Choosing to Study God’s Word
November 17, 2013, MBC, Sunday School
How would you rate yourself on the following question? “I love God’s Word” 1-10
As we drive in our cars and go about our days, there are many sights and sounds that distract us. Think about the average family car today on a family trip. There are games, music, movies, cell phones, kids yelling, cars honking, billboards all over, etc. It is sometimes a challenge to drive! What about in our quiet time? Can you overcome the “road noise” to spend time alone with God each day? Do you commit time each day to reading, listening, praying, worshiping? We need to overcome the distractions in our day in order to focus on God.
In an interview, Billy Graham was asked this question: “If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?” His answer: “One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up”
Christianity Today, September 12, 1977, p. 19.
Consider these statistics:
Percentage of American households with a Bible: 92 – Twelve percent of all American adults read the Bible every day of the week, while 52 percent do not read it at all. Another 33 percent read the Scriptures at least once during a typical week.
More blacks (70 percent) read the Bible than Hispanics (49 percent) and whites (42 percent). More women (50 percent) read it than men (39 percent). The South can retain its label as the Bible belt: 56 percent of southern adults read the Bible at least weekly. On the other end of the spectrum is the Northeast, where only 30 percent do.
More than one in four (26 percent) evangelicals read the Bible daily; another 50 percent read it weekly or more. But 22 percent of evangelicals report that they never read the Bible outside of church.
Barna Research Group, May 9, 1991. “To Verify,” Leadership.
So, the question is not “do you have a Bible?” but, rather, “how much do you love God’s word?” Are you just reading or are you applying what He is saying to you?
READ James 1:22-25
Most sports teams develop playbooks. A playbook contains offensive and defensive strategies to use against other teams. Teams use these playbooks to give them the greatest chance of success against their opponents. As coaches develop plays for their team, they take into consideration their team’s strengths and weaknesses in light of who their opponent will be. When a new player joins their team, they must learn the playbook.
God has given each of us a playbook that is designed to help us succeed against our opponent in all the situations we face in life. Like a new player, we should strive to not only learn the playbook, but also apply it. Too many underestimate the importance of the application process and that is what our focal verses are about today.
A church member made it a point to meet the pastor after each service and say, “you sure preached to THEM today”. The pastor frequently dreamed of some day hearing this woman take the message personally. He thought he had finally gotten his chance when a severe thunderstorm prevented all but the pastor and this woman from showing up one Sunday. After the message he knew she couldn’t quote her standard remark. Indeed, she didn’t. She said, “Too bad THEY weren’t all here because…you sure preached to THEM today!”
What was the general purpose of the letter from James? He was responding to all those who claimed to be Christians but did not live the Christian life out. The focus of his letter was practice, not precept. Many people believe in God in theory, but not as many believe in Him in reality. James purpose was for us to live out God’s Word, not leave it out.
In James, we see several advantages to reading and studying the Bible. Let me suggest three to you:
1. By reading and studying AND OBEYING, we avoid wasting our life. James warns us about being a casual listener when he says, “Do not merely listen and so deceive yourself”. If I think that attending church services and programs are all I need to grow spiritually mature, I am fooling myself. We must get serious about living out our faith. HOW DO WE GET SERIOUS? In order to avoid wasting our lives we must BELIEVE God’s Word enough to live it out. If you came to me for an exercise prescription and I spent an hour setting you up on a program, but never implemented it, how fit would you become? NOT VERY! If you read God’s Word, but never put it into practice, you will be wasting your life, your time, and deceiving yourself.
2. A second advantage is that we gain freedom when we follow God’ Word. James says that God’s perfect law produces freedom in verse 25. That perfect law is the spiritual, moral and ethical teachings found in the Bible and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They do not restrict us, but give us greater freedom and joy.
READ John 8:21-22 – the truth will set you free
In the same way a locomotive has the greatest freedom and power when it stays on it’s tracks, we experience freedom when we follow God’s Word. When we get off the tracks, WHAT HAPPENS? A train wreck!
3. A third advantage to reading God’s Word is that we bear spiritual fruit when we stick with it. James describes a person looking intently or seriously studying being blessed. As we continue to do this, we will be blessed. As we are obedient to His commands, we are blessed. We bear spiritual fruit such as faith and love as we stay in His Will.
READ John 15:5 – secrets of the vine
When we stay connected in fellowship with our Lord and follow His Truth, our lives will bear abundant spiritual fruit. Consider flowers purchased from a store or even pulled from your garden. How long will they last once they are removed from the soil? No long! We cannot expect to bear fruit without any root! We must remain grounded in God’s Word.
Not only does James give us advantages to remaining in the Word, he gives us at least three ways to effectively use our playbook.
1. He says we should study it carefully. This is the idea of looking intently. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN READING AND LOOKING INTENTLY? It is not just reading over the verses, but it means we should take our time to understand the meaning and background of the verses. We should have access to commentaries, study Bibles, dictionaries, etc. We should make notes in the margins of our Bibles or keep journals.
2. We should also memorize it strategically. James says that we should not forget what we have heard. It is really easy to memorize the things we want to remember. I know my addresses, my phone numbers, and words to songs I like, statistics for various things. It should be no different with memorizing Scripture.
Can you think of three reasons we would want to memorize Scripture?
a. It helps us fight against the sins in which we are most susceptible.
READ Psalm 119:11
In order to be prepared for troubling temptations, we can memorize verses that will encourage us to obey our Lord rather than false promises.
b. It helps us to make wise decisions in life.
READ Psalm 119:105
God’s Word sheds light on decisions we are facing and shows us the right path through life. CAN WE FIND THE ANSWERS TO ALL OF OUR QUESTIONS IN THE BIBLE? I think so. We may not find it the way we might expect, but our playbook HAS all the answers. You sometimes just have to look hard enough to find them!
c. Memorizing Scripture also aids in our ability to share our faith with others.
READ 1 Peter 3:5
Knowing Scriptures that explain the basic truths of the gospel enhance our ability to share the truth about Jesus.
3. The third and most effective way to make sure we effectively use our playbook is to APPLY IT DAILY. There are three steps:
A. We first need to understand what the verse meant to the original hearers.
B. Then we search for the timeless principle held in the passage that holds true for all people, in all places, and at all times.
C. The third step is to ask God how we can personally apply that principle in our lives. Once we do that, we will find wisdom for making the critical decisions we are faced with every day.
Reading the Bible and listening to Bible teaching are much easier than actually acting on the truths presented in the Bible. It takes a great deal of effort to understand this text, and even more to understand how it applies to our lives.
We like to think that when we study the Bible, it’s like getting a shot of spiritual adrenaline. It gives a spiritual high. Studying the Bible is much more like taking vitamins. You gulp down a couple of vitamins in the morning, but no wave of energy flows through your body. You take the vitamins because they build you up. They protect you against the diseases in the environment. In the long pull, they make you strong. — Haddon Robinson, “The Wisdom of Small Creatures,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 93.
So, today, I want to encourage you not to just be a hearer of the Word, but a doer. The difference is expectation and intent. First, do you expect God to speak to you personally through the Bible? Second, do you have a teachable spirit that is eager to obey whatever God tells you through His Word.? Once you have decided to be a doer, here are three suggestions:
1. Take notes when you hear God’s word taught and preached in your church. We tend to lose 95% of what we hear after 72 hours. How can you keep from forgetting what God is saying to you? Write it down!
2. Make a plan for regular reading and studying the Bible. Get a devotional book or Bible, or a one-year Bible, etc. Whatever the material – make a plan!
How much time does it take to read from Genesis to Revelation? If you would read the Bible at standard pulpit speed (slow enough to be heard and understood) the reading time would be seventy-one hours. If you would break that down into minutes and divide it into 365 days you could read the entire Bible, cover to cover, in only twelve minutes a day. Is this really too much time to spend reading about God?
3. Keep a journal to remind you of what God has spoken and how He has answered prayers. This will remind you and encourage you of His love and provision.
A Bible that’s falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn’t. Christian Johnson