One of the primary means for spiritual growth is the systematic study of the Bible. There are a number of reasons why Bible study is of such importance. For one thing, it is food for the soul. The Word of God is compared to milk (in 1 Peter 2:2). The writer of Hebrews compares the Scriptures to strong meat (solid food), described in Hebrews 5:14. Jesus says that God’s Word is bread, when He says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Bible is bread for the inner man; without it the soul shrivels up and dies.
Another reason why Bible study is important, is because it cleanses from sin. The Psalmist says, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). The Bible is a vehicle which God uses to accomplish the work of sanctification in our lives. If we know the Bible, and if we have a mind set to live by its precepts, it will spring up into a clean and fruitful life.
Another value of Bible study is that it prepares us to answer others. The Apostle Peter says that we should be ready always to give an answer to those who ask us “a reason of the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15). And certainly, to do this, we must know what the Scriptures say and where basic teachings are found. Many Christians do not know what the Bible says about baptism or divorce or Heaven and Hell or even about salvation—and so they can’t give a helpful answer to those who ask about their faith.
Bible study is valuable too because the Bible answers man’s basic questions. Each of us is interested in the meaning of life. What is man? Why is he here? Where does he go when he dies? These are fundamental issues of life, and the Bible is the only book in all the world that has authoritative answers to these questions. The Bible tells the fascinating account of sin and of God’s plan of redemption; it tells about future events; it supplies all the information that is necessary to make life useful here, and to prepare us for the world to come. The Psalmist says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
But in spite of all the benefits of Bible study, the duty of study to many is a drudgery. If you find Bible study an irksome duty instead of a delightful habit, keep in mind a few approaches that might prove helpful.
1. Study the Bible Daily
The Bible is spiritual food, and like a physical meal, it should be assimilated every day. That is why listening to a preacher on Sunday morning, or attending a midweek Bible study is not enough. The soul needs to be fed daily. There should be a regular time and place set apart each day for the study of God’s Word. You will never find time, you just have to take time! You must say, “I’m going to set apart a time to read the Bible every day,” and then do it! It must become a matter of principle never to let a single day go by without the sincere study of the Bible. (For those persons who have difficulty reading, perhaps you can borrow a set of tapes that have been pre-recorded, and listen to someone read the Word of God each day).
Some can give more time to the study of the Bible than others can, but none of us should give less than 7 minutes a day. I deliberately set a short time so that one does not become discouraged at the outset. If a person sets out to give a longer time to Bible study, there is a probability that he will not be able to keep up his good resolution, and he might become discouraged and perhaps give up. I recommend a short period for Bible study—at least for a start—and then later move on to longer periods.
Whenever possible, the best time to study God’s Word is soon after arising in the morning. The morning is the gate of day, and we ought to guard the gate of each new day with Bible study and prayer. We must learn to arise fifteen minutes earlier each morning, and meet the Lord, and hear His voice as He speaks to us through His Word. This requires some sacrifice, but it can be done. Morning devotions require a great deal of sacrifice and human resolve, but those moments with God in the morning are the mainspring of a good day. Those who sincerely follow the practice almost universally agree that the day is much smoother and much more successful, than are those days in which the practice is omitted. Soon after arising for the day, find a place where you will not likely be disturbed and begin reading God’s Word.
2. Study the Bible Prayerfully
The Bible is a supernatural book. The things of God must be spiritually discerned, and therefore we must seek the Spirit’s help, if we are going to profit from our reading of the Scriptures.
We must pray that God will instruct us, and that our souls will be fed. We must ask Him to speak to us as we read from His Word. And even while we are reading, we must stop at times, and pause and pray. When you read 1 Corinthians 13, for example, and you come to the phrase, “Love is not easily provoked”—and you remember the burning resentment you felt recently when someone crossed your path—pause and pray. Confess your sin. Ask God’s forgiveness. Pray for deliverance. Ask God not only to help you keep your mouth shut, but ask Him to dry up the very wells of resentment inside you.
When we read the Bible, we should ask God to open up our hearts. Pray the prayer found in Psalm 119:18, “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Let your study of the Bible always be bathed in prayer.
3. Study the Bible Systematically
There may be times when you will want to just open the Bible and read whatever is before you, but for your regular, daily Bible study, a systematic schedule of reading should always be followed.
One good plan for systematic study is to study the Bible according to its books. The Bible is really a library of 66 books—some historical, some prophetic, and some doctrinal. Take one book of the Bible and study it carefully as a unit. Read the entire book through at one sitting, if possible. There are 27 books in the New Testament and seventeen of those books have six chapters or less. For example, the Book of Philippians has only four chapters, and can normally be read in about twenty minutes. Even the Book of Genesis, one of the longer books of the Bible—if you put your mind to it—can be read completely through in just one long evening, or on a Sunday afternoon.
A good place to begin, when studying one of the books of the Bible, is with the Book of Mark, because Mark is a concise, brief, fast-moving account of the life of Jesus. When you have read it through once, go back and read it through again. This may take several weeks. And when you have read it through a second time, go back and read it through a third time. Do this until you have read it five or six times—until it becomes a part of you. When you are through with the Gospels and The Acts, read the Psalms and the Proverbs in the same way. And then do the same thing with the other books of the Bible.
It is always good to keep a notebook close by, and write down any thoughts that impress your mind while you are reading. Try and give a title to each chapter. Name the persons who are mentioned in the paragraphs. Write down a favorite verse. Make a list of practical lessons, and try to summarize the teachings of the passage. Then set out with a new determination to live in accord with what you have just learned.
And then too, there are several basic Bible study tools that can be used to a good advantage:
A BIBLE DICTIONARY is by far the most useful study tool. If you have only one book in addition to the Bible, it should be a Bible dictionary. The dictionary lists alphabetically all the important names used in the Bible. It gives valuable information about the persons, places, and concepts found in Scripture. It tells about the manners and customs, weights and measures, land formations, and distances between cities. If you are interested in gathering information about Caiaphas, the sect of the Pharisees, the meaning of the word phylacteries, the location of the village Bethany—all can be found in a good Bible dictionary. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary is among the best.
A COMPLETE CONCORDANCE is another very useful Bible study tool. With a complete concordance you can find the location of any word in the Bible. You can find any verse of Scripture if you know just one word or one small part of the verse. For example, if you wanted to find the verse that talks about “a camel going through the eye of a needle”—you would look in the concordance for the word “camel” or “needle”—and at least part of the sentence in which it is found (along with the book, chapter, and verse)—would be listed for you. Crudens Complete Concordance is good for the average reader.
Other Bible study aids include a Bible Handbook and Bible Commentaries. The Handbook gives a brief summary of each Bible chapter. Commentaries are books of various lengths that attempt to explain the meaning of Bible verses. They can be helpful; they can also be dangerous. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss those which are valuable and those which are worthless. No study tool can, of course, provide a complete understanding of God’s Word. That requires a heart and a mind and a lifetime devoted to study. The point is—study the Bible systematically. Keep a notebook by your side and record thoughts that come to mind as you read. Use a Bible dictionary to find additional information about persons, places, and concepts. Bible study is not just casual reading. It becomes most profitable if it is done in a disciplined and systematic way.
4. Study the Bible Comprehensively
It is a mistake to confine our Bible reading to just certain portions—and thus fail to get a knowledge of the Bible from cover to cover. Some folks study only the New Testament. Some only study the Psalms. Some never study Genesis. Some never study prophecy; they never study Daniel or the Revelation. Others study nothing but prophecy!
Occasionally we should read the entire Bible from cover to cover. That sounds (to some people) like an almost impossible task, but it only takes about 77 hours for the average reader to read from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. And in this way, we can get an over-all view of the content of the whole Book. If you read three chapters each weekday and five chapters each Sunday, you can read the entire Bible through in one year. If that is too fast, develop a slower pace, but stick with it until you have read entirely through the Bible. There are various reading schedules available from the Bible Societies in various parts of the world—all designed to lead you through the Bible in a year.
Some say, “But those genealogies are so uninteresting that I get bored.” Yet even the genealogies (the lists of names in the Bible) have some great lessons to teach us. They have chronological and historical value. They help us know who followed whom in the order of events. They tell us how detailed and how precisely and how carefully the Scriptures were written. We are thus reminded of the painstaking efforts the writers took in order to insure the accuracy of the Bible. The genealogies remind us too of the fleeting brevity of time. Each person named in the genealogies represents a living soul—a person who was born and lived on this earth just like you and I do. These people had feelings and joys and sorrows—and now they are gone! They remind us that life is only like a mist that appears for a short while, and then vanishes. Any Christian who has the ability to read—and has never read the Bible through from cover to cover—ought to be ashamed of himself. How can you ever expect to understand a book that you have never even read?
5. Study the Bible Thoughtfully
We must constantly guard against reading the Bible thoughtlessly, looking at the words with our eyes, but letting our minds wander off into a dozen other places. When we study the Bible, we must resolve to shut out everything else, and concentrate on what God is saying in His Word. This can be very difficult because Satan will do everything he can to distract us.
One mother tells how one of her sons was so unusually quiet in another room, and she thought that perhaps he was into mischief. And so she called, and said, “What are you doing, Joe?” He responded by saying, “I’m watching Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.” She still was not sure, and when she checked, she discovered that he was reading the Bible (the eleventh chapter of John), and that the words of the chapter were very real to him. He didn’t say, “I’m reading about Jesus raising Lazarus”—but he said, “I’m watching Jesus raise Lazarus.” He could picture the incident in his mind’s eye, and that is the way we should read the Bible.
When you read a Bible passage that really grips you—go back and mark it and make a note to memorize it. Then seek to hide it in your heart. If you memorize portions of Scripture, you can meditate on the Word of God at night when the lights are out and you can’t sleep, as well as when your hands are busy, engaged in your daily work. In some parts of the world, the Bible has been taken away from God’s people. All they have of the Scriptures, is what they took time to memorize earlier, and to store in their hearts. Surely, memorizing portions of the Bible is of great value.
6. Study the Bible Believingly
Nothing will help us to understand the Bible better than to have a firm purpose in our hearts to obey it. If we want God’s blessing on our lives, then we must not only read His Word, but we must read it with a determination in our hearts to comply with what it teaches. Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17). If we are willing to obey, God is going to help us understand more and more of His truth.
When reading the Bible, we should always be looking for practical applications. If there is a promise, we are to claim it. If there is a command, we are to obey it. If there is a reprimand, we should bow before it. If there is a challenge, we are to accept it. The Bible is the mind of God, and it is absolutely essential that we believe it and seek to obey it.
Always keep your motive clearly in mind. You are not reading the Bible merely because a Christian ought to read it. You are not reading the Bible because the preacher urges you to do it. You are reading God’s Word because you need food for the inner man! It doesn’t matter how faithful you are when it comes to attending church services, or how often you participate in the ordinances of God’s house, or how many seminars and conferences and revival meetings you attend—if you fail to observe habits of regular, systematic Bible study—your spiritual growth will be stunted and hampered.
And this reminder is in order once again: Establishing a daily time for Bible study is never easy. You will find that one of the most vicious attacks the devil will ever make in your life, will be directed toward robbing you of your daily time with God. And if you once start the practice of daily Bible study, you are going to have to guard it fearlessly, if you are going to keep up the pattern of study. My counsel is this: Read the Bible for yourself; believe its message; seek to live by its principles; and you will be a much better person. A Bible that is falling apart from much use, generally belongs to a person who is not falling apart.
J. Wilbur Chapman used to give five rules for Bible study: First, study it through—never begin a day without reading it. Second, pray it in—don’t leave the Bible until a passage becomes a part of you. Third, write it down—jot down your thoughts in the margin of your Bible or in a notebook. Fourth, work it out—attempt to live the truth you learn each hour of the day. Fifth, pass it on—seek to tell somebody what you have learned. Reading God’s Word is one habit, if done sincerely, that will make you more nearly the kind of person you really want to be.
The Bible is a unique book. It tells us about Jesus. The Scriptures were specifically written so that we might be encouraged to give our hearts to Christ. The Gospel according to John closes with these words: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
If you want the promise of everlasting life; if you want to be free from the danger of perishing eternally—then come to Jesus, believe on Him, and turn over your life to His control. He who has the Son has life, and he who has not the Son of God has not life (1 John 5:12). To be without the Son of God is to be in a terrible state.