Why and How Should We Study the Bible?

Opening illustration – “Manual Enthusiasts”

Perhaps you saw this article in a recent edition of the Lima News.

It tells about a group of people who gather together on a weekly basis to study their exercise equipment manuals.

That’s right, these people all bought brand new exercise equipment – ellipticals, rowing machines, stair steppers, and Bow Flex machines to name a few; but they don’t actually use the equipment when they get together.  Instead they talk about the information in the equipment manuals.

This group comes to their meetings with pens, pencils and highlighters ready to discuss, take notes and highlight important sections they want to remember later.

They quiz each other on what information is on what page number, they take turns reciting their favorite sections, and many of them are learning the manuals in the original languages where they were printed.

Some admit that they actually cut sections out of the manual and tape them to their bathroom mirrors so they can memorize them while they get ready for work.

The most interesting thing in the article to me however, was the mention that some people write down sentences from the manual, sometimes whole chapters, on index cards and carry them in their pockets to work so that when they take breaks they can pull their index cards out and practice memorizing.

I ask you, how silly is this?  The purpose of the manual is to help you use the exercise equipment. Studying the manual just for the sake of study is of no value whatsoever.

You’ve probably figured out that I made this up.  There is no “exercise manual enthusiast” club.

But perhaps you’ve also figured out that this hits pretty close to the mark when it comes to the subject of Bible study.

Folks, this is not a new phenomenon by any means.  One of the most telling statements Jesus ever made, certainly one that fits within the context of our teaching tonight is found in John 5:39-40.   Here we find Jesus speaking directly to the “manual enthusiasts” of His day.

To the Jewish religious leaders Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”

In other words, Jesus was saying that “you study the Scriptures thinking that knowledge of what it says will save you when the very One the Scriptures speaks of who offers salvation stands before you and you ignore me.”

Background note – The Jewish men of the day wore little leather pouches that hung down on their forehead.  They were called phylacteries and they contained Scripture passages.  The stated purpose was to remind Jewish men of their religious duties.  How tragic and sad.

Tonight’s topic is “Why” and “How” Should We Study the Bible.  The construction of this sentence is important.  Notice that the “Why” comes first.  That is because “how” we answer the “Why” will determine the value we place upon the process of “How.”

The “Why” seems self-evident but increasingly in our time we see a need to answer that question.

For the believer, we turn first to the Bible itself – what does it say in answer to the “why” question?

Matthew 4:4 records the words of Jesus spoken to our enemy: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

By the way – Jesus responded this way three times and each time was a quotation from Deuteronomy.  Notice also, that Jesus said we need spiritual sustenance from “every word” of God.  That means books like Leviticus and Numbers.

In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read these words: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

And one more passage, this one from 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

In response to the question “why study the Bible,” Martin Luther said “Scripture is the manger or cradle in which the infant Jesus lies. Don’t let us inspect the cradle and forget to worship the baby.”

Andrew Murray, who wrote much about prayer and sanctification, said, “Scripture was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our conduct.”

Author Larry Richards, in a Christianity Today article said, “A learning of the Word of God can be validated only by a transformed life. The only teaching that can rightly be called ‘Bible teaching,’ focuses not on processing information, but on hearing and responding to God’s own loving voice.”

One of the primary reasons God gave us the Bible was to transform us from the inside out.

As I thought and prayed about this teaching tonight I arrived at the following short list of reasons for why we study the Bible.  There are undoubtedly many more but since I only have a maximum of 30 minutes I’ll be brief (CCL folks will tell you I am normally just finishing the introduction at the 30 minute mark – just kidding – sort of).

Why study the Bible?

(1)  Because in it God calls the lost to salvation while simultaneously sanctifying those who trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. In other words, the Bible brings us into an encounter with the God who saves.

(2)  Because in it we find life-giving and life-sustaining instruction. God’s guidelines for living bring us great joy and spare us much heartache.

(3)  Because in it we learn what community and fellowship in and by the Holy Spirit really mean. We are meant to live as a family with all the privileges and challenges that presents. This is the “spice” of life.

(4)  Because in it we are edified, equipped and exhorted to advance the Kingdom. Ministry and mission are both done in the context of living day by day under the authority and direction of our great King.

But the #1 reason we study the Bible is to know our great God’s love for us, demonstrated most clearly in the sending of His Son, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, to answer the “how” question let me give you another illustration.  This one involving one of my favorite fiction characters Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson went on a camping trip. After sharing a good meal, they retire to their tent for the night.

At about 3 AM, Holmes nudges Watson and asks, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?”

Watson said, “I see millions of stars.”

Holmes asks, “And, what does that tell you?”

Watson replies, “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and we are small and insignificant. Horologically, it tells me that it’s about 3 AM. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes retorts, “Someone stole our tent.”

This is a humorous way of illustrating 3 principles of systematic Bible study – the “how” component.

Those 3 principles are (1) Observation – what does the text say? (2) Interpretation – what does the text mean? (3) Application – what does the text mean for me?

Knowing the “why” and “how” we study the Bible is a good foundation but we must also understand that we may have some build-in obstacles to overcome.

Consider this brief list of hindrances that many people battle in order to set aside a regular time for Bible study.

(1)  Relevance – it just doesn’t speak to the issues we face today.

(2)  Technique – don’t know where to even begin studying the Bible; or what “tools” to use; I’m no scholar after all.

(3)  Intimidated – I’m just a lay person. Studying the Bible is for professionals.

(4)  Don’t have the time. I lead a very busy life.

(5)  Don’t believe the Bible is true in all it teaches.

(6)  Boring

(7)  No one has ever answered the “what’s in it for me” question.

I think that last obstacle is a key.  As Christians we must come along side of our brothers and sisters and encourage them in grasping an understanding of the importance of the Bible to their spiritual and subsequently physical well-being.

Let’s investigate that next.

Turn in your Bibles to 1 Peter 2:2

If you are a note taker, I want you to notice three key concepts in this verse. (1) Attitude (2) Appetite (3) Aim

So what should be our attitude?   “As newborn babes” we come to a study of the Bible.  How many of you know a baby wants what it wants when it wants it and if you don’t deliver what a baby wants you’re going to hear about it.  (Why is it that babies always want that bottle at 2AM?)

But you know what happens when you deliver that warm bottle of milk to that waiting mouth?  That baby settles down and delights in the feeling of a full stomach and before you know it the world is perfect once again.

Babies have a one-track mind.  Their attitude is “I know what makes me content and helps me sleep – warm milk!”  Likewise, time spent studying the Bible brings satisfaction and peace to our spirits. So have a one-track mind when it comes to your attitude concerning the Bible.

So what about appetite? Psalm 19:10 says that the Bible is “sweeter than honey.” I love honey and this is a fitting metaphor.  But not everyone shares this same thinking concerning Bible study.

Howard Hendricks, in his book “Living by the Book” describes three types of people who study the Bible.  Some are Castor Oil/medicine types – they know it is good for them but it is so hard to swallow.  Then there are the “Shredded Wheat” types who know Scripture is nourishing but so dry.  Finally, there are the “strawberries and cream” folks who just can’t get enough.

The obvious question is, “how do we get to the place where our Bible study is like “strawberries and cream?” There are at least two steps:

(1) By deliberately feasting on the Word systematically over time; set aside a regular time to spend reading and meditating on the Bible.

(2) By recognizing the benefit of pushing through the obstacles. God desires to conform us to the image of Jesus.  In order to do that we will need to seek His guidance and power for daily living. That comes through consistent study.

How many of you eat foods now that you wouldn’t touch as a child?  Salmon? Spinach? Asparagus? What changed?  You gave those foods another chance; perhaps because you recognized the health benefit to you.

Peter tells us the same thing here about our spiritual health.  Having the right attitude about the Bible will lead to developing a healthy appetite for the Bible.

Then, notice the 3rd key concept – the aim of Bible study – that you may grow in respect to salvation.

Please note that the aim is to grow not to “know.”  Knowledge is great but it is not the goal.  You can know many things about the Bible and not grow spiritually.

The Bible was given to us not to give us information but that we might through understanding and application of it be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

As you study and gain an increasing understanding of the Bible keep these three things in mind:

(1)  Knowledge is only legitimate as it leads to being and doing “in” Christ.

(2)  Love sums up the being and doing.

(3)  Be humble.  Humility is the hallmark of a Bible student. We see dimly but one day we will see clearly. Don’t become so dogmatic that you become a “Lone Ranger” Christian.

In closing, remember this axiom attributed to Augustine: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty.  In all things, charity.”