Bible Study for Every Christian (Part 1): Preparation

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  June 26, 2011
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Well tonight, I am excited about beginning a new series, a series that is eminently practical for every believer. I've entitled it Bible Study for Every Christian. Tonight I really want to begin the first phase of that and so I've entitled tonight's message specifically, Preparation. How do we prepare, what do we need to do, to prepare for studying the Bible? And, Lord willing, next week and the following week we'll get into really the meat of how to, but this is very important, I want you to grasp the importance of what we're about to do. J.I. Packer writes, "If I were the Devil one of my first aims would be to stop people from digging into the Bible." Think about that for a moment. If you were Satan, what would be your chief priority? I think you'd have to agree with J.I. Packer, that becomes the priority because it is from our, as we saw this morning, our accepting of the Word of God, our understanding the Word of God, our believing it, that then the living out takes place, and so it is absolutely essential.

So if it's so essential, why is it that we don't study the Bible? I'm not going to ask for a show of hands tonight, but if I were to ask, do you spend, or have you spent over the last week or last month, a reasonable amount of time diligently studying the Bible, I'm not talking about a simple reading of the Bible, although that's very important, I wonder how many of us would be able to say that we have? So the question is why not? If we don't, what are the reasons? Well there are many different reasons that could be given. I'm sure if I were to ask for a show of hands, there could be a lot of explanation, but there's an excellent little book by R.C. Sproul called Knowing Scripture which I would recommend to you, by the way, as we go through this series, I'll recommend a lot of resources for you to consider, but in this little book Knowing Scripture, Sproul identifies two myths that he believes end up really underlying many of the reasons as to why people, Christians, who love the Bible, who love the truth, don't in fact study it. And he calls them myths because while they're widely believed, they are, in fact, not true.

The first one he identifies is that, "The Bible is so difficult to understand that only highly skilled theologians with technical training can deal with the Scriptures." Those are his words. That is absolutely contrary to what the Bible itself teaches as well as to what theologians down through the centuries have taught. In fact, the Reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, the big word simply means "it's clear," that is, not everything is equally clear, but any literate person, any person who can read can understand the primary message and messages of the Bible. They may not be able to understand every little nuance, every little passage. There are difficult things in Scripture, we admit that, but if you can read and have any sort of understanding, if you can read the newspaper, as R.C. Sproul says, you can read the Bible. If you can grasp what you read in the newspaper, you can get it. It's not like the esoteric, absurd teachings of eastern religions. You know, you climb some snow-covered Himalayan mountain and you get to the top and you find some guru sitting there cross-legged, and you ask him about the meaning of life and he says, "It's one hand clapping." And you say, "Wow, that's deep." No, that's ridiculous; that doesn't mean anything. That's nonsensical. The Bible's not like that. If you can read the newspaper, you can read the Bible. If you can understand the newspaper, you can understand the Bible. It's not true; it's a myth.

The second myth Sproul identifies is that "The Bible is boring." You know, I'd spend more time with it, but the Bible is boring. The truth is the Bible is filled with pathos and drama and energy and enthusiasm. The reason people sometimes conclude that it's boring isn't because the events of the Bible actually are boring, it's because there is a span of time and place between the events described in the Bible and the time and place in which they live, and that distance doesn't enable them to understand it clearly. It's set in such a different world from our own that sometimes it seems distant and unhelpful. But in fact, the people we meet in the Bible, once we begin to understand how to uncover its truths, are very much like us with very much the same struggles that we have, the same joys, the same heartbreaks, the same desire for God or not.

I might add to Sproul's list a third reason we don't study the Bible, and that's really why we're here tonight, and that is, we just don't know how. We don't believe the Bible's boring. We don't believe that you have to be a skilled theologian to understand it, but we just don't know where to start. What do I do? Here's the Bible in front of me. I know how to read it and I get some spiritual nourishment from that, but I don't really know how to go further than that. Well, it's this third reason that I want our study together over the next few weeks to permanently remove from your list of excuses.

And so that's why we're here. Over the coming weeks, we're going to walk through a process for studying the Bible that, are you ready for this, every single Christian can follow. There isn't a single Christian who, given time and practice, can't do what we're going to study together. The approach that we're going to take is called inductive Bible study. That is, it's an approach to Scripture that starts with the particulars and from understanding those particulars, and individual parts of a passage, arrives at the general meaning of an individual passage.

One illustration that has often been shared about this approach, this inductive Bible study approach, is imagine for a moment that you decided, and why you would do this I don't know, but that you decided you were going to study frogs. Okay, you really wanted to know about frogs. Well, if you decided that, there are two approaches you could take. One approach is to read an expert on frogs. Go on Google and find out who is the world's foremost expert on frogs, and go to amazon.com and buy the book and get it and read up on all this person has learned in their lives about frogs: their life cycle, their habitat, their diet. That's something you could do. The problem with that approach is you are simply taking that expert's word for it and you're not really owning that information. It's distant from you. And you can never know for sure if his assertions about frogs are true or not. You have to just take his word for it.

The other approach, if you wanted to study frogs, is to do this, you could spend, and I'm not suggesting this, but you could spend the next year personally studying frogs. You could spend days and weeks at the local ponds in your area observing and taking careful notes of all aspects of their behavior. You could keep a couple of living frogs in your home so that you could continue to observe how they live and behave. And after one of your little pet frogs dies you could lay its little body out on a cutting board in your kitchen and you could dissect it, and you could look at the anatomy of that frog, and you would examine all the parts. And when you were done with your study you would have a thorough, personal knowledge of frogs.

When it comes to Bible study, too many Christians opt for the first approach. Let me just break out, forget the study, somebody else has done it; just give me a MacArthur Study Bible or a Ryrie Study Bible or something else. They simply listen to the expert. The better approach in any discipline is a healthy measure of inductive, first-hand study. Why? Howard Hendricks describes the benefit of personal Bible study this way, "Knowledge that is self-discovered," "Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory. There is no jewel more precious than that which you have mined yourself." "There is no jewel more precious than that which you have mined yourself." I can tell you from my own experience. I've sat under a lot of godly men and heard the Bible taught, but the greatest discovery, the truths that have gripped my heart the most are the ones that I have discovered in the path of my own study, either personally or in preparation to teach. And many of you who are teachers, you understand that. So this is true for Scripture as well.

Now, the process of inductive Bible study includes several steps. Let me show you some comparisons. First of all, in the first column there, if you were to go, you've heard about inductive Bible study before, perhaps you heard about it from the ministry of Kay Arthur who sort of popularized that title. Some of you have heard that. Her ministry is called Precept Ministries and they reduce the process of inductive Bible study to three steps: observation, interpretation, and application, and those are good, but I don't think they're quite full enough. John Macarthur in his book How to Study the Bible adds a fourth one: observation, interpretation, evaluation (and I'll explain what that is in a moment), and application. I've filled that out just a little bit because I think there are a couple of other key steps that are sort of absorbed in these other lists that I think deserve their own space.

Now let me tell you what we're going to walk through as we look at this process in the coming weeks. First of all is preparation. That's what we're going to deal with tonight. Observation, that means actually studying the details of the text and we're going to talk about how to do that. How do you deal with that passage sitting in front of you? What steps do you take? And we're going to unpack it one step at a time. Then comes meditation. After you have done that spadework, after you have turned the earth as it were, in the study of that passage, then comes thinking about all that you've learned. Meditating on it is what the Bible calls it, hugely important in the process of the study of Scripture. Meditation is nothing more than choosing to think deeply about that passage you're studying in order to do two things, to understand it better and to apply it to your life. That's what meditation is. So you can see it's crucial in this process. Then comes, after meditation, interpretation. This is when you've studied the passage, you've thought about it, you've thought it through deeply, and now you say, okay, I'm ready to say this is what it means.

The next step is evaluation. You have now done all of your work, you've done all of your study, and you step back and you've arrived at an interpretation. You say this passage means this. Now you want to evaluate your view. You want to look at others to see if the view you're taking can stand up under scrutiny. You want to measure it against other believers down through the centuries of the Christian church. You want to evaluate it because if you come up with a view of that passage that nobody else has, that's a problem, because the Holy Spirit didn't decide today to suddenly reveal truth, for the first time, to you. As one man said, "What makes you think that the truth has finally dawned on your balding pate?" It doesn't happen; you need to evaluate the conclusions to which you've come. And then the final step is application, that is, what do I do with this? How do I apply this in my own life and experience?

Now what I want you to see about those six steps is where do most Christians in today's church go first in that process? They read a passage and they jump (where?) to number six. What does this passage mean to me? How should I apply this passage? And you end up with all kinds of absolutely ridiculous views of Scripture because they haven't studied what it means. You're not ready to know what to do with it until you know what it says and what it means, and that's what these first steps are all about. Now, over the next eight to nine weeks during the summer here, we're going to work our way through these six steps.

Tonight, I want to begin with just the first one, preparation, how to approach your study of the Bible. The other five steps have to do with the text that you're studying, but this first step has to do with you and preparing yourself to do the study. So, with that in mind, let's begin tonight as we look at preparation, which is really all that we're talking about tonight, that's the overarching idea that we're covering tonight, but I want to break that preparation down into a couple of things. First of all, I want to begin with the arguments for Bible study. Now, you're here because, to some extent, you think Bible study's important, but I want you to see it may be even more important than you realize it is. So we're going to begin, we're going to prepare ourselves for Bible study, by understanding just how important it is biblically. Is every Christian, think about this question for a moment, is every individual Christian obligated not merely to read the Bible, but to study it? Think about that; answer it in your own mind. Is every individual Christian obligated before God not merely to read the Bible, but to study it? Or is studying the Bible only the responsibility of elders and pastors and teachers and missionaries and seminary professors?

I think you really know the answer, but let me give you a few of the Biblical reasons for studying the Bible diligently. Number one, and you can synthesize this in your notes; you don't have to write every word I've written here, okay? Seeking to understand the meaning and to apply the Scripture to life is a daily duty given to both parents and children. Understanding the Scripture and applying it to life is something God commands parents and children to do every day all day. Look at Deuteronomy 6. You remember this passage, I'm not going to spend a lot of time here, but right after Moses lays out the great commandment, "You're to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might," then he says this, and here is really how we best demonstrate our love for God, "These words," that is, God's words, God's revelation, those things "which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart." That is, you think about them, you read them, you think about them, you meditate on them, you study them. You're trying to come to an understanding of what they mean. They'll be on your heart and once you come to an understanding of what they mean, "You shall teach them diligently to your sons," to your children. And, oh by the way, this isn't just one little block of time that you devote to family devotions, or whatever you call it, although that is important. It's not just the formal time; it's more than that. Verse 7 says, "and you shall talk of all these things when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up." In other words, they are to be a consistent part of everyday life. So immediately we see that every man, every father, and the children in every home were to be tied up every day in coming to a deeper understanding and application of the Scripture to life.

A second argument for Bible study is: reading, understanding, and applying the Scripture was a requirement for Israel's leaders. Those in leadership were absolutely demanded to do this. I won't take you there, but in Deuteronomy 17 Moses lays down rules for future kings. Someday there will be a king and when there's a king here's what he's to do: he is to make with his own hand a copy of the Scriptures. He is, there was no mimeograph machine, that's before some of your times, no Xerox machines, no copiers of any kind, no cameras to capture a scanned image, instead, the king of Israel was to sit down, as important as he was, and write a copy of the Scriptures. And then he was to read it and have it in his mind and think about it and apply it every day of his reign. By the way, just as an aside, that's the beginning of the law being higher than even the monarch.

Number three, a preoccupation with the Scripture has always been the practice of God's people. This has been a consistent pattern. Joshua 1:8, God commanded Joshua to read it, that's what it means not to "depart from your mouth," to read it every day and "meditate on it day and night, so that, you can apply it, you can be careful to do according to all that is written therein. Then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have success." Job 23:12, Job says, "'I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.'" In other words, I have been more concerned about feeding my soul with the words of God than feeding my body and stomach with food.

Psalm 1:2, the righteous man "delights in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night." A truly righteous person is consumed by an appetite for the Scripture, to know it, to understand it. That's what meditation is all about, it's studying it, it's a form of study, it takes you deep into the text where you're dealing with what it means. Psalm 119:97, "O, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." Second Timothy, Paul ends his ministry in prison knowing he's going to die, and what does he ask for? Bring the books and especially parchments. Bring the manuscripts of the Scripture so I can study them here in prison. It's been a preoccupation with God's people.

A fourth argument is feeding on the Scripture is the God-given desire and God-given demand of every true Christian. Peter puts it like this in 1 Peter 2:2, "like newborn babies, long for," desire, "the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." It's a command to us, an imperative. Long for the milk of Scripture that will give you the capacity to grow in respect to salvation like milk gives a baby the way to grow physically.

Number five, our Lord made it clear that this was a priority for Him. He rebuked people for not knowing and understanding the Scripture. Our Lord was kind and gracious, but He often said things like this, Matthew 12:3, "He said to them, 'Have you not read what David did when he became hungry,'" and He gives an application. Verse 5, "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?" What was Jesus doing here? Jesus was not saying to these religious leaders of Israel, you've never really read the text; of course they had read the text. They spent their lives in the text of the Old Testament, these were the religious leaders of Israel. Jesus's point is they failed to really study and consider its meaning and application, and He makes this same point, by the way, several times. Matthew 19, "'Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female'" Matthew 22, "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God." Mark 12 makes the same point in that, about that, or I should say it's a parallel passage to the one in Matthew. In other words, Jesus is saying, you ought to know this, you have a book, God gave you a book and you ought to know this, and He chastened them for not knowing it.

Number six, Paul commanded Timothy to immerse himself in the Scripture in order to grow in godliness. Look over at 1 Timothy, 1 Timothy 4. He says to Timothy, his young son in the faith, "In pointing out the things," I'm describing in this letter to you, "to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus," and you yourself will be, "constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you've been following." Timothy, you're going to have your own soul nourished by the words of the faith and the sound doctrine you've heard from me. And then he says, he goes on to say to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." Why? So that you can be "nourished on the words of the faith," so that you will grow through the words of the faith, through the knowledge of the Scripture, in godliness.

Number seven, the daily discipline of prayer and exposure to the Word results in sanctification and spiritual progress. You will grow spiritually as a result of the Word. In fact, let me put it to you this way, you cannot grow spiritually apart from the Word. Let me say that again, you cannot grow spiritually apart from the Word. Jesus Himself made this abundantly clear. And I come back to this verse all the time because it is an absolutely monumental verse; it's one that revolutionized my own thinking about the process of sanctification, in John 17:17 Jesus is praying for His disciples and what does He pray? "Sanctify them", that is, make them progressively holy, Father. Only God can do it, so He's praying, God, You do this to these followers of Mine. But how? "Sanctify them through the truth; Your word is truth." In other words, sanctify them through Your word. That's it. You want to grow in likeness to Jesus Christ? You want to grow in holiness? You want to grow in purity? It cannot happen apart from the Word of God. It will not happen. The Word of God is to our spiritual lives what food is to our physical lives. You want to damage your spiritual growth and development and energy, then just start cutting food out and don't eat, and see what happens to your body. You want to destroy your soul, then just cut out the nutrition of the Word of God and your soul will begin to shrivel.

Number eight, Paul directed his New Testament letters not only at the leadership of the church, but at its members. I read this verse this morning in 2 Corinthians 4:2 where Paul says, "We commend the truth to every man's conscience." In other words, Paul was saying, I present the truth not for the leaders only, but for every member of the church, for everybody who hears me; they have to deal with the truth.

But the last one, and number nine is, I want you to turn with me to Acts 2 because this final point says this, New Testament believers were commanded by God, or excuse me, were commended by God for being diligent students of the Scripture. And we will be commended if we follow their example. Acts 2:42 says of the new church, just having been born after the day of Pentecost, three thousand added to the church, those disciples, those followers of Jesus Christ, verse 41, that were added to the church, here's what they were doing, verse 42, "They were continually devoting themselves to," what? "The apostles' teaching." Can it be said of you that you are continually devoting yourself to the understanding of the Scripture? God commends them here for all time for their response to the truth.

But I want you to turn over to one other passage with me; turn over to Acts 17, Acts 17:10. Paul is here on his third missionary journey and verse 10 says, "The brethren immediately sent Paul and Barnabas away by night to Berea," this is after what happened in Thessalonica, "and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews." So Paul, as he typically did, went into the synagogue to evangelize, to teach the truth that Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for. Now notice what these Jews did who heard Paul teach. Remember now, you're talking about the apostle Paul teaching the Bible to these people. "Now these," Luke writes, "were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica," these Jews were more noble, they were more worthy of praise than those in Thessalonica. Why? "For they received the word with great eagerness." So they were excited about learning the Bible, but it didn't stop them listening to the apostle Paul. We could get excited about that, right? Imagine if you didn't have to put up with me every week, but you had Paul up here teaching. You could get excited about that. And they were eager to hear the Word of God taught by Paul, but notice what else they did, "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." They are praised by Luke, and that means ultimately by Paul under whose auspices Luke wrote, and ultimately by God Himself, by the Holy Spirit, because they were eager to learn the Word of God, and even though they heard Paul preach, they didn't say, oh, that was great. They went back home, they broke out the scrolls, and they compared what they had heard Paul preach against the Scriptures. They studied the Bible to see if it was true and they are commended by God for doing that, for all time.

Those are the arguments for Bible study. You put that package together and there is not a single believer that should not feel compelled to take the study of the Bible seriously. These Bereans, they were lay people. They weren't seminary professors; they weren't pastors. They were diligent students of the Scripture though. So, I hope, if you weren't convinced before, or if you were convinced before, you're more convinced now how important this is. That's part of the preparation for Bible study. You've got to be convinced in your own mind this is important because, folks, it's not easy. Nothing in life worth having is easy. You've got to be convinced it matters. So go back over this, think about this, meditate on this, see if I'm misleading you in any way. Do like the Bereans and go back and say, is this true? And think on and meditate on these passages.

Now, a second part of our preparation is to understand the goals of Bible study. Before we set out on the journey, let's find out where we're going. What exactly is it that Bible study is supposed to accomplish? Well first of all, there are a couple of mental goals. And this is obvious, but I'm going to put it up here, to understand the Bible, to understand the Bible. Second Timothy 2:15 talks about the reality of being a diligent workman rightly dividing, literally, Paul uses language from his trade. Remember, Paul, to support himself as a missionary, made tents and he uses language in that verse that's language of a tentmaker. He basically says as you're studying the Bible, Timothy, I want you to cut it straight, cut a straight line. In other words, make sure you get it right; make sure you really understand what it's saying. And so one of the chief purposes, goals of Bible study, is to understand what the Bible really means.

Let me let you in on something we're going to start talking about next week. The Bible in every passage only has one primary meaning. And guess how that meaning is determined? Not by you, but by the intent of the original author. That's your goal. You want to understand what did God the Holy Spirit, combined with that human author, intend to communicate in this passage. And it's only one thing. Second Peter talks about the problem that we all have a terrible habit. And that terrible habit, and this is common, the terrible habit we have is assuming that the meaning we read into the text we're reading is the meaning the Spirit and the author intended. Without study we just jump to a conclusion and we think we're right, but it may not be true. Listen to what Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:16, "Paul in all his letters, speaks in them of these things, in which are some things," in Paul's letters are some things, "hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." In other words, you can think you know what a passage says and be dead wrong. We want to study to understand what the Bible really means, what the original author meant it to mean. A second mental goal is to evaluate the teaching we hear. We've already looked at this; I won't turn again to Acts 17. That's what they were doing. They were evaluating, are you ready for this, the apostle Paul against the Scripture.

There's also a relational goal in Bible study. It's not just to accumulate knowledge. The goal is to know our God. Study and understanding the Scripture is to that end. You see this in Proverbs 2, for example, where we're told to search the, to ransack the statements of Scripture, to seek the truth as for hidden treasure and silver and gold, and when we've done all that ransacking, what do we find? In verse 5 of Proverbs 2, he says then you will find "the knowledge of God." That's the goal. The goal of Bible study is to know our God. It's not merely to accumulate facts. In fact, Jesus Himself confirmed this in John 5 when He said to the spiritual leaders of Israel, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life;" He says, you got all caught up in the little regulations. You tithe your herbs, but you missed Me. The goal of Bible study is to know God. Phillips Brooks writes: "The Bible is like a telescope," think about this, "The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, then he sees worlds beyond, but if he looks at his telescope, then he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through to see that which is beyond, but most people only look at it and so they only see the dead letter." You look through the Scripture, as it were, to see God, to see our God. John Stott writes, "A man who loves his wife will love her letters and her photographs because they speak to him of her. So if we love the Lord Jesus we shall love the Bible because it speaks to us of Him." It's relational. We study the Bible not as some accumulation of facts. It's not a manual like you have in your glove compartment for your car. Certainly it has instructions about living, but the Bible is a book that directs us to a person.

A third goal of Bible study is spiritual and I break this down into several points, first of all, to protect your soul from sin. Psalm 37:31 says: "The law of his God is in his heart," speaking of the righteous man, and because the law of God is in his heart, this doesn't mean he's just memorized it, there are people who have memorized large portions of the Bible and don't live it. Now that's not to in any way denigrate memorizing, that's important, but that's not it alone. The idea here is it's really gripping his heart. He understands it and as a result of that, "his steps do not slip." It'll protect your soul from sin. Psalm 119:11, of course, the most familiar one, "Your word have I treasured in my heart," that is, again, the idea of not only do I know it and understand it, but it's important to me, I think about it, I study it, I meditate on it, "that I might not sin against You." And Psalm 119:38, "Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You." The Word of God produces a fear of God and therefore a fear of sin.

Spurgeon, I love this, Spurgeon wrote this: "Backsliders begin with dusty Bibles and end with filthy garments." Let me read that again. "Backsliders begin with dusty Bibles and end with filthy garments." Listen, I can tell you from my own personal experience that when I go any time at all without personally being in the Word of God and reading it and studying it, those sins that were a part of my old life, and that still tempt me, become much stronger in their power in my life. But when my soul is fed, when I'm in the Word of God, when I'm learning and reading and praying and meditating, it protects my soul from sin, and it will yours as well. And many of you can testify to this.

Another spiritual goal is, you grow in personal holiness. You study the Bible to grow in personal holiness. Again, we've already touched on this so I won't do it again. A number of passages address this. First John 2 is one I haven't mentioned, verse 14 says, John writes, "I have written to you, young men, because you are strong," and he's talking about different levels of spiritual maturity, I believe, in that passage, and the young men become young men as opposed to babies because, "the Word of God abides in them, and," through that, "they have overcome the evil one." They have a growing knowledge of the Scripture and application of the Scripture to life, and so they move out of that spiritual infancy into a degree of spiritual maturity. They grow in personal holiness. And a third spiritual goal is to be prepared for service. Second Timothy, that famous passage, says that the Bible exists so "that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." And even for evangelism according to Peter in 1 Peter 3:15. So those are the goals of Bible study.

Now, I want us to conclude our time tonight by looking at the prerequisites for Bible study. What do you have to do to get ready for Bible study? Well, and I'm just going to run through some of these pretty quickly, but I want you to have the basis for it. You must be a Christian. You have to be a Christian. John 8:43, we looked at this morning, Jesus says, "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It's because you cannot," you dunamai, you are not able to, "hear My word." That is, to really understand it and grasp it, because, "You're of your father the devil." John 10:27, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." "My sheep," those who belong to Me, they "hear My voice." That's not talking about, you know, some voice you hear in your head. That's talking about His revelation. It's talking about what He says, what He commands us, in His Word.

Acts develops that same theme in a variety of ways, but one other passage, 1 Corinthians 2. You remember, in fact look at that, 1 Corinthians 2. Paul couldn't make it any clearer. After he talks about the doctrines of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration, how every word, even the words are the work of the Spirit of God; he comes down to how we understand it. Verse 14, "But a natural man," that is, a man who is not a spiritual man, who's still as he was born; he doesn't have spiritual life in him, he's not been regenerated, he "does not accept the things of the Spirit of God," talking about the Bible because he's just been talking about the spiritual thoughts and spiritual words of the Bible. Why? He doesn't accept them, "for they are foolishness to him; and," here it is again, "he cannot," dunamai, he doesn't have the ability to understand them, "because they are spiritually appraised." Oh, he can understand it at a sort of face value, cursory level, but he never understands them at a life-changing grasp of that truth. It's impossible; you have to be a Christian to really do life-changing Bible study.

Number two, you must first confess your sin. Look at James 1. James 1 is about our response to the Word of God. The second, the last half of James 1, is about our response to the Word of God. Beginning in verse 19 and running down through the end of the chapter. But notice what he says, verse 21, "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word of God implanted, which is able to save your souls." Putting aside all of the sin in your life, then you're prepared and equipped in humility to "receive the word implanted." It doesn't mean you have to be perfect. It means you have to be pure of heart; you have to have confessed your sin. You have to be willing to take off the sin in your life. The image here is of taking off dirty clothing. You have to be willing to let go of all that's dirty in your life. You have to repent. You have to be willing to let go of anything the Word tells you to let go of no matter how much you currently cherish it, whether sinful acts or sinful ideas or doctrinal error. So repentance of sin and then, "in humility receive the word." So approach your study of the Bible with repentance and humility, ready to learn and to do. Confess your sin before you start your Bible study.

Number three, with an attitude of humility and dependence, pray for illumination. Pray for illumination. J.I. Packer reminds us that one of the many divine qualities of the Bible is this, "It does not yield its secrets to the irreverent and the censorious." You have to be humble and dependent. You see this again and again. Psalm 119:18, "Open my eyes," the psalmist prays, Lord, "Open my eyes," my spiritual eyes, "that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." That's the prayer to pray when you sit down to study the Bible. You have to have a dependent spirit. Psalm 119:73, "Your hands made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments." Pray that before you sit down to study. Psalm 119:125: "I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies." Over and over again, Psalm 119 cries out like this.

But the New Testament also says it. We looked at Ephesians 1:18 at length when we were working our way through that letter. "I pray that the eyes of your heart," Paul says, "may be enlightened, so that you will know," the great things that are yours in Christ in the revelation. You see it in other passages as well, and I'll just put those up.

The great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon said this, "It is one of the peculiar offices of the Holy Spirit to enlighten His people. He has done so by giving us His inspired Word, but the book is never spiritually understood by anyone apart from the personal teaching of its great Author. You may read it as much as you will and never discover the inner and vital meaning unless your soul is led into it by the Holy Spirit Himself. You may have done well to learn the letter of truth, but you still need the Spirit of God to make it the light and power of God to your soul." I can't emphasize this point enough. If you're going to study the Bible and learn it and really have it grip your soul, you must start with these prayers on your lips. The Catechism asks why we need Jesus to be our Prophet and the answer is, "Because I am ignorant and in need of a teacher." That's how you ought to begin your Bible study. I often repeat that very line in my prayers when I sit down to study the Scripture. "Lord, I am ignorant and in need of a teacher. May the Spirit teach me what it means."

A fourth prerequisite for Bible study is you must have access to a good literal translation of the Bible. This is foundational. You see, the Bible was originally written in three languages. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew. There are also a couple of Aramaic sections of the Old Testaments, some of Daniel and some of Ezra, and the New Testament was written in Greek. The Bible that we have has been translated from those languages into English, and it's been done so in a variety of translations. So which translation should you use for serious Bible study? I'm assuming now that you don't know Greek and Hebrew. If you do, of course use those, but if you don't, what do you use?

Well, understand that there are three distinct approaches to translating the Bible into English. First of all, there is the literal approach, and this is where the translator tries to get an English word to match a Hebrew word or an English word to match a Greek word, basically word for word equivalence as much as is possible. The translations that we have that approximate that, the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version or the ESV, those are literal, word for word equivalents by and large. All translations into a different language have to do some changing, but they attempt, their philosophy is word for word equivalence.

A second approach is called dynamic equivalence. This is where they look at the Greek idea and try to transport that into an English idea, and then they choose the words they want. There's very little correspondence directly between the Greek word and the English word, or at least there's a greater freedom. The translations we have in English that are familiar to you that do this would be the New International Version, the New English Bible, the New Living Translation, that's not The Living Bible, the Kenneth Taylor one, but the New Living Translation.

And the third approach is called paraphrase, and this is where you essentially get the author's interpretation of the original. It's just sort of a free-floating commentary, if you will, put into his own words. Two of these would be Phillips's translation and The Living Bible, the one I mentioned a moment ago, by Kenneth Taylor.

Let me just show you, and I know you're not going to be able to read all this very well, but let me just show you the difference between these translations. If you compare these translations of the same text, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, you'll see the NAS is the most literal, and I've put it sort of in a descending order from literal word for word down to where they just sort of paraphrase and put it into their own words. And you'll see that, for example, as you go down, instead of having verse 3 be a continuation of the sentence in verse 2, they make a new sentence. You'll see that instead of leaving those genitive constructions, look at the NAS up there, verse 3 says "work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope." That's very much parallel to what the Greek text says, but notice as you go down what the NIV does with that, "your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope." Now, that may be what that means, but notice, they have interpreted it for you. They didn't leave you with what the Greek said back up in the first one; they gave it the meaning they thought it had and as you work down, it gets even more that way. I just want you to see how it compares. They're making decisions. The further you get from word for word equivalence, the translator is making decisions for you, so you never know what the original actually said, you only know what the translator thinks it means. Does that make sense? So, if you're going to interpret the text of Scripture, you want a text that gets you, if you don't know the original language, that gets you the closest to the original language. You want a word for word equivalence. You want a translation that is built on that word for word equivalence. That's why we use the NAS here. The ESV is another good translation. I prefer the NAS myself because, again, it doesn't hide what the original language says; it shows you. That sometimes makes it read a little more awkward, but you get to interpret it rather than somebody interpreting it for you.

The final prerequisite for Bible study is you have to work hard. Why don't we study the Bible? Listen to R.C. Sproul from his book Knowing Scripture, "We fail in our duty to study God's Word not so much because it's difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work." "Our problem," Sproul says, "is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy. Newspapers are easier to read than the Bible is to study." If we're going to study the Scripture, we must be diligent. That's what Paul told Timothy, isn't it, in 2 Timothy 2:15, "Be diligent," work hard at the Scripture, "to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed," because you're cutting straight, "the word of truth." You're really arriving at what it means. You're not settling for what it means to you. You're not settling for somebody else's opinion. You're doing the work, you're being diligent, you're working hard to get there. In the words of one author, "Never let good books take the place of the Bible. Drink from the well, not from the streams that flow from the well."

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for our time together tonight. Lord, I pray You would motivate us to be diligent students. Lord, don't let us be satisfied with where we are. Help us to grow in our ability to study Your Word. In the coming weeks, Father, I pray that You would help every person here to develop the skills necessary to become a student of Scripture, that we would someday be able to hear from You what You said about the Bereans, that we were noble-minded because we were diligent students, searching out, examining the Scriptures, to see if these things were so.

Father, forgive us for our laziness, forgive us for our excuses. Father, forgive us for having Your eternal Word provided to us at such great cost and paying so little attention to it. Forgive us, O God, and give us a new resolve tonight to learn how to study Your Word and to make it a regular part of our lives for our own soul's good and to honor You and Your Spirit who gave it to us. We pray in Jesus's name, amen.