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When I was in my early twenties, I was part of a women's Bible study at my church in Round Rock, Texas. We met on Thursday mornings and I was the youngest person in the group. I was newly married and many of the women in that group had been married for years and had been walking with the Lord in beautiful, sincere ways for longer than I had even been alive.
I loved it. It birthed in me a love for spending time with women who are older and wiser than myself that continues to this day. I love hearing about their living lives that can best be described as A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I love listening to their language about God and marriage and family and life. I learned to love God's Word through these women, most of whom I am tremendously blessed to still gather with regularly to this day. And I learned how to pray, usually through tears flowing with gratitude, with sincerity to our good God who hears.
There was one woman named Robin, who was a committed student to the study of God's word. She was also an amazing and thorough teacher and because she was the closest to my age, I was intrigued by the depth of her insights and knowledge. I remember that she gave me a book called the The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament. Sounds heady, right? It is, and it is awesome. I didn't even know what Exegesis was until I got this book, but I pored over it and learned so much. I already loved this Bible, but this took my studies to the next level.
Fast forward a few years and Robin became a missionary with her husband and their children. That little church in Round Rock closed its doors a few years after that and Cosmo and I went on to Hope Chapel, which is still our church home in Austin, Texas. Robin's family had been there for years and Hope is their sending church, so when Robin and her family come home on furlough from the mission field once in awhile, they come to Hope.
Last time they were in town, Robin had the opportunity to address the congregation, and just like old times, her insights intrigued and challenged me. She made a statement along these lines:
"When you read a Bible story, but don't apply it in your life, how can you just go on to the next story? If you just read the Bible, but don't do what it says, you are training yourself in disobedience."
This really got my attention: training yourself in disobedience.
Christians read the Bible to know and love God more, but we also read it for instruction for living well - as God wills. When we read it and act on what we read - like by caring for the orphan and the widow, or feeding the hungry, or daily confessing and turning from sin - then we are training ourselves to live a life of obedience to our loving God.
But when we read it and think it doesn't apply to us or that we don't have to act on what we've read, then we are training ourselves to be disobedient. We are saying, "God says to do this, but I'd rather do that and so it's ok to ignore God."
So, how do we read and study the Bible first with the intention of obeying and then by actually obeying?
1| What stands out in this passage?
The answer to this question can be different for every person in the room, even though they are reading the same passage. The answer is based on where God has you currently - your life situations, struggles, triumphs, future plans. The answer can also be very different today than it will be for you tomorrow. Just ask God what He is showing you in this passage at this current time.
2| What questions do you have about the passage?
Again, this varies by the person. Is there anything that doesn't make sense to you? Is there a word you don't really understand, a principle that seems unclear or confusing, a phrase you don't know the meaning of? Take a moment to make note of any questions you have and then do your best to find answers to those questions before you move on. Get clear on meanings of words and phrases by using a Bible dictionary or a concordance (I like Strong's Concordance. In my opinion, an actual book - vs. an ebook - is better when using a concordance). Try to discern the meaning on your own - through prayer and study - before asking someone else for help or before going to a commentary (I really like Matthew Henry's Commentary).
Where do we see Jesus Christ in the passage?
Did you know that Jesus is everywhere in the Bible, not just the New Testament? There are Messianic prophecies sprinkled throughout the stories and lessons of the Old Testament. There are principles for life that are not fully understood until we put the Bible together as a whole, with the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus at the center. So, can you locate Jesus in the passage - a message or principle He teaches or perhaps a character trait He exemplifies?
What instruction is God giving in this passage?
What's the action item? What is being taught that I need to apply to my life and how do I need to apply it? This is where we run into that issue of training ourselves in disobedience. If I read God's word, see the instruction given, and then just leave it on the table, my mind, heart, and soul think, "I need to obey God, except for when it comes to ________."
How can I share this with others?
No man or woman is an island. We are all interconnected and dependent on one another in various ways. It is my joy, privilege, and responsibility to share what I have learned with you and vice versa. None of us has a corner market on truth, so as we each pray, study, and seek God, we are challenged and encouraged by one another. After studying a passage of Scripture and applying it to my life, I often find myself in a situation where someone else needs to hear what I have just learned. I pray for sensitivity to those needs to share in God's way and God's timing.
As I mentioned before, this is a common format for Bible study. I strongly encourage you to read Marshall Segal's take on it - he is a staff writer for the Desiring God website and has a beautifully written piece titled "Six Questions to Ask When Studying the Bible in a Group." Enjoy!
What passage are you studying and applying today?