If someone were to ask you, “why should I study the Bible?”, there are a number of legitimate responses you could give: to grow in our affection for Jesus, learn more about God, go deeper in our relationship with the Lord. These are all great answers to that question. But what I want us to do today is spend a little more time on the “what” of Bible study. What is it exactly that we should set out to accomplish each time we study God’s Word? Regardless of the many “whys” of Bible study, what is the one universal goal we should always strive after?
It’s simply this: The goal of Bible study is to discover the intended meaning of the passage and then apply that passage appropriately. I know that probably doesn’t sound very sexy, but I’ve chosen these words carefully. So let’s take a look at each half.
To Discover The Intended Meaning Of The Passage
The most essential thought to keep in mind when studying any passage of Scripture is that the original author had a message he was intending to send and it is our job as interpreters to discover what that intended message is. Think of it like this: anytime you send an email, shoot someone a text, or (if you’re really old school) write a letter, there is a message that you want the recipient to read and understand. The person receiving the message does not have the privilege of supplying whatever meaning they want to your words. Their job is to try to understand what you meant by what you said. Imagine if you sent a text to your friend that said Wanna ride to work together? to which they responded I would love to have your car! Thank you! Would you say they correctly interpreted your message? Of course not. It just doesn’t make sense.
The goal of Bible study is to discover the intended meaning of the passage and then apply that passage appropriately.
When God graciously gave us the Bible, He used human authors who were seeking to send an intended message. If we take God’s Word seriously, we will resolve to discover, to the best of our ability, what that intended message is. When a person attempts to supply his own meaning by using a “spiritualizing” approach, what this says to me is: (1) this person is lazy and doesn’t want to do the hard work of responsible interpretation and (2) they don’t really take this Word seriously…they don’t love it or see it for what it really is, God’s revelation of Himself! That’s why I say, we must employ all the tools necessary to discover the intended meaning that the original author was trying to convey. Anything less is not only incorrect, but I would even say unethical.
Then Apply That Passage Appropriately
It is only after we discover the intended meaning of the passage that we are then ready to apply that passage of Scripture. A great example is Philippians 4:13. Here we read…
I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
So what typically happens with this verse? The fourteen year old who lacks any athletic gifting (but who will probably work for NASA one day), gets up to bat in his junior high baseball game, and after reciting this verse, claims the promise that he too can hit a homerun through Christ who gives him strength. And then…he strikes out. And on the long walk back to the dugout he thinks maybe he isn’t as close to the Lord as he once thought. But is that true? Let’s look at this verse…in its context:
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all things through him who gives me strength.
Here Paul is telling the Philippians that no matter the situation in his life (well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want) he can find contentment and peace because of Christ. This verse is not telling us that we can do whatever we set our minds to because of Christ. Rather, the point that Paul is making is that even if he can’t accomplish what he sets his mind to, it doesn’t matter…because Jesus is better. So this verse shouldn’t cause our young baseball player to doubt his relationship with the Lord because he can’t hit a homerun, but rather it should give him comfort in knowing that even if he never becomes the athlete he would like to be, it’s ok because Jesus is better. In Him we have lasting satisfaction and contentment.
This is what we aim for in Bible study. We want to be ethical by not putting words into the mouths of the original authors of Scripture and being careful to discern what message they wanted to send. Then, we take that intended meaning and apply it appropriately to our lives. If you resolve to do this, I promise you will see the Lord bring real sustenance to your life through the satisfying bread of His Word! So let’s dig deeply into this life-giving Word, laboring earnestly to understand the original authors, and then applying this Word to our lives in the way God intends.