Wk4 – How to Study the Bible Part 2

Wk4 – How to Study the Bible Part 2

According to the Word of God, the Word of God is a:

  • sword that pierces (Hebrews 4:12).
  • It’s a light that shines (Psalm 119:105).
  • It is a mirror that reveals (James 1:23).
  • The Word of God is a path to purity (Psalm 119:9).
  • It is a meal that spiritually nourishes you (1 Timothy 4:6).
  • It’s a seed that reproduces (1 Peter 1:23).
  • The Word of God is a fire that consumes (Jeremiah 23:29).
  • It’s a defense against temptation (Psalm 119:11).
  • It is the source of all of our faith (Romans 10:17).
  • The Word of God is the truth that lives forever (Isaiah 40:8).

Today, we are opening up the Living Word of God. Over the last month, we’ve been exploring this book that you have access to that many people around the world don’t. In fact, you may or may not know that being a disciple of Jesus in some parts of the world is illegal. There are severe persecutions for being a Christian, even to the point of death. In those cases, if they can get their hands on even a single page of the Bible, they’ll secretly gather with a small group of followers of Jesus to read the Word, to memorize the Word, to internalize the Word because they don’t have access to God’s Word.

And yet, we live in a place where we have free access anywhere, anytime. I mean, you can go to most hotels and open up the nightstand drawer and there’s a Bible. If you got a grandma, chances are on her coffee table, there’s a Bible on it as big as the coffee table. If you have a smart phone, iPad, or computer, you have access to free Bibles. And yet, so many Christians take the Word of God for granted. Why don’t we value, read and study God’s Living Word?

There’s lots of reasons. We know there’s a lot of people that don’t believe in God or believe that His Word applies to their life. There are people who have tried to read it and got bored. But I would suggest that the main reason people, especially Christians, don’t read the Bible is they just don’t really understand how to do it.

This is why we’ve been exploring what the Bible is, learning how it is reliable, and how to study it. Today, we’re going to continue to study the Bible using the book of Philemon. But before we begin, I want to give you a foundational thought to prepare ourselves to study the Bible. It’s important to understand that the Bible is meant to transform us, not just to just inform us. Knowledge is good, but Scripture actually says, “knowledge puffs up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1 tells us that while knowledge makes us feel important, it’s love that strengthens the church.

So knowledge is good, but the Bible isn’t just a book we study to have knowledge. It’s a book that transforms us. Pastor and author, Rick Warren once said, “The Bible should give us a bigger heart, not a bigger head.” I like that, and that’s why we’re going to apply what the Bible says in James 1:22 when James told us, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Let’s review what we covered last week, and then go a little bit deeper this week.

Last week, I shared five tips to get you started in studying the Bible.

  • Choose a translation you understand.
  • Choose a time, a place, and a plan to study.
  • Understand the context because context matters more than you can imagine.
  • Read slowly and ask questions.
  • Pray for God to speak to you, and then apply what He shows you.

Let’s assume you were here last week, and you’ve got what you need. You should have a translation that you understand. If you did what we talked about for the last seven days, you’ve been studying God’s Word and hopefully, you’re developing a habit around a specific time and place. It might be morning before you go to work, or it might be in the evening after you get the last kid to bed. It might be in the car on your way to work that you can listen to.

The place might be at your kitchen table with your coffee or on your favorite chair. Whenever and wherever it is, you’ve got a Bible, a place and a time. And lastly, this is really important, you also have a plan, a plan in how you’re going to read and how you’re going to study. Maybe you’re still exploring the best plan for you, and that’s okay.

Now I’m going take a little pressure off you. Your Bible study time does not have to be Instagrammable. You know what I’m talking about? It does not have to be at the coffee shop with the Bible laid out perfectly for the perfect photo op to say look how holy I am. It doesn’t have to be anything like that. It doesn’t have to be a specific amount of time. One day, it might be an hour. The next day, it might be seven minutes. There’s not a specific time limit you have to put on it. But you want to put into it as much as you have that works for you. The only plan that is a bad plan is no plan at all.

So what I want to do is give you just five different ways to start studying God’s Word.

You can study a book of the Bible. But where? Well, let’s say you want to get to know the story of God, the beginning of His story where you can read Genesis and Exodus is a great place. Maybe you want to read about Jesus and you want to get to know Him. There’s four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They’re all good, but I recommend starting with John as a foundation of the Gospel.

Maybe you’re dealing with difficult people in your life right now, or you’re trying to learn to manage your money, or you need to learn to handle your tongue, in other words you need some wisdom. Read Proverbs or the book of James. They’ll give you very practical insight into how you deal with everyday life.

Maybe you’re hurting and you need some comfort, you want to cry out to God, or you want more of a devotional time with God and be in prayer, or you want to worship God. The Psalms are a great place for that.

Let’s say that you want to go deeper in theology. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for many years, or maybe you’re a brand new Christian, but you want to understand more about sin, forgiveness, repentance, and the Gospel. Read the book of Romans. It is not light reading, but it is life changing.

You can study a person in the Bible. You could study Ruth, Elijah, or if you feel bad about yourself because you keep messing up, you can study Peter. He’ll make you feel better. Or you can study Esther or Deborah. Why would you want to study Esther or Deborah? Because God used women to do some pretty awesome things in the Bible.

You can study a topic in the Bible. You can go to the concordance in the back of your Bible and look up almost every topic under the sun. Or you could go to an app like the YouVersion Bible, type in a topic and it will bring up scriptures that lead you to read about that topic.

For example, maybe you’re dealing with mental health issues. You look up anxiety, and you’ll find scriptures about casting your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

You can do a daily devotional. What would be a daily devotional? There are a lot of good books you could use like “Jesus Calling.” It’s kind of a classic that a lot of people read. Check out our church library for some examples. The Daily Bread or Upper Room are also great. You could use online options like the YouVersion Bible app or join the morning Wake-Up Call from Seedbed.com and have one emailed to you every morning.

You can read through the whole Bible. If this is something you have already done, switch it up and read a different version. A good way to do this is by using a “One Year Bible” that breaks it down and gives you a way to stay on track. This plan is not one that you will be done with in just 10 minutes a day, but it’s so worth it if you want to go through the Bible.

The bottom line is, have a good plan. If your plan isn’t working, change it up. Do something else. There are so many options. The key is when you wake up tomorrow, you already know when you’re going to study, where you’re going to study, and what you’re going to study.

So we have a good translation, a time, a place, and a plan. Now let’s go back to Philemon, and we’re going to study it. The first thing we need to know whenever we’re going to study a book or a passage is the context. We’re going to ask the three primary questions: Who wrote it, to whom was it written, and what was the purpose?

Like a little pop quiz to see how close you paid attention last week, let’s try to answer these questions.

  • Who is the author of the book of Philemon? The answer is Paul.
  • Now, this was a trick question. To whom did Paul write the book of Philemon? The answer is Philemon.
  • Who was Philemon? We learned that Philemon was a successful business owner. We know that he was a leader of a house church that met in his home. We know that Paul actually led him to Jesus, and we know that Philemon had a slave.
  • Who remembers what the name of his slave was? Onesimus.
  • What did Onesimus do to Philemon? He likely stole something and then ran away.
  • Where did he run off to? Rome.
  • Who did he meet by the providence of God in Rome? He met the Apostle Paul when Paul was prison. What did Paul do? Paul led Onesimus to Christ.

So we’ve got a runaway slave who’s become a follower of Jesus, and Paul is now writing to Philemon. What was the purpose of the letter? Paul was asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus.

Paul tells Philemon that he has given Paul so much joy because of how Philemon loves all God’s people and that his kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people. So Paul says I know you’re going to do the right thing. Now either he was buttering him up a bit, or he was just being very sincere. We’re not sure, but he’s says I boldly ask you a favor. I could demand it of you, but because of our love for each other, I’ll just ask.

So we’ve got the context, and now we’re going to read slowly, and we’re going to see what God has to say to us. So while I read, listen for how God may be speaking to you.

Philemon 1:12 NLT Paul says,
12 I am sending him (Onesimus) back to you, and with him comes my own heart.

Imagine this conversation. Onesimus, you stole from Philemon, but now you’re a believer, and you need to go back and repent of your sins. Probably not going to be an easy thing to do. Remember the context of this. Do you remember what could happen to a slave who ran away? They could be severely beaten or even killed for doing so.

13 I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf.

I want to keep him so he stays alive, but I also want him to help me on your behalf. Remember last week, Paul said Onesimus is now useful. He’s valuable. Maybe Onesimus is getting Paul meals, maybe he’s delivering his letters to other Christians. We don’t know, but Onesimus is helping Paul. And Paul continues…

14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced.

Do you remember what Paul called himself when he introduced himself in this letter? He didn’t say an apostle like he almost always does. He said, “Paul, a prisoner for Jesus.” He wasn’t writing to force his will even though he had the apostolic rank. He was writing brother to brother, friend to friend. He’s saying I’m not forcing you, just asking you to do the right thing.

15 It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. 16 He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me.

If Onesimus has done you any wrong or owes you anything, Paul says charge it to me. Does this remind you of another story in scripture? Here’s a good place to start asking is God speaking to us. There’s a parable where a good Samaritan sees a man beaten and left to die along the road. He tends to the man’s wounds, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an inn, pays the bill and says, “If he owes anything else, I’ll come back and pay the bill. Charge it to me.” Paul says…

19 I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!

Now if you think about it, this sounds a little bit like what Jesus did for us. Paul says, “I’ll pay a debt that I don’t owe.” That reminds me of the Gospel.

One thing you can do when you come to a place like this, if you happen to have a cross-reference in your Bible (it’s in the middle of the pages), you can look up other verses that say something similar. So when I crossed referenced this part about someone else doing something for you and paying the bill, it actually took me to the Old Testament to Isaiah 53. Now, if I’m going to read Isaiah 53, I might want to know the context of Isaiah 53. Isaiah was written seven centuries before the birth of Christ, and in this chapter is one of the most famous prophetic verses prophesying about Jesus’ coming.

Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

In other words, He paid the price for the debt we owe. Whatever we needed He provided. And we see right here in Philemon, if there’s any charge, charge it to me. Now, as you read the Bible, remember the Bible isn’t about you. It’s never about you. It’s always to you, but it’s not about you.

The main story is always about God’s love for the world and His redemption through Jesus. The Bible isn’t about you, but since it’s for you, it’s not wrong and it’s not unwise to see yourself in the story and see what God would say to you. So as we’re reading Philemon, we have three main characters, and I would ask you of those three, which one do you relate to?

Paul, who’s taking a risk on someone. Onesimus, who needs forgiveness? Or Philemon, who’s being called to forgive. Which one of those three do you relate to at this time in your relationship with God? Now the crazy thing is, if you read this book once a year for three different years, three different times, God may speak to you in three different ways. One time you may be a little bit more like Paul. You’re called to take a risk on someone. There’s someone that you’re leading to Christ, or there’s someone that messed up and you’re loving them back into the fullness of God.

Another time you may be like Onesimus. You did something dumb. You lied to someone that you loved, you went back into that same old addiction that held you hostage, or you lost your temper. It’s something you regret, so what do you do? Well, you might go to the concordance at the back of your Bible and look up forgiveness. There it takes you to 1 John 1:9 which says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That hopefully will take you to your knees in a moment of holy repentance and you ask God for forgiveness. God then says, “You are forgiven,” and you stand up whole and forgiven, not because you deserved it, but because someone paid the debt you couldn’t pay.

Maybe you relate to Philemon. Remember, Onesimus betrayed him. Maybe someone hurt you. A friend talked behind your back, or someone that you trusted and admired lied or took advantage of you or let you down. As a Christian, you know you’re supposed to forgive, but maybe you don’t want to forgive. But then you read this book where Paul’s asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus and you remember the context. Onesimus stole, ran away, then he came back, and what would Philemon have had the right to do to Onesimus? Beat or kill him. But Paul said, “Don’t receive him as a slave, receive him as a brother. Forgive him, the slave that you owned and wronged you, forget all that, you don’t own him now. He’s a brother in the Lord. Love him like a brother.”

As you’re reading the book of Philemon, one time God may speak to you like you need to take a risk on someone, another time like you need to ask for forgiveness, and another time like you need to forgive someone in the same way that Jesus forgave you.

What did God show you in His Word today? Imagine if every day could you answer that? What did God show you about Himself, and what is God saying to you to do? Because the Bible is not meant to only inform us, but to transform us. If you’ll commit to knowing Him through His Word, He will speak to you, and conform you to the image of His Son a little more every day.

Now if you keep studying this story, you just might find a source outside the Bible talking about the Bible. Fast forward about 50 years from when this story took place, you’re going to come across a guy named Ignatius. Who was Ignatius? He’s a famous martyr, meaning he gave his life for the Gospel, and he was the bishop of Antioch. If you study about him, you’re going to find that he was very likely discipled by John. So this guy was a strong Christian who was discipled and wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus. And in his letter, he brags about the bishop of the churches in Ephesus. He calls the bishop a man of inexpressible love. He says the church is blessed by God to be blessed with such an excellent bishop. What do you think was the name of that bishop?

The name was Onesimus. Now we can’t prove it and were not sure, but scholars agree that that’s about the right age and the right time and 100% the right name of the runaway slave that was transformed by Jesus, a treasure to show you what is possible when God works in your life.

I love God’s Word. I need God’s Word. I crave God’s Word. I fell in love with God by reading His Word. And I want you to fall in love with who God is through His Word. There are people that will risk their life to get one page, and there are Christians who totally neglect it. But I’m asking you, if you are truly serious about being a disciple of Jesus, please make His Word a serious part of your life.

We’re about to move into a new month, last week was easy, seven days. This time, I’m going to ask you for a month. A time, a place, a plan to read the Bible every day for one month. That’s about how long it takes to establish a habit. If you bring the Word of God into your life, it will transform you in ways that you could never imagine and years later, you will look back and say, “I’m different. Not because I’m better, but because the Word of God is alive and it’s changed me.” Will you commit for one month to making God’s Word a part of your everyday life, and see what happens? If so, raise your hands? Let’s hold each other accountable.

Father, we thank You that You are the Word and that the Word became flesh and that the Word made His dwelling among us in the person of your Son, Jesus, the Living Word. God, would You create in us a spiritual hunger to feed on Your Word, to know You through Your Word, to honor You in how we live by the power of Your Word that doesn’t just inform us, but transforms us to the image of Your Son. Make us like Him through Your Word and by Your Spirit. God, I thank You that tomorrow there’s a whole bunch of us that are going to meet with you. We’ve got a time, a place, and a plan. And God, I thank You in advance for the way You’re going to speak to all of us. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.