7 Tips for Better Bible Study

I came across this blog by Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., and had to repost it because all too often we make it all about the reading/gleaning knowledge aspect alone, and don’t take into consideration other key elements. Also, he talks about how bible study encourages and commands us to be the church. As Alistair Begg is fond of saying, “The plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things.”

An important point that we often miss as believers (in whatever stage of life transformation by the gospel) and that becomes discouraging is we tend to think because we’re limited in knowledge, etc. we can’t be affective or show Christ to others. There are things that you believe in Scripture that are true, but you just don’t fully understand why you believe them, nor can you adequately defend them. Your “ignorance” does not make your beliefs wrong, does it? You may need to grow deeply in your knowledge, but your beliefs are true and remain unchanged. Your conviction of their truth deepens, but the truth is the truth. You tracking with me?

Ok, here’s Driscoll:

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When tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread after a 40-day fast in the wilderness, Jesus responded by saying simply and profoundly, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Paul, when writing to his protégé, Timothy, writes that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

David writes, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

The implications are clear: life and growth come from the study of God’s words through Scripture. We are not to read and study the Bible begrudgingly but rather view it as the source of life and, like David, love God’s word.

But the reality is that we all struggle at times to study faithfully or joyfully. So, it’s nice to have a few principles to help us refocus our love and study of Scripture. Below are seven principles that I’ve found beneficial.

1. Actively serve and participate in a local church to learn with and from other Christians.

Colossians 3:16 (NIV): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

2. Be under the authority of Scripture to be interpreted by it, not over the Scripture to be interpreted by you.

Hebrews 4:12–13 (NIV): “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-­edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

3. Pick up the Bible for life transformation, not just mental information.

John 5:39–40 (NIV): “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

4. Pick up the Bible for relational purposes—not functional ones—so that you will love God and not just know or use him.

Matthew 7:21–23 (NIV): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“

5. Don’t just get into the Word; get the Word into you.

Memorization, Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Meditation, Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

6. Take advantage of godly Bible commentators, your pastor, respected theologians in church history, and wise Christian friends to better understand Scripture.

Romans 12:7 (NIV): “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach . . .”

7. Don’t think you need more knowledge. Often you need more obedience to the knowledge you already have.

James 1:22 (NIV): “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

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Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

“They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve had several people (even those claiming faith in Christ) in my lifetime confront me with a quandary, which keeps them in doubt. They hold onto this one question/thought as their seeming life-line for justifying their disbelief: Why does God allow bad/evil things to happen? How can he be God (good)? It’s unjust and wrong.”

I have three sort of “knee jerk” reactions, two of which are manifested inwardly: My heart aches, I ask them (sometimes aloud and other times in my head: “Well, ‘unjust’ according to who? You?”, and I start off by pointing them gently to Romans 9. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit. I find that people feel if they can’t or aren’t allowed to understand it in their human wisdom then it’s invalid or we are idiots.

I came across this blog post on Desiring God’s website, titled, Seven Things the Bible Says About Evil, which I found offered some great insight and lets Scripture speak for itself. The author does a great job of stating it simply. This is a matter that is infinitely simple yet infinitely complex at the same time:

How can we reconcile God’s sweeping control over creation with the existence of such horrors as cancer, famine, genocide, sexual abuse, tsunamis, and terrorism? Voltaire sums up the issue nicely in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” written after the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755:

“Ill could not from a perfect being spring,
Nor from another, since God’s sovereign king.”

His point is that since God is good, he can’t properly be the source of evil. Likewise, if God is all-powerful, no one else can thwart his intentions. So we’re stuck, it seems. Who’s to blame for the suffering we experience? Though we lack the space here for an extended discussion, let’s consider seven biblical affirmations.

1. Evil is real.

That is to say, we distort the Bible and do ourselves a profound disservice by minimizing the existence of suffering. God invites us to acknowledge our pain. The Psalmist wrote, “I believed, even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted'” (Psalm 116:10).

2. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In some ways, talking about a “problem of evil” is a false start. A better quandary to start with would be the problem of sin. How quickly we rush to raise a self-righteous fist while our other hand digs in the cookie jar. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:25).

3. God is good.

Whatever we say about God’s sovereignty over evil (and say we will; see below), we must never imply that God is corrupt, that he somehow nurses a dark side. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4. God ordains all things that come to pass, including evil.

God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6). To be sure, this means he clothes lilies and feeds birds (Matthew 6:2628). But he also makes lightning (Psalm 135:7). He strikes down firstborn children and kills mighty kings (Psalm 135:8). Our God holds sway over the good, the bad, and the ugly. “I form light and create darkness,” he says. “I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

5. Man is responsible for his actions.

Lest we fall into fatalism, we should remember that God’s sovereignty never excuses wrongdoing. When a man commits murder, the blood is on his hands. “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22).

6. God did not spare his own Son.

The cross speaks to our theology of suffering in at least two ways. First, it shows us that God can will something to happen that he opposes. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood.” And yet he sent his Son to suffer precisely that fate. Is this a mystery? Absolutely. But it is not nonsense. We can look at evil and with no contradiction say, “This is wrong, and God has willed that it take place.” Listen to how Peter describes the crucifixion: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine).

Second, the cross demonstrates that God regards our affliction not as something strange to the palette, but as a cup he has drunk to the dregs. By giving up his own Son, God entered into our pain. He knows what it’s like to suffer loss. But he also did more. By putting his Son to grief, God turned grief on its head. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This brings us to the final point.

7. Heaven works backwards.

C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Lewis is not being novel here. He is simply restating what Christians have hoped in for centuries, the promise that gives all our suffering purpose: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Johnathon Bowers is Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke