Staying on Track in your Bible Reading

3 Dec

One of the first steps to benefiting from the Bible is to actually read the Bible.

Shocking, I know.

This is actually part of why we have started the African Bible Training Centre. The primary course we offer is very simple. It is an overview of the entire Bible. The homework is even simpler. We require our students to read their Bibles. The reason for this is perhaps simplest of all. We want to help Christians learn more about God by actually reading their Bibles.

We believe that simply holding people accountable to studying Scriptures on a regular basis could have a tremendous impact on their lives.

Unfortunately, I do have to say could.

Because not all Bible reading is profitable Bible reading. It’s very possible to read the Bible once, twice, three times in a year and not actually be all that much better for it, but maybe even worse.

One of the keys to benefiting from the Bible is understanding it. There are lots of people who know lots of facts about the Bible but don’t really know the Bible, because they don’t understand it. It’s quite common actually for some people to be so far away from understanding the Bible that while they can quote all sorts of different verses they don’t really even comprehend the main things the Bible is about.

One way to make sure you are on track as you study the Bible is to make sure you know what are the very main things of Scripture.

This actually becomes a great help as you read through your Bibles, because it helps you know what you should be looking for. There are so many fascinating details in the Bible that it is easy to become distracted. All too often people end up wasting a great deal of time on matters of relatively little importance. Knowing what really matters helps us avoid that. It enables us to hear what God is actually trying to communicate.

While there are an almost endless number of important themes we could identify, let me point out five of the key truths that you should be looking for every time you study the Scriptures:

The glory of God

The Bible has a point. It was written for a reason. And I am convinced that the primary reason the Bible was written was to help us see how great God is. In the Bible, God puts His character on display, and it’s beautiful.

As Jonathan Edwards has written,

“The gloriousness of God is the very principal thing of all that we are taught concerning God in the holy Scriptures. All that we are told concerning the attributes of God, or the works of God, is to this end: to teach us the gloriousness, the majesty and excellency of God.”

This means when you read the Scriptures, to benefit, you might then ask yourself, what does this passage show me about the greatness and beauty of God? It is hard to go wrong if you start here. What can I learn from what I am reading about God?

Here are some places you might look:

Are there direct statements the passage makes about God? Are there illustrations the passage uses to describe God? Are there implications from the story or text that can be drawn about the character of God? What needs to be true about God for what took place in the passage to have happened?

How does this passage make God look great? Is there any way I would have responded in this situation differently than God did, and if so, obviously God’s response is correct, so what am I missing about God that I need to remember if I am going to appreciate Him for who He is?

The excellency and fullness of Christ

If you somehow had the chance to ask Jesus what the Bible is all about, I wouldn’t be very surprised if He looked back at you and said simply, “Me.” The Bible is written to show us the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This is part of why we love the Bible so much. We don’t love the Bible just because it tells us a whole lot of interesting facts. We don’t love the Bible just because it tells us some really good stories. We love the Bible because it helps us see Jesus.

As John Piper has written, “I love the Bible the way I love my eyes—not because my eyes are lovely, but because without them I can’t see what’s lovely. Without the Bible I could not see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Without the Bible I could not know “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Without the Bible I would not know that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior. I love the Bible because it gives the wisdom that leads to salvation, and shows me that this salvation is nothing less than seeing and savoring the glory of Christ forever, and then provides for me inexhaustible ways of seeing and knowing and enjoying Christ.”

One of the ways you can benefit from the reading the Scriptures then is to ask yourself, are there any ways this passage points me to Jesus? Is there a way it prepares me for Jesus, or reveals Jesus to me?

The way of salvation

When Paul talked with Timothy about the Scriptures, he encouraged him not to ever give up on the Word of God, because it had the ability to make him wise unto salvation. (2 Timothy 3:14)

Because our hearts are so prone to think about salvation differently than God does, it is helpful to look carefully at what you are reading to be reminded of just how God goes about saving people. When you read the Scriptures, to benefit, you might then ask yourself, what does this passage teach me about my need of a Savior? How does this passage show me what God has provided for sinners like me? How does God rescue the person or group of people in this text? What does God demand of the people as He rescues them? Why does the passage say God went about delivering them? If it is a passage of judgment, you might ask, why exactly are the people being judged?

This is important because as Tim Keller explains, “At the root…of all Christian failures to live right…is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ, not living out of our new identity in Christ. This means that every week in a different way the minister must apply the gospel of salvation by grace through faith through Christ work. Thus every week non-Christians get exposed to the gospel, and in its most practical and varied forms, not just in a repetitious ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ way.”

As you read, you might pray that God would help you believe and feel and embrace deep down in your heart either what the passage teaches you about your need of salvation or the nature of the salvation God has provided.

The nature of holy living

Paul describes the purpose of Scripture as a whole in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17: teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. In a very general way every passage we study is performing these basic functions.

This means as we read a passage of Scripture we should ask what does it teach and how should we change as a result of what is being taught in the text and also how exactly can we go about making those changes in their day to day lives?

If we only learn more information about the Hizzites and the Jebusites, etc. as we study, but are not learning how what we are reading should effect the way we think, how we feel, what we want, then our Bible reading isn’t accomplishing all God desires.

As we study the Scripture then, we shouldn’t stop with asking ourselves what the passage means. We must also ask ourselves, how does it apply? To accomplish that, we might ask ourselves questions like: What does the passage teach us about the way people think, feel, or do? What problem does the passage address? What are some different ways that problem expresses itself in our lives today? What comfort does this passage give? What are some common objections people have to what this passage teaches? How does my own heart object to what this passage teaches? What are some specific ways people live contrary to what this passage teaches? What are some biblical examples of ways characters in Scripture lived contrary to the teaching of this passage? And what are some specific ways people have applied this passage to their lives effectively? What did the person do right or wrong in this passage? Is there something the person did in this passage that is commended or condemned elsewhere in the Scripture? A clear biblical principle that he followed or failed to follow? What is that principle and what would it look like for me to do what he did in my own particular cultural context? Does the Scripture itself draw applications from this situation I am reading anywhere else? What does it say? In what way does this story reflect what I learn elsewhere in the Bible about the character of God and His plans for human life? Does the narrator of the story draw your attention to any specific failures or lessons that could be drawn from what is happening? Is there a judgment the writer is making about the character that I can learn from today? Is there any illustration in the passage about wrong ways of thinking about God? How is the person or people thinking wrongly about God, and how might I do so in my situation today?

The foundation of our duty

The Bible doesn’t only tell us what to do, it also tells us why we must do it. Almost everywhere there is command, there’s a reason for that command attached to it. God doesn’t only want us to perform the right external actions, He desires the right inward motivations and the fact is, those motivations are part of what make actions good. Without the right motivation, the best action, can really be ugly.

As you study the Scriptures, you might ask yourself, what does this passage say about how I should obey God? And what does it tell me about why? Specifically, you might look for motivations regarding either the glory and majesty of God or His grace and kindness.

Because the Bible is a big book, there is a lot to think about, and many different ideas and concepts that are taught throughout. There are times for all of us when finish reading a passage and scratch our heads and wonder what we just read. It’s easy to get confused and it is easy to get distracted. That’s why I suggest as you read the Scriptures, begin by making sure you are looking for the very main things it teaches.

What does what you have read teach you about God, about Jesus, about salvation, about why you should obey God, and about how you can obey God in your every day life?

A Kind Father with a Bleeding Heart

1 Dec

“God is a kind Father, who punishes His child with a bleeding heart, for its own good, so that He may afterwards enfold it all the more warmly in His arms.” C.H. Cornill

Bible Overview: Genesis

29 Nov

The book of Genesis stands at the beginning of the Scriptures and the Pentateuch.

  1. The book of Genesis was written by Moses originally for the nation of Israel after they had escaped from Egypt.
  1. Mostly likely it was written and delivered before the people were to enter the Promised Land and conquer the Canaanites.
  1. This was obviously a frightening time for many of them. They needed to know the promise God had made to them and to be assured of His ability to keep that promise.
  1. It serves as an introduction to the books of Moses and to the rest of the Bible as well. It helps the Israelites understand how and why God chose them and how He intended to use them.
  1. Genesis is about how the world began, where the world went wrong, and how God plans to fix what man has broken.
  1. A key word for remembering what Genesis is about is the word, beginnings.

Like all beginnings, the book of Genesis plays a very important role in understanding the rest of Scripture.

  1. It tells us where we came from.
  1. It teaches who God is and what He is like.
  1. It shows us what the world was designed to be like and where our problems came from.
  1. It teaches us about God’s holy judgment of sin.
  1. It points to Christ through promises of salvation and the promises He makes to His people.
  1. It reveals God’s ability to keep His promises in spite of great obstacles.
  1. It gives us categories to understand the work of Christ. For example, the New Testament writers often talk about Jesus’ work as being that of the last Adam.
  1. Genesis is quoted from over 200 times in the New Testament. In fact, chapters 1-11 is quoted more than 100 times in the New Testament. It  is actually quoted word for word over 165 times in the New Testament. Thus, it is not surprising that Genesis gives the foundation for all the great doctrines of the Bible.

As you study the book of Genesis, be looking in particular for:

  1. God: The hero of the book of Genesis is God, and this is our first introduction to God in the Bible. You will be able to learn a lot even from stories you may find at first confusing, if you simply ask yourself, what can I learn from this story about what God is like. One of the key truths to learn from Genesis about God has to do with His sovereignty. The stories of Genesis make it clear there is one God who rules the world and He is in absolute control.
  1. Grace: Bryan Chappell explains, “I see Genesis as  providing the original statement of the grace principles that are in the rest of Scripture. So when I study the book of Genesis, I’m really looking for those grace connections. How is God showing us that he’s providing what we cannot provide for ourselves? . . . How is God showing his grace to a fallen people, and beginning to unfold that plan of how he will rescue them? So I’m looking for the principles of grace that will be exploded in the rest of Scripture—but just in their nugget form—in                           the book of Genesis.”
  1. Promise” In Genesis, God begins unveiling the way in which He is going to go about saving HIs people. Keep your eyes open for the hints we find throughout the book of Genesis as to exactly how He is going to do that.

When you read Genesis keep in mind some of the following suggestions:

  1. Look at Genesis 1:1-2:3 to help you understand God’s purpose in this world.
  1. Keep in mind the big picture. Genesis is part of a bigger story. And what we see in Genesis is the beginnings of God’s plan for fixing what man has broken. Genesis 3:15 provides the first glimpse into God’s great salvation plan.
  1. Also pay attention to some of the themes that run throughout the book:
  • The basis of man’s relationship with God is His sovereign grace, not what man deserves.
  • Faith in the promise of God is foundational for blessing from him.
  • Promise of a special offspring. (Genesis 12:1-3:15:1-20)
  • God’s absolute faithfulness to His promise despite the crazy circumstances of life.

The story Genesis tells can be divided very simply:

  1. The beginnings of the world, Genesis 1-11: 4 Big Events: Creation, fall, flood, Babel
  1. The beginnings of Israel, Genesis 12-50: 4 Important People: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph

Or alternatively, you could be a bit more specific:

  1. The origin of the world:                   Genesis 1
  1. The origin of the nations:               Genesis 2-11
  1. The origin of Israel:                          Genesis 12-50

Or even more precisely, you could organize the book of Genesis according to             the author’s own arrangement.

  1. Each new development in the history is introduced by the phrase  “This is the family history of” or “These are the generations of…” This statement serves like a chapter heading or a section heading in our modern books.

One commentator thus outlines Genesis like this:

Introduction:   1:1-2:3

History of heaven and earth: 2:4-4:26

Family history of Adam: 5:1-6:8

Family history of Noah: 6:9-9:29

Family history of Noah’s sons: 10:1-11:9

Family history of Shem: 11:10-26

Family history of Terah: 11:27-25:11

Family history of Ishmael: 25:12-18

Family history of Isaac: 25:19-35:29

Family history of Esau: 36:1-37:1

Family history of Jacob: 37:2-50:26

Short Bible Book Summaries: Genesis

25 Nov

The book of Genesis tells us where we came from, why we are here, what went wrong with us, and how God is going about fixing us.

It begins by explaining some of the important events of early world history and then continues to describe the way in which God began His work of salvation through Abraham and his family.

One can easily divide the book of Genesis into two main sections, 1-11 and then 12-50 and, the key to the book is found in the story that links the two parts together, 12:1ff, which is the promise that God makes to Abraham.

The first eleven chapters show us God’s work of creation, man’s fall into sin, the consequences of that fall, the judgment of the flood, and the continued rebellion at the tower of Babel. By the end of chapter eleven, it has become very clear that man cannot save himself and won’t come back to God unless God pursues Him. And God does. The opening of chapter 12, tells us of God’s promise to Abraham, revealing his rescue plan for humanity. He will bless the world through Abraham’s descendants and the remaining chapters explain how God began doing the impossible,  giving Abraham a family, and continuing to keep His promises to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph,in spite of man’s sinfulness and all the different kinds of difficulties we face in this world.

By the end of Genesis, Jacob’s family and his twelve sons, and their families have migrated to Egypt, where God is going to begin building them into a great nation.

As always, as we read the book of Genesis we should be asking how it helps us see the beauty of Christ and understand the gospel. There are several specific obvious ways Genesis does this:

It shows us why people need a Savior.

It teaches us about God’s holy judgment of sin.

It points to Christ through promises of salvation and promises concerning God’s commitment to His people.

It demonstrates how the nations will be blessed through God’s promise to Israel.

It reveals God’s ability to keep His promises in spite of great obstacles.

And the New Testament writers often talk about Jesus’ work as being that of the Last Adam.

The Bible is a miracle

24 Nov

“The whole of Scripture is the product of divine activities which enter it, not by superseding the activities of the human authors, but by working confluently (flowing together/merging) with them, so that the Scriptures are the joint product of the divine and human activities, both of which penetrate them at every point, working harmoniously together to the production of a writing which is not divine here and human there, but at once divine and human in every part, every word and every particular.”

B.B. Warfield

The eyes and heart of Christ

23 Nov

“It’s amazing what you can do if you get involved in the Lord’s work.

One night in the East End of London, a young doctor was turning out the lights of a mission hall in which he was working, and he found a ragged little boy hiding in a dark corner. The little boy asked him to please let him stay there, because it was warm in the corner, and he could sleep, and it was a nicer place than he always slept. The doctor said no, and he took the homeless little boy to his own room. He fed him. He bathed him. Then he tried to get his story. He learned from the little boy that he was living in a coal bin, and he was living in a coal bin with a number of other little boys. So the doctor asked the little fella if he’d take him to where the coal bin was so he could see.

They went through the narrow alleys of London. Finally, in the darkness of night, they came to a hole in the wall of an old factory. “Look…look in there,” the little boy said and the doctor struck a match, and he looked inside through the hole and crawled into a filthy coal bin cellar, and he found 13 little boys there, clothed with only bits of old burlap to protect them from the London cold; and one little fella had clinging to him tightly a four-year-old little brother.

They were all orphans.

The doctor said that, then and there, he caught a vision how he could serve the Lord. His name was Dr. Bernardo. The story is true. He cared for those little boys and for little girls; and at the time of his death, the newspapers of London reported that Dr. Bernardo had taken and surrounded with a Christian atmosphere over 80,000 homeless children, and hundreds of them became Christians because he had the eyes of Christ to see into the darkness and the heart of Christ to draw people into the light.

Oh, that we should so minister.”

John MacArthur

What is the world without the Scriptures?

19 Nov

“We might preface our work by labouring to raise your hearts to the consideration of the excellence of the Scriptures in general. Luther says it contains all good. Take away the Scripture, and you even take away the sun from the world. What is the world without the Scriptures, but hell itself? We have had indeed the word of God as the sun in the world, but oh how many mists have been before this sun! Seldom does the sun shines clearly to us. Since such a glorious sun has risen, it is distressing that there should be a misty day. Now the work to which we are called is, to dispel the mists and fogs from before this sun that it may shine more brightly before your eyes, and into your hearts.

Chrysostom in his twenty-ninth sermon upon Genesis, exhorting his auditors to get the Scriptures into their houses, and diligently to exercise themselves in them, tells them that by them the soul is raised, elevated, and brightened, as with the beam of the Sun of righteousness, and delivered from the snares of unclean thoughts. In the Scripture the great God of heaven has sent his mind to the children of me; he has made known the counsel of his will, and opened his very heart unto mankind.”

Jeremiah Burroughs