An easy assumption to make when it comes to reading our Bibles is that if you want to go deeper into the text then you need to purchase a bunch of scholarly resources: commentaries, introductions, lexicons, study Bibles, etc. Now, while these are all great resources and will help expand your understanding of the text, too often we move to these far too soon, or we are simply intimidated into inaction because we don’t own these already.
The truth is that pastors and Bible study leaders are served well to do their own thinking through and analysis of the text prior to moving to other resources… it is also true that anyone wanting to go deeper or be more prepared for receiving a sermon or participate in a Bible study would also do well to tackle the text on their own.
So, how? Well, there are a lot of different methods and ways, but I wanted to share some simple steps that make up the beginning of my sermon preparation. (This isn’t necessarily the best possible methodology, but it has worked for me thus far, and it’s pretty simple).
- Prayer. Thank God for His Word and your ability to study it. Repent of sin which can cloud your thoughts and the work of God in your life. Ask the Spirit illuminate your time of study.
- Big Picture. Now, we have been in a continuing study of Ephesians and I have constantly tried to place each week in the context of the whole book and point out its individual relationship to the previous week’s text. If you have been part of a study like this then you may already feel good about seeing where it fits in the big picture of the book. If not, then this is a step that you can put a lot into (read the whole book, give a summary to each chapter) or a less (read the paragraph before your section and after to see if it modifies how you might read your section).
- Read it. Read the section over a couple of times and write down your first impressions of it (what stands out, what seems important, what do you want to know more about).
- Line by line. Go verse by verse down a sheet a paper writing out your own paraphrase of each. If some verses or statements have a specific relationships or connections to others, make some visual note (arrows, or indent) to show those relationships.
- Group. Group paragraphs together and by looking at your paraphrases of the individual verses, come up with a general title or paraphrase of each paragraph. Then give the whole section a title if you can.
- Interrogate. Grab a different color pen and start marking things that seem important (repeated words, emphasis), write out questions you have that you hope to find answers to and write down other verses in the Bible that these make you think of.
Now you should have a good idea of what you think this section of scripture means, what’s important and what things you’d like to find answers to either in further study (resources) or from the sermon or Bible study you’re attending.
Now, this doesn’t always mean that you have it all figured out… many times I’ve moved onto the next step of checking with how scholars understand certain things and I’ve found myself to be way off, but at least I knew that I wrestled with it. Other times I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I actually had some good thoughts that I shared with smarter people.
I hope you’ll take some effort to try even a few of these steps and work it into some of your regular time of study. If you’ve already figured out what works for you to get deeper into the text, great! Keep with it! But if not, try these; it will take a little longer than just opening your Bible, reading, and shutting it… but it is worth it to not only wrestle with the text, but to let the Word of God wrestle with you.
Let the Word of God wrestle with you!