We are entering into a great new series at church and I thought that I would share the basics, as I think the topic is universal and there is so much positive feedback on what is happening in the sermon series. For starters, the series title is “BYOB – Bring Your Own Bible…”
I especially like the title – after all, with the technology available to us, and all the electronic platforms we can access, sometimes it is just wonderful to sit down and hold a real book in your hands. Not only that, but research shows that writing notes and making marks in our own books helps us to remember – as opposed to typing notes in our iPads or on our computers. That’s because the unique characteristics of the notes help us recall the things we were thinking when we made them initially. To this day, I keep hand written notes of classes that I took years ago in seminary. In fact, I can remember some of the actual class periods when I made the notes more than 15 years ago now.
One of the great things about seminary is the way that I was taught to study the Scripture. Rather than just reading the text, it always helps to have a little historical context surrounding the author, the setting, the audience, the cultural norms, differences in vocabulary and what was happening at the time of the original writing. While I learned that this was called “the historical context”, our sermon series is using the moniker “the world BEHIND the text.” This makes sense to me as it encompasses all the things that are relevant to have a better understanding of the verses that we are studying at the time.
The second phase is to study “the world OF the text.” This has to do with the kind of writing – such as poetry, narrative, prophecy, imagery, etc. as well as how the verse blends in with other similar passages and any connections there may be with other parts of the Bible. Between the understanding of the worlds “behind the text” and “of the text” we can have a much better understanding of what the Holy Spirit may be trying to say to us.
Then, finally, the third step is to analyze “the world IN FRONT of the text.” This has to do with what application the text may have for us today and how, in light of what we have already studied, we can honor God through having a better understanding of what the Holy Spirit may be nudging us to do.
I know that most of us don’t go through all these steps when reading the Bible, but from my teaching of the Scripture for more than 20 years, I am convinced that having a historical context is vitally important to understanding various passages. Seminary is the forum through which my classmates and I learned these helpful techniques and now it is almost an automatic thing that I do when teaching and studying the Bible.
I am not suggesting that we all take 30 minutes to research each verse that we want to study, but a few inexpensive commentaries, and even the internet, can lend valuable help to our efforts to better understand God’s word. So I encourage all of us to dig a little deeper in our studies and see how we are rewarded!
Our verse for this evening is from Paul’s second letter to young Timothy, a pastor who Paul was mentoring. Paul tells us, in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Part of being equipped is to have a thorough understanding of what we are reading.
My encouragement tonight is that God delights when we wish to grow stronger in our relationship with Him through our study of His word. After all, the Bible is the most direct way, in addition to prayer, that we can get to know God. My prayer is that we will all at least consider the three worlds of the Bible when we dive into the Scripture. After all, no verse is more important than any other verse – they are all divinely inspired through the Holy Spirit. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…