…. they were unschooled, ordinary men …. they had been with Jesus …. the crippled man healed standing with them – Acts 4:13,14
In any single week in a year, tens of thousands of people attend bible study groups, in a quest to understand the Bible better … spawning a vast library of bible study guidebooks and online resources.
What’s a constructive approach for delivery?
Is the first question to ask,
“what do you think .. this verse/passage means to .. you?”
“how would you apply .. this verse/passage to .. your life?”
How’s discipling achieved?
Is bible study group = discipling?
Do we meet for discussion? .. information sharing?
… what are desired learning outcomes & review?
in the second part of this post,
… a brother from China pointed out an important key.
Some years ago, for a period participated in a Bible study group program with an intensive methodology. This involved:
Having attended various forms of Bible study groups previously (structured/unstructured, planned/unplanned formats)
the methodical approach taken by this program was helpful,i.e.
… no particular Bible study group method is perfect
… as none of us are perfect.
For this methodology described earlier, …
Further observations & thoughts:
During our personal time with the Lord, generally, this is how the Bible is read.
* Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach us.
Begin with reading the whole Bible passage,
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes,
he will guide you into all the truth. ..
John 16:13 (NIV)
* Through further personal readings, gain an understanding of the passage of what it
meant to those present at that time (the original hearers),
i.e. context, time/events in history, literary form, meaning of words in the original language, personalities in the story, little details in the text, etc.
Gain an understanding of this first,
we form our views or
personal opinions or thoughts about the passage.
This avoids us putting our own meanings to scripture,
… and interpreting scripture through contemporary eyes;
thereby introducing un-intended meanings and interpretations to scripture.
The best explanation of the Bible is the Bible itself. Let scripture explain scripture.
“Its amazing how much light the Bible sheds on commentaries”
— Howard Hendricks
Let God’s Word speak for itself.
Let understanding be reasoned out of God’s word by the Holy Spirit.
* What’s God’s view?
How is the Lord revealed through this passage?
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:
Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me
in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Luke 24:44 (NIV)
39 You study the Scriptures diligently
because you think that in them you have eternal life.
These are the very Scriptures that testify about me
46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me,
for he wrote about me.
John 5:39, 46 (NIV)
Can we see the Lord in this passage?
What can we learn about the Lord?
Can we see His hand in the situation?
* Then, based on our earlier observations of the text, … understand what the passage means to us, personally, corporately.
* And, (finally) possible application/reflection of the text,
& prayer and praise response to God’s word.
“A text cannot mean what it could never have meant
for its original readers/hearers”
— Gordon Fee
When we read any book or watch any movie, we start at the beginning of a book/act and read/watch to the end.
Seldom do we just catch random tiny snippets from here and there,
and over time, (hopefully?) understand the plot and the characters.
(a ‘movie trailer‘ method of reading or presenting the Bible)
Should the Bible be read or taught any differently
from any other book we read,
if we genuinely desire to understand and treasure it fully?
Its preferable that bible study resources reinforce a structured approach, i.e.
Always start in the Bible, … anchored on Jesus,
… rather than start with the premise of an application or conclusion in mind, … or some introductory notes/story, … or a video,
and then later add snippets of Bible verses to backup or ‘legitmize’ the point.
2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths
reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
3 explaining and giving evidence
that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying,
“This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”
Acts 17:2, 3 (NASB)
With any area of learning,
whenever one can understand the content,
and have personally experienced the thought and reasoning process,
then, … one can clearly explain/share it to another person
in one’s own words;
i.e. disciple another person on those truths.
27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets,
explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us
while He was speaking to us on the road,
while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”
Luke 24:27, 32 (NLT)
took them through the Word of God, … explaining the Scriptures,
… concerning Jesus
our hearts burning within us
By facilitating others through conversational, interactive leading questions, and dialogue
… to self-discover the truths in the passage, … with ‘Aha moments‘, …
to know God and His ways better,
supports understanding and learning. Loving God’s word.
This skill helps others to confidently read and interpret Bible passages on their own, … during their daily quiet time (without commentaries), … listening to the Holy Spirit,
… and discern information they receive from others or social media
— a thinking, discerning, praying believer … loving God’s word.
The teacher has not taught
until the student has learned.”
— Howard Hendricks
This skill also helps one navigate life’s unexpected dilemmas, challenges and opportunities to confidently reason out from the Bible, … ‘what would Jesus do’ (WWJD)
For the word of God is alive and powerful.
It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword,
cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.
It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)
Such that, … whenever we hear or receive something, … or face with something,
… instinctively, we’ll reach out to check God’s word first,
… “is this in God’s word?” or “What does God’s word say about this?”
…. they listened eagerly to Paul’s message.
They searched the Scriptures day after day
to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.
Acts 17:11 (NLT)
Paul wrote to Timothy about discipling,
The things which you have heard from me
in the presence of many witnesses,
entrust these to faithful men
who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 2:2 (NASB)
Paul -> Timothy -> faithful men (without Paul & Timothy) -> others
If one (eg Timothy) were to share to another person,
what was shared by the speaker (eg Paul), or at the bible study, .
… rather than try to recall the points,
its far easier to open the unchanging Bible to the passage from which the study was drawn from,
… and from there, … clearly reason out the truths embedded in the passage verses.
“… the simplest man with passion will be more persuasive
than the most eloquent without.”
— François de La Rochefoucauld
passion in loving God, .. & others
passion in loving God’s word … is infectious
Also, .. understanding the lesson, … helps the participant to think about the lesson, … long after the lesson is over.
So then faith comes by hearing,
and hearing by the word of God.
Romans 10:17 (NKJV)
We live in an age … where we search for pills of instant answers, .. fast relief formulas, quick 3-step recipes, self-help resources,
rather than the pearl of great price,
and nurturing a tree of wisdom, … that takes time to bear fruit, … from the seed of God’s word.
Topical Bible studies are useful.
However, sometimes, it seemed verses are cherry-picked from various places to fit the application;
causing the Bible to appear as disjointed snippets taken here and there (especially to a new believer),
… and sometimes verses may be quoted without the context
or worse, out of context.
To draft a good topical Bible study also requires the writer or leader have a thorough and balanced grasp of the topic as presented in the Bible.
It would also be great … if both New and Old Testament passages are referred to or cross-referenced, so that we can see that both testaments are consistent and complement one another … i.e., the Bible is one book, and read as one book.
The best interpretation is when the Bible explains itself,
and reasoned out from bible verses,
not man’s thoughts.
As obvious as this may sound, its worthwhile saying,
a Bible study is … a study of the Bible,
(66 books in total)
not a study of a guide book or video series of some famous author or ministry.
The 66 books should not be replaced by the lens
of another set of books or videos
or some well-known ministry or author.
2 Timothy 2:15 (AMP)
Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved,
a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed,
accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.
Only His word has authority, life, power, and leads us to personally know Him and walk in His ways.
John 6:63,68 (NIV)
63 … The words I have spoken to you
—they are full of the Spirit and life.
68 Simon Peter answered him,
“Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
69 We have come to believe and
to know that
you are the Holy One of God.”
believe, … and know … that you are the Holy One of God
faith comes by … hearing … the word of God
Near the end of John’s Gospel, John wrote the reason for his book,
John 20:31 (NASB)
but these have been written so that you may believe that
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;
and that believing you may have life in His name.
Interestingly, John wrote that you may believe Jesus,
a step beyond just … knowing … about Jesus.
(in John’s gospel, the word believe appears 81 times in NASB)
A believing faith in Jesus.
Not just a knowledge of scriptures, … but faith, trust, believe, .. depend upon Jesus
… believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
A believing faith response from the heart to God’s word,
and developing a loving relationship with Him and others.
Do we know Jesus more?
Does it build & strengthen faith and belief in Jesus?
Does it help us trust Jesus in our daily lives and challenges?
Do bear in mind the group demographics,
children? young adults? seniors?
people with no judeo-christian background, limited English?
Also, … with increased education in most countries,
and freely available powerful internet search tools, and Bible resources,
… in the midst a well-informed group,
there may be occasions where members
explain things far better than the study guide,
or provide out-of-the-box scriptural answers and questions,
or fresh insights.
i.e. … we can learn from anyone and everyone,
even from a little child. (the emperor’s new clothes)
On another note, we live in the most well-informed era in human history, … with 24/7 information feeds right on our fingertips.
Want to know something? … just google, bing, alexa, siri, cortana, echo, baidu … it;
petabytes of knowledge, data are neatly summarised, .. to a list of ranked search results, in a blink of an eye.
Social media is also increasingly replacing traditional sources of information, news, … and shaping opinions, attitudes, perspectives, mindsets.
is knowing more, … more knowledge
… synonymous with … wisdom ?
what’s the missing link?
In our work in the marketplace,
… there’s certainly a world of difference
clever analyses of case studies in the classroom,
knowing the right answers in an examinations or interviews, … model-answers,
and saying the right technical jargon or buzzwords or taglines,
… effectively applying our know-how and qualifications
in the heat and stress of the unexpected, unscripted changes in our workday;
thinking on our feet, … resolving issues, problems in a timely & effective way.
i.e. whether the fundamental principles of our field
have been understood, internalized,
and spontaneously, instinctively applied,
just mere theories in class taught by academics,
& achieving good test scores.
Thus, whatever Bible study group method we use,
its good for us to bear in mind,
that at the end of His sermon on the mount,
Therefore everyone who
hears these words of mine
and puts them into practice
is like a wise man
who built his house on the rock.
The rain came down,
the streams rose,
and the winds blew and beat against that house;
unexpected, unscripted changes in real daily life
yet it did not fall,
because it had its foundation on the rock.
(Matthew 7:24,25 NIV)
“Anyone who loves me
will obey my teaching.
My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
John 4:23 (NIV)
The house unwaveringly stood firm
in challenging real-life circumstances
built on the foundation of applying, living out God’s word daily in everyday life,
Knowing = Doing + Living, inspired by His love.
Satan could quote the Bible as well as anyone else,
but his trouble is that he doesn’t live it
– Marion E Wade
By applying, living out God’s word daily, trusting God,
Paul described the fruit of his discipling and mentoring ministry,
2 The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves.
Your lives are a letter written in our hearts;
everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you.
3 Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:2,3 (NLT)
His disciples, like Paul, were also living, shining examples for Jesus in the community…
a letter from Christ …. everyone can read it and recognize
… written with the Spirit of the living God, carved on human hearts.
“You teach what you know,
but you reproduce what you are.”
— Howard Hendricks
A disciple is not above his teacher,
but everyone who is perfectly trained
will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:40 (NKJV)
perfectly trained = Like his teacher, Jesus.
a heart change,
a lifestyle change
At a personal level, … sometimes, in the quest to know the Bible well, and due to limited time
… groups may be activity oriented
and lose sight of sharing one’s life, knowing, supporting, encouraging one another personally;
praying for one another,
a loving supportive community
at the meeting and outside the meeting;
… instead of preferring to just only interact ‘spiritually’
in the quest for the right answers to the study guide.
activity … or community?
Yes its true,… some folks are private; uncomfortable in opening up & share one’s personal life, walk.
Should we remain this way?
.. everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another
John 13:35 (NIV)
We thank God for you always. And that’s what we should do, because you give us good reason to be thankful:
Your faith is growing more and more.
And the love that every one of you has for each other is also growing.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ERV)
A bible study of God’s word speaks beyond just our mind,
and by the Holy Spirit, … illumines, inspires our soul,
and moves our heart,
to love the Lord and love others.
Consider the fruit of the early believers,
Acts 2:42-45 (ESV)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The teaching of God’s word or discipling/mentoring, …
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
bears fruit in God’s presence and power manifested in their midst, …
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
bears fruit in God’s love for one another,
through generous sharing and caring …
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
bears fruit in a daily worship lifestyle,
and others coming to know Jesus.
Growing in love for God, fellow believers, and others who have yet to know Jesus.
Besides preparing & sharing,
… prayer is essential and indispensable.
In Paul’s epistles, he often mentions his tender personal prayers for the churches and individuals.
He and his friends certainly cared a lot for the people they led, shepherded, cared,
as they constantly remember them in their prayers.
For them, …out of sight (or side) … is not out of mind.
Romans 1:9,10 (NIV)
God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness
how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; …
Ephesians 1:16 (NIV)
I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Philippians 1:14 (NIV)
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy
1 Thessalonians 1:2 (NIV)
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.
2 Timothy 1:3 (NIV) for Timothy
… night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
Philemon 1:4 (NIV) for Philemon
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers,
Paul prayed regularly for those he discipled with joy, giving thanks for them.
He often thought about them.
We must talk to God about men
before we talk to men about God
– Bill Bright
Back to the methodical Bible study program mentioned earlier.
Curious … I wondered which step or steps in the methodology were most useful or impactful to those who participated. So, … I asked some brethren who attended the program about their thoughts and insights.
Also, was wondering,
what’s beyond finding or knowing the right answers to the Bible study guide questions?
… what’s the goal, the objective ?
What does being ‘well-versed‘ with the Bible really mean?
Does .. Bible study group = discipling ?
Of all the answers shared … the most interesting one … which I’ll never forget … came from a Chinese man.
He said, ” None of the steps !”
I was intrigued.
He continued, “For me, what’s most important is the Bible study group leader.”
“In the last 4-5 years of attending this program, I’ve had a different Bible study group leader each year. Some leaders were more effective than others.”
Curious, I asked why was the leader so crucial ?
What did the more effective leaders do that made the difference ?
He explained, “I grew up in a communist country, … I have never met a Christian before, … until I moved over to this country.”
“So, … I have no clue or idea what a Christian looks like. “
He continued, “Some Bible study group leaders just go through the Bible study process, … until we see them again … at the next Bible study group session. Sometimes, during the week they’ll give a friendly call””
“Those whom I have benefited the most from, … are the ones who open up … and share their life with me … their ups and downs … at work, … in their family … and how the Bible and faith in Jesus helped them through. These sharings helped me understand how the Bible and Jesus is real, relevant in real life .. in life’s situations.”
“These leaders were also interested about my life, … and they compassionately supported me, … prayed with me, … through my walk with the Lord.”
1:5 … You know how we lived among you …
2:8 so we cared for you.
Because we loved you so much,
we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God
but our lives as well.
1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2:8 (NIV)
Gleaning from my friend’s sharing, and some personal observations …
One shared knowledge, … while the other shared life
One was friendly, … while the other, … a friend
One taught, facilitated, … while the other walked alongside … guide, coach, cared, prayed.
Mass one-size-fits-all approach… or personalised, contextualised, .. in love
The Bible in a classroom, … or the Bible in everyday life.
A study, … or effective disciple making ?
Know the text/passage, .. know the right answer on the study sheet,
… or know the Author ?
Analysis, reasoning, catchphrases,
right answers, spiritual jargon,
… or a living example ?
Information to the mind,
… or transformation of the heart?
… God did not just send us … a teaching manual to read,
or a workbook to fill with right answers,
… but a man, … an example to follow,
His Son, … to live among us,
the living Word 🙂
a living relationship, fellowship with Him.
And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, … (Matthew 4:19 NIV)
And may be, that’s why the Bible is filled with stories of people who personally experienced the Lord through their everyday lives and challenges.
This is eternal life,
that they may know You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3 NIV)
Perhaps … the question is:
How real is Jesus in our lives?
Can others see Jesus in us?
On a side note
high tech tools like facebook posts and whatsapp/wechat/snapchat messages
are unable to substitute for
time spent in face-to-face contact with someone,
attentively giving time to truly listen to one another, .. (not distracted)
compassionately listen to one another’s heart
i.e. face time, high touch
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
John 1:14 (MSG)
Interestingly, my Chinese friend’s observation wisely echoes Paul’s
4:15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
11:1 Follow my example,
as I follow the example of Christ
1 Corinthians 4:15,16, 17, 11:1 (NIV)
The first leaders chosen in Acts were described as
men of good reputation,
full of the Spirit and of wisdom
… full of faith and of the Holy Spirit … full of grace and power ..
Acts 6:3, 5, 8 (NASB)
Character, good deeds, service, … Holy Spirit, wisdom, faith, grace, power.
Is the quest for more and more knowledge ?
… more of what ?
or just more ?
My goal is to know Him
and the power of His resurrection
and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death
Philippians 3:10 (HCSB)
If I … know all mysteries and all knowledge;
… but do not have love,
I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2 (NASB)
… knowledge puffs up while
love builds up.
1 Corinthians 8:1
and Peter wrote:
2 Peter 1:5-8 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence,
add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge,
6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance,
to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness,
brotherly kindness love.
8 For if these things are yours and abound,
you will be neither barren nor unfruitful
in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
James 1:22 (NIV)
Do not merely listen to the word,
and so deceive yourselves.
Do what it says.
Its interesting here, that James mentions that its possible to
… even doing the right activities and hanging with the right crowd.
.. everyone will know
that you are my disciples,
love one another
John 13:35 (NIV)
A disciple is not above his teacher,
but everyone who is perfectly trained
will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:40 (NKJV)
“Out of 100 men,
one will read the Bible,
the other 99 will read the Christian”
— D. L Moody
“The goal is not to make you a smarter sinner
but to make you like the Savior.
You cannot impart what you do not possess.
You can impress from a distance,
but you can only impact up close.
You teach what you know,
but you reproduce what you are.
Jesus never asks people to memorise
and repeat answers back to Him.
He was content to trust the Holy Spirit
to guide them into all truth (John 16:13)
It’s a sin to bore people with the Bible.
The teacher has not taught
until the student has learned.”
– Howard Hendricks
“Historically, the church has understood the nature of Scriptures
much the same as it has understood the person of Christ
— the Bible is at the same time both human and divine”
— Gordon Fee
How about Jesus. What method did He used ?
(for the continuation of this article)
When folks of diverse ethnic and cultural background come together to Bible study, sometimes we get interesting observations,
here’ a post on How social media, cultural perspectives & values influence our Bible reading (click here)
by 林弟兄, bro Lim
June 20, 2015
Copyright © 林弟兄 bro Lim, Laymanointing, 2014-2016 – All Rights Reserved
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