Lesson 2 Understanding The Word

The Psalmist pleaded with God, "Give me understanding" (Psa. 119:34, 125, 169). The danger exists of merely reading words without understanding. The Lord Jesus said, "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). The Scriptures are the most profound writings in the world. They demand our fullest attention and effort. The life-changing potential in the spiritual intake of them is beyond our calculation. Therefore, we must not be careless in our study.

The Holy Spirit is the great teacher of the Word (1 John 2:27). That is why the Psalmist pleaded for God to open his eyes (Psa. 119:18). Since understanding is by the Spirit, many well meaning believers conclude that the process of reason or discrimination is unspiritual. Leaders who are cultic, hyper-emotional, or manipulative have urged believers to by-pass the mind entirely and rely upon subjective notions of the Spirit's leading. This surely is one of the most dangerous roads to take. God has given us minds to use, not ignore. We are to love the Lord with our minds (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). We are to prepare our minds (1 Pet. 1:13). God desires to put His laws into our minds (Heb. 8:10). No one should quote Psalm 81:10, "Open your mouth and I will fill it," to mean that God will instruct us apart from study or effort. The undisciplined mind must be trained to study. We must improve our reading habits, look up word meanings, pay attention to details, and see relationships. Intensive study must replace casual reading of the Bible if we are going to understand the Word.

Observation

Study of the Scripture should be both telescopic and microscopic, including the large view and the smallest part. Analysis should be:

1. By Books. Review the whole book before you analyze the parts. Relating parts to the whole will, among other things, prevent the insertion of ideas unrelated to the context. Take a bird's eye look for preliminary impressions.

a. Read the book through more than once, seeking the big picture.

b. Write down the major ideas as you read through.

c. Determine the central truth or theme.

d. Identify a key verse which expresses the main idea.

e. Look for the lesser or supportive ideas.

2. By Chapters. If the chapter does not complete a unit of thought, then take the verses that form a major passage. There are no chapters or paragraphs in the original writings.

a. Relate the passage to both the previous and following one.

b. Determine the major ideas.

c. Divide the passage into units of thought or paragraphs.

d. Relate these units to the major idea in the section.

e. Put a short title or heading above the chapter or section.

3. By Sentences. Verses often represent only a portion of a sentence. Consider the whole, then break it down into parts according to the rules of grammar.

a. How does each sentence relate to the unit of thought in the chapter?

b. Observe the parts of speech in order to truly understand what is written.

(1) What is the main subject? (That about which something is said)

(2) What is the main object? (That toward which the verb action is directed)

(3) What is the main verb? (That which expresses the action or mode of being)

Example: "The Lord (subject) loves (verb) a cheerful giver" (object).

Does the verb express completed action, continuation now, or something for the future?

Example: We might write 2 Corinthians 1:10 to express the actions this way: "He has delivered (past action) us, is delivering (present action) us, and will deliver (future action) us," describing the Lord's great work on our behalf.

4. By Subjects. Become familiar with major Bible doctrinal topics and recognize when one of them is touched in a verse. One can rarely understand a doctrine from one verse. In fact, isolating a statement from the remainder of what the Bible says upon a subject is almost certain to lead to error. Topical study of the Bible lays a proper foundation for Scriptural knowledge and life. It enables one to master a subject relatively quickly. Do not exclusively study in this manner. When studying by subjects these suggestions may help.

a. Think of similar words or ideas to check in a concordance.

b. Compare with other verses using key words.

c. Be sure you have considered the idea from all angles.

d. Do not let reference sources on topics displace personal study.

e. Do not major on one or two subjects.

Interpretation

Remember that to interpret is to explain the meaning of something in understandable terms. What is God saying through the pen of the writer? The key to this step is the use of questions, especially what and why. If you are to bring to proper light, in clear terms, this communication from the Lord then you must challenge your understanding of the text by questioning yourself.

1. What is the meaning of this word?

a. Is your understanding of it the same as the Biblical meaning?

b. On important words can you think of an exact synonym?

c. Remember that there are three approaches to word meaning: The ordinary use (how is it defined in a dictionary?); the contextual use (how is it used?); the comparative use (how is it used elsewhere in Scripture?).

2. Why is this statement or action included in Scripture?

a. What does it add to our understanding?

b. Is anything implied without being expressed?

3. What is the relationship of this statement to the context?

a. What is the cause and effect?

b. What is the progression of thought?

c. What is the explanation within the flow itself?

4. Have you visualized the situation in your mind?

a. What is the situation here?

b. What are the people like?

5. Have you tried to screen out any bias on your part?

a. Are you importing into the verse something that is not there?

b. Have you been fair to the spirit as well as the letter?

c. Are you eliminating something applicable without justification?

d. Are you prayerfully listening to God, open to revising your thinking?

Application

There are three major areas of personal application: yourself, your relationship to others, and God.

1. Your Personal Life. God is interested in changing the character of believers, molding them into the likeness of His dear Son.

a. He may want to purify us. This may be by affliction (1 Pet. 1:7; Zech. 13:9). This may be by self-judgment (Jas. 4:8; 1 Pet. 1:22).

b. He may want to encourage us (Rom. 15:4). Dark hours can be brightened by God's consolation and the hope set before us.

c. He may want to guide or counsel us (Psa. 119:105). There are many pitfalls around us and we need a wisdom that can come only from Him (Jas. 1:5).

2. Your Relationship To Others. As the poet said, no man lives as an island unto himself. God has made us to live in social relationships. We are to glorify God in this area.

a. He may want to minister through us. We can sustain others with the right word (Isa. 50:4). There is always opportunity to give even a cup of cold water in His name (Matt. 10:42).

b. He may want us to humble ourselves before others (1 Pet. 5:5-6). God is opposed to the proud and gracious to the humble.

c. He may want us to speak God's message to others (Tit. 2:15). Whatever form it may take, we are called in this to represent Him.

3. Our Thoughts About God. So often these are too small to do justice to His glory. "The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods" (Psa. 95:3). We must grow in our knowledge of Him.

a. You may need to know what He is like. He has summoned men everywhere to lift up their eyes to His greatness (Isa. 40:25-26). Mark carefully anything He has been pleased to tell us about Himself. That is all we can know about Him and it is worth knowing.

b. You may need to know His ways. He lamented those who did not know them and suffered terribly as a result (Psa. 95:10). His ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8-9). We need to find out where they are different and act accordingly.

c. You may need to see His face by faith. This speaks of the presence of the Lord. When His face is hidden from us we are troubled (Psa. 27:9; 69:17). When His face shines upon us we are blessed (Psa. 119:135).

Be determined to stay with your study until you allow God's Spirit to speak to your soul. In what way have you been challenged? All Scripture is profitable "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Let it work that way in you!

Lesson 2 Understanding The Word

In this exercise you will practice the principles of Bible study outlined in the NOTES of Lessons 1 and 2. Read the NOTES carefully and then apply the following steps in a study of Luke 12:22-31.

1. Preparation. Review the checklist under SPIRITUAL REQUIREMENTS in the NOTES of LESSON 1.

2. Observation (What does the passage say?) Read Luke 12:22-31 several times to acquaint yourself with the passage. Then read the passage several more times, watching for important details. Look for key words, important connective words, contrasts, comparisons, illustrations, repetition and progression of ideas, verbs, and the use of questions or emphatic statements. Record your findings below in the column labeled OBSERVATIONS. Spend plenty of time observing the passage. List as many observations as you can, using additional paper if needed. {pb18

3. Interpretation (What does the passage mean?)

a. Flood the passage with questions to help you think about its meaning. Try questions of the following form: Why does Jesus say. . . ? What is the meaning of ... ? What is the relationship between . . . and . . . ? What is the implication of ... ? Record as many important questions as you can in the column labeled QUESTIONS. If necessary use additional paper.

b. Seek the exact meaning of each verse. On a separate sheet of paper, define important words and answer several of your most important questions using the context and cross-references.

c. Write two or three sentences which summarize your insights into the meaning of each of the following groups of verses.

vv. 22-23

v. 24

vv. 25-26

vv. 27-28

vv. 29-31

4. Application (How will I apply the passage?)

a. What is the importance of this passage to your life?

b. How is this teaching of Jesus working (or not working) in your daily life?

c. How will you apply this passage to your life? Be specific.