Bible Study Basic: Read the Parts and the Whole

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It’s week two of Bible Study Basic. Last week I told you The Bible is About Jesus. This week I’m giving you a method of reading the Bible. If you’re going to be a good Bible student you have to learn to read the parts and the whole. What do I mean by that? Well, we can divide your Bible up into smaller parts.

  • The Whole Bible
    • The Old Testament
      • The Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
        • Genesis
          • Genesis 3
            • Genesis 3:14-15

Above you see six levels of depth. As you read and study your Bible you should work to see how the whole helps you understand the individual parts, as well as how the parts contribute to the whole. Here are some questions you should ask:

  • How does the story of the Bible relate to the story of Genesis 3:14-15?
  • How does Genesis 3:14-15 relate to Genesis as a whole?
  • How does the message of the Pentateuch help me understand Genesis, or Genesis 3?

Let’s take Genesis 3:14-15 for example.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring  and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.

How does the story of the Bible relate to the story of Genesis 3:14-15

The Bible is God’s grand narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration in Christ Jesus. Our passage obviously teaches us about the Fall of man. Having been deceived by the serpent and spurned God’s love this verse is actually part of the curse God spoke over creation. Thankfully, even in the curse of the Fall God has redemption in mind. One day, the descendant of Adam and Eve will crush the serpent’s head.

How does Genesis 3:14-15 relate to Genesis as a whole?

The enmity between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent likely refers to the division throughout Genesis between those who trust and obey God and those who oppose his rule. Though they both knew what God required Abel brought an acceptable sacrifice and Cain refused. The descendants of Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son, represent those who seek God in Genesis. For the rest of the book the author makes distinctions between those who God calls in his grace and those he does not.

How does the message of the Pentateuch help me understand Genesis 3?

Here you’ll have to read and process a lot. The point of the Pentateuch is to show us where we came from and why we are the way we are (Creation and Fall). The Pentateuch is also given to us to show that only unilateral action by God himself will rescue us from our pitiful state. It is God who calls the undeserving Abraham and covenants to bless the world through him. God alone rescues his people out of their bondage in Egypt. He redeems his people, brings them to himself (Sinai), and calls them to obedience (Ten Commandments). No one in the Pentateuch demonstrates faithfulness or obedience to the degree that God must accept them. The end of the Deuteronomy shows us that even the most faithful leader, Moses, had disobeyed God and wouldn’t enter the Promised Land. When the book closes, the serpent still lives. The people of God must wait for the one who is greater than Moses to come and crush the serpent’s head.

10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. — Deuteronomy 34:10-12 (ESV)

Where do I begin?

1. Read Deep and Wide

If you want confidence when you open your Bible you have to read both deep (dig into small passages) and wide (read Romans in one sitting). You must work diligently to understand the parts in light of the whole. How can you do that if you never commit to read the entire Bible? You must work to understand the whole in light of the parts. How can you do that without committing to studying God’s Word in a class, or on your own?

2. Start a Journal

One of the best things you can do is to start a journal to take notes from your pastor’s preaching or your Bible study’s teaching. Any time they relate the passage under immediate investigation to the whole make note of it.

3. Summarize the Book in One Sentence

As you read the book look for recurring themes, phrases, words. Can you write out the argument the author is making in one sentence? I’ll never forget that the key phrase in Exodus is, “That you may know that I am the Lord.” It occurs 38 times in the book. Hebrews shows us that Jesus is supreme. John wrote his gospel that, “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 20:31) I typically write my one sentence summary at the top of the title page of each book.

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Prayer and Distraction

We can’t focus.

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It’s a mental quality that was lost in the last century, and it’s killing our prayer. Gavin Ortlund sympathizes with us and offers 7 pieces of advice for combating distraction in prayer. Here’s one I found helpful:

If all else fails, if distraction keeps seeping in, keep circling back to the gospel. I often find it helpful to pray with this kind of framework:

  1. Lord Jesus, this is where I would be without you: __________.

  2. Lord Jesus, this is where I am now with you in my life: __________.

  3. Lord Jesus, this is what you went through to do this: __________.

If the gospel is anything, it’s inexhaustible. You can go back, and back to the well for more. This might even be a good practice to do once a week in a prayer journal. Writing it out will help you remember and reflect on it throughout your day. Read the rest of Gavin’s post at The Gospel Coalition, and post your own thoughts on combating distractions in prayer.

Bible Study Basic: The Bible is About Jesus

So, you want to study the Bible? Bible Study Basic will be an ongoing series of posts written to introduce you to the most basic concepts and methods for proper Bible reading and interpretation.

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How you approach the Bible changes what happens when you read and study the Bible. Do you approach the Bible as an answer book to improve your life? Do you see yourself above it asking it your questions? Or, do you see the Bible as something greater than yourself, under which you stand, waiting to receive? How should you approach the Bible? The teaching of Jesus can help us here. Two disciples were walking down the road after the resurrection of Christ, yet they didn’t believe. Though they didn’t recognize him, the risen Lord came and explained how we should all approach the Scriptures:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24.25-27

It’s easy to miss exactly what Jesus teaches us here. All of the Scriptures are about him. The Scriptures aren’t primarily about us. They’re about God and his rescue mission in Christ. That means you and I should approach our Bible reading and study looking ultimately for Jesus.

No only does Jesus say that the Scriptures are about him. He tells us that all of the Scriptures, rightly interpreted, lead us to him. What does that mean, and why is it important? It means that anytime you have read your Bible or listened to a sermon/lesson from the Scriptures that didn’t culminate in Jesus you have not yet arrived at the final purpose for which God spoke his Word. Two examples:

  • A Bible study on Joseph shouldn’t just encourage you to trust God when things go wrong. It should point to Jesus, the true Joseph, who though he was betrayed by those closest to him did not retaliate, but rather chose to rescue us when we were dying of hunger. That’s because the story of Joseph isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus.
  • A sermon on David and Goliath should never leave you thinking that with enough faith you can face your giants. That story is about David acting as the representative of the people of God. His victory would be their victory his defeat would be theirs. Risking his own life, David struck down the enemy. Jesus, the better David, is our representative who went out to battle our enemies. His victory is given to us. He didn’t just risk his life as our representative, he gave his life up for us to strike down our enemy. David and Goliath isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. It’s only because Jesus has faced down the ultimate enemies of sin and death and we have power to face our sins in this life.

You see, Jesus isn’t one branch in the river of Biblical understanding, he’s the main channel. All of our reading, interpretation, and application must flow from him or we aren’t taking the Scriptures seriously. This is lesson one of Bible Study Basic. As you read and listen to sermons begin to train your eyes and ears to find Christ on every page.

Recommended Resources:

If you’d like a solid resource to help you do this check out Edmund Clowney’s wonderful book The Unfolding Mystery. Clowney walks through the entire Old Testament pointing the reader to Christ along the way.

You can also listen any Tim Keller sermon. Find his sermons at Gospel in Life.

5 Scripture Passages I Wish Every Christian Knew: Galatians 3.2-7

If you’re a Christian, chances are you’ve heard John 3.16 or Psalm 23. The other day I asked myself, “If I could choose 5 passages that would instantly cement themselves in the mind of my church members which ones would I choose?” For the next 5 Fridays I’m going to share one a week. I’m sure that if I created this list 5 years from now I’d likely choose 5 different passages, so in a sense, these are 5 passages that have meant more to me in the past few years than any others. Here’s week one:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. – Galatians 3.2-7 (ESV)

Now, before I comment, read it again from The Message:

2-4 Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!

5-6 Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don’t these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.

7-8 Is it not obvious to you that persons who put their trust in Christ (not persons who put their trust in the law!) are like Abraham: children of faith? – Galatians 3.2-7 (The Message)

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No other Scripture passage has spoken into and rocked my life like those six verses. For close to 25 years I lived as if my justification was by the free gift of grace through faith in Jesus, yet my sanctification could only come through what Peterson calls “strenuous moral striving.” If I ever get a tattoo (which is highly unlikely) it will be Galatians 3.3: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” That’s exactly what I had been doing. Having gladly received free salvation with tears, I moved on to pursuing holiness as something in addition to justification; only earned, never a gift. This verse spoke so deeply to my heart, and the spiritual life it gave me felt stronger than that at my first profession of faith.

Dear Christian, you are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. You are daily sanctified by grace through faith in Christ alone. You don’t save yourself. You don’t purify yourself. All is gift. You and I never sanctify ourselves through moral striving. We are sanctified as we constantly go back over, relive, re-die, remember our justification in Christ. This is not the outward work of our hands, but the inward work of the Spirit in our hearts.

I wish ever Christian knew these verses.

The Poverty of Prayer: Sermon by Dr. Richard Gaffin

“26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

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“We never know what we ought to pray for.” That’s what the text literally says. We’re ignorant. What is Paul trying to teach us here? And, what hope is there for our prayer life? Dr. Richard Gaffin from Westminster Seminary walks us through the text:

Listen to the entire sermon here.

How to Meditate: Luther’s Garland Prayer

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5 centuries ago Martin Luther’s barber asked him how to pray. Luther responded with a 40 page letter entitled A Simple Way to Pray that has been read and practiced by Christians ever since. Last night I shared one of Luther’s methods for meditating on God’s word with our church. It’s called garland prayer.

As a garland is made by intertwining multiple strands of greenery, Luther teaches us to weave a 4 strand prayer. Here’s a simplified, and somewhat modified, outline of Luther’s method:

1. Find a Quiet Regular Place for Morning and Evening Prayer

First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room,

It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.

2. Begin with a Prayer of Acknowledgement

… kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes toward heaven and speak or think as briefly as you can:

O heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner. I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward You or to pray. But because You have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to You in obedience to Your Word, trusting in Your gracious promises. I pray in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ together with all Your saints and Christians on earth as He has taught us

I’ll typically begin my time of reading and meditation by echoing this prayer. I am usually sitting and I open my hands. There’s nothing super spiritual about opening my palms to God. It’s just a cue to my heart that I am opening myself up to receive from God whatever he chooses to give me.

3. Read Slowly

as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.

This is where meditation begins. You must read slowly, word for word. And do not just read. Taste. See. Hear. Meditation is sensing with the mind. Theophan the Recluse defined prayer and meditation like this, “To meditate is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever present all seeing, within you.” George Muller encouraged us to not let our Bible reading become like water flowing through a pipe.

4. Practice Garland Prayer

I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment as first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

Luther applies the garland concept specifically to the Ten Commandments, but it can be applied to any passage. When you read the passage ask two simple questions to find the instruction:

  • What does this teach me about God/Christ?
  • What does this say about who I am or who I should be?

Here’s an example of taking a short passage and practicing the garland method:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Instruction: Our Father. Jesus doesn’t say, “My Father.” He says, “Our.” Now what does that mean? It means that we aren’t just saved as individuals. We’re saved into a family. We have brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thanksgiving: Thank you God, that you’ve given me a family. I don’t have to be alone in this world because of what you’ve done!

Confession: Forgive me God, some of my brothers and sisters irritate me. I don’t like being around them, and I certainly don’t feel like loving them in your name. Jesus died for me just as much as them. Forgive me.

Supplication: Make me more aware and thankful for my family in you. Change my heart towards that family member I can’t stand. Give me an opportunity to serve them in love

5. When Your Heart Begins to Flood with Goodness, Stop. Do Not Move On.

If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit Himself preaches here, and one word of His sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.

6. Proceed with Vocal Prayer

Having devoted yourself to meditating on God’s Word, then move on to normal, vocal prayer. Pray through your requests.

When you practice this method your Bible reading will cease being like water running through a pipe.

 

What are Spiritual Disciplines?

Growing up as a left handed person can be a real challenge. At times it feels as if everything in the world is made for right handed people. Have you righties noticed that your desks in school had an extended support for your forearm when you write? Lefties don’t have that. Have you ever realized that doors typically open toward your right? The English language, written from left to right, means that left handed people smudge ink or graphite onto their hand. Many left handed people are never taught to write properly, and for most of my life I had the ugliest handwriting.

About two years ago I was finally sick of my “chicken scratch” thank you cards and decided to improve my penmanship. In order to do that I had to practice handwriting disciplines. I’d print off these sheets from the internet on how to properly form letters. Whenever I had five or ten minutes to spare I’d pull out a sheet and slowly start writing. Let me tell you, when I first started it was atrocious. I couldn’t even follow a dotted line on paper. It looked about the same as if my 2 year old tried it.

But slowly, over time, my writing became comfortable. I could trace the exact movement of the line with fluidity. I didn’t have to exert nearly as much effort to see results. And even though my handwriting is far better now, I’ve noticed that if I go for any period of time without coming back to those sheets my handwriting suffers. I make slight changes. I don’t form the letters exactly right. A little sloppiness creeps into my thank you notes.

Now, the spiritual disciplines are for your spiritual growth what those handwriting sheets are for my penmanship.

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Donald Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, says:

The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.

Just as there are disciplines that help you develop mentally and physically there are disciplines that God’s people have recognized help develop and mature our spiritual life. Just like my hand didn’t naturally know how to form letters properly our fallen souls don’t naturally know how to properly devote ourselves to God and experience his life on an ongoing basis. Christian’s throughout the centuries have realized this and devoted themselves to various practices designed to foster spiritual life. Below is a list I have adapted from Kenneth Boa’s book Conformed to His Image.

  • Solitude and Silence
  • Prayer
  • Journaling/Reflection
  • Bible Reading and Study
  • Meditation
  • Fasting
  • Chastity
  • Secrecy
  • Confession
  • Fellowship
  • Simplicity/Stewardship/Sacrifice
  • Corporate Worship
  • Service
  • Witness

Disciplined spirituality makes a concerted effort at shaping the affections of the heart and the will towards love for God and obedience to his Word. These practices train the soul towards what it does not do naturally. I’m sure you probably observe a few of these disciplines and have thought about some of the others. In future posts I’ll fill out more detail for the individual disciplines, but for now I’d love to hear about your experience with the spiritual disciplines, what books have helped you understand/practice them etc.

20 Questions to Gauge Your Bible Reading

It’s the middle of January. How’s your Bible reading going? How can you know how it’s going. These certainly aren’t the only questions you’d want to ask to gauge your Bible reading. There’s a host interpretive questions I’ll post later. For now, ask some penetrating questions about your Bible reading, and share some thoughts in the comments.

  1. Do I believe the Bible is primarily about me or Jesus?photo-1450101215322-bf5cd27642fc
  2. Do I primarily read the Bible to find something to try harder at today?
  3. Do I primarily read the Bible to understand my life?
  4. Do I primarily read the Bible to know God?
  5. Do I primarily read the Bible to be closer to God?
  6. Do I read the Bible in order to feel better about myself?
  7. Do I read the Bible in order to feel guilt over my sin?
  8. Does my Bible study result in guilt, shame, and condemnation?
  9. Do I feel like a failure when I read the Bible?
  10. Does my Bible study result in a sense of accomplishment, pride, and condescension to others?
  11. Do I feel assured in my obedience to God’s commands when I read the Bible?
  12. Does my Bible study result in confidence before God because of the finished work of Jesus?
  13. Does my Bible study result in action that stems from fear or pride?
  14. Does my Bible study result in action that wells up from a heart of love for God?
  15. When I study my Bible do I equally sense God’s hatred of my sin and God’s mercy towards me?
  16. When I read my Bible do I feel more like a hopeless case, a self-assured worker, or a chosen son/daughter?
  17. Am I reading the Bible in order to say I’ve read the Bible?
  18. Is my Bible reading generally refreshing or dry?
  19. Am I working to see Jesus on every page?
  20. Does reading my Bible cause me to lift my heart to Jesus on the spot?

What is Discipleship?

What is discipleship? Read 10 different books on the subject and you may get 10 different answers. Discipleship means many things in many contexts. When hearing the word many people think of the spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible study, Scripture memorization. Others think of a class or course of study; a set of facts that once learned make the student a disciple.

At our church we often use a slogan to explain discipleship. I’m sure we didn’t invent it, so if you know it’s source feel free to offer it in the comments. Here it is:

Disciples don’t just know what their masters know. They do what their masters do.

That’s obviously a pithy saying, but every time I use it I have Ephesians 4 in the back of my mind. It’s one of Paul’s richest characterizations of the life of the Christian and the church. There’s nothing pithy about it:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4.11-17

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Loads of passages in the Bible explain what discipleship is and how to do it. This one is my favorite because of those two lines I emphasized. At its most basic, discipleship can be described by these two poles: children who are tossed around by waves and maturing in every way to Christ. Discipleship is the process of moving from worldly immaturity and instability towards spiritual maturity and buoyancy found in Christ. I love that these two poles aren’t a method. They don’t offer a program. For myself, I find that a method can often be a shortcut. We find one spiritual discipline that ministers to us and make it the answer to all our problems. Paul offers no shortcuts here. He offers a gauge:

Am I being tossed around by waves? Then on some level I haven’t grown up into Christ.

This kind of personal analysis requires intense reflection combined with broad reading and application of Scripture. It focuses on the gospel of Christ as the solution instead of a method or practice.

Spiritual Growth and Discipleship: Extended Scripture Memorization

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Psalm 119.105

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Few things will deepen your spiritual growth and love for Jesus like abiding in and memorizing God’s Word. To many, it’s the cardinal discipline every Christian should adopt.

Do you wish you thought of God more throughout the day? Memorize his Word. Is there sin that you need power to defeat? Bury his word in your heart! Those times when I am feverishly committing the scriptures to memory yield a harvest of worship and wonder like few others. The application of the Word happens day by day, moment by moment. And few things take you as deep as memorizing extended sections of the scriptures.

Andy Davis, Senior Pastor at FBC Durham, has memorized 35 books of the Bible using a method he developed for memorizing extended portions of the Bible. I’ve used it to great effect. It’s simple, you can do it in the car on the way to work everyday. Here’s the process in short:

Day One: Read your verse 10 times. Cover it and recite it 10 times. You’re done.
Day Two: Recite yesterdays verse 10 times. Read today’s verse 10 times. Cover and recite 10 times. You’re done.
Day Three: Recite yesterday’s verse 10 times. Recite day one and two verses together/in order. Read today’s verse 10 times. Recite today’s verse 10 times. You’re done.
Day Four: Continue the process.

There’s a little more to it than that. Davis has written a fantastic booklet available here. I highly recommend reading it before beginning this process. He’ll help you choose a first book to memorize, and give you some other tools to aid in memorization.