There are certain guidelines that each of us should follow relative to the Word of God. I guarantee that if you will follow these guidelines, blessing will come to your heart and life. There are seven very simple, yet basic, preliminary steps that will be an effective guide for the study of the Word of God.
Someone has put it in a very brief, cogent manner: “The Bible—know it in your head; stow it in your heart; show it in your life; sow it in the world!”
1. Begin with Prayer
The Bible differs from other books in that the Holy Spirit alone can open our minds to understand it. You can take up a book on philosophy, and if a man wrote it (and he did), then a man can understand it. The same is true of higher mathematics or any other subject. There is not a book that ever has been written by any man that another man cannot understand. But the Bible is different. The Bible cannot be understood unless the Holy Spirit is the Instructor. And He wants to teach us. The fact of the matter is, our Lord told us, "He will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) When we open the Word of God we need to begin with the psalmist’s prayer:
"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." (Psalm 119:18)
The Holy Spirit is the Teacher, and He must be the One to lead us and guide us into all truth.
This, then, is the first guideline: Begin with prayer and ask the Spirit of God to be your teacher.
The second guideline may seem oversimplified.
Someone asked a great Shakespearean scholar years
ago, “How do you study Shakespeare?”
His answer was very terse, “Read Shakespeare.”
And I would say to you: "Read the Word of God."
Do you want to know what the Bible has to say? Read the Bible. Over and above what any teacher may give you, it is all-important to read for yourself what the Bible has to say.
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan has written some very wonderful and helpful commentaries on the Bible. In fact, he has a series of books that I recommend on all sixty-six books of the Bible. I know of nothing that is any better than them, and when I started out as a student, they had a great influence on my study of the Word. It is said of him that he would not put pen to paper until he had read a particular book of the Bible through fifty times. So don’t be weary in well doing, friend; just read the Word of God. If you don’t get it the first time, read it the second time. If you don’t get it the second time, read it the third time. Keep on reading it. We are to get the facts of the Word of God.
Then the third guideline is . . .
3. Study the Bible.
Someone came to Dr. Morgan, years ago, and said, “You speak as though you are inspired!”
Dr. Morgan replied, “Inspiration is 95 percent perspiration.”
The Bible needs to be studied. We need to realize that the Spirit of God will not teach us something that we could get ourselves by study.
We have to knuckle down and study the Word of God. A fellow student in a Bible class when I was in college said, “Doctor, you have assigned us a section that is very dry.”
The professor, without even missing a step, said to him, “Then dampen it a little with sweat from your brow.”
The Bible should be studied, and it is very important to see that. There is a certain knowledge that the Spirit of God is not going to give you. I do not think He is revealing truth to lazy people. After all, you never learn logarithms or geometry or Greek by just reading a chapter of it just before you go to sleep at night!
Now you may be shocked when I say that I do not encourage devotional reading of the Bible. Over a period of years I have learned that a great many people who are very faithful in what they call devotional reading are very ignorant of the Bible. I stayed with a family for over a week when I was holding meetings in a place in middle Tennessee. Every morning at the breakfast table we had devotions. Unfortunately, breakfast was always a little late, and Susie and Willie were rushing to get away to school. I am confident that they didn’t even know what was read. Dad was wanting to get away to work, and he generally made the Bible reading very brief.
Always he’d say, “Well, I’ll read this familiar passage this morning because we don’t have much time.”
And, believe me, we didn’t. By the time the reading was over, Susie and Willie left the table like they were shot out of a gun, and Dad got out of there almost as quickly as they did, and Mother was left with the dishes—and I wondered if she had really heard what had been read. I determined right there and then that in my home we wouldn’t have devotional reading. I have always encouraged members of my family to read the Bible on their own. That is the reading that is profitable.
Someone is going to say, “But I have my devotions at night after the day is over.” Now really, don’t you have them right before you go to bed? You’ve got one foot in bed already, one eye is already closed, and you turn to a passage of Scripture to read.
It was said of John Wesley that he was a man of one Book. What made him a man of one Book? Well, he got up and read the Bible at four and five o’clock every morning—read it in five different languages. Believe me, he studied the Word of God. And you and I need to study the Word; we need to get the meaning of the Bible.
This leads to the fourth guideline:
Meditation is something that God taught His people. The Word of God was to be before the children of Israel all the time—so that they could meditate on it.
"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
Now that is an amazing statement coming from the Lord. He told them to write the Word of God upon the doorposts. In other words, wherever they turned, it was just like looking at billboards.
Now what does it really mean to meditate on the Word of God? There is a very interesting statement in the first Psalm:
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." (Psalm 1:1, 2)
To meditate is to ruminate, to bring to mind and consider over and over. We are to get the Word of God, read it, have it out where we can look at it, then think about it, meditate on it.
5. Read what others have written on the Scriptures.
I know that this is a dangerous rule, because many people depend on what someone else says about it. Also there are many books on the market today that give wrong teaching concerning the Word of God. We need to test everything that is written by the Bible itself.
However, you and I should consult a good commentary. With each outline of the books of the Bible I list recommended books, commentaries that I have read and have found helpful. You will find it very profitable to read what others have said. Actually you are getting all the distilled sweetness and study of the centuries when you read books written by men who have been guided in their study by the Spirit of God. You and I should profit by this. There have been some wonderful, profound works on the books of the Bible.
In addition to commentaries, a concordance is invaluable. I can recommend three: Young's concordance, and Cruden's concordance—take your pick. Also you will need a good Bible dictionary. is very helpful.
6. Obey the Bible.
For the understanding and the study of the Scriptures, obedience is essential. Abraham is an example of this. God appeared to him when He called him out of Ur of the Chaldees and again when he was in the Promised Land. But Abraham ran off to Egypt when famine came, and during this time God had no word for him. Not until Abraham was back in the land did God appear to him again. Why? Because of lack of obedience. Until Abraham obeyed what God had already revealed to him, God was not prepared to give to him any new truth. So it is with us. When we obey, God opens up new truth for us.
7. Pass it on to others.
Not only read the Bible, not only study the Bible, not only meditate on the Bible, and not only read what others have written about it, but pass it on to others. That is what we all should do. You will reach a saturation point in the study of the Word unless you do share it with others. God for some reason won’t let you withdraw yourself from mankind and become some sort of walking Bible encyclopedia, knowing everything, while the rest of us remain ignorant. I think that is the reason He said:
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)
God has told us to be witnesses. He said, “Ye shall be witnesses.” He did not say that we should be scholars, walking encyclopedias, or memory books. Do not bury God’s truth in a notebook. We are called to be witnesses today, therefore we ought to pass it on to others.
Pass it on!
These, then, are the seven basic guidelines to follow to study the Word of God:
1. Begin with prayer
2. Read the Bible
3. Study the Bible
4. Meditate upon the Bible
5. Read what others have written on the Bible
6. Obey the Bible
7. Pass it on to others
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