerly one thing, but now because of the grace of God, I’m something new, something better.

Another way to look at it would be that God took that thing that I didn’t want and made it profitable or useful. It’s instead of asking God why, you ask what. How is God maybe using something right now, that you don’t want in your life, to actually do something in or through you?

Since you’re all going to be back next week, I’m going to tell you that next week, this is going to come alive to you in an amazing way. Today, we’re setting it up. Next week, we’re going to see how studying the Bible in context, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can speak to you, can form you to the image of Christ, direct your steps, renew your mind, change your heart, make you more like Jesus, and literally change your life.
But you got to come back next week to get that. So let’s review, we’re going step by step, making it really practical. 1. We’re going to choose a translation you understand. 2. We’re going to choose a time, a place, and a plan to study the Bible. 3. We’re going to seek to understand the context. 4. Read slowly and ask questions.

  1. PRAY FOR GOD TO SPEAK TO YOU, AND APPLY WHATEVER HE SHOWS YOU.

God is writing your story. For many of us in this room our story is, “Formally I was lost, broken, and ashamed. But now I’ve been changed by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who makes all things new.”

God will take your story to a whole other level when you read His Word, as you feed on His living, active, powerful Word. God’s Word is Truth, and it’s the Truth that will set you free.

So my question for you is this. How many of you will pick a translation You understand? Pick a time and a place, open it up, study it every day this week and come back next week and see what God starts to do? Lift up your hands.

Ask God to speak to you. There are those of you, it’s time for new life. Your story’s about to change. Formerly you were this and now you are new. Formerly you were dead in your sins, but now you’ve been forgiven. So get to studying.