There are countless religions and spiritual belief systems in our world today. A great number of them all come back to the Bible as their source. It really is pretty amazing, isn’t it? So many people can read the same book and yet read it in so many different ways. I would like to offer one of the most powerful (and necessary) tools in learning how to unlock a correct understanding of scripture.
A couple of foundational things before I share this great tool with you… First, to read and understand the truth of the Bible in the way it was/is intended, we must have faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that its truths will be foolish to those who do not have a relationship with Him. That relationship gives us the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives which is necessary in truly understanding and applying the Bible. Second, amidst the things I will not mention here I could not move forward without a mention of prayer. Our faith in Jesus and active prayer must accompany our reading of His Word. After all, it is His Word and we desperately need His work in our hearts as we humbly approach its pages.
For those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ there is one thing that most often gets forgotten and then leads to a misdirected reading and understanding of the Bible. Often times we fall into the trap of approaching the Bible the same way we would WebMD or that medical book your mom used to pull off the shelf each time you became ill. In those cases we look for a symptom or topic in the back of the book and then we find a page number and there we can diagnose the problem. When you felt achy and had a fever your mom could look it up in her book and with a little deduction diagnose you with the flu. Maybe that was just my mom… but there is bound to be a few more of you out there who know what I am talking about here.
We often approach the Bible the same way. We look for a verse that speaks to our current situation and then we claim that verse as divine direction or encouragement for our current circumstances. The problem is that our Bibles are books just like any other in that it has context and has cultural surroundings as well as things that have happened before and things that will happen after each of the phrases that we read. It was written with different audiences in mind which has a dramatic impact on the way we understand it today. In one word, the greatest tool for us in unlocking a correct understanding of scripture is OBSERVATION.
Observation is taking the time to ask some important questions. Who is the audience of the words we are reading? What is the context of those words? What has been said immediately before? What is said afterward? I’m sure you have all watched some the crime dramas that fill primetime television whether CSI, Hawaii 5-0, NCIS, or one of my all-time favorites Walker Texas Ranger. What at first glance looks like a suicide turns into a homicide after further observation of the surrounding circumstances. Learning how to ask questions and observe as you read the Bible will not only protect you from error, but it will also bring the truths alive in great power in your life.
We have been given a gift in reading the living and active Word of God through the pages of our Bibles. Let’s take care to humbly read and understand His truth in the way it was and is intended. This journey may bring you to find some of the things you have thought to be true really aren’t and it will also bring you to discover new ideas which will speak to your heart in ways that only God can.
Do you have any stories through your reading of the Bible that took a mantra or verse you had understood in one way and had it turned upside down after beginning to observe the surrounding circumstances? I know I have…
Matt Powell serves as teaching pastor at Crossings Community Church, a body of believers whose mission is to engage, equip, and empower homes for gospel transformation in Katy, TX.