Serious Bible StudyPosted: December 17, 2008
(Posted by Dr. Jerry Bilkes)
Ps. 1:2. His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
Adolphe Monod, the godly French preacher (1802-1856), made a very sobering, yet beneficial comment on Bible study. He wrote: “We must acknowledge that in the beginning of the study of Scripture, there are many difficulties, and much obscurity. Some labour is necessary to dissipate them; and the mind of man is naturally slow and idle; and he easily loses courage, and is satisfied with reading over and over again, without penetrating further than the surface; and he learns nothing new; and the constant perusal of the same thing causeth weariness, as if the word of God was not interesting; as if we could not find some new instruction in it; as if it were not inexhaustible as God Himself. Let us ever beware of thinking these difficulties insurmountable. We must give ourselves trouble. For here, as in every part of the Christian life, God will have us to be labourers with Himself; and the knowledge of the Bible, and a relish for the Bible, are the fruit and recompense of this humble, sincere, and persevering study.”
Serious Bible study brings many benefits and blessings. The Word of God gives us a perspective that we do not hear around us in today’s world. Through the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God helps us understand ourselves. It provides security and stability. It enlightens our knowledge of God. It enflames our affections and renews our hope. It gives directions for our walk. It comforts us when afflicted. It goads us out of our complacency. It answers many of our questions. It reminds us that we live in a passing world and unveils to us a coming world. It sheds light upon our path. Many have regretted not spending more time in the Word; I’ve never heard anyone express regret for spending too much time in the Word.
Serious Bible study, however, does not come naturally and automatically. There are many hindrances around us. The world calls to our sinful hearts. Our vocations take much time and energy. Young parents are busy and tired. It can often be difficult to find a quiet time or place in our bustling homes and world. There are usually, however, even more hindrances within us. Our minds are easily distracted. Our hearts are hard and cold. The world attracts us. Complacency eats away at us. Even doubts can take hold of us and hinder profitable study. Furthermore, serious Bible study is not easy. The Bible is not easily read, like much of the literature around us. Its subject is loftier. It concerns spiritual realities, which our eyes can’t see, and which we may be unwilling to see. Many concepts are abstract; the language is sometimes difficult. There are verses and sometimes passages for which the meaning is not immediately clear. Serious Bible study is challenging.
The Basic Posture
When studying the Bible, our basic posture should be that of Samuel: “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:9). The Puritans called this the practical reading of Scripture. Wilhelmus à Brakel says a Christian should place himself before the Lord “with a humble, hungry, and submissive spiritual frame … while reading slowly and thoughtfully as if hearing the voice of God, and subjecting himself to the Holy Spirit to operate upon the heart as he reads. … Whenever there is a passage which has a special power upon the heart, such a person pauses in order that this Scripture might have its effect in the heart. Then he prays, gives thanks, rejoices, and is filled with amazement—all of which revive the soul and stimulate it to obedience.”
It seems to me there should be four elements in our basic posture to the Word of God.
1. We should pore over the Word of God in the conviction that this isthe Word of the living God, who has made us and everything for Himself.
2. We should pray that the Lord would open our eyes and heart to His Word.
3. We should purpose in our heart to obey through grace all that God commands in His holy Word.
4. We should progress in understanding the meaning and claim of the Word.
For the Christian, Bible study is not optional. Just as we starve physically, when we don’t eat, we starve spiritually when we live from bread alone. The Christian will want to study God’s Word. Those who have been born again by the Word, will return to the Word for food. They will desire “its sincere milk.” They will find it an instrument for “growth” (1 Pet. 2:2), and who wants to stay small?
1. Plan a manageable routine. This routine will not be the same for everyone. Everyone should devise a routine that puts them in the Word, regularly and effectively. Consistency is key to success. Clearly, it is fruitless to make a plan that is impossible to keep up long-term. If you are single or older, you probably will have more time than a parent of young children would.
2. Have a back-up plan. Perhaps you plan to study the Bible in the morning before others get up. However, something gets in the way, try to make up for it later, for example at night or over lunch. If at the end of a busy week, you have fallen behind, try to use the Sabbath to catch up.
3. Exercise your understanding. Too often we are content to let our eyes glide over the words and if there is something that we recognize, we may pause and take it in, but otherwise we continue on. However, we should aim to understand the meaning of each verse and passage. We need to pay attention to the context. We need to think about the style and purpose of the text. We should stop often and ask the question: What does the gist of this verse or this passage? What are its implications? How can I be obedient to this?
4. Seek out a good Bible study with others. The obvious place to start is with your church. Often there are Bible studies for women, or men, or any an adult Bible class. Study the material beforehand so you can get more out of it. Such Bible studies can help you learn from others and keep you accountable. Sometimes there are also Bible studies in the community. Of course, you need to make sure the Bible study has a sound basis, and a solid leader. Look for a study that is not just feelings-based but where Reformed truth is recognized as truth. As fallen creatures whose understanding is flawed, we need more than just our feelings to guide us.
5. Use sound and faithful helps, when you need guidance. The Ethiopian eunuch needed Philip as a guide into the Scriptures. We live in a day when there are more good Bible study materials and commentaries than ever before in the history of the world. Have a few trusted sources like Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, John Calvin, J. C. Ryle, and others to help guide you when you have questions.
6. Take notes. Consider keeping a spiritual journal with notes about the passage. Some of the things you could write down are the meaning of the chapter, any questions you may have, any specific verses you wish to memorize, or the lessons you are taking away. The next time you speak with a friend or minister, you could even ask him some of the questions for which you have not been able to find an answer. You can also expand this journal with other things that you wish to remember about your day. You could jot things God has brought you in His providence, the names of people for whom you wish to intercede, etc. The Puritans understood the idea of “counting our days” (Ps. 90:12) to imply that we should take stock of what God has taught us and brought to us each and every day. For that reason, many of them kept a kind of spiritual diary.
7. Continue meditating throughout the day. It is very fruitful to take a thought and verse and meditate on it for the rest of the day while you are driving, walking, or working. When Psalm 1 says that the godly man meditates day and night, it doesn’t mean he is reading the Bible every hour of the day and night. Rather, it means that he reads the Bible regularly, and then ruminates on the truth of it throughout the day and night, as often and as much as it is possible and profitable.
May God grant that our generation would be serious students of the Word of God.