I know, I know. I said in my my most recent blog that it would be my final entry of this series. But, if you would allow me, I’d like to make one addendum. Only one, then we’ll begin covering a different subject next week. Over the previous eight parts of this series, we’ve covered a lot of ground. And it all culminated in entry seven and eight in which we interpreted the first two verses of the Book of Galatians together and then applied what we learned to our own lives. If you felt the process was clunky, keep at it. It will begin to feel natural in time.
It occurred to me that those last two entries assumed that you, the reader, bring a certain amount of biblical knowledge to the table. Those entries assumed that you have some familiarity with the Apostle Paul and his life story, that you know who Jesus Christ is and how he relates to the Father, and that you possess some understanding as to the identity and function of the church. It also occurred to me that without these resources of knowledge, my readers would certainly be lost.
So this brings up the question, “How you can begin growing in the knowledge of God and his word?” I’m not talking about enrolling in online seminary. I’m talking about giving you some handles to grasp so you don’t feel like you’re spending your whole life reaching, but never ascending. I want you to know that you are, in fact, climbing. At this point, it would be very easy for me to close this out by listing a myriad online resources that are available to you with the click of a mouse. But you and I know that only a minority of people would actually go through the trouble of saving those links and an even smaller minority would ever use them. One of the things this world is teaching us all is that quantity doesn’t necessarily lead to increasing quality. Abundance, for many of us, only creates more clutter.
My in-laws used to live here in Memphis until they moved back to Canada to help out my wife’s sister when she got pregnant with triplets. (Yes, triplets.) Though we miss them very much and often try to talk them into moving back in with us down here, there seemed to be a silver lining. He left me with all of his tools, a riding lawn mower, gardening accessories, and a ton of other stuff. Immediately, my garage got a facelift. It looked a lot more masculine. (Previously, I only had a shovel and a rake, a hammer and a few screw drivers, but nothing that would impress my friends.) And guess what? I have rarely used those tools - except for that riding mower.
I have never used that extra drill he gave me. I have never used that electric saw (mainly because I don’t know how to make anything). I have never used all those extra gardening tools. I have never used that extra rake or that extra shovel. I have never used all those bags of expensive fertilizer that have been collecting dust, cob webs, and dead bugs in my garage. But I continue to use my beat-up shovel, spade, and old rake.
The same is true with Biblical resources. We have Christian bookstores filled with every resource imaginable. From customized Bibles to a broad variety of curricula to books written on any and every subject imaginable from a Christian perspective. But, curiously, Biblical knowledge seems to be at an all-time low in the church. Abundance has not translated into depth. Just more clutter.
So here’s what I think you need to do as you seek to mature in your consistent study of God’s word. Begin with this one “handle.” Go out and purchase an ESV Study Bible (not the MacArthur ESV Study Bible, respectfully). It’s the best one out there in my humble opinion. And here’s what I think you should do. Go through every book of the Bible and read the introductory notes. Yes, read all the information on who wrote each book, when it was written, and why it was written. And read it carefully. Learn. Read about the main themes of the book. Read about how the ideas of the book fit together (the outline of the book) so you can understand the flow of logic. Make notes. Underline big ideas. And go back and read all this again when you begin reading a particular book of the Bible. The goal is that, over time, whenever you turn to a specific book of the Bible, you are familiar with it’s inner workings and as you read that book, you know why the writer is addressing the things he is addressing. This is supremely helpful and crucial in interpreting the Bible and then applying it to your own life.
Also, take advantage of the footnotes as you read through each book. A variety of phenomenal, Jesus-loving theologians have contributed their own notes on the majority of the verses in the ESV Study Bible - notes that will help you understand what you’re reading when you come across confusing verses. The ESV Study Bible is also available for your smart phone or tablet. They aren’t free, but they are much cheaper than the physical version.
Okay. I must cease and desist. I could go on, but I promise you that if you seriously consider everything that I have taken the time to write over the last two months in this blog series, your relationship with God’s word will be incredibly enhanced. My prayer for you is that God’s word will be more than a chore you “get out of the way” each day. A lot more. My prayer for you is that you will grow in the skill of feeding yourself with God’s word rather than remaining dependent on preachers and teachers. My prayer for you is that you will be able to say with conviction that God’s word is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).