Bible study is foundational for our spiritual health. Unfortunately, too many Christians are either satisfied with a surface knowledge of scripture or think that since they have discovered the correct doctrinal positions on key issues they have arrived. This is hurtful to the individual and to the cause of Christ. As disciples of Christ we need to trust that whatever God revealed, he intended for us to know. When God revealed Isaiah, Zechariah, and Chronicles, he expected us to diligently seek to understand these books.
We cannot be content with mainly “scriptural facts” lest we miss out on the beauty of the mind of God. Paul said that the Holy Spirit had revealed “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). Before marrying, couples spend hours upon hours talking, asking questions, and learning about one another. Women especially want to know what is really going on in their husband’s mind. It should be our overriding passion to be with the Lord. So, do we truly know him? Are we excited to discover all we can about our spiritual husband? And if we are not searching the deep things of his mind and learning how wonderful he is, how will we motivate those around us to also pursue the Lord?
Bible study, like marriage was designed to be enjoyed. If we are not enjoying it, we are just not doing it right. It is evident that most Christians would love to know God and his word more thoroughly. So what is the problem? Below are seven typical mistakes Christians make that keep them from a more enjoyable Bible study experience.
- Not investing the appropriate amount of time into study. The purpose of study is to draw closer to God and develop an intimate, meaningful relationship with him. “Knowledge” is a means to the goal, but knowledge itself is not the goal. Christians are too often studying as if they are “cramming” for a test. What is our problem? We are too busy. Am I right? Christians at the very least should be scheduling two hours per week of uninterrupted, in-depth study, besides daily Bible reading. After all, without God’s word we will starve to death.
- Just reading. I’ve known people who boasted about how many times they have read through the Bible. Of course, we never want to discourage reading the Bible, but as one person said, “It is not how many times you have gone through the Bible that is important, but how many times the Bible has gone through you.” Further, when we are “just reading” it is too easy to forget what we have read. The pencil is one of the best eyes we have. Joseph Gettys said, “You should stress to all of your pupils the importance of working on paper, for what is written on paper releases the mind to fasten its attention on something more” (Teaching Pupils How to Study the Bible). Keep a journal next to your Bible and write down your discoveries. Use colored pencils to mark the text – underline, circle, and shade what you find interesting. If you don’t want to mark in your Bible, at least print the text from your computer leaving a margin to make notes.
- Not looking for the message of the text or understanding how the original recipients heard the message. When the prophets, Jesus, or the apostles are speaking to Jews, are you “thinking Jewish?” When the first words uttered by John the Baptist were, “The one who comes after me…will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…” our first thought should be, “What did first century Jews know about the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament, and therefore how were they hearing John?” Until we know what the original hearer understood, we cannot draw conclusions or make applications.
- Not getting the big picture. Could you summarize the message of Ephesians in a sentence? How about Philippians or the gospel John? Christians typically focus on the details of a text without having a grasp of the bigger message. In other words, when the Galatians received their letter from Paul, did they begin a 13-week detailed exposition of the letter? Or did they first just read the letter? A study of any book of the Bible should always begin with a quick reading while jotting down brief observations that help you discover the author’s reason for writing. By getting a feel of the road you are about to travel, you will be more likely to keep your discoveries in context and find the Holy Spirit’s method of revelation.
- Being enamored with justifying doctrinal positions. Christians who study primarily to prove themselves right or prove others wrong will invariably draw erroneous conclusions and take passages out of context. Our first objective must be to know what God is actually revealing. The word is a sharp sword designed to “penetrate the thoughts and intents of our heart” (Heb. 4:12). If my study does not first draw blood on me, I have not studied properly.
- Quickly fleeing to a commentary to learn about a text instead of enjoying and meditating on the text itself. Again, we must remember our goal. We study God’s word in order to get to know God, not just to know facts. God’s mind is enjoyable; it feeds our soul and delights our heart. Commentaries are typically cold and surgical and can hinder our own abilities to discover. Commentaries are good if used as you would a friend off whom you bounce your conclusions.
- Neglecting parts of the Bible that seem to be too difficult to understand. For most people, the Old Testament, and especially the prophets, is the main area of neglect. Paul’s reminder to Timothy is helpful when he says, “How that from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The Old Testament is the key to understanding Jesus. It also gives us a clear description of God’s purpose for his people and the character of the Messiah’s disciples.
Enjoying Bible study and using our study time effectively is imperative. If we do not study efficiently so that God stirs our soul, we will not enjoy our study. And if we do not enjoy our study, we will likely stop studying and growing closer to the Lord.