How to Read the Bible Diligently

Bible-copyDo you remember your very first Bible? Mine was a gift from my grandfather. I must have been six or seven years old. It was a hard back. It had a red cover. It was small. It had thin pages and tiny script. But that didn’t matter because it was unreadable anyway. On the occasions, I tried, I had absolutely no idea what I was reading. It was a closed book. King James could keep his Bible. Without the Holy Spirit illuminating the text, it was like reading a sundial by moonlight. It was dull and gave the wrong time. At senior school, I encountered the Revised Standard Version (RSV) in RE lessons. This was marginally better but I was more interested in the line drawings and maps than the text itself.

At University, when I became a Christian, the Bible came to life. And I wanted a copy just like the guy who led me to Christ. It didn’t do much for my spelling because it was the New American Standard Bible (NASB) but at least it had a readable font, the sentences went right across the page like a real book and it had cross references that kept me occupied for hours. The fashion was to cut off the hard cover of your Bible and glue on a piece of off-cut leather, or denim from a pair of old jeans. With long hair we walked around campus, bear foot, carrying the kind of Bible John the Baptist must have had.  I thought it would be cool to underline passages that spoke to me and so I used a highlight pen. The only problem was it bled through to the other side and pretty soon I was underlining most of the text. Then I discovered my pastor had a wide margin, loose leaf Bible, so he could add his notes and make it look like he was preaching straight from the Bible. So I wanted one like him too. I bought a loose-leaf Bible and began adding his sermon notes in the margins and on extra pages. But I gave up because my writing wasn’t that good and there wasn’t enough room in some passages anyway. Eventually I upgraded to a black leather New International Version Study Bible (NIV) and I decided not to write anything in it. And that’s been my companion through three editions for the last 25 years.

If you don’t own a Study Bible and you are serious about growing in Christ, I recommend you invest in one. The Life Application Study Bible is also good. And if you want a Bible for daily devotions, go for the One Year Bible which provides you with an OT, NT, Psalm and Proverb for each day and you will read the Bible in a year. 

In our sermon series on the Privileges of Church Membership, today we are thinking about how to read the Bible diligently. Please turn with me to 2 Timothy 3:10-17.

  1. Why should I read the Bible diligently?
  2. How can I read the Bible diligently?
  3. What will reading the Bible diligently achieve?
  1. Why should I read the Bible diligently?

 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

That little expression “God breathed” in verse 16 is very significant.  This is the only time these two words appear together in the whole Bible. “Theo pneustos” literally means God breathed. This idea appears many times in the Bible. Moses, for example, reminded God’s people,

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

“every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” is indeed “God breathed.” When Jesus was tempted by the devil he quoted this verse.

God provides for our physical need for food. God provides for our spiritual needs as we read the Scriptures.  How has God’s word come to us? Jesus promised His apostles,

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26).

This is how God breathed through the Prophets and Apostles to record His revelation. The Apostle Peter describes the process he personally experienced.

“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Peter 1:21)

The image is of a ship being blown along by the wind.

This is why we need to be intentional in our daily reading of the Bible.  The Bible is not a collection of fables, myths, or even people’s ideas about God. Through the Holy Spirit, God revealed Himself fully and finally in Scripture. His messengers wrote down the maker’s instructions. This process is known as ‘inspiration’.  They wrote from their own personal, historical, and cultural contexts.

Although they used their own minds, talents, language, and style, they wrote precisely what God wanted them to. Because the Bible is inspired it is also infallible – without error. So we must read the Bible carefully because it is God’s inspired and infallible word. And because this book is God’s word, we should not be surprised that it is like no other book on earth. It is supernatural. I discover it is not me reading the Bible. God is reading me through the Bible.

“The word of God is living and active sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

That’s why Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Why should I read the Bible diligently? Because it is God’s living and active Word. Our daily food, a light to guide us. It is literally God breathed.
It is unique, authoritative, inspired, infallible.

  1. How can I read the Bible diligently?

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance… But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17)

The first observation?  we will learn little in isolation and much from other people. As much from those who obey God’s word as from those who don’t. We won’t develop convictions from theories but we will by seeing God’s word transform people’s lives as well as the consequences in the lives of those who reject or resist the Maker’s instructions. When we encounter Jesus in other people we never remain unaffected. Timothy learnt from his grandmother and his mother. Their relationship with Jesus drew Timothy to Jesus also. The Apostle Paul points to the work of Jesus in his life as well. He invited Timothy to reflect on his walk with Jesus and to follow him.

Who inspires you? Who motivates you? And what is it that inspires you to follow Jesus like them?  Paul goes on to outline the value of scripture. They are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” This is why we emphasize expository preaching at Christ Church. Simple explanations, clear outlines, meaningful illustrations and relevant application.
The Bible is God preaching. Charles Swindoll says, “If there’s a mist in the pulpit, there’s a fog in the pew!”

The scriptures are not simply good advice or useful tips for a happy life. Earlier in his letter Paul instructs Timothy,

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:14-15)

How can we “correctly handle the word of truth”?

How do you handle anything carefully to avoid dropping it? With all five fingers. One way to remember this is to imagine your five fingers represent the need to Hear, Read, Study, Memorize and Meditate on the Bible. We need to hear Gods Word spoken and preached, we need to read it for ourselves, to study it carefully, to memorize key verses diligently and to meditate slowly and deliberately.  Christian meditation is not about emptying your mind but filling it.  Take time to reflect upon God’s word worshipfully, devotionally, conversationally. That’s true meditation. I use a very simple Bible study method which helps me handle the Bible correctly. It will revolutionise your reading and transform your study of Scripture. This approach to Bible study can be summed up in three words: Observation, Interpretation, Application.

Take a sheet of paper, turn it landscape and draw two vertical lines making three columns. Write ‘Observation, Interpretation and Application at the top of each column, along with the passage you are studying. In the first column make some observations. Ask “Where? How? Who? When? and What does the text say?” Ask what is the ‘big idea’? Observe whether the passage is history, doctrine, parable, prayer, liturgy. Learn to observe the passage. Once you have listed some observations turn them into questions in the second column. Interpretation asks “Why. Why does the text say this?” Why now? Why here? Why in this order?  Don’t ask the question ‘why’ before you have answered the question ‘what’. Look for meaning, implications, significance. And it doesn’t matter if you have a list of unanswered questions.

That just means your brain is warming up. Pray and ask God to give you the same illumination of the Holy Spirit as he gave those who were inspired to write the scriptures in the first place. A good Study Bible will have a cross reference index and answer most of your questions.
Let scripture answer scripture in concentric circles – first look in the same chapter, then the book as a whole,

then other books of the Bible. When you have begun to make some observations and begun to understand the meaning of a passage, the third step is application. Application asks “How does the text apply to me?” The acrostic ‘SPACE’ is a helpful reminder.

Sins to confess?
Promises to claim?
Actions to take?
Commands to obey?
Examples to follow?

Why should I read the Bible diligently?
How can I read the Bible diligently?

  1. What will reading the Bible diligently achieve?

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on God’s word is intended to “equip you for every good work.”  That is what we were saved for.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,

which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We must become doers and not just hearers of the word.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24).

Jesus also promised God’s blessing comes from obeying the truth. He said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17). Rick Warren says “The truth will set you free, but first it may make you miserable!” That’s because God’s Word exposes our motives, points out our faults, rebukes our sin, and inspired the desire to change. It’s human nature to resist change, so applying God’s Word is hard work. This is why it is so valuable to discuss what you are learning with other people. I cannot overstate the value of being a part of a small Bible study discussion group. We always learn from one another, truths we would never learn on our own. Other people will help you see insights you would miss and help you apply God’s truth in a practical way. Our brothers and sisters will hold us accountable and motivate us to follow Jesus together

The best way to become a “doer of the Word” is to write out an action step as a result of your study of God’s Word. Develop the habit of writing down exactly what you intend to do. This action step should be:

  • personal (involving you),
  • practical (something you can do), and
  • provable (with a deadline to do it).

Every application will involve either your relationship to God, your relationship to others, or your personal character. We have discovered that all scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting and for training, for what?  What’s the point? “So that God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”. (2 Timothy 3:17).
In other words, the Word of God equips us for work.

The better we know the Bible, the better we will serve Him and please Him.  Is that your desire?  Then let us make a pact today with God.  Let us be intentional and read, mark , learn and inwardly digest the scriptures so that we are equipped for every opportunity, every challenge, every good work the Lord has prepared for us to do. With the inauguration of Donald Trump this weekend as the President of the United States, a new era for our world has dawned.

Will it be founded on the Scriptures? Is our own country? What about your family? As we reflect on what we have learnt today about the importance of reading the Bible diligently, I am reminded of a quote by John Adams, the second President of the United States. It gives an insight into the importance of the Bible in his own life and his vision for the world. In his diary entry dated February 22, 1756, John Adams wrote:

“Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love and reverence toward Almighty God…What a Utopia, what a Paradise would this region be.”

Lets pray.