At the start of the new year, many have made the determination to increase their knowledge and understanding of the Bible. This is certainly commendable. The Bible is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). It contains the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). No book is more deserving of our attention than the Bible.
It is one thing to want to grow in knowledge of the Bible. It is another to actually do it. So as we begin this new year, I want to consider some practical ways in which each one of us can develop a better understanding of the word.
Read the Word of God
Paul told Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). While the immediate context of the verse suggests public reading of the word of God, the broader context includes the private reading of the Scriptures that an individual would do. Timothy was to be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6). As he taught others, he also needed to sustain himself from the word of God. It is important that you develop a regular habit of reading the Bible. Some people like to use a Bible reading plan. These can be helpful to keep you on track. But the most important thing is to read the Bible.
Study the Word of God
Studying the Bible is different from just reading the Bible. Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Reading is good for absorbing what the text says. Studying is necessary in order to understand and explain the text. This takes more effort. Peter said that the Bible contains some things that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16) though not impossible to understand (cf. Ephesians 3:4). But in order to handle the word aright, it requires diligent study. When studying a particular passage, you must first determine the context. Ask some questions: Where does this passage fit within the word of God and the scheme of redemption? What is the immediate context (the surrounding verses/chapters)? What is the remote context (related passages from elsewhere in the Bible that help explain the passage under consideration)? Make notes when you study. Make use of resources that have been written by others (of course, always keep in mind that the Bible alone is inspired, not man's commentary on it).
Write the Word of God
This particular method is not bound upon us by divine law, but can be a helpful suggestion. Knowing that the Israelites would later demand a king, God gave this instruction for their future rulers: “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). God wanted these men to remember his law. Reading the law was included in this. But in addition to reading, the Lord wanted the kings to transcribe their own copy of the law of God so that it would be firmly implanted in their minds. Writing down the Bible (or portions of it) by hand can be a good compliment to your personal reading and study of the Scriptures. If you decide to do this, get a good notebook and pen (you will be using them a lot) and get in the habit of transcribing a few verses everyday.
Hear the Word of God
Notice the example of the Jews in Ezra's day and their attitude to hearing the law of God read to them: “Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law” (Nehemiah 8:2-3). These people, like the Bereans, were eager to receive the word of God (Acts 17:11). They were even willing to listen for long periods of time because of their respect for the word of God and their desire to learn of it. You can take advantage of opportunities to hear the word of God in the assembly of the saints. While you should be attending the regular assembly of the congregation of which you are a member anyway (Hebrews 10:25), it is also important to not just be present, but to be paying attention. For additional opportunities to hear the word of God being taught, you may also attend gospel meetings when area congregations invite sound gospel preachers. Modern technology also allows you listen to recordings of sermons or Bible readings at home or in the car.
These are just a few suggestions about how you can develop a better understanding of the word of God. Whatever particular method you use, I hope that as you read, hear, study, and learn the Scriptures, that you put what you learn into practice. James wrote, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). All the knowledge in the world of the word of God will not do you any good if you do not obey God's instructions.