Lesson 1 Search The Scriptures

Diligent study of the Word of God is His will for every believer (Josh. 1:8; Deut. 6:6-9). The Lord Jesus told the Pharisees that the Scriptures were the key to eternal life. Yet the Pharisees, who prided themselves in their knowledge of the Scriptures, failed to recognize their Messiah and to know the way to God. A serious deficiency existed in their study. Many professing believers read the Scriptures only sporadically, in times of crisis, or as a mere routine. The Word is not reflected in their lives. They do not dig for divine truth as though it were hidden treasure (Prov. 2:1-5). They do not delight in God's Word nor do they meditate therein day and night (Psa. 1:2). They do not "search the Scriptures daily" (Acts 17:11). As a result they are spiritually poor.

Tragically, the typical believer today depends solely upon Sunday sermons for his Scriptural knowledge. There is a lack of commitment to serious study of the Scriptures. Some believers are dedicated to Christ but do not know how to study the Bible effectively. This lesson is for those who are committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the serious study of "the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Pet. 1:23). We will consider the necessary areas of preparation, observation, interpretation and application.

Preparation

1. Physical Requirements. Be rested and fresh. Morning study is better from this standpoint. Get to bed early enough to get the rest you need. Have all study helps readily at hand, including a notebook, dictionary, and concordance. Use a version of the Scriptures that you can understand.

2. Spiritual Requirements. The Bible involves understanding by spiritual as well as mental means. The natural mind cannot understand the teachings of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). God's Word is veiled from many eyes (2 Cor. 3:13-15). Even the most devout believer should pray, "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Psa. 119:18). Understanding is given to the obedient heart (John 7:17). We must prepare our hearts and minds before coming to the Word. Then the Scripture will come to us in living power. Remind yourself of these things:

a. Pray and ask God to teach you (Psa. 119:33, 73).

b. Confess all known sin (Psa. 199:133).

c. Have a clear conscience before God (Acts 24:16).

d. Reconcile with others where possible (Matt. 5:24).

e. Be humble in coming to the Word (Matt. 11:25).

f. Desire to do the will of God (John 7:17; Jas. 1:21-25).

g. Come believing it is the very Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16).

Observation (What does it say?)

We must learn to examine closely what we read. Without careful reading we are unprepared to make any conclusion about what a verse means or how it pertains to personal life. Avoid skimming over material. Take time. Discipline your mind. Work hard in studying the text. This requires much practice.

1. General Procedure.

a. Concentrate when you read! Resist mind-wandering.

b. Make notes on thoughts and questions. Underline important words.

c. Read sentences and phrases rather than one word at a time.

2. Details To Observe.

a. Key words often are apparent from repetitions.

b. Promises, warnings, examples should be identified.

c. Comparisons or illustrations explain things in terms of the familiar.

d. Is there a list or series of things? Is there evidence of one thing leading to the next?

e. What questions were asked?

f. What emphatic words were used ("truly," "behold")?

g. When you look at an incident or story, try to relive it personally by putting yourself into it as one of the characters. Who are the characters? Where is this taking place? How does the story begin and end? What is the response of each character? What attitudes are expressed or evidenced? Are the characters receptive or hostile?

h. Notice the verbs. Do they state a completed action, a present occurrence, or something in the future?

i. Pay attention to connective words. Connectives are important. AND indicates continuation of an idea. BUT shows a contrast between two ideas. FOR gives us a reason or explanation for a statement. BECAUSE indicates the cause of something. THEN, THEREFORE, WHEREFORE bring us to a conclusion. THAT shows the purpose in view.

IF is an important conditional word. Note any conditions stated or implied.

Interpretation (What does it mean?)

To understand an author we must seek to grasp the meaning as he conveyed it under the direction of the Spirit of God. This differs from application to our own lives, a separate step which occurs later.

The material you have gathered from observation becomes the basis for interpretation. It is important to ask yourself many questions in order to think things through. Why is this in the Bible? Is there any symbolic meaning to certain actions or words? Is the statement meant to be taken literally or is it a figure of speech? What is the context? (What went before this section and what came after?) The answers to these questions are vital to the interpretive process.

Three simple principles govern general procedure.

1. NOTHING BUT THE WORD is finally authoritative.

2. ALL THE WORD gives balance and correctness.

3. INTERPRETING BY THE WORD is the most reliable method. Think deeply. Have you prayed and meditated about this? Do you have a bias in any way that might have influenced your thinking? Have you consulted helps or other sources as a basis for comparing your ideas with others? Have you adequately studied cross-references to the same subject? Have you considered differing aspects of the same word or doctrine, remembering that some Scriptural doctrines may seem to conflict with others? Resolve these by study.

Application (How can I apply it to my life?)

Application is the fruit of genuine Bible study. What will you do about what you have read? Even great truths about God should have the effect of changing our lives. Otherwise, it becomes an intellectual game of accumulating knowledge and exchanging information. The method of the Lord Jesus was teach and do, not just teach. Try to identify a single thought which you will seek to apply, rather than several thoughts about which you do nothing. Use the question method to obtain applications.

Ask yourself: What is the importance of this truth to my daily living? Is this a principle working in my life? What do I specifically plan to do about it? Why have I not acted before? Who will verify that I take action and pray with me until it happens? Am I sincere?

The following additional questions help define areas of personal application.

1. Is There A Promise To Claim? The assurance of the faithfulness of God's promises rests upon His integrity. "God is not a man that He should lie" (Num. 23:19). Believers have long made a practice of claiming God's promises by faith (2 Pet. 1:4). Make sure you have noted any conditions. Answered prayer, for example, is highly conditional (Jas. 1:5-7; 1 John 3:22; 5:4; Psa. 66:18). Frequently we are hindered because we think some things are too hard for God (Jer. 32:27). Endorse God's checks on the Bank of Heaven. Make them yours!

2. Is There An Example To Follow? The lives of the heroes of the Bible provide many positive examples. The lives of godly men and women are intended to be models for us (Heb. 13:7). Imitate them!

3. Is There A Command To Obey? "If ye love me, keep my commandments," said the Savior (John 14:15). Obedience to Christ is evidence that we are true believers (1 John 2: 3-4). Obedience is not to be confused with "legalism," which is adding to God's requirements for salvation or Christian living. The Word should speak to us constantly in areas where we may now be in disobedience. Do as the King commands!

4. Is There A Sin To Forsake Or A Warning To Heed? We may need to turn from something that is hindering us, to cease to do something. It may be an attitude such as bitterness or envy or an unresolved grievance. This will grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). We may be worrying instead of trusting. Our priorities in life may be wrong. Our devotional life may be neglected. We may be seeking security on earth instead of laying up treasure in heaven. Change when you are warned!

5. Is There An Encouragement Given? Virtually every believer has experienced discouragement. This is one of the Devil's principal tools of attack. Those who are introspective (looking within too much) by temperament are very prone to this. God limits our trials or temptations (1 Cor. 10:13). He gives us adequate resources in every situation. The believer can encourage others with the same refreshment he receives from God (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Rise up from discouragement and doubt!

6. Is There Counsel To Take? We must learn not to plan without first consulting the Lord (Jas. 4:13-16). A very clear statement from Scripture can help us at a crucial time. Most of the will of God can be found within the pages of Scripture; if not directly, then in principle. Feeling-oriented believers miss out on God's direction through the Scripture because they confuse their subjective feelings with the Word of God. Ask and expect God to show you through the Word.

7. Is There A Character Trait To Be Noted? What is to be learned about God Himself? Note every character trait of the Lord Jesus, considering that we are to be conformed to His likeness (Rom. 8:29). Learn from the lives of God's great men, such as Abraham, Daniel, and Paul. What does God want to see developed in your life?

Conclusion

Let us search more diligently then into this inexhaustible treasure of the Holy Scripture. In his farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul said: "I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). As the precepts of God's Word work in our lives we also will be built up.

Search The Scriptures

The purpose of this exercise is to practice the principles of Bible study outlined in the NOTES. Carefully read the NOTES and refer to them often as you take the following steps to analyze James 1:21-27.

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

2. Observation (What does the passage say?) Read James 1:21-27 several times until you are thoroughly familiar with its contents. Then using the guidelines in the NOTES, look for details in the passage and record your findings below under OBSERVATIONS. (Several sample observations are shown for v. 21.) Watch for details such as key words, contrasts, comparisons, illustrations, key connectives, verbs, repetition or progression of ideas, etc. Take plenty of time for this step and list as many observations as you can. Use additional paper if necessary.

3. Interpretation (What does the passage mean?)

a. Bombard the passage with questions to stimulate your meditation. Use questions like these: What is the meaning of ... ? What is the relationship between . . . and . . . ? What is the significance of ... ? Why does James say. . . ? Record your questions in the column labeled QUESTIONS. (Some sample questions are listed for v. 21.)

b. Seek the exact meaning of the passage. Use a dictionary to define key words. Try to answer several of your more important questions from the context and cross-references. Use additional paper if necessary.

c. Summarize in one or two sentences your insights into the meaning of each of the following groups of verses.

v. 21

v. 22

vv. 23-24

v. 25

vv. 26-27

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

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

b. How is its teaching presently working or not working in your life?

c. How will you apply its teaching to your life? Be specific.