It is important, whether young or old, that we continue to tool and equip ourselves to study the Bible. So what I have to offer here on studying the Bible may be old news to some of you but hopefully there will be something for everyone. One of the driving forces in my Bible study has been the ongoing responsibility of producing curriculum for our small groups. When you are constantly writing material to be used in small groups there is a tremendous burden for it to be biblically sound and applicable. This is studying the Bible for the benefit of someone else and comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility (James 3:1). The reason I start by bringing that up is that I believe there are a few things that has taught me about studying the Bible that would be beneficial to share with anyone out there who is still reading this blog. You can’t study the Bible to help someone else grow without it profoundly (and firstly) helping you grow.
When we study the Bible we aren’t studying for information‘s sake although that is the first level we take in God’s Word. When you read the Bible you aren’t reading it to make bullet point lists to fit nicely on the page. You should be reading the Bible for the sake of transformation. The two (information and transformation) have to go hand in hand. You should never have one without the other. We aren’t studying a self-help book here. We are studying the Word of God. What we have between the covers of this book is what God thought would be important enough to reveal to us and have written down so that we could have faith in Him and live changed lives. So before we talk how to’s it is important to talk perspective.
Now for a little more on information leading to transformation…what we believe absolutely impacts how we live. Let’s say you don’t believe in God. You don’t believe in eternal life. When you die, you are dead. Forever. Would that drastically change the way you are currently living your life? Would it change your morality and ethics? If you change the guiding principles of someone’s life you will ultimately change their behavior. That is because what we believe impacts what we do. Information leads to transformation.
All those guys with letters after their names would say it like this – the indicative drives, or leads to, the imperative. Indicatives are just statements. God is love. Jesus is Lord. We are saved by grace. Those are indicatives. Imperatives are commands and in scripture they typically follow after indicatives. The reason for that is God usually gives us the reason why he wants us to live a particular way. Let me give two often cited examples of this.
Example #1 – The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
If you learned or memorized the ten commandments as a child you learned that they started at Exodus 20:3. But if you back up a verse, before God tells them anything about how to live or what commands (imperatives) to follow, he gives them this indicative as the basis for their obedience, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…You shall have no other gods before me” (command #1). God understands the natural progression of how we think about things and what leads to us living them out. That only makes sense because He made us to be like that. I am glad he didn’t just give us a bunch of lists of truths or rules and expect us to get it. Instead he has delicately interlaced the two together in His Word and ultimately lived it out through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Example #2 – Ephesians
I first heard this from Dr. Oster at Harding Graduate School. The book of Ephesians is split very purposefully into two halves: Chapters 1-3 & 4-6. The first half is full of indicatives, truths about God, Christ, and our relationship with them. There is only 1 imperative/command in the first half of Ephesians and that one is a command to “remember” what God has done for us. So even the lone command is a command pointing us back to the indicatives. There are something like 41 imperatives in the last three chapters of Ephesians. What’s the point? Before Paul gives them all the commands they first have to understand something about God.
Let me bring this back to Bible study. When we study the Bible the end game is our hope that studying this book will result in a changed, more Christ-like life. That means we are studying for application/transformation. God wants scripture to change our lives. We should want that too. In order to have the basis for understanding and living out those transformative principles we must first have the information/indicative that gives us the background for why these things are important so that our actions and attitudes can be informed by the truth.
Let me end this post with one practical “how to” lesson on what all this means for how we study the Bible. I have said this on the blog before but here it goes again. If we want to apply scripture to our lives we have to know what it says. If we are going to know what it says we have to read or hear what it says. That means that before any of these things even matter we have to act. We have to make the move. We must pick up our Bibles, ask God to guide us and transform us, and study.