Biblical Rules for Profitable Bible Study
by Bryan Gibson
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Note: the links in this article are not underlined.
The Bible is a very profitable book—“profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). But it will not profit us very much if we fail to approach it with the right attitude, and if we do not study it in a systematic way. For example consider Hebrews 4:2: “... the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith." Let us consider some biblical rules that can make bible study more profitable for us.
Study the Bible with a single aim—to find the truth in order to obey it. Do not look for what pleases you; look for what pleases God (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Desire the truth, even if it hurts to hear it. Heed the following admonition: “Buy the truth and do not sell it” (Proverbs 23:23). In other words, don’t take anything in exchange for the truth, no matter how attractive it may seem. We plead with you not to be counted among the many who “did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Recognize that it is impossible to be saved by error and falsehood.
Use the Bible as a mirror—let it show you what you need to correct or improve (James 1:21-25). Brace yourself, though, because the image it reveals may not be a pretty one. You may have a lot of work to do, but you will not find a better “self improvement course” than Bible study. We all have deficiencies and critical areas of our lives that are hard to control. Use the word of God to attack them one by one, starting with the one that gives you the most trouble and is probably blinding you to seeing other issues.
Learn all you can about Jesus, which will enable you to walk in His footsteps (1 Peter 2:21-23). It is impossible to be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29) when so little is known about Him. Learn His attitudes—toward sin, toward people, toward the word of God, toward His heavenly Father, toward authority in general. Learn how He prayed, how He taught, how He rebuked, how He handled temptation, how He comforted people, and yes, and even how He handled death.
Pay close attention to apostolic approved examples—both for positive commands (Philippians 3:17; 4;9) and for negative warnings (1 Corinthians 10:6-11). What both pleases and displeases the Lord becomes increasingly clearer we see it in action.
Read slowly and carefully every promise—to the faithful and to the unfaithful (2 Peter 1:2-4). When you see the rewards for serving the Lord and the punishment for not doing so, you will have all the incentive you need to faithfully serve the Lord. Do not go to the next verse until you have a good grasp of the current one. Think it through and meditate on it -- it cannot be understood by a high level reading like you would a novel.
Look for principles in the Bible that will help you deal with various situations in life—peer pressure, the challenge of rearing children, sickness, discouragement, marriage problems, difficulties with other relationships, etc. God has answers to all of these problems and opportunities. Seek guidance from others to direct you to the passages that apply to your particular issue or situation.
Study with the goal to become a complete, mature Christian (Colossians 1:28), and use the bible to that end. The bible was not written merely to inform; it was written to transform. Let it do its work in you (1 Thessalonians 2:13), so that you’ll be ready when you stand before the Lord in judgment (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Do not be satisfied with silver bullet verses -- strive to learn all that the New Testament has to say on any given subject.
Distinguish between the two testaments or covenants—the old and the new. The new is a “better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22), “established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). It came into effect when Christ died (Hebrews 9:15-17). Clearly, it is this testament (will, law) that we are subject to today (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2). Do not make the same mistake that so many others have made—that of looking for authority for religious practices in the old covenant, one that has now become “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). Our top priority should be to become totally familiar with the New Testament. But ...
Don’t neglect the Old Testament, though, because it still has great practical value. Here’s a quick look at just some of its benefits: (1) It will greatly enhance your understanding of the New Testament. (2) You will better appreciate God’s eternal plan, because you will see it unfold right before your eyes. (3) It will strengthen your faith when you read its many prophecies, and then see their fulfillment in the New Testament. (4) The examples—both individuals and nations—will teach you lessons you’ll never forget, and hopefully save you from the mistakes of previous generations. (5) You will benefit greatly from the timeless wisdom found in such books as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Study the Old Testament, and soon you will have some other points to add to this list.
Be careful how you handle all the figurative language in the Bible. Does it make sense to you that exactly 144,000 will be saved, and that this number will only include male virgins? That is what you have to believe—if you take Revelation 14:1-4 literally. It is amazing how most of us can easily pick out figurative language in every other source except the bible. The figures of speech that we learned about in grade school (e.g., similes and metaphors) are there, as are other figurative constructs, such as hyperbole, metonymy, and even sarcasm (which conveys the very opposite of the literal statement). Remember, figurative language is not given to hide the truth; it is used to present the truth in the most understandable way.
Consider the context in which it is said—that is one of the most important rules. If a literal interpretation sounds ridiculous, it probably is. If a literal interpretation contradicts other plain passages, you know you are on the wrong track. Learn to appreciate figurative language, because it makes the point in a very vivid, memorable way. Just make sure you get the right point. See the article on the milk and the meat and on the proper use of context.
Consider the examples of the local churches in the New Testament. These faithful Christians were taught the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42), or the doctrine of Christ, so whatever they did in terms of organization, work, and worship is the pattern to follow today since there can be no disagreement over whether it is approved of God. It is the only thing that we can be sure of.
Distinguish between responsibilities assigned to the local church, and those assigned to individuals within the church. The New Testament makes a distinction (1 Timothy 5:16), and so should you. Similarly, make sure you see the difference between what should be done in the assembled church, and what should be done “at home” (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 14:34-35). Failure to make these distinctions is the reason that so many local churches no longer resemble those that we read about in the New Testament.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:15).
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
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