Part one of a series.
We answer a listener who asked for advice.
A listener recently wrote to us after he was asked by a group of friends to conduct a weekly Bible study for them. Having never done this before, he asked for advice. We've discussed aspects of Bible study many times in articles and broadcasts over the years, but today we begin a five-part series focusing specifically on how to conduct a group Bible study.
While this series will be primarily about group study, most of the points we shall consider apply equally well to Sunday school classes, family Bible study, and individual study of the Word.
We shall focus on five areas: the purpose of Bible study, the issue of authority in studying the Word of God, types of studies, leader and participant preparation, and conducting and evaluating the study.
Remember -- It's a Bible Study
First of all, remember that it's a Bible study. Most groups get off the track at this critical starting point. Many times people gather for something that is called a Bible study, but it really isn't one. If a group of people come together to study the latest book by a contemporary Evangelical author, or even a book by a recognized stalwart of a past generation - that's not a Bible study.
Some of those books may be beneficial for private reading, or for group reading and discussion in another venue. But most contemporary religious books (and even a good many from the past) aren't worth the cost of a match to burn them. Many of them, especially recent ones, are filled with worldly philosophy, legalism, and man-made doctrines. Where they do touch on Scripture, they spread the concealing fog of such things over the pure Word of God. They often actually contradict Scripture. Such things have no legitimate place in the life and thinking of the true believer in Christ and His Word.
Yet most church-goers who read books at all today tend to read those kinds of books instead of studying the Bible. Some of these people exhibit an attitude that says that the Bible is not relevant to the times, or that somehow they have outgrown the need for the Bible.
The results are tragic. We live in a time when the great need is Bible study. We live in the midst of a deep and widespread famine of knowledge of the Word of God, even among those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians. It shows in the declining spiritual state of the church and its people. Christians spend far too much time studying the word of man, and far too little time and effort studying the Word of God. We need the Bread of Life. Nothing is more relevant to our time, or to any other.
Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him. (John 6:27)
The Purpose of Bible Study
The purpose of Bible study is, plainly and simply, to understand Scripture itself and to be changed by it.
For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner [or critic] of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing [literally, the renovation] of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your Word. With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word. (Psalm 119:9-16)
The focus of Bible study must be on Scripture. It may seem absurd to say that - too obvious for words. But in our time, that's not the case. Many view the Bible as, in effect, just another religious book - perhaps of a somewhat higher order, but not what it truly is. Dear friend, the Bible is not just another religious book. It is the only supernatural Book. God the Holy Spirit is the author of every word, having used human authors to communicate His truth:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)
The Bible is therefore uniquely authoritative, and uniquely powerful. It stands far above every other book:
The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6)
As for God, His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. (Psalm 18:30)
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
And so, when coming together for group study, don't settle for lesser things. Don't settle for the mere opinions of men about Scripture. See what God Himself says. Remember - it's a Bible study.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! (Psalm 34:8)
Next: The Question of Authority