Written by Dr. Michael Easley
Culture always presses against Scripture. As a result, no one drifts toward a conservative view of the Bible; rather we always drift away from God’s truth.
It is easy to understand. When “they say” something that challenges our faith, a Believer’s first impulse may be fear. We find it hard to defend why we believe what we believe. It seems easier to avoid conflict.
When we teach Scripture, we are in fact speaking for God, not offering our opinion. Remember the last time you were in a small group and someone read a verse and asked, “what does this mean to you?”. We listen to one another offer opinions rather than carefully understanding the context, what it meant at that time, what biblical principle is being taught, and how we apply it today. Sounds like a lot of work, but remember, we’re saying “God said…”
Bible Study Methods are built around three important steps: observation, interpretation, and application.
The rule-of-thumb is to spend most of our time observing the passage. Who wrote it, to whom is it addressed, what is the setting and context, where was it written, when was it written, etc. In this observation step, we look for key words, themes, and subjects that stand out in the passage. Don’t rush to “what it means”, i.e., interpretation. Take time to observe and look for the obvious. When we observe the passage in context, amazingly, most of our “what does it mean” or interpretation questions are answered.
Interpretation is answering “what does it mean?”. You are going to tell people, “this is what God means” so we best be careful. A great way to be sure we know what a passage means is to cross reference other passages that teach the same thing. We call this correlation. Referring to a handbook of theology or a few commentaries can help.
Applying the Bible tends to be a muddy area. We may fail to apply it accurately or not apply it at all. Ask questions like “How should I think differently?”, “How do I specifically apply this to my life today?”, “What do I need to start or stop doing?”, “Am I willing to submit myself to God’s word even if it’s hard?”.
If we fail to precisely understand the passage, inaccurately interpret its meaning, and fail to apply it to our lives, we aren’t teaching God’s word to God’s people.
Yet if we are careful to study, understand meaning, and apply it to our lives, we can kindly, clearly, and carefully say, “This is what God is saying… how will you respond?”. The power in teaching God’s word is otherworldly. In reality, He is the One who empowers His word. We are merely messengers. You and I have the privilege to tell people, “God said…” What a great challenge and joy.
“Moral power has always accompanied definitive beliefs. Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need right now a return to a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the word of God that liveth and abideth forever.” A.W. Tozer
Dr. Michael Easley’s experience in ministry spans more than 35 years as a gifted Bible teacher and church leader. He is currently part of the pastoral teaching team at Fellowship Bible Church in the greater Nashville, Tennessee area and host of Michael Easley inContext. For more, visit michaelincontext.com.