Discovering the Word: The Ultimate Resource, Part 2

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: A man once dreamed that he was out walking in a vast desert when he heard a voice. "Pick up some pebbles and put them in your pocket, and tomorrow you will be both sad and glad." The man obeyed; stooping down, he picked up a handful of pebbles and put them in his pocket. The next morning, he reached into his pocket and found precious diamonds and rubies and emeralds. As foretold, he was both glad and sad - happy that he had taken some, sorry that he hadn't taken more. And so it is with God's Word.

The Word of God needs to be part of our lives. Sabbath morning study time is fine, but we need to spend more time with the Bible than once every seventh day. This will never happen, however, unless you make the decision to reserve regular time with the Lord in study and prayer.

Last summer, we devoted two issues of the Inside Report to learning how to pray, and that, I believe, was helpful to many. So now I want to concentrate on ways to study the Bible because many people still don't know how to receive the Word in their lives most effectively.

Life Instruction Manual
Someone said that "Bible" is an acronym for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Sure, it's a cliché, but the Bible is the operating manual given to us by our Creator, and many of us are having serious life-management problems because we're ignoring the basic instructions. Too many people are struggling in their personal lives, and they're being overcome because they are neglecting time in the Word.

Men are renowned for getting into trouble because they don't read the instructions or take time to ask for directions. As I've gotten older, I've discovered that you can save a lot of time and money simply by reading manuals. The people who made the bicycle know how to quickly assemble their product and operate it safely. It makes practical sense to read their instructions.

Imagine coming home with a brand-new computer. It's the latest and greatest from Silicon Valley, but suppose you don't know anything about how to use it. Before long, you're plugging the cables into the wrong sockets, not loading the software correctly, and on and on. When you finally turn it on, all you get are problems like error messages and the "blue screen of death."

How much more complicated is a human being than a computer? We need to know much more to live our lives correctly than what we need to know to use a computer! But so many see it the other way around, and it's why they're struggling with their lives and making bad decisions. Psalm 119:11 says, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You" (NKJV). So the Bible is a defense against sin, and because we are repeatedly tempted, we need to read these instructions frequently. We need to study them with all our hearts.

How to Study Scripture
But how do you study the ways of God? It's one thing to own a Bible; it's quite another thing to read it. How do you go about studying it? Is it really a locked book, filled with hidden codes? Do you need to have a degree or be a theologian to get its secret meanings? The answer is an emphatic "no!" And I say that because I'm exhibit A - living proof that you don't need to be a great professor of religion to grasp the Word.

When I first started reading the Bible, I was a high school dropout. Comparatively uneducated, not a great reader, and faced with a King James Bible, I was nevertheless able to understand what I read. God was able to speak to me through His Word, even though I didn't get everything straight the first time. Eventually, it became clear. And today, even after many years of studying, I am still blessed with new light when I read my Bible.

How did I do it? It's not a great mystery, and everyone else can do it too. I've outlined some basic principles that have proven very useful to me in studying the Bible. These ideas have changed my life and helped me to become an avid student of God's message. I have no doubt that if you apply these principles, you too will be able to understand, and your life will never be the same. How could it, when you are getting in touch with your Maker day by day?

Ask the Author
First of all, before you read the Scriptures, you should pray. A sincere prayer before you read is worth more than a long meandering prayer. The Bible is a divine book requiring divine guidance to understand it. The Lord says, "The word is Spirit and life." God's Spirit inspired the writing; God's Spirit needs to inspire the reading. We're told that spiritual things are spiritually discerned. That might seem like common sense, but most people try to read the Bible with their own feelings as the interpreter. They want the Bible to tell them what they want to hear; they want it to say what they want it to say. That won't work - imposing ourselves on what we read rather than allowing God's Spirit to impose on us what we need to understand. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

James 1:5 explains, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." We can expect God to give us wisdom while we're reading, especially when we with an earnest heart ask for His help. If you want to understand a book, who better to ask than the author? Sometimes you might read a passage in a book and ask yourself, "What did the writer mean by that?" Unfortunately, you can't call most authors to ask what they meant. But you can ask God. He can grant you perfect understanding because He wrote it.

Again and Again
John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, said, "Read the Bible and read it again. Do not despair of help to understand something of the will and the mind of God as if they are fast locked up from you. Neither trouble yourself though you may not have commentaries and expositions. Pray and read and read and pray for a little from God is better than a great deal from man."

Bunyan wrote one of the best-selling books of all time, but he was technically an uneducated man in the sense that he didn't have a lot of formal training. He didn't have a Ph.D. But he became a brilliant man through the devoted reading of Scripture. He read passages over and over again until they finally made sense. That's exactly what happened with me.

When a solider in some distant land gets a love letter from his girlfriend or wife, does he read it only once? I don't think so. No, he pulls out that piece of paper and reads it over and over again. He might even smell it and figuratively wrap himself up in her words of love and encouragement. He will search every word, every nuance, reading between the lines just to understand what his wife or girlfriend was truly saying. The Bible is a love letter from God to us; should we treat it with less interest?

Be Willing
Jesus said in John 7:17, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." One of the biggest keys to understanding God's message is having a willingness in your heart to accept and act on what you read. It is so important to ask, "Lord, help me apply the things I have read in your Word to my life."

Approaching God with a cynical curiosity will most likely lead to confusion and frustration. I have a theory that there are some things God does not allow us to understand because we are responsible for what we understand. Jesus said, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). If we aren't walking in the light He has already shone on our path, why should He give us more? It would just make us more culpable in the judgment.

Sometimes it can be hard to have that willingness to do what the Bible says, so you might even need to pray for God to make you willing. If nothing else, pray that He will make you willing to be made willing. Our carnal natures are in rebellion against God. Our sinful natures make us want to do sinful things, and we might not be that eager to surrender to what the Word of God tells us.

During the final illness of W.C. Fields, someone walked into his hospital room and found him reading the Bible. Because Fields was not exactly known for piety, the person asked, "Bill, what are you doing?"

"Looking for loopholes," he replied.

That's exactly the wrong attitude! You must approach the Word of God with a heart willing to obey its precepts. That will get you on the right road, as it put me on the right road. "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22). The biggest battle in comprehension we all face is a willing heart. Get your heart right with God, and your mind will follow.

Let It Speak for Itself
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Sometimes we over-spiritualize basic things in the Bible, never letting the words just speak for themselves. Of course, there are many spiritual symbols in Scripture, but when the Bible says, "He woke up in the morning," a lot of people agonize over it, trying to squeeze some spiritual meaning out of a straightforward verse.

It's important to get the factual record of what happened. Don't bring preconceived ideas to prove what you already believe. Instead, let the Bible speak for itself. You might even find people who will say, "I know I'm right. I've just got to find a verse to prove it." And they'll start reading the Bible not to hear what God says, but what they want to prove.

It's possible to completely butcher the Bible and different verses, rearranging, cutting, and pasting passages to torture God's Word until it declares that water flows uphill. So be careful. Again, we need to approach the Word with a humble, willing heart - and be open to what the Bible says even if what it says isn't exactly what we want to hear.

Understand the Context
With the exception of Proverbs, the Bible is not a series of isolated one-liners. Some people "study" by jumping one verse to another, leading them to some serious doctrinal problems. So when you read a verse, you should also read a few verses before it and a few verses after it. Sometimes that's all you need to do, but other times your runway might need more landing and takeoff room. You might even read the entire chapter. Occasionally, to get the complete context, you'll need to read the whole book. Trust me, it's worth the investment.

1.Often it is valuable to know the historical, geographical, and cultural context. For example, I remember reading Jesus' teaching about honoring your father and your mother, but then He mentions "Corbin." Who's Corbin? Well, I had to do a little background study to find out that in their culture, children could dedicate their wealth to the temple instead of using it to support their parents in their old age. It was a rite that enabled them to dodge the commandment, because their wealth was now technically God's property. That's where a little extra research paid off big.

2. Also consider the language. Sometimes when things are translated from one language to another, there's a potential to lose context and information. There are little nuances of meaning that can't always be exactly translated from one language to another. Though you don't need to know the original language to be able to understand the Bible, sometimes taking a little time to look up the original meanings of words can be very helpful to enhance comprehension.

So as you mature in your Bible study, don't be afraid to check maps, dictionaries, commentaries, and concordances. They will help you immensely in getting the gist of each passage and help you grasp the meaning in ways that will astound and amaze you. Of course, as Bunyan said, you don't need these to understand what God is saying. For centuries people built beautiful houses with only hand tools. But now power tools can make the job easier! Just start where you are, with whatever tools you have handy. If you do, I guarantee your hunger will grow and you'll find a little Bible study library growing up in your home or on your computer.

Don't Jump to Conclusions
When arriving at truth in Bible study, you need to get the testimony of two or three witnesses. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established" (2 Corinthians 13:1). This applies to Bible study as well.

Some will read one verse in the Bible and create an entire doctrine on that verse alone, without much justification. For instance, I often get asked about a passage in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding women not cutting their hair and praying with their heads covered. This isolated verse can be difficult to understand. Why then build a belief system out of it, especially when no other verse even hints at that subject. You've got to be careful about building a monument around that one verse, as it might have just been a cultural custom.

Isaiah 28:10 teaches, "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little." A good reporter will interview as many witnesses as possible when writing about some major event. Likewise, running to and fro through the Bible, comparing scripture with scripture, will work to help you learn for yourself what the truth really is. You need to look at all the relevant verses dealing with a subject and compare them with each other. This is crucial. You won't be embarrassed if you study the Bible that way.

Some of the popular false teachings today are based on one or two nebulous and misunderstood verses. Proponents of these odd teachings keep going back, again and again, to these few verses until they've managed to build an enormous following even though they neglect the weight of evidence from hundreds of other verses that, if carefully studied, would contradict the very teaching that they are so passionately promoting.

Avoid Private Interpretations
"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Sometimes, we'll hear someone say something like, "This is what I think this verse means," or even, "I feel in my heart it could mean this because of a dream I had last night" or some other warm fuzzy feeling. Be very careful when you hear these kinds of subjective statements. It's often an indication of people not letting the Bible speak for itself.

Additionally, people who don't study with others often develop eccentric beliefs. Of course, God can speak to you alone through His Word, but almost without exception people who don't fellowship with other believers and don't bounce their interpretations off stable Christians can come up with some very bizarre ideas. They become a law unto themselves, forgetting that in the multitude of counsel there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).

In Acts 20:30, Paul warns, "And of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things," meaning warped teachings, "to draw away disciples after them." Sometimes these independent teachers want simply to be unique to gather a following around them, so they come up with an exotic doctrine and say they have a revelation from God that no one else has. But please remember, in Acts 17:10, 11, we're told about the people of Berea: "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." If you do that, diligently studying the Word of God with other Bible-based followers of Jesus, you will be safe.

Where's the Beef?
The church is struggling today and facing a biblical illiteracy pandemic. It's so important now to be personally grounded in the Word because false teachings are only going to multiply as the clock of earth's history winds rapidly down.

In the end, the devil and his minions are going to be quoting from the Bible more than ever. He'll wave it around and point to it and he won't hide from it. For many, the superficial, shallow, breezy approach to Bible doctrine will not prepare them to defend their faith against the devil's clever deceptions. He already has his people out there, sharpening their arguments and twisting Scripture to their ends.

The milk of the Word is certainly okay for starters. Peter tells us that "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2). It's clear that God can work with you wherever you are, but growing saints must graduate from milk to meat. That's why we need to dig deeper for solid food. How long have you been receiving milk? When are you going to get ready for the real meat of the Word?

"And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able" (1 Corinthians 3:1, 2). Stop delaying and get studying; there's a lot of nourishing meat in God's Word just waiting to be assimilated.

The Time Is Now
Legend has it that during the bloody Civil War battle of Shiloh, Sam Houston, Jr., son of the famous Texan, was shot square in the back and knocked to the ground. When found by a Union soldier and examined, they found he was only bruised from the bullet. The lead ball had been stopped by his mother's Bible, which Houston carried in his knapsack. The bullet was still lodged in its pages, stopping near the Psalm that proclaims, "O God: Thou art my help and deliverer."

As we enter the last days, it will not be enough to have our Bibles in our pockets or in our backpacks - we must have the contents lodged in our hearts. Remember, we can keep from sinning when we have His Word written in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). There might be a day coming when your Bibles will be taken away and all you're going to have is what you've stored in your heart. You might be brought before judges to defend your faith. They probably won't hand you a Bible, yet we're going to need to know how to give an answer for what we believe. When the devil tempted Christ, Jesus didn't have a backpack full of scrolls. He had the Word of God in His heart, and the Holy Spirit brought remembrance to Him. He said, "It is written," and we will be able to say the same as long as we are willing to open up the Word now and dive right in.

That's what's I believe God wants for His people today. He wants them to be able to stand before anyone, anywhere, and, as Peter said, "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).

And those answers are found in just one place, the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God ... the Bible. So take it with your hands, read with your eyes, and store it in your heart - starting today.


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