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How To Study The Word Of God


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How to Study the Word of God - by W. L. McLeod

It is of supreme importance that we Christian Believers not only read the Bible, but have some definite and satisfying method of studying the Word of God. Often I have heard Christians lamenting, that while they did read the Bible daily, yet they did not seem to get much help from it. Sometimes this is attributed to the Archaic language of some of the older versions of the Scripture. The fact is though that there are other people, and sometimes people with a very limited education, who are reading one of the older translations of the Bible and getting great help and comfort there from. It is sometimes forgotten that even if we were to develop a modern translation that was absolutely perfect, it would still be true that we need the Holy Spirit as our teacher, or else the Word of God will be meaningless. George Mueller, the mighty man of faith, tells how he learned so rapidly after he discovered that the Spirit of God was his teacher. Prior to this he found the Bible very difficult to understand and harder still to really enjoy. 'Spirit of God my teacher be, showing the things of Christ to me.' This of course is based on numerous Scriptures such as Proverbs 1:23 'Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will MAKE KNOWN MY WORDS unto you' See also Psalms 71:17 'O God Thou hast taught me from my youth.' See Luke 12:12 'For the Holy Spirit shall teach you.' An understanding of 1 Corinthians 2:9 - 16 is essential here. The Word of God is plainly teaching us that the Holy Spirit MUST BE OUR TEACHER. Ephesians 4:20,21 also shows us that Jesus Christ is really our Teacher.

From the above we will see not only that the Lord Himself wants to be our teacher, but also that I must be in a right relationship to the Lord if His teaching is to do me any good. Again, Proverbs 1:23 is of great interest here. The Lord is saying that if we turn to Him when He reproves us, THEN He will make known His Words unto us. If I, although a Christian believer, am walking in known sin, then I cannot expect to get very much from my study of the Word of God.

Assuming then that I am walking with the Lord and that I do have an honest desire to read and study the Scriptures, where do I begin? I have often talked with Christian people who were completely frustrated because they just could not seem to find a method of Bible study that seemed to do them much good.

No doubt there will always be a difference of opinion here and all I can do is suggest to you the method that God has most blessed to me over the years. I think I have tried just about every method there is but I always come back to one that the Lord showed me many years ago.

When I was first converted I just started reading at Genesis and went right through to Revelation. The Lord gave me such a burning desire to know His Word that I spent many hours a day with the Bible. Indeed, there were days when I am sure I spent ten hours with the Bible in my hands. I must give God the glory here for the hunger I felt for the Word of God was not a natural thing. The Bible does say that we are to 'desire' the pure unadulterated Word of God, 1 Peter 2:2, but it is not a normal thing for a person to have such a desire for the Word of God that he would prefer to miss meals rather then lay aside the Book of Books. Job did say, 'I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.' Job 23:12. Where there is an honest desire to become fully acquainted with the Scriptures, there is always a God response to this.

Rather than trying to read the Bible through directly, as suggested above, a person might find more profit by studying it one book at a time. This method is good because one can take a book from the Old Testament and then a book from the New Testament. People have told me they found that it took them so long to get through the Old Testament that they were losing interest in Bible study completely. Sometimes though Christians have said the same thing about studying the Bible book by book.

It is possible to study the Bible with profit by using a concordance and simply following topics, like faith, the Holy Spirit, the second coming of Jesus Christ, love, or some other interesting theme. The problem with this method is that you simply do not get an overall picture of what God is saying. I will discover that I am missing large sections of the Word of God. This would be a good method to follow in conjunction with some other system that WOULD give me a better overall look at the Holy Scriptures.

At this point we should perhaps remember that 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, (teaching) for reproof, (conviction) for correction, (to bring us back into the right way) for instruction in righteousness - (the thought here is really that of discipline).' 2 Timothy 3:16. In reference of course to the Old Testament the Apostle Paul said in Romans 15:4 "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning." The Old Testament has a great deal to say to us. We need also to remember here that the Spirit of Jesus Christ was IN the Old Testament prophets as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:11. Although all of it was written before Jesus Christ was born, yet these men spoke much of the coming Son of God. His Spirit was in them. This is one of the reasons I have never had much use for those Bibles that have the sayings of Jesus in red. This creates a totally wrong impression. It is telling us that Jesus Christ only spoke in the Gospels and perhaps one or two places in Acts and Revelations. The truth is that Jesus Christ speaks through the entire Bible. It is ALL His Word and because it is, it is likewise ALL profitable for us to read and study.

The method that I find of greatest benefit is very simple and while I do not want to claim Divine authority for it, I do want to say that the Lord showed it to me many years ago. I have been a Christian now (1976) for thirty six years or so and I believe it was in my second year of my walk with God that He gave me this key to understanding the Scriptures.

In Luke 24:44 Jesus divided the Old Testament into THREE natural divisions. He spoke there of -- the law of Moses -- and the Prophets -- and the Psalms. This very simply divides the Old Testament into three sections. The first is Historical - Genesis to the end of Esther. This is not all of course the Law of Moses but historically, they belong together. The second section is Devotional - Job to the end of the Song of Solomon. The Jews sometimes spoke of 'the Psalms' in this way - that is including these five books. The third section is Prophetical and includes the books from Isaiah to the end of Malachi. You will note that these three divisions are quite natural and not in any sense strained.

The New Testament likewise falls into THREE natural divisions. First of all there are the five Historical books - Matthew to the end of Acts, corresponding of course to the Law division in the Old Testament. Then we have the explanatory epistles as they have sometimes been called. This includes Romans to the end of Jude. These are Devotional books and of course correspond to the five poetical books of the Old Testament. Then we have the book of Revelation. This epistle obviously stands by itself and corresponds to the Prophetical books of the Old Testament.

We have now before us a concise sixfold division of the Word of God. What shall we do with it? The method I follow is as registered below.

In beginning this program I would read one chapter from EACH of the six divisions. In my case I read at least this much every day and sometimes of course, very much more. I would then read the second chapter of each of the six divisions and then the third and so on. It is quite simple at the start but once you happen to complete one book then of course the chapters do not agree and you have to have some system of marking to know where you left off. This may not be necessary if you are a careful reader, but Moody used to say that some Christians study the Bible the way that some people hoe corn. They do such a poor job that they have to mark it with a stick so they will know where they left off! In any case you will need some simple system so that you will know where you are at, in the program.

The great advantage, and it is a great advantage, in this method is that you begin to get a beautiful OVERALL picture of the teaching of the Word of God. You do not get bored or tired because you are moving rapidly from one section of the Word of God to another. You get helpful information from the historical section, and then find yourself praising the Lord with King David perhaps, and you are then faced with the thunderings of the prophets and their frequent references to the Coming One, Jesus Christ. This method gave me a most beautiful overall picture of the Bible and I must confess that I really found it to be an exciting method. I could hardly wait, from day to day, to get back into the Word of God, as I was learning so much.

Another advantage is that very frequently, a difficulty that was raised during my reading in the historical books would be answered by some Scripture in the Psalms or Prophets or perhaps (and more often) by something from the New Testament. This happened to me literally hundreds of times. This of course inspired me to mark my Bible. I began to incorporate the things God was showing me into a marginal marking system of my own. Of course I would sometimes discover that the printed marginal references already had the cross reference I had discovered but in so many cases it did not. I was finally forced to the conclusion that any problem that might arise in my study of the Bible would eventually be answered by some other portion of the Word of God. For an example here I discovered that all the symbols of the book of Revelation were to be found somewhere in the Old Testament and this gave me a clue to their proper meaning. One of the major mistakes though in Hermenuetics (science of Bible interpretation) is that of interpreting the New Testament by the Old instead of the Old by the New. There is a progression of truth in the Scriptures that must not be ignored. ALL of the Bible is equally inspired I believe. I do not see how we can otherwise interpret that Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16 but there are of course later and higher truths. Jesus Christ taught this when He said, 'you have heard that it was said by them of old time -- but I say unto you' He did not contradict what those of old time (Old Testament) had said but gave these teachings a more spiritual meaning. See Matthew 5: 21, 22, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38, & 39. See Paul in Galatians 4:21 - 31 and 1 Timothy 5:17, 18.

While there are sixty six books in the Bible it is really just ONE BOOK. There is a most marvelous unity in the Bible. This has been recognized by many in the ages past but it is sometimes forgotten. In reading the Prophetical books for instance, whether Old or New Testament we need to remember that 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' You will note in Acts 28:23 that Paul found so much teaching in the Old Testament concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that he was able to teach this theme 'From morning till evening.' Obviously he must have found a great deal more in the Old Testament about the Lord Jesus Christ than we seem to find today. It needs to be remembered also that the Apostles did their preaching from the Old Testament, along with their own personal experience of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the key to understanding the Scriptures, whether it be the Old Testament or the New. Some have taught that the Jew is the key to understanding the Scriptures but we do not find that the Jew is 'the spirit of prophecy.' Jesus Christ is! The Jew is a very important person but he is NOT the key to understanding the Scripture.

Do not allow anyone to impose on you some doctrinal or prophetical system as the key to the right understanding of the Scripture. I had this done to me in my early years as a Christian, and it caused me untold problems until God led me out of it. The confusion that exists today between various schools of prophecy bear eloquent testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ Himself is the proper 'key' to an understanding of the Scriptures. Remember again that the Spirit of Christ was in all the Old Testament prophets and if we are to rightly understand their writings then we are going to have to recognize that Jesus Christ is THE ONE AND ONLY KEY to understanding God's Word.

In 1 Timothy 1:5 we read, 'Now the end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience and faith unfeigned.' You will note that the word 'of' is in slanted characters which means it is not in the original but was put in by the translators.

A modern translation says, 'now the goal of our instruction is'. This is the meaning of Paul's statement here. To put it differently, the reason for which God gave us the Bible is -- Love out of a pure heart, a good conscience and a genuine faith. You will also please note that some people in Paul's day did not make this their aim in Bible study and as a consequence they turned aside to vain jangling. Other translations say that they turned aside to empty talk or to a wilderness of words. In verse nineteen of this same chapter Paul says that some people, due to the fact that they did not make these things their aim in Bible study, have run their ship on the rocks.

Why are you studying the Bible? Some people read it to prove that eternal security is true and others read it to prove that it is not true. Some study the Bible to prove that speaking in tongues is an essential experience for all Christians and others again read it to prove that tongues is not for today. Some study it to prove that the church will be secretly raptured (taken out of the world) before the Great Tribulation begins and others read it to prove that the church will go through the Great Tribulation. There are those who read it to prove that their denomination is the right one. You can actually appeal to the Bible for the Baptist, the Nazarene, the Pentecostal, the Church of God, the Church of Christ and the Quakers (known as the friends - 3 John 14)

Far more important than a good system for studying the Bible is a good reason for studying it. God's purpose in giving it to us is that He might produce IN US love out of a pure heart, a good conscience and a genuine faith. If it has not done this or is not doing this, then I need to drastically overhaul myself, and look very critically at my reasons for studying this book.

A lady in one of my crusades shared one night as to how God had renewed her and met her need wonderfully. What had sparked it all was something her husband had said a few days earlier. Although she had been a Christian for well of over twenty years she had no victory over a very bad temper. One day her husband said, "You have gone through five Bibles in the last twenty years and it hasn't helped you one bit. You're worse now than when I married you!" This had broken her heart and she had even thought of suicide. In the providence of God she happened in to one of our meetings and there God met her need! She had been reading the Bible for the wrong reasons!

Studying the Bible is like going on a never ending journey. There is every bit as much variety to be found here, as there is in the physical world. In the latter we have rivers and lakes and seas and ponds, and then we have mountains and valleys and plains. We have tropical lands and moderate lands and Arctic areas and they all have their own beauty. It is so in the Word of God, but we sometimes make the mistake of staying strictly within those areas that we know and appreciate most, instead of exposing ourselves to ALL of the teachings of this most marvelous book. Remember that ALL of it is inspired of God, and thus ALL of it is profitable for me.

Let me close by an appeal to Psalms 1:1-3 and 1 Peter 2:1-2. In the former we are to 'meditate' in the Word of God, day and night and if we do, we are promised great blessings from the Lord. In the latter we are exhorted to 'desire' the sincere (unadulterated or pure) milk of the Word that we may GROW thereby. PLUNGE INTO THE GREAT ADVENTURE!

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