Categories
Can You Trust the Bible? Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

The Certainty of Truth

Author: Charles Hegwood

One of the questions we should always ask of any book of the Bible we are reading is, “Why was this book written?” Part of understanding the meaning is understanding the purpose. Often the writer will tell you the ‘why’. Others will require more thought and some light research to uncover. So what about Luke? We see that Luke begins his gospel with an explanation of why he is writing this. He wanted his audience to know his purpose and intent in writing this gospel. We need to consider the purposes and intentions of Luke as we read and interpret his gospel. If we do not then we risk missing the meaning entirely. So why did Luke write? Luke wrote to a specific person or people to tell them that they can have confidence in the truth of Christ that they were taught. So let us look at each part of the first four verses and answer the questions.

The Recipient

The recipient is the original audience the author is writing. This may sound obvious but we must identify the original audience as we consider how to interpret and understand the message that Luke is trying to convey. We discover that the recipient is Theophilus. We do not know who this is. His name means ‘lover of God’ which could be a person’s name or a pseudonym. Some scholars even suggest this could be a pseudonym for a local church as well, so not one person but many. And while we are not sure of exactly who Theophilus was, we do know enough to understand Luke’s message and purpose.
Theophilus was a person or people that Luke knew and had respect for. We know that Theophilus was a believer as well. Luke is not sharing the gospel for the first time with him either, but instead writing to give Theophilus more confidence in what he already believed. This information helps us as we read and understand Luke. It is written to believers like us. We have believed and therefore Luke’s purpose is to give us more confidence in what we already believe.

The Process and Message

How does Luke compile his information? Or another question we can ask is, “How can we trust Luke’s information?” For the first question, we see that Luke took it upon himself to compile information from interviews with eyewitnesses. He sought to investigate from sources who saw and heard Jesus, what he believed to be true. This corrects the claim that Christians are not allowed to test and question their faith. We should have confidence to research our faith and the claims it makes. It can withstand scrutiny. We must of course go to valid sources and that is just what Luke did. Luke went and asked eyewitnesses who saw and heard Jesus. He likely asked some of the apostles. Luke also asked other people who were compiling accounts of Jesus too.
Let us take a second and marvel that within the first twenty years after Jesus and likely earlier than that, people were already writing down what they heard and saw. They knew it was important. And these witnesses to the gospel and recorders of what happened were already busy writing these things down and passing the message to all who believed.
Some criticism of the gospels you might hear is that the accounts were written down much later than the events. For example, Luke was written down sometime before 70 AD. That means Luke may have written his account decades after Jesus was resurrected. However, these detractors fail to realize that much of what Luke contained was from writings that had been written much closer to the event. We do see from Luke that he got his information from people who were speaking and writing with the purpose to pass down the information. His goal was to be orderly. He wanted to take all of the accounts and put them in an order that would best convey the message to his audience.

The Purpose

Luke, among many others, was investigating and researching the claims of the gospel he heard. And what did Luke find? He found that what he had received as the gospel was trustworthy. So much so that he compiled the information and underwent the difficult process of writing down all that he had learned so that he could share it. His purpose was so that Theophilus would have the same confidence in the gospel that Luke did. The gospel is not simply good information. It is good news that calls us to follow a risen Jesus. Luke is not a simple historian. He writes with a purpose to grant confidence in what has been thoroughly investigated. Luke wrote to defend this certainty to his reader. Even in the first century, God had set people about the task of writing to defend the truthfulness of what happened.

Conclusion

So with Luke, we can see the recipient, process, and purpose are all to give us confidence in the things that we believe regarding Jesus. Luke is a great book to build your confidence in what you have already learned. Luke desired to show the importance of the truthfulness of the gospel. It is not a mere story. Jesus really came, taught, died, and rose again. We can have confidence in the truthfulness of God’s word to us. God’s word has the purpose of bringing us life. So read with confidence the good news that Jesus is our Savior and many throughout the ages have gone to great lengths to ensure that we have and can trust that good news.

 

Categories
Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible Uncategorized

The Spirit of the Ten Commandments

In the tapestry of human civilization, few threads have woven themselves as deeply into the fabric of societies as the Ten Commandments. These ancient directives, gifted to humanity as the backbone of God’s law, transcend mere rules; they embody the very essence of divine guidance and human flourishing. Yet, as we delve into their significance, we uncover a profound truth: while the Law is a gift that illuminates the path, it is faith in Jesus Christ that truly saves, lest anyone should boast.

Understanding the Purpose of the Law

The Scriptures are filled with insights on the function and purpose of the law. In Romans 3:20, we learn that no one is declared righteous by observing the law; rather, it serves to make us conscious of sin. This sentiment is echoed in Romans 7:7, where Paul acknowledges that he wouldn’t have recognized sin without the law’s guidance. The crux of the matter is made clear in Romans 3:28 and Galatians 2:16, emphasizing that righteousness comes through faith in Jesus, not through legalistic observance.

The Dual Purpose and Benefit of the Law

God’s intention behind the commandments is multifaceted. They are designed to teach humanity how to love God rightly, bring honor and glory to His name, and foster harmonious relationships among people (Matt. 22:40). Additionally, adherence to these commandments leads to blessings and a peaceful life, as stated in Exodus 20:1-17.

The reciprocal benefit for mankind is evident: obeying the law promotes harmony in relationships and peace in the streets. The law is a loving gift that God has revealed to His special creation to know how to love Him and one another. The Ten Commandments are a blessing that if honored will bring peace and a long life. Even if your peace is internal in the midst of external chaos, following God’s instruction leads to true life.

Man wasn’t made for the law; the law was made for man. This is exactly what Jesus meant when he described on many occasions that the spirit of the law was and is for God and man’s benefit, not their detriment. The law is not more important to God than carrying your paralyzed friend on the Sabbath. This breaking of the letter of man’s law was the exact display of love and faith that fulfilled God’s law (Mark 2:3-11).

The Transformative Power of Understanding the Spirit of the Law

Integrating the Old and New Testaments is crucial for a holistic understanding of God’s divine plan. Jesus Himself affirmed the continuity of the law and the prophets, stating that He came not to abolish but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). This underscores the significance of interpreting the New Testament in light of the Old, recognizing the timeless principles and moral truths encapsulated in the commandments. We must be careful to rightly interpret and discern the letter of the law as well as the spirit of the law in every area of our lives.

The Law’s Application in Real Life

Jesus’s teachings shed light on the spirit of the law. In Matthew 5 He emphasized the importance of understanding the law’s intent and living accordingly, rather than rigidly following its letter. He exemplified this in His actions, such as healing on the Sabbath, which showcased the primacy of compassion and love over legalistic adherence. In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus says that all the Law and Prophets can be wrapped up in the essence of loving God and man with all your heart, soul, and strength. It is through Jesus’ indwelling Spirit we are able to live out the spirit of the law, applying it with wisdom and discernment.

The Spirit of the Ten Commandments

In Exodus 20:2, God tells Moses, “I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.”

The title Lord means judge, authority or ruler. God as Judge is the ultimate authority, law giver and keeper. This God is a perfect and benevolent ruler and rescuer to His people. He reminds Moses of each other’s identity, purpose, and position. The Judge then gives Moses these Ten Commandments to give to His people and to live by them.

  • “You must not have any other god but me Ex 20:3

Honor God as Lord of all (Acts 10:36). Make God primary in all areas and decisions in life. Live by His statutes, ordinances, and law and He will direct your paths.

  • “You must not make for yourself an idol Ex 20:4

Seek God alone for all your needs, desires, and comfort. He is all knowing and powerful and hallowed. He is our Father in Heaven, the only one who can graciously give our daily bread, and forgive us of our sins, and lead us out of temptation (Matthew 6:9-13)

  • “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” Ex 20:7

Live in a manner worthy of your calling (Eph. 4:1). Not that God needs us to help His reputation, but we should live in a way that doesn’t contradict His character, Word or calling on our lives. Beware the way of the hypocrite.

  • “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Ex 20:8

There were many man-made laws surrounding God’s law of keeping rest on the sabbath to honor His rest and our health.

  • “Honor your father and mother.” Ex 20:12

As adults, it’s important to maintain respect for our parents by honoring them even when we disagree. Respect, care, and provide for the elderly as they have respected, cared, and provided for you. Parents, strive to live in a manner that earns respect from your children.

  • “You must not murder.” Ex 20:13

The commandment carries a profound message about the sanctity of human life. It urges us to regard life with utmost respect, regardless of circumstances like accidental or intentional harm. The essence is to honor life by exercising self-control and engaging in actions that build and uplift rather than destroy. The literal meaning of the commandment is to not murder with premeditative will. Jesus said that if you harbor anger or resentment in your heart for another person, you are guilty of murder.

  • “You must not commit adultery.” Ex 20:14

Respect and love your spouse and the commitment you’ve made. Flee sexual immorality and be true to yourself and others. If you make a vow, make every effort to keep it.

  • “You must not steal.” Ex 20:15

The eighth commandment prohibits taking what isn’t rightfully ours or harming others through unfair possession of their property. It stresses fairness, kindness, and respect for private ownership, contributing to both individual and societal well-being. This commandment serves as a reminder to live ethically even in regard to material possessions, respecting others’ rights and avoiding actions that cause harm.

  • “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.” Ex 20:16

This commandment covers one’s words, honesty and intentions of the heart (Luke 6:45). Promote human flourishing by letting your yes be yes, and your no be no.

  • “You must not covet.” Ex 20:17

The tenth commandment promotes human and societal well-being by encouraging contentment, gratitude towards God for blessings, and honoring our neighbors. It encourages diligence and ethical conduct in business, advising against exploiting others for personal gain.

Conclusion

The spirit of the Ten Commandments extends far beyond mere legalistic observance. It embodies the fundamental principles of love, righteousness, and reverence for God and others. While the law serves as guideposts for righteous living and societal harmony, it is faith in Jesus Christ that ultimately leads to salvation and fulfills God’s purposes. By grasping the spirit behind the law, believers can navigate life with wisdom, discernment, and a genuine desire to honor God and fulfill our calling and purpose as ambassadors, and therefore an integral part in global human flourishing.

Study our free course Genesis and Exodus here.

Watch this complete lesson here.

Categories
Christian History Spiritual Development

The Principles of Deliverance

Author: Rachel Kidd

The Story of Exodus

Objective: To understand that there is no such thing as salvation without the power of God.

“The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him… and I will exalt him.” — Exodus 15:2

God’s power is uniquely displayed in the book of Exodus, which fittingly means way out. It tells the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt at the hands of Pharaoh while providing parallels to help us understand our relationship to sin and God’s ability to deliver us from it.

Deliverance

The theme of the book of Exodus is deliverance, which also means salvation, particularly in the Old Testament. We see the power of God through the salvation or deliverance of the Israelites through the plagues.

Each time Pharaoh rejected Moses and Aaron’s plea to let the Israelites go, God sent a plague on Egypt —ten in all. Everything from blood in the Nile, to hordes of locusts, frogs, lice, and flies, and finally the death of every firstborn plagued the Egyptians. After every plague, Moses and his brother Aaron come to Pharaoh and ask for the freedom of their people, in the name of the Lord. And every time, Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, his heart hardened.

These plagues are crucial to the story of Exodus because they convey a great truth; that God is far greater than any earthly power, even the most powerful Pharaoh at the height of Egypt’s power and influence.

He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. —1 John 4:4

God’s power is greater than any found on earth, not a president, army, prime minister, or king. The plagues are clear evidence of this, causing the most powerful country of the time to crumble and its leader to fall to his knees, allowing this small group of enslaved people to be free.

Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron at night. He said, “Get up and go away from my people, both you and the people of Israel. Go and worship the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your cattle, as you have said, and go. And pray that good will come to me also.” –Exodus 12: 31-32

Ultimately, the plagues serve to persuade Pharoah and the Egyptians, urging them to free these enslaved people and demonstrating the mighty power of God.

The Slavery of Sin

The dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh can also be seen as an illustration of the dynamic between our deliverer Jesus and Satan, who holds people in bondage, or the eternal conflict between good and evil.

God allows evil to exist to demonstrate His power to defeat it, because what is goodness without the existence of evil? Like a fine jeweler displaying their most glorious gems on a dark velvet background so they stand out, God uses sin and evil to emphasize His goodness and purity. Evil ultimately serves the purposes of God, as difficult as that is to reconcile.

An example of this can be found in this story in Exodus. God purposely hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not permitting him to let the Israelites go until the plagues escalated to death. God called Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh each time, asking to be set free, knowing the answer would still be a resounding “no.”

“You will speak all that I tell you. Your brother Aaron will tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave his land. But I will make Pharaoh’s heart hard. So, I will do many powerful works for the people to see in the land of Egypt.” —Exodus 7: 2-3

A Deal with the Devil

As we look at the dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh, we can see what is involved in our salvation and deliverance, understanding Moses as Jesus and Pharaoh as Satan.

Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, “Go and give a gift in worship to your God here in the land.” But Moses said, “It is not right to do this. For the Egyptians hate what we would give in worship to the Lord our God. If the Egyptians see us giving this gift and doing what they think is sinful, will they not throw stones at us? We must travel three days to the desert and give a gift in worship to the Lord our God, as He tells us to do.”

So, Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, so you may give a gift to the Lord your God. But do not go very far away. Pray for me.” Then Moses said, “I am leaving you. I will pray to the Lord that the many flies may leave Pharaoh and his servants and his people tomorrow. But do not let Pharaoh lie again by not letting the people go to give a gift on an altar to the Lord.” —Exodus 25-28

Satan, like Pharaoh, does not mind people being religious as long as they are still worldly, not too “churchy,” or different. They ask that you take faith lightly, to go to church on holidays but stay exactly as you were. They want us to stay in “Egypt” and remain like them, much like non-Christian friends often react to a new convert.

After the devastation of more plagues, Pharoah concedes and says that Israelites may be free, but their children must stay. If Satan cannot get access to you, he will settle for your children if you neglect to support their spiritual development, like the Pharaoh attempted to do with the Israelite children.

And after even more plagues, Pharoah concedes once more and says the Israelites can be free if they leave their livestock, the ancient equivalent of money and property. Likewise, if Satan cannot have you, he will go after your aspirations and love of money. Perhaps he can tempt you away from a calling to missions, instead drawing you into the entertainment industry and the potential of fame and fortune.

Ultimately, Satan and Pharoah are compelling and deceptive. But, God and Jesus, the deliverer, are infinitely more powerful and are the conquerors in the end.

To be free from the bondage of sin, like the bondage of the ancient Israelites in Egypt, we need a miracle of God. He devastated Pharaoh and the Egyptians with plagues, He parted the Red Sea for their escape, and He provided manna to eat as they wandered the desert.

In the same way, Jesus defeated our enemy- sin. He provided a way out of sin, and He gives us what we need to live.

Categories
Uncategorized

The God Who is in Charge

Author: Rachel Kidd

Objective: To learn how God uses the circumstances of our lives to prepare us for the role He has for us.

The Story of Joseph

Unlike most biblical characters who reveal their humanity and brokenness as their story develops, Joseph remains pure of heart and soul. Along with Daniel, he is one of the purest characters in the bible, remaining faithful and constant to the end, despite the horrors he faced.

Because he was the favored first-born son of Rachel, the favorite and beloved wife of Jacob, Joseph was his father’s favorite child. As you can imagine, this created incredible resentment in his older brothers who likely saw their father’s disdain for their mother Leah. The resentment grew for their little brother as he did. They contemplated his murder, but ultimately, they sold him into slavery, to a traveling caravan that took young Joseph away from his home and off to Egypt.

Joseph found himself in a foreign land against his will, first as a slave, then as a prisoner, and then by divine providence, he found himself second in command over Egypt as prime minister, directly under the Pharaoh himself.

God’s Providence

Joseph lived an extraordinary life in Egypt, despite the mistreatment and pain, something he knew was only due to God’s hand. He was strategically placed in a position of power because God knew a famine would come that had the potential to decimate the Jewish people. Without Joseph in this powerful seat, with his careful planning and preparation and connection to his people, God’s people might not have survived.

This powerful conclusion to the incredible story of Joseph’s life, covered in fourteen chapters in the book of Genesis, is really a chronicle of God’s providence. A New Testament verse sums up the story of Joseph incredibly well.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

God’s plans ultimately work together for good, despite how difficult things may seem at the moment. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, mistreated, and experienced some of the worst experiences life has to offer, yet his faith never wavered, and God’s purpose ultimately proved to be for good.

Joseph’s loving response to persecution was, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph’s story teaches us about the providence of God and confirms what Romans 8:28 declares, that there is no situation so bad God cannot redeem it and bring good from it.

God’s Grace

The story of Joseph also tells us of God’s grace, given freely to those who ask but do not deserve. It begins with Joseph’s father, Jacob, who was blessed in many ways.

Jacob long believed that his blessings were earned, won by his cunning, his scheming, and his own effort. He was, after all, the younger brother who conned his elder brother Esau out of his inheritance. He was also the man who wrestled with God, who worked long years for the bride he desired, and then more after marrying the wrong sister.

His blessings of children, land, and wives were not because of his own doings, they were undeserved blessings from God who was using Jacob for His divine plans.

We see Jacob’s recognition of this later in life when he reconnects with his brother Esau. He connects the grace of Esau’s welcome, after all he had done to his older brother, to the grace shown to him by God. He realizes that God gave him blessings he did not earn nor deserve and that he should in turn give freely, especially to his own brother.

“For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.” –Genesis 33:10-11

Joseph’s story illustrates this same truth in another way. He experienced the worst life has to offer, not because he deserved it or as a punishment, but because of circumstances beyond his control, for the glory of God.

By the grace of God, Joseph was called to live an incredibly hard life, one I could hardly imagine surviving. But it was because God was preparing him, training him through experiences in such a way to be strategically placed to save his people from extinction.

How does this apply to me?

Looking at the relationship Joseph has with his family, we can see an imperfect model. His father favors one son over the others, not to mention the daughters who are excluded from the narrative entirely. He allows anger and resentment to fester within his home, among his children, and his multiple wives, creating a chaotic environment that leads to losing his son Joseph for years.

Clearly, Jacob’s home and family are not one to model ours after. It’s an example of what not to do in so many ways, like a floundering family on a reality tv show where a nanny steps in to save the day.

But the truth is, we all have human, flawed, and imperfect parents. None of us were raised in perfect homes, no matter how happy our childhoods may have been. Maybe we hold hurt from childhood, resentment for the way we were parented (or not parented), and wounds that still impact us today. It can be incredibly difficult to let those hurts go and to forgive our parents, especially if we don’t think they deserve it.

The grace that Joseph shows his family is an incredible model for us today. How painful must that have been to be confronted with the brothers who sold you into slavery as a teenager? Who set an incredibly traumatic chain of events in motion that permanently altered the course of your life? And then you’re expected to use your power to help them?

I honestly would have a difficult time showing them grace. But Joseph models for us grace and forgiveness, welcoming his family and sharing the stores of food with them, despite all they had done to harm him. And that is the root of the story of Joseph; divine grace to those who do not deserve it.

Categories
Christian History Spiritual Development

The Father of Faith

Author: Jon Slenker

God’s Plan

Jude must have heard echoes of Abraham when he petitioned the Church to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints” (Jude 1:1-3). Abraham, also known as the Father of Faith, is a great portrayal of a life that contends for and by his faith in God. Abraham was blessed by God to be a blessing to others (Gen. 12:3).

From creation, God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is first given to the animals (Genesis 1:22), then to Adam and Eve, his vice regents (Genesis 1:28). After the flood, God restates His original purpose for creation to the animals (Genesis 8:17), as well as to Noah and his sons, twice (Genesis 9:1 and 9:7). This command and promise is repeated to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8, 20), Isaac (Genesis 28:3), Jacob (Genesis 35:11; 48:4), as well as to all of Israel through Jacob and the prophets (Habakkuk 2:14). The faith of our Jewish fathers rested in God as their authority and is precisely what fueled their courage to accomplish what He called and commanded them to be and do. While they did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them, their faith was in their King who called and covenanted with them, so they might partner with Him in His global plan of redemption.

After the earth dried from the flood, the building of the tower of babble and the subsequent dispersion and confusion of tongues, Abraham grew up as Abram, with two brothers to a man named Terah. One of his brothers passed away, and Abram went on to marry Sarai. The years passed and the man named, “father of many sons,” had not borne a single one. Sarai was barren and laughed at God’s promise to bless her with a son in her old age. Throughout their lives they would be blessed with a great inheritance, build four altars to God, have a promised son in old age and fulfill their part of the creation mandate; to worship God and fill the earth with worshipers. They would be buried in the same final resting place in a cave in Hebron.

Not everything turned out perfect for this patriarch of our faith. The bible is quick to malign the character of every character in it except one, Jesus. Yes, Abraham accomplished many incredible things by faith and following God’s way, but it was God who ultimately pursued, directed, protected, and provided. The account of Abraham’s life is a prime example of how God relates to man, and how man relates to God, by faith. The bible doesn’t hold back from revealing the missteps and mistakes Abraham made. This is a real account of a real man, in all its glory and honor and wisdom and failure with positive and painful consequences. God’s relationship with Abram begins with a call and a promise.

God’s Covenant to Abraham

God pursued Abram and even gave him and his Wife Sarai new names. To Abram, he called Abraham, and Sarai, he named Sarah. He also told them to name their promised son Isaach, which means laughter. None of this would be revealed before God covenanted with Abram.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.”
Hebrews 11:8-10

The Author of Hebrews highlights the faith it required for Abraham to trust God to lead him to a land he has never been before, protect him from famine and Pharoah, to give him a son, and an inheritance and land to pass down. Beyond all this, Abraham had to trust that God would provide, even if God asked for his son to be sacrificed. Throughout this entire biography, God’s promises would be fulfilled despite Abraham’s woes.

Genesis 12 introduces the reader to a preview of things to come in chapter 15, known as the Abrahamic Covenant. This first chapter zooms in on the main character Abram, but it is God who is doing the acting by pursuing Abram and calling him to follow Him to a land that He will show him.

God speaks to Abraham 8 times, repeating His promises and clearly stating Abraham’s responsibility. Abraham erects four altars in direct response to God’s promises, provision, and protection. God pursues Abram. God always initiates the relationship. Abram responds by faith and follows God into the unknown. Here, Abram signifies God’s relationship with him after God promised, “I will give this land to your descendants”, by building his first altar (Gen. 12:7). This is a sacred place of praise and worship in response to God. Abraham builds four altars to worship and to signify his relationship with God.

A covenant is a promised agreement between two parties. It is a partnership where each guarantor works alongside one another to accomplish a goal together. God created the earth and a special creature, Humans. He called us to partner but we didn’t want to partner with Him, we wanted to make ourselves God. So, God made a promise, or covenant with certain people, Abraham being one. His purpose was to use special covenant relationships to reconcile and renew his relationship with others.

There are two types of covenants, the first being ones that we make throughout life with other people in personal or professional dealings. You promise to provide a service, I promise to pay you. This first kind of covenant is a promise between equals. The second type of covenant is between a lord, king or ruler that graciously enters into agreement with their subjects. Genesis 15 records God’s conversation and gracious covenant with Abraham.

“So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River…””
Genesis 15:18-21

God reminds Abraham in Genesis 17:9-14 of his responsibility to uphold the covenant by obeying the terms. The promise is for all of Abraham’s descendants; therefore the responsibility will be theirs to uphold as well. This circumcision would be a mark of the faith Abraham’s family, God’s chosen people, would bear. God would undoubtedly keep His covenant even when his ‘subjects’ were imperfect. He desired faith, not works, lest anyone should boast that their mark of the covenant would save them, even if their faith were absent.

Abraham’s Altars to God

The Altars of Abraham, Genesis 12-22, reveal a lot about how God relates to man and how we can relate to God. Abraham is a great example of what to do and what not to do. When you read these passages, think about how God first pursued Abraham, and why Abraham, at that time and in that circumstance, would respond by building an altar.

Altar 1 (Gen. 12:1-7) …God pursues and calls man to follow Him.
Altar 2 (Gen. 12:8-13)…God forgives, restores, directs, and gives blessings and wisdom.
Altar 3 (Gen. 13:18)…God wants to be known, loved and related to.
Altar 4 (Gen. 22:9)…God provides, reigns and is to be trusted

What has God called you out of? What has He called you into? God has called you out of a life of darkness and into the light. He has called you into right relationship with Him and those around you. More specifically, God may be calling you out of an unhealthy situation, relationship, or behavior. To be in a right relationship with God means we pursue Him and not the world. You have been set free from sin and death and are a new creation if you respond to God’s loving pursuit (Rom. 8:1-2; 1 Cor. 5:19-20; Rom. 10:9-10). What provision do you need from God? Call out to Him and let your faith be counted as righteousness like Abraham, in all his failures and in all his faith (Gen. 15:6). God’s mandate and covenant stands, he has filled the earth with worshippers and continues to expand Abraham’s descendants. God is faithful. 

Categories
Church Development Spiritual Development

Where is Your Brother? The Story of Cain & Abel

Author: Jon Slenker

As God’s image bearers, we are called to be perfect and holy as God is. He has the highest of standards for his creation and children. This is why hearing from God, “Where is your brother?” could be argued as the most terrifying statement of Genesis chapter 4. Along with the obvious verse 10, “What have you done…your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground…”. Genesis 4 is not the feel-good comeback from Genesis 3 one might have hoped for. But just as the darkness is overshadowed by the ray of light in chapter 3, there is hope in the bleak story of these two brothers.

The Sacrifice v.3-5

Cain is the first born of Adam and Eve, and brother to Abel. He is a worker of the ground, a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd. Adam and Eve were fulfilling their creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and Cain and Abel were fulfilling theirs as worshippers and stewards of God’s creation. God gave them purpose through their identity, authority and responsibility. In addition, they had a relationship with God. A relationship where they sacrificed portions of their harvest and flock as an offering.

The Bible does not say what Cain did wrong, it simply indicates that Abel’s offering was from a heart that wanted to give back the finest of what he had been given. Verse five details Abel’s offering was from the first born of his flock, including fat portions, and he was regarded by God. In contrast, verse four simply says Cain gave, “an offering” and that God had no regard for Cain and his offering. Where the Bible is clear, we should be clear. Where it is vague, we should remain vague. We are not completely sure why God had no regard for Cain. Was it his attitude? A lack of sufficient sacrifice? Was it not done with the right heart or intent? We are not told of a command that he disobeyed. Did he bring a lazy or rotten gift? God knows, and perhaps the rest of Cain’s actions and reactions in the rest of the chapter will clue us in.

“So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.”
1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Sacrifices are to the Old Covenant as taking the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are to the New Covenant. Sacrifice and the sacraments are all signs pointing to the One True God and reminding the participant of the hope that comes from Him, who is the ultimate sacrifice. Be one who’s heart, not just actions, is worthy of God’s regard.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23

The Grace and Truth v.5-7

Cain was angry that God had no regard for him, or his offering and he had every right to be angry, at himself, not God or his brother. Anger is a signal, an alarm going off in our bodies that screams, “somethings not right!” We are to be stewards of ourselves first and foremost, something Cain was struggling to do regarding his emotions. It is in the midst of Cain’s confusion and anger where we see God’s perfect balance of grace and truth, or support and challenge, to Cain. He isn’t babying Cain, nor is he manipulating or dominating him. God engages Cain with questions like “why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:6-7). There is no favoritism. This is grace filled with hope. We are not received or judged by comparison to others. We are judged by our own hearts and actions.

Not only is God gracious to speak life and hope into Cain, he gives him a warning of truth. A healthy challenge, that sin is crouching at the door if he does not turn his heart toward God. It is as if James wrote his New Testament letter with Cain in mind. Or perhaps the local churches he was writing to were just dealing with the same natural born tendencies that Cain struggled with so many generations ago. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The Harsh Reality v.8-14

The harsh reality is difficult to face up to at times, especially when it is difficult to make sense of all the emotions swirling around. Cain goes to speak to his brother, and when they were in the field, he rose up and killed him. James offers a look into how sin crouches at the door and how to respond to anger, jealousy, selfishness, pride, quarrels, boasting, lying and calls their practice earthly, unspiritual and demonic (James 1:19-21; 3:13-19).

Cain is mad and jealous of Abel and possibly even God when he should be frustrated with himself. Instead of doing the tough personal work of looking in the mirror and self-correcting, Cain allows his anger to lead him, not the Spirit. This is what happens when we are accidental, not intentional, and shirk responsibility. We cease to lead ourselves, instead we follow our childlike emotions.

“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
James 1:19-21

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
 James 3:13-18

The Hope v.15-26

There are very real consequences that Cain must live with. Ones that changed the trajectory of not only his life, but his family and generations to come that would bear forth the promised, perfect sacrifice. Cain became a fugitive of the Garden and God’s presence and wandered the earth. He was crushed and thought it unbearable to go on fearing for his life. Yet again, God ‘parents’ Cain perfectly and gives him his word and a mark to protect him. God is the hope of mankind immediately following the fall, and he is the hope for Cain immediately after his grievous sin. The very lineage of the Spotless Lamb passes through Cain as well as every other imperfect human, arriving at the perfect God-man.

“My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”
James 5:19-20

Who do you know that is struggling with anger, jealousy, selfishness, bitterness? Pray for them, care for them. Reflect on how God went to Cain and offered a great balance of grace and truth. Pursue your brother and sister or child in love and all humility. Pray for wisdom and God will give it to you.

 

Categories
Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

God’s Grace in the Garden

Author: Charles Hegwood

We enter into one of the most sorrowful yet hopeful stories in all of Scripture. This is the Fall in Genesis 3. Questions are likely swirling through your mind as you recall the details of this tragic chapter. Such as, why did God put that tree in the garden in the first place? Why did God allow the serpent in the garden? Who was the serpent? And so, on it goes. What I want to do is look past the ugliness of this chapter and embrace the impossible grace of God in the face of an all-out rebellion by His special creation who we know as Adam and Eve.

If you grew up in church like I did, I encourage you to let go of all you know for one moment and read this chapter with fresh eyes. If you have vaguely read this chapter at some point in the past. That is okay. I welcome you to read it and take in all that is there. As we begin to dig in, I want to highlight the grace of God that is prominently displayed in this chapter. We rebelled and yet God did not abandon us but embraced us and promised a way to redeem us. Let us now look at those acts of grace and shadows of redemption.

The Setup

First, let us look back at all the good that God had given the man and woman. God gave Adam life and spirit. God breathed into him. God planted a garden and placed the man in it. God gave the man a purpose to fill the earth with worshipers who reflect God Himself. Even in the command to not eat of one tree, God was giving the man the offer of a relationship.

If Adam obeyed, then he was reflecting his love to God. All these good, gracious things were mentioned in the previous chapter. Adam had done nothing to create anything or to warrant the favor of God. Chapter 2 drips with God’s love and grace towards Adam, Eve, and by extension us. So let us not lose the wonderful context that precedes the rebellion. The darkness of the Fall is contrasted by the light of God’s goodness.

The Rebellion

The man and woman rebel against God through the eating of the fruit. Back up just a little bit though. We mistakenly assume eating the fruit was the first sin, but that is rash. Before Eve ate the fruit, she thought, “It looks good to me, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Maybe God is holding back on us. (Paraphrase and added commentary)” The first sin was the thought that maybe she knew what was best for herself; better than God did. That thought sowed the seeds of the act.

Let us back up a little further. Why was the serpent in the garden to begin with? Adam’s responsibility was to take care of the garden as an act of worship to God. If there was a crafty serpent, Adam had the authority from God to remove it. And yet there the serpent was, talking to Eve about the one rule God had given the man. Adam did nothing to stop this. We know by later context, that he was likely right there listening in. He may have even watched Eve pick the fruit. Never did he step in and try to stop it. Adam was not a voice of reason, calling Eve back from the edge of transgression. He did not quell her questioning of God’s goodness. You can see rebellion from every angle.

God’s Grace to the Man and Woman

God could have swooped in after the eating of the fruit and wiped Adam and Eve out. They could have died instantly. God could have come in like an angry father yelling and swinging the belt of justice, but He entered the garden quietly. He asked questions as a father would his disobedient children. This was grace. This was more than they deserved. God calmly spoke to the two people who had just spat in His face with their sins.

God did not mock the covers they had sown to hide their nakedness. The fig leaves did nothing to hide their shame. God one by one, gave them a chance to repent and come clean. Adam blamed God and Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither of them took responsibility for their actions. God gracefully gave out judgments. This may seem harsh, but consider what God had the right to do. He would have been just to kill them. The judgments were graceful in their promise of life. Eve would experience pain, but would still give new life through childbirth. Adam’s work would be painful and difficult, but they would live a life.

Then something amazing happened. God promised that these judgments would not always be so. Someone was coming that would end the curse they had brought on the earth. The ‘he’ who would strike the serpent would also be wounded. A battle was coming. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, this image of a coming Redeemer would continue. We know this is fulfilled by Jesus. Even in the ashes of rebellion and judgment, God promised to restore what was broken.

Finally, God did not demand their blood. They did not die, but some animals did. God used animal skins to cover them. This covering was a shadow. The animals died instead of Adam and Eve. The animals’ death covered their nakedness and shame. The shadow here is the promise that someone will die instead of us. We know that is Jesus. He died in our place and His blood covered our sin and rebellion, our shame.

Conclusion

In all these things, the grace of God drips from the pages of the Bible. Far from the angry God, some atheists like to paint in the Old Testament, as this story highlights God’s goodness and grace to sinful people. This grace is only magnified as the story continues into chapter 4.  I invite you to read through the Old Testament and see the grace of God, even in judgment. See the hope in the darkness through the promises found in this chapter. Your eyes will be open to the wonderful truth of God’s love for you.

Categories
Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Created for God’s Glory

Author: Charles Hegwood

The route was difficult and the path steep. The stairs are worn and rounded showing their age in every crack and discoloration. The traveler painfully continues his journey. At the top of a mountain sits the old man, full of wisdom and knowledge. The traveler has come far to ask his most important questions, about the meaning of life. At least this is the picture in my mind as I think about asking some of life’s deepest questions. It’s also a common trope in stories. At some point in everybody’s life, a person will ask, “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?”

The good news is that you do not have to journey to find some old guru at the top of a mountain. The Bible you hold in your hand every day answers these questions. In Genesis 2, we get to see the creation of man. Captured within this story God reveals the reason and purpose for our lives. We see that people were created by God to represent Him and glorify Him throughout the world.

The Main Character

            When we approach the Bible, we must ask ourselves who is the main character of the story. Hint, it is not you or me. However, so many people read the Bible and interpret it as if they were the main characters and actors. So let us look at the text itself. We see that God is the main character in Genesis 2; and all of Scripture. Just in chapter 2, we see God as active 22 times. The man God created is only active 4 times.

Why is it important that we take time and observe where God is active in the text? The reason is that we must understand who we are in relation to who God is. God created, made, spoke, formed, planted, placed, and commanded as some examples of how God is active in Genesis 2. God is in the driver’s seat. You will never understand life, your purpose, or who you are if you do not have a proper understanding of who God is. Most of the world’s problems go back to a breakdown in the understanding that this life is about God, not us. Therefore, we conclude that the purpose for our lives is to worship and glorify God. This is our creative purpose. You did not form yourself, but God did. We owe everything that we are to God.

God’s Goodness and Grace 

            When you read Genesis 2, I hope you see that God is good. He breathed life into the man He formed. God formed all the other animals, but He only breathed into the man. Our very life is a gift from God, but our spirit is more so. God planted a garden for the man. Understand that man didn’t have to do anything to grow the garden, God made everything grow and supplied the garden with beautiful trees with delicious fruit. God also watered the garden and thus maintained it. The man did not have to find the garden but was placed there by God. This is a love story. God took care of and out of His goodness and grace supplied the man that He gave life and spirit to all these good things.

I know there is often confusion about why God places a forbidden tree in the garden. He gave a command to eat every tree, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Bear with me here, God’s one rule given to the man was not foolish or arbitrary, but an invitation to join God in a relationship. This was entering into a covenant with God. The man’s obedience was a display of his love for God. Our obedience to God in our lives is our act of love to Him. We obey Him because we love Him. This is how we get to thank God for all the good He has done for us.

Created to represent God

             In verse 18 the story shifts. God now has the man begin to name the animals. Why? This was one of the ways that humans were meant to represent God on earth. We already know from chapter one that God created people in His image to fill and subdue the earth. The man is now fulfilling part of this command as he is given agency to name animals. It is easy to miss, but in verse 19 it says, “And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.” This is so amazing. God has given man the responsibility and the authority to name the animals. Thus, the name was so because the man now reflects God’s authority over nature. He has become what we often call a vice-regent of the King.

We also reflect God through communion with other people. Why was it not good for man to be alone? God said it was not good. God determines what is good for us. He did not create us to be solitary creatures, but to be social. And as the story goes, God formed a woman as a helper for the man. Let me give some quick points here. The woman was not a separate creation but shares the same breath of God the man has. The woman therefore has the same vice-regent status and authority to represent God on earth. The man and the woman will also represent God’s creative purpose through the propagation of children.

Conclusion

 As we reflect on Genesis 2, we see that we were created to represent and glorify God. We do this by understanding God as King over our lives. Therefore, we see our lives in relation to God. We reflect on God’s goodness and grace displayed through our creation. Finally, we see that we were created to represent God through working and subduing nature. As you ponder the deep questions surrounding meaning and purpose, consider who God is, what He has done and is doing, and what He has commanded us to do. Our purpose is to glorify and represent God in our world. This is not a small task but a glorious one. Go and glorify and represent God to the people in your lives today.

Categories
All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word

Genesis 1: Genesis and Creation

Author: Jon Slenker

Genesis Chapter One

Genesis chapter one. Those words are profound in themselves. So much is wrapped up in those three words. Opportunity, beginnings, hope, life, love, the galaxies, volcanoes, pigs and plants, seascapes and mountain vistas, smells, colors, texture. Creation is truly marvelous! Evil will come and distort God’s good creation, but for now, we sit back in awe and wonder at God speaking earth into existence and his plan for it.

Creation and the Nature of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:1

God exists outside of time and space. He is Spirit who creates as part of his nature (John 4:24). The creation account tells us much about God’s nature. God values order, prescribes value, and mandates his creation fulfill their identity and purpose. He is creative and orderly. He is intentional and desires to relate to and care for his creation. God spoke and it came to be. Out of nothing, God created.

The doctrine of the Trinity finds solid evidence for a Triune God in the creation account. In verse 26 God says, “let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Order, Harmony and Intentionality

The author of Genesis records the events of God’s creation as one of order, harmony and intentionality. Most creative people lack the ability to be orderly. In fact, sometimes following the rules impedes the creative process. God, however, is perfectly creative and orderly. We can see beyond having an orderly, harmonious and intentional plan that he values action. But to what end? What is his plan of action? That all creation would fulfill its purpose and therefore propagate a more vibrant and full life. His mandate is that we would worship and obey through being fruitful and multiplying. Healthy things are fruitful and fruitful things multiply.

As God brought order from disorder and did it in a timely fashion, he also built it into nature that plants, sea and land creatures and man would reproduce, each of their own kind (Gen. 1:11-12, 21-22, 24-25, 28). Each thing in creation  is unique and in a constant state of changing.  A law in Physics states there is a set number of molecules in existence. None can be added or destroyed, they merely change states. One concept within Thermodynamics is entropy, which states that left to its own creation will naturally fall into decay and disorder, the effect of sin marring God’s good creation.

Day 1 – God created light (1:3-5)
Day 2 – God separated the water and created the heavens (skies) (1:6-8)
Day 3 – God separated the waters from land (1:9-10) and created vegetation (1:11-13)
Day 4 – God created the stars and the moon and sun (1:14-19)
Day 5 – God created living creatures in the sea (1:20-23)
Day 6 – God created living creatures on land and man (1:24-31)

There is harmony in creation, an interdependent relationship among all created things and beings. Each aspect of creation is dependent on the other in some way. How glorious is our God that we would all excel in certain abilities and require the assistance from others in areas we don’t. God built community into nature and His intentions are that creation would exist in perfect harmony with itself and Himself.

Identity, Value and Purpose

God is relentless for his creation. He proves it by giving identity, value and purpose. There was a purpose behind creation. God did not want to create and then leave it to itself, it was too valuable to him. He wants to be intimately involved with his handiwork as the author, shepherd, high priest, king, judge and redeemer. He is ever present in the creation event with his Spirit hovering over the face of the waters, and reviewing his work and calling it good (Gen. 1:2). God is ascribing worth and value to his creation by calling it “good” or “very good” six times (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25; 1:31). This tells us that God cares for his creation and that it brings him joy.

God displays order and harmony within identity through the unique individuality of each thing according to its kind. Everything plays its part and has a role in God’s creation order. The heavens, land, sea, vegetation, birds, animals, fish and humans all play a vital role in different life cycles that regenerates and reproduces life and the atmosphere for it.  Life is important to God. You are important to God and have an incredible purpose.

Imago Dei

One theologian writes that “Genesis 1 and 2 provides the backdrop for God’s relationship with humanity and with the rest of creation.”[1] Five times God calls his creation “good”, but on the sixth, he said “behold, it was very good” (1:31). ““Good” does not exist abstractly apart from God. Rather, God’s pronouncement that His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus existing as a display of His glory.”[2] Man was made in the image of God, or “imago dei” in the Greek, as his special creation whom he wanted to be after his own image and heart. This emphasizes that we are more like God than like other creatures.[3] We were made to reflect God’s image on earth as his vice regents, children, stewards and ambassadors. We are to be like him. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our calling and nature (Phil. 1:27).

The Creation Mandate

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
Genesis 1:28-30

The creation mandate is the foundation of the great commission. Jesus echoes his creation mandate in Matthew 28:18-20 to his disciples and thus to the Church and to you and I. We see the creation mandate restated multiple times throughout history in the scriptures. First to Adam and Eve, then to the animals, Noah, Abraham, Jacob that we should be fruitful and multiply.  One Teacher writes that “few understand that the mission “to make disciples of all nations” is actually grounded in God’s original “Creation Order.”” This first command carries with it the implication to “worship and obey.” The Teacher adds, “the means by which dominion would be exercised would be through the intentional multiplication and dispersion of image-bearers throughout the earth.” God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve carries the same thrust and importance as Christ’s commission to us. He promises that he will be with us even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). This is an incredible promise and blessing![4]

God has entrusted his creation to man and woman. We are to be his stewards, ruling over ourselves and his creation as he would. We are therefore covenanted image bearers of God. What a blessing! As his image bearers we are to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth with other image bearers. Healthy things grow and growing things multiply. How are you stewarding, or managing what God has entrusted to you? Are you caring gently for God’s creation? Different cultures value and honor and mistreat different things,  creatures or people. To the best of your ability, small or large, are you treating God’s people and his/our creation as He would?

Conclusion

How are you fulfilling the creation mandate by worshiping and obeying as God’s vice regent and ambassador? What does caring for his creation and making disciples look like for you right now? What is your favorite way that you ‘image’ God? What areas of life are you orderly or messy? When are you most creative? What drains your creativity? How are you intentional or accidental? What does it look like? Like a mirror we are to reflect God’s image to the earth, creative, intentional, What a privilege to be welcomed into God’s work and entrusted with his creation.


[1] Robinson, George, article, published in www.GlobalMissiology.org October 2015  “Grounding Disciple-Making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God”
[2] Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[3]  Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[4] Robinson, George, article, October 2015

Categories
All Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

How to Study the Bible

Author: Jon Slenker

God chose to speak to mankind through the bible. This is why it is referred to as his “word”. It has been said that when you open the word of God, you open the mouth of God. It is important to know how to study the bible not just to know the book, but to know the Author. Learning how to study the bible is an incredible journey filled with excitement, beauty, wisdom, deep love and strong justice. Sometimes it makes perfect sense at the perfect moment, other times you set it down and have more questions about your circumstance than when you started.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Joshua 1:8

God’s people are commanded to study his word (Josh. 1:8). The benefits of studying the bible are profound and eternal. When you study, take it slow, be patient, prayerful and cautious not to jump to conclusions. Learning how to study the bible for yourself gives you freedom to know and relate to God in more personal and practical ways. It also helps to know when someone is mishandling the text’s meaning and purpose. The bible warns us and encourages us to entrust it to those that will remain faithful hearers, students, and doers of it. The challenge remains that many interpret the bible wrongly either intentionally or accidentally. Interpreting God’s Word is an art and science to be practiced with care.

3 Phases of Bible Study

1 Observation

The first phase of bible study is Observation. As you open God’s word, approach it with reverence, humility and a healthy curiosity. Sometimes we study for different purposes. We may study a topic or doctrine, a word, verse, or entire book or letter. A healthy practice for studying the bible is one book at a time. Read the book in its entirety like you would watch a movie. Then start back at the beginning and practice observation, interpretation and application for each chapter. Observation, interpretation and application may be used for a passage containing a few verses or one. Remember the broader context. Don’t miss the forest for the trees. A student of the bible is like a detective attempting to see the big picture by correctly piecing together important data.

Taking your time studying an entire book or letter over weeks or months is helpful  to understand the bible in its entirety. The student should not approach a text simply to gain knowledge, but allow it to affect their heart, mind, soul and to put it into practice. Becoming a good observer is an acquired skill. It is our first line of defense for not misreading the text or making it about ourselves. Observation rightly aligns us and places us in the audience, not on stage.

Questions for Observation

  • Who: Author, audience, characters?
  • What: Events, occasions, theme, topic?
  • When: What was life like, global events that occurred during that time period?
  • Where: Place and culture, weather, distance, geography, topography, market, temple, home?

As you build evidence, record things that stand out to you and are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike, or true to life. During observation, fight the feeling to make meaning of the clues. Note the questions you have, but avoid chasing them at this time. Keep inspecting!

2 Interpretation

The second phase is Interpretation. Now that you have collected your data, it’s time to make sense of it. This can be difficult at times due to language, cultural or communication barriers. Interpretation is important. Across the world, the Church gathers in different denominations solely for the purpose of how we interpret the bible. It is important for you to study the bible to know God and his ways to develop your own convictions and beliefs without needing to solely rely on someone else’s. Knowing how to study the bible as a faithful observer and interpreter reveals to us the pillars and principles that God established. He wants us to be knowledgeable, wise and aware to live an abundant, quiet and peaceful life (John 10:10; 1 Thess. 4:11).

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

Characteristics of the Bible

Like God, his word is unchanging and eternal (Psalms 119:89). It does not contradict itself or contain errors. It is inspired, meaning it was “breathed out” by God (Psalms 119:105). The bible affirms itself as the holy, inspired word of God (1 Cor. 2:12-13). The bible tells a unified story centered around the primary character, Christ (Rom. 1:1-4). Jesus himself modeled how to interpret the things concerning Christ in all the scriptures beginning with “Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). Peter would follow his lead preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). Stephen, mimicked this in Acts 7 when he was martyred for preaching from a christ-centered interpretation of the bible. Paul teaches that the righteousness of God comes through faith and not works, explaining that “the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Rom. 3:21-22). These passages show us that the Old Testament is the foundation of the New Testament and the New Testament assumes and affirms the Old Testament.

Begin your interpretation by establishing the context. Using the information from your observation, determine the author’s intent for writing this book or letter. Ask the following questions to build the original context, meaning and purpose. Answer the questions that relate.

Questions for Interpretation

  • What is the main point or big idea of the book or letter?
  • What is the structure of the book or letter? Are there sections of the book that transcend the chapters? The 5 ‘books’ or sections of Psalms is a good example of this. Chapters 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150 each have a unique tone or theme.
  • How does this text or passage fit into the book as a whole?
  • Does the author talk about this topic elsewhere?
  • What is the occasion?
  • What events are taking place and why is the author including them?
  • Determine a timeline of events as is helpful
  • What is the genre of writing? (Is it historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, an eye witness or secondary account?)
  • What does it say about God’s or man’s nature?
  • How does God relate to, or treat man and vice-versa?
  • How does man relate to, or treat man?
  • Is there a truth being told?
  • Is there a promise to believe?
  • Is there a sin to avoid?
  • Is there a command to obey?
  • Is there a principle to follow?
  • Is there an example to follow?
  • Has the pace of an account sped up or slowed down to emphasize something important?
  • What is being left out?
  • What is clear or unclear?

As you work to put the pieces together, fight the urge to apply it to yourself or others. Determine what the main point of the text is. What does the author want the recipient to know, believe or do? Is there a theme, topic, or belief the author explicitly or implicitly highlights? Christ-centered interpretation does not mean you should turn over every rock and pebble attempting to find some relation to Christ, but it does seek to know how Christ fulfills, relates to or affirms the main point of the text either in his birth, life, ministry, leadership, sacrifice, resurrection, or teachings. Finally, Utilize other sources like dictionaries, concordances, atlases, or commentaries. Let scripture interpret scripture before consulting outside sources.

3 Application

The final phase of studying the bible is Application. This is where we apply the truths and teachings of the passage studied to our own lives. Remember, the interpretation is one but the application is many. Paul tells Timothy to know himself, therefore, we should continue to inspect and know ourselves (1 Tim. 4:16). Our beliefs, traits, tendencies, emotions, weaknesses, inabilities, how we respond or react under mild or extreme stress (Rom. 12:3). We have to know God to follow him and know ourselves to lead ourselves. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Questions for Application

  • In what ways did the original audience apply the truths passed down to them?
  • How might they have applied it in their context?
  • How are we like or unlike them?
  • How should we be like or unlike them?
  • Is there a tendency or trait that the Spirit is bringing to mind?
  • O.S. Acrostic
    • What is God SAYING to me?
    • How should I OBEY?
    • Who should I SHARE this truth with?
  • How should my character, conduct, or conversation be affected by the Word of God?
  • How should this truth affect my:
    • Attitudes – toward God, others, circumstances, myself
    • Knowledge of God
    • Behavior – habits, reactions, positive or negative
    • Relationships – Where do I need to forgive, seek forgiveness, encourage, rebuke, submit, lead?

Application requires a decision and a specific plan of action in order to allow the Holy Spirit to make scriptural principles part of us. It takes around three months for habits to be replaced. Our tendencies are hardwired in us, and God desires behavior that honors ourselves, our people and him. But studying the bible is not just behavior modification or comprehension, it’s about salvation, truth, transformation, and relationship with God and man. Studying the bible should ultimately prepare you for a life of worshiping God and seeking the highest good of others.

Application is “best served” with prayer and meditation. What is God saying to you? Ask him. What does he want you to know, cling to, be warned of or comforted by? Let his word be ointment for healing, iron for sharpening, sweeter than honey, green pastures filled with peace, a rod for discipline and a staff for direction.