It amazes me how often I am asked this question, and much of the time it is by sisters who have been Christians for several decades. It warms my heart to see sisters in every phase of their life desire a deeper understanding of God’s Word. Oftentimes these women are concerned and afraid that because they are not Greek scholars, and have not been through formal Bible training, they cannot have a deep understanding of God’s Word. This cannot be further from the truth! I believe that by asking eight simple questions, anyone can have a rich, “meaty” understanding of God’s Word.
When we approach God’s Word, we must put ourselves aside and make a concentrated effort to keep our own pre-conceived ideas out of the way. – Lacy Crowell
1. Why am I reading my Bible?
When we approach Scripture looking to further prove what we already believe (a tendency I know I have sometimes), it becomes very easy to proof-text without even realizing we are doing it. “Of course this is what this passage means; it’s what I’ve always been taught.” For example, many members of the church have an automatic assumption that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are specifically dealing with the worship assembly, and have developed their beliefs accordingly. When we read these passages, it is with this belief in the back of our minds. However, if we make sure we are approaching God’s Word with an open mind, for the purpose of learning what He has to say to us, it makes it much easier to see that these passages are actually dealing with our daily lives. When we approach God’s Word, we must put ourselves aside and make a concentrated effort to keep our own pre-conceived ideas out of the way.
2. When am I reading?
I have sometimes promised myself to read my Bible before bed every day. Instead, I found myself reading as I fell asleep simply to “put my time in.” This was hardly accomplishing the goal I wanted. Trying to get up early and study before the kids get up didn’t work very well for me either. So for me personally, I have found that studying during nap time works best. Regardless of when it is, strive to find a time each day that you can spend in Bible study where you are alert enough to comprehend what God has to say to you.
The next six questions deal more specifically with the passage you are going to be reading, and how to gain the most from it. Sometimes we take the common sense approach to things and throw it out the window, fearing that it won’t be sufficient to understand Scripture. We must remember that most of the New Testament is a compilation of letters written to people just like us, but they were typically only educated to age 13. We can understand this!
Who is the writer, and who are they writing to? While this question will typically not impact the actual meaning of the Scripture, it can bring us to a deeper understanding of what God wants to say to us. For instance, Galatians becomes much richer when we read it understanding that it was written by the apostle Paul to a combination of Gentile and Jewish Christians. When he speaks of the differences between grace and law, he speaks of a struggle that he himself has already overcome, and one that is deeply rooted in many of their familial roots.
What does the context say? Sometimes without even realizing it, we take a scripture and make it say things it was never intended to say. For example, look at Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” This scripture is often used to say that any time a group of Christians gathers together, it’s an assembly and Christ is present. But what does the context say? What do the surrounding verses tell us? In this section of Matthew 18, Jesus is teaching on the very difficult topic of how to deal with an erring brother. This verse is meant to encourage those carrying out the process by assuring them of Christ’s presence even in their time of distress. By looking at the context surrounding whatever passage we’re studying, we can easily avoid misusing scripture.
When was it written, what was going on at the time? Once again, this question will rarely affect what a passage teaches, but it can give us a richer understanding. It means so much more when I read Philippians 4:11-12 understanding that Paul was actually in prison when he wrote it: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” When he encourages me to be content in whatever situation I find myself, he fully understood the difficulty of what he was teaching.
Where was it written to, where was it written from? This is really fun to look into, particularly in the book of Acts. I have a lot of fun studying Acts, keeping in mind that it was being written by Luke. It’s so neat because as you go throughout the book with the verb tenses bouncing back and forth between first and third person. Much of the time, Luke was traveling with the apostles as he was documenting their teachings; other times he was sharing what had been reported back to him. As another example, how differently do we view the epistles of John when we understand that they were being written from his isolation on the isle of Patmos? He had given up everything but his life for the cause of Christ, yet he was encouraging others to stay strong in their faith. What an example!
Why was this passage written? This is probably one of the questions that is most vital to ask as it affects our understanding the most. What was the writer trying to accomplish? Was his goal to teach? To edify? To address an issue? For instance, John 20:31 reads, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John specifically tells us why he is writing; it’s so that we will believe in Christ. Therefore, as we read through the book of John, we need to ask ourselves how what is written will help us in our belief and accomplish John’s goal.
Another reason this is important is to be able to know what is specifically applicable to us today. Many times people brush off Biblical teachings they are uncomfortable with by saying that they were cultural. I recommend extreme caution with this. If it is not clear by the context that the writer is talking to a specific group of people at a specific time, I would hesitate to say that a teaching is cultural.
As an example, many people claim that Paul’s teachings about women’s role in 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 are simply a reflection of the culture of the time and Paul’s personal feelings about women. The problem is that there is no textual evidence for this argument at all, and in fact Paul shows he is not against women in Galatians 3:28.
How does it affect my life? It does us no good to study the Word if we don’t take the final step and make practical application to our lives. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” If we are not studying God’s Word with these principles of application in mind, we are doing ourselves a tremendous disservice.
God’s Word is a wondrous, beautiful thing. It is our direct communication from the Creator of the Universe! Studying it is not meant to be daunting or scary. God understands us better than we understand ourselves and the whole purpose of Scripture is to bring us into a right relationship with Him, so that we can spend eternity in Heaven. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” He intends for every one of us to be able to understand and apply His Word. It is my prayer that these eight practical tips will make it easier to read and understand God’s Word the way He intended for us to.