40: Bible Study is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
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First, What Does it Say?
Before we actually begin to look at the Proverbs to glean the wisdom of God, we first need to remind ourselves what Bible study entails and how to mine the depths of God’s Word for the treasure often buried just below the surface. Note, we are committing ourselves to Bible study to experience God and His wisdom. Not Bible skimming or even Bible reading. Those may have their place in our spiritual lives, but not if we strive to have a deeper intimacy with the Lord and experience the Higher Christian Life.
Bible study is not a sprint. We don’t begin with the goal of trying to get as much done in the least amount of time so we can cross this item off our to-do list and move on to something more important. That is a recipe for failure, frustration, and a stagnant Christian life. And it is a great slight to God’s inspired Word (2 Tim. 3:16).
No, Bible study is a marathon. It is a life-long endeavor that produces a mature believer “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). And it takes time, as all things of value do. Proper Bible study is like the difference between dining on a fine meal in an upscale restaurant with close friends or whoofing down a Happy Meal in the front seat of your car alone. Both meet your hunger needs. But only one is a deeply satisfying, pleasurable experience.
There are just a few things we must know about any passage of Scripture we will study, especially if our goal is to have the Lord speak to us about something in our lives through His Word. First, we need to know exactly what it says, what each word means. Not just in our language today, but what it meant to those to whom it was written so many millennia ago. After all, language changes. And what something meant in English 75 years ago may not mean the same thing today.
For example, before the ’60s, when someone said, “Cool, man,” it was always about temperature. But that all changed over time. So that now, when we hear that statement, we never think it has something to do with how cold it is outside. Or, in the time before World War II, the phrase “gay” had nothing to do with sexual orientation. Instead, it referred to an attitude of cheerfulness and lighthearted excitement. In 1934, Fred Astair and Ginger Roger starred in the movie, The Gay Divorcee. This musical had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of either party. But if that movie was released today, we would probably assume we knew the reason behind their divorce. Ah, one of them was gay. And this is how words can mean something different over time.
Understanding this, we need to know what a passage said when it was written, the culture in which it was written, and the people for whom it was written. That is why a Greek and Hebrew Word Study Dictionary is so important. But we’ll speak on that in a moment.
Then, What Does it Mean?
Then, after we determine what a passage says, we have to determine what it means. And this is where the marathon part of Bible study comes in. The rule is simply this; we do not move to another passage until we fully understand what our current passage means. There is no skipping over it or “I’ll get back around to that later.” Our task is to stop, prayerfully meditate on the passage, use whatever resources we have available to help us in our understanding (see below), ask the Lord to reveal His meaning to us, and wait until we discover His hidden treasure of truth, before moving on. No matter how long it takes.
After all, if we spend an hour in His Word reading three chapters but get nothing out of it, we have wasted our time. But if we spent the same amount of time on one verse and God reveals His will to us in that verse, we are encouraged, enlightened, changed, and growing in our likeness to His Son (Rom. 8:29). And our lives are forever transformed by His Word. It’s the marathon that builds endurance, not the sprint.
Let me close by giving you a few pointers to help in your Bible study.
1. Slowly read the passage several times out loud. Emphasize each word and phrase as you do.
2. Ask questions about the text. Who, what, where, why, how long, for what purpose, etc.
3. Ask the Lord to show you why He led you to this part of His Word today? What is He trying to show you? What does He want to reveal to you?
4. Spend some time studying each word? What do they mean in Greek and Hebrew? Is their meaning different than what I assume they mean today? Has the language changed over time? Hint: Spend extra attention on the small words, all, any, if, then, know, but, etc.
5. What are the implications of what I just read? Why did God lead me to this passage today? How can I apply this in my life in both my actions and my attitude? Is this further explained in the next few verses?
6. Spend some time looking for other passages that will further explain and support what the Lord is saying in the passage you are studying. And if so, where? What is God trying to show me?
7. What principles or truths can I learn about God? Hint: Make this about Him, and not you. Is He showing you something about His character and nature in what you are studying?
8. Finally, ask God to show you how to live in the truth He has just revealed. This is where your faith grows. Ask Him to place you in situations, no matter how difficult, where your faith in the truths He just revealed to you will be tested. After all, we are promised in James 1:3, the “testing of our faith produces patience (hupomonḗ – endurance, the ability to withstand hardship or stress).” And endurance is what we are seeking in the times in which we live.
Remember, Bible study is not a sprint, but a marathon.
Last quick point, you will need some resources to help with your Bible study. Let me suggest the following:
MacArthur Study Bible – NKJV. This is probably the most important resource. All translations are not equal, no matter how easy or difficult they are to read.
Greek and Hebrew Word Study Dictionaries:
The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates
The Complete Word Study of the Old Testament by Spiros Zodhiates
Bible Commentary: I would suggest using one from the latter part of the last century, such as the Pulpit Commentary, Spurgeon’s Notes and Sermons, etc. However, if you are looking for something more contemporary, try the commentaries by John MacArthur and/or James Montgomery Boice or the writings of AW Pink. Note: Try not to do a random Google search for the meaning of a particular passage. There is much truth and deception online about everything— source matters.
For solid Biblical answers online, try the following:
Blue Letter Bible – blueletterbible.org
Got Questions – gotquestions.org
CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) – carm.org
Grace to You – gty.org
The Ministry of Chuck Missler – khouse.org
Enjoy your time with Him, and tomorrow we will begin to do exactly what I have described in the book of Proverbs.