What has happened to the preaching of the Word of God with integrity? It seems that sound doctrine and Biblical study has been replaced with Google-searching a phrase to make your own point.
I saw a sermon from a man who used the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 to say that “Jesus was a capitalist”. He used verses 15 and 16 to serve as the substance of the parable which teaches “investment” and so on and so forth.
Jesus opens the meaning of this parable to us plainly in verses 14, 29 & 30. This parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven (v14) and God’s giving and taking away of gifts to men (v29) and the punishment of the unprofitable servant (v30). Certainly one could preach a great wealth of revelation from the depths of these parables, I do not deny that, but the wealth of these revelations will certainly be within the context of its plainer meaning.
It’s not my intention to pick apart this teaching and show why I don’t believe this parable has anything at all to do with political systems of men, nor to teach about what this parable means. Rather, I wanted to go from this example of scripture-theft into the topic of Biblical study.
So I want to offer some suggestions for sound study of the Word of God.
Studying the Word of God
Everything I’m going to say is predicated on the believer spending quality time in the Word and in prayer. Unless we are acquainted with the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will always be dependent on teachers of men and become subject to error.
Understanding these principles, I now want to give some suggestions on Biblical study:
1. Read or listen to a letter or book of the Bible straight through.
The Word of God was presented to us by the Holy Spirit as a whole; each letter was divinely inspired as it is written to compose and embody truth precisely as He wished to declare it. The early disciples gave specific attention to the “public reading of scripture”. That is why I believe that the best practice to begin study of the scriptures is to read or listen through the whole book first until you’re able to know the primary purposes of the letter. I think it’s a very fruitful practice for churches to do this in their public reading of the scripture.
During this time the Holy Spirit has been present to reveal and teach a great deal to me because this is a time when it is just the plain word of God being spoken; there are no hindrances of man-made doctrines.
This is a time when you will be able to see the context of a given book as a whole. There are some books where the context is clear and others where it is vague or more difficult to see, but the structure of the book will still become clear in this practice.
When you understand the flow to a book, such as the book of Romans, you will have anchors for understanding its finer parts. Reading and listening to a whole book of the Bible (I suggest both reading and listening) may be a new practice, but the clarity it brings is refreshing and enlightening!
2. Learn to rightly divide the scriptures.
Everyone has heard about “context” and how important it is to understanding the Bible; we rely upon context when trying to make important financial decisions, we depend on it for our daily communication with friends, family, and coworkers, and we instinctual look for context when trying to understand a difficult statement or set of directions, yet, for some reason, it is often one of the first principles of Biblical integrity that is tossed out the window at the earliest sign of inconvenience.
Context is the surrounding influences upon the passage being read; passages can either be directly linked through immediate context, or indirectly linked through sub-contexts. One passage may be in context of God’s judgment, but it may have a sub-context that relates to His divine sovereignty.
This is why I encourage brothers (especially younger brothers) to nurture a broad perspective of the scriptures first because this will help protect them from the temptation of trying to take scripture out of context to suit their own whims.
When talking about “context”, we are talking about “rightly dividing the Word”: this is done through careful study and revelation of God’s Word. Consider 1st Corinthians 2 as it pertains to our ability to rightly divide God’s Word and understand its spiritual principles; the scriptures cannot be rightly divided unless you are first been born of the Spirit and have crucified your flesh with Christ; wherever the carnal nature exerts influence upon our interpretation of the scripture, we are sure to go astray.
Once we have a broad understand of God’s word, we should then begin to dig deeper and learn the various contexts in which different passages interact with one another; for example, when we read Romans 7:13-25, can we identify its context and associate it with the scriptures that can help us understand it properly? In this example, most people read this passage by itself, completely removed from chapters 5-8. What is the result? Most people use this passage to justify the co-existence of bondage to sin in the believers life (which is diametrically opposed to not only its immediate context, but the whole context of salvation in Christ).
This is why chapter and verse markings, though very useful, are not always accurate indicators of context, nor are they meant to be. The gospels are not so difficult to mark up, but books like Romans and Revelation can be very difficult, and there are some places where I believe the chapter and verse markings have contributed to misunderstandings because many people stop at the chapter and mentally start over at the next.
3. Learn to spend your time in prayer and always ask the Lord to teach you.
The scriptures themselves tell us that the Spirit will be our teacher, yet how many times do we wait upon the Lord to be our teacher?
There is no specific time frame for prayer. I expect you will probably have seasons when you are praying more than others, though prayer should never cease to be a constant in your life.
But in understanding the Word of God, it’s most critical that you have the faith and patience to ask God to teach you the meaning of the scriptures. Quite often when people have questions about the Bible they will jump to Google or a “trusted commentary”. Learning to regurgitate or parrot other ministers of God is not equivalent to receiving a knowledge of the truth; there are great men of God, and they may be used by God to reveal things to you initially, or strengthen truths within you, but the true growth of the Christian is in the process that happens when the Holy Spirit teaches something to you and implants it deeply within your heart.
This is why it’s one of my goals in teaching to bring as accurately as possible to those I preach to the Word of God so that the Holy Spirit will move in the heart of faith to plant the Word and bring the increase. Thus says the Lord, “one plants, one waters, but the increase is the Lord’s”. If you rely on man for the increase in maturity in your soul, you will be found lacking because that is the Lord’s.
4. Learn to cross-reference.
This is a very close cousin to #2.
Learning how scriptures from all across God’s word interact with one another is called “cross-referencing”. Cross-referencing provides the steps that allow you to descend deeper into God’s word without breaking the revelation His word has for us.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone improperly cross-reference one passage with another only to find themselves in a total dead-end. They completely “missed the meaning” of the passage. That is what I call “breaking revelation”; inserting meaning that was not contained in that passage will dull your understanding of what it is trying to say.
Here’s an example: sometimes someone will receive genuine heart-enlightening revelation of one part of the character and nature of God, such as His sovereignty, so, in their exuberance, they will then begin to try and force every scripture through the lens of that revelation. If someone does this without first having learned how to understand context (what we talked about in #2), it is possible to break revelation by doing this (1 John 1:7, for example, would be related to God’s sovereignty, but as a sub-context; the immediate contexts there are fellowship, faithfulness, and sanctification).
Another example can be found when someone reads a book of doctrine written by another man and they are so impressed by what a man said that they begin to use that lens to interpret all scripture, whether or not that was God’s intended purpose for what they are reading. Of the two examples, this is by far the worst and most destructive case.
So it is important for us to learn how the scripture relates with itself.
5. Iron sharpens Iron.
This is where fellowship is a critical tool in Bible study. Do you have a brother or sister that is a sound man or woman of God that can help sharpen you and to whom you are willing to listen, even when you’re confronted?
You are in dangerous waters when you have no one that you can receive correction from and help sharpen your understanding of God’s word with. Please understand I’m not saying you will never find yourself in this position (I have), but, if you do find yourself in this position, be on guard, for you are in dangerous waters filled with snares of pride, arrogance, and bitterness. Though there are legitimate times when you are in a position where no one is able to exhort, admonish, teach, correct, or rebuke you, these are times when you should be on your highest guard and they are times when you need to be praying that Godly fellowship will be added to you so that you receive from the body what God intended every joint to supply.
I’d only like to mention that it has not been my personal experience that debate serves to fulfill this function. Perhaps it is to each his own, but, in my experience, and in everything I can see from the scriptures that teaches us about spiritual fellowship, debating with a brother is not healthy. Usually that is when people get entrenched in their positions, or the debate becomes intellectual/academic and very little good comes from either of those practices because the Word of God did not come to us either from the intellect or academia, and there’s no indication that has changed.
6. Perseverance is key to running this race.
“There are many hard things” in the scriptures to understand (2 Peter 3:16). Do not be discouraged, for even the apostle Peter recognized this fact. Through responsible diligence taken to ensure the integrity of your doctrine and patience, the Lord will reveal all things to you in good time.
I’ve found that, just as with prayer, there are seasons in my life where I am immersed in daily scripture reading even more than other times. Although this should be a constant in your life, just as prayer is, there may be times when you are even more immersed in it than others. It is part of the grace of God that you grow in His knowledge and learn to discern with righteous discernment.
Therefore, persevere in your study of the scriptures and do not quit. If you need rest from a certain study, rest elsewhere in the scriptures. If the book of Daniel overwhelms you, rest in another book, and perhaps God will draw you again to Daniel later after you’ve received a missing part of the foundation that you needed to understand Daniel.
Once while reading in 1st Kings I began to get bogged down in chapters 5-7 (the procedures and dimensions of the Temple and other buildings that Solomon built). I almost gave up because I just wasn’t getting anything out of it. I thought perhaps of taking my own advice above and started to go over to Daniel to read, but the Holy Spirit did not give me any peace about that.
So the next day I returned again to 1st Kings and prayed for God’s help in studying the scriptures and by His grace He revealed something in which a deep sense of awe and speechlessness came over me! I was floored.
Persevere in your study and do not give up, for the Lord reveals Himself to those who diligently seek Him!
7. Not only hearers of the Word, but Doers of the Word.
One of the worst habits you can involve yourself in is the habit of hearing the Word but not immediately going out and doing it. This is one of my biggest concerns with seminaries today because many of them involve their students in study of great quantities of scripture, yet, without involving them in very much practice of the scriptures.
What does the scripture say about becoming hearers and not doers of the word? James 1:21-25 provides us an understanding that those who are hearers only, and not doers, have deceived themselves and become forgetful of what kind of man (that is, a new creation) that he is to be.
The danger in reading the word and not doing it is great; you will deceive yourself and you will forget your sanctification by which you were saved in Christ Jesus.
I’ve heard it rightly pointed out that there is a troubling lack of obedience to the Word in young pastors today; and that goes equally for those who are not pastors. If you want to spare yourself from the deadly forces we see at work today, ensure that what you read in the Bible translates into obedience in your life.
You need to pursue scriptures until they translate into transformation and obedience in your life through the Holy Spirit! Immerse yourself in the scriptures and you will find that you are washed clean by the “washing of the water of the word”. By the way, that is a glorious subject to study if you want to study what it means to be “washed by the water of the Word”.
It’s my hope that these suggestions will be of benefit to my brethren; I hope that we will all receive a true knowledge of the Truth and be able to discern righteously.
Grace and peace, Amen!