What it Takes to Study God's Word
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/10/2003
Category: Christian Living
"What it Takes to Study God's Word"
As you know from this morning, if you were here, we began this morning a series on how to get the most out of the Bible,
how to study the Bible. And we're going to continue that series tonight, give you little bits and pieces as we go along over the
next three Sundays, both in the morning and in the evening. We'll try to make each a sort of an independent separate
message, and yet they will blend and overlap a little bit as we go along.
I really believe that personally the ministry that I carry on here in this church in the pulpit is not just to teach you what the
Bible says, not just to preach the gospel to you, to preach the Word of God to you, but to stimulate you to personal study of
the Scripture. And if I have failed to do that in great measure, I have failed to do what I ought to have done. If you have just
enjoyed the sermon, if you had just walked away and said, "Well, I'll reconnect with the Word of God next week when I
listen again," then you have not responded in personal diligence and somehow I have failed to accomplish what ought to
have been accomplished in your life.
The goal of preaching certainly is to make the Word of God clear and to proclaim the truth and teach the truth to you. But it
also at the same time should stimulate you to want to take up the sword for yourself, take advantage of the tremendous
opportunity you do have to come to grips with the great truth of Scripture.
A verse to begin that supports that thought is 2 Timothy 2:15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a
workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of truth." There is a statement made to a young
pastor by the name of Timothy. He is told that he must be responsible to with diligence present himself approved to God.
How can he do that? By being a workman who doesn't need to be ashamed. How can he accomplish that? By handling
accurately the Word of truth. It is essential that he as a minister of God's Word handle it carefully, proclaim it accurately.
But it's not just the minister who is responsible to study the Word of God, not just the minister to discern its truths. In the
book of Acts there is a great testimony given with regard to a group of people, they're called the Bereans, that because they
lived in a town called Berea. And when the Apostle Paul went there, he preached the truth to them. It says in verse 11 of
Acts 17, "These were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica for they received the Word with great eagerness,
examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
Here were a group of people who are called noble because they did essentially what Joshua 1:8 says, they meditated day
and night on the Word of God in order that they might discern its truth and against that truth measure the preacher. They are
noble because they diligently searched the scriptures and they did it daily with great eagerness in order that they might
discern who was speaking the truth.
Studying the Word of God is something that demands diligence. It is a craft that calls for craftsmanship. But it begins with
basic knowledge. Like anything else, any apprentice at a new job or a new trade, starts with the knowledge of the basics
and certainly as students of the Bible that's where we have to start. We start with knowing the content of Scripture. And that
calls for a faithful and careful and consistent reading of God's Word. I would suggest to you that if you're going to be a
student of the Bible, as we said this morning, it will all begin with a high view of Scripture. We tried to help you with that this
morning. And then it will move to the second aspect of being effective in Bible study and that is basic knowledge of the text.
You have to know what it says, to begin with. That becomes a matter of reading the Scripture.
I confess to you that I'm not a particularly good reader of Scripture and that's because I have such a highly developed sense
of curiosity, I guess. I find it very difficult to read Scripture very long before my curiosity gets the best of me and I have to
stop and find out what it means. But in your early years of beginning to study the Word of God, you have to resist some of
that curiosity or else you'll get so bogged down you'll never get through the basic content. It is important to read the
Scripture so that you come to grips with what it says. Then you can begin to search out what it means by what it says. But
everything begins with a knowledge of Scripture.
Go back with me to Proverbs chapter 1...Proverbs chapter 1. In verse 20 we read this, "Wisdom shouts in the street. She
lifts her voice in the square. At the head of the noisy streets she cries out. At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters
her sayings." Now the idea here is that divine wisdom is available. It is not hidden, it is not stashed in a cave somewhere, it's
not buried in the ground, it's not hidden behind some mysterious codes. It doesn't take somebody who knows the secret to
unlock it. It is rather public domain, if you will. It is in the street. It is in the square. It cries out in the noisiness of life at the
entrance of the gates of the city which is the busiest place in town...there wisdom is made available. And what the writer of
Proverbs is saying is it is available. "So, how long, O naive ones, will you love simplicity?" In other words, are you going to
spurn the availability of divine wisdom? "And, scoffers, how long will you delight in your scoffing? And how long will you
fools hate knowledge?" And then there is reproof. "Turn at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out My Spirit on you and I'll
make My words known to you."
There is no real reason to be ignorant about the truth of Scripture because it is available, it is not hidden. It is not for those
who know some secret code. It is not for those who can unlock some cryptic mysteries. It is readily available for everybody
in the street. And God even promises that He'll assist in the process, pouring out His Spirit so that His words can be known.
Then comes, of course, the judgment, "Because I called and you refused, I stretched out My hand and no one paid
attention. You neglected all My counsel, didn't want My reproof. I'll laugh at your calamity, mock when your dread comes,
when your dread comes like a storm."
I was watching a little bit on the Discovery Channel of a program that sometimes is a curious program to me on mysteries.
And they have a particularly segment called, "Thy Mysteries of the Bible." And they were talking about the mystery of the
book of Revelation last night. And whatever mystery is in the book of the Revelation, they confounded into a hopeless
confusion and they did it by interviewing all kinds of quote/unquote scholars from liberal universities who were trying to
explain the significance of Revelation and were utterly unable to do it. And one watching that would conclude that these
mysteries are so profound and so confusing and so esoteric and so fantastic and so symbolic that no person, not even the
most erudite person at the highest level of religious training in a university could ever sort them out. Nothing could be further
from the truth. In fact, they all ignored the basic introduction to the book of Revelation which says straight forward these
words, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy," indicating that anybody who wants to can
read it and hear it, meaning with understanding. It is available, this knowledge of God through His Word. It is not secretive,
it is not hidden. And those who refuse to come to its straight-forward truths and be taught by the Spirit will be judged by the
God who has made Himself so clear that according to Romans 1, "All men are without...what?...excuse."
In Hosea chapter 4 we read this, "Listen to the Word of the Lord, O sons of Israel, for the Lord has a case against the
inhabitants of the land because there is no faithfulness or kindness, or knowledge of God. They're swearing, deception,
murder, stealing and adultery." Sound familiar? "They employed violence so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore
the land mourns and everyone who lives in it languishes, along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky and also
the fish of the sea disappear. Yet let no one find fault and let none offer reproof for your people are like those who contend
with the priests. So you will stumble today and the prophet also will stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your
mother, My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." You mean it isn't there? Next statement, "Because you have
rejected knowledge." You have forgotten or ignored the law of your God so I will reject you and I'll forget your children.
Again, God judges those who turn their back on an available revelation that He has made plain and made clear.
The knowledge of the Word of God is where everything begins. That knowledge is available to the one who desires it and
who comes to the truth of Scripture.
Now we are not called only to know it, but obviously we are called to know it and put it into practice through obedience.
Listen to what it says in James 1:21, "Receive the Word implanted which is able to save your souls but prove yourselves
doers of the Word and not merely hearers." So the idea is that we are to put the Word of God into practice in our lives.
That will, as we saw in Joshua 1:8, make our way prosperous and lead us to good success, in order to put it into practice
we have to understand it. In order to understand it we have to know its content...we go back to the fact then that we must
read the Scripture so that we can absorb what it says and then begin to work on what it means by what it says.
The Bible contains over 250 passages in the Old Testament and about 55 passages in the New Testament that require us to
be obedient to everything that is commanded in Scripture. In fact you remember when Jesus gave the great commission in
Matthew 28 verses 19 and 20 He said that you're to go into all the world, you're to make disciples and teach them to obey
all things whatsoever I have commanded you. This is clearly the injunction of Scripture over and over. In fact, in
Deuteronomy 5:29 we read this, "O that there were such an heart in them that they would fear Me and keep all My
commandments always that it might be well with them and with their children forever." Or in Luke 11:28, "Blessed, or
happy, are they that hear the Word of God and keep it, or obey it." John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My
commandments." First John 5:3, "For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments." In John 8 Jesus said, "He
who is of God hears God's Word." We...we remember that from this morning's message, verse 47. The Apostle Paul said,
"I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man." You remember the psalmist said his delight was in the law of the
Lord and in His law he meditated day and night. And remember Psalm 19 where David said, "The Word of God is more
desirable than gold and sweeter than honey." The psalmist in Psalm 40 verse 8 said, "I delight to do Thy will, O God, Thy
law is in my heart."
So, we have then this desire to do the will of God, plant it in us as believers. It is predicated on knowing the will of God
which calls for us to understand what it says and then to be able to interpret what it says and apply what it means by what it
says. The Lord revealed to His prophet Isaiah, as we continue to sort of build this foundation, the Lord revealed to His
prophet Isaiah the magnificent nature of His being and the importance of His judgment. And God clearly stated that each
person must listen to everything that God says. And I repeated...I repeat tonight what I read you this morning from Isaiah 55
in its full representation in verses 9 to 11 because it's so important. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My
ways higher than your ways, My thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain comes down and snow from heaven and returns
not thither but waters the earth and makes it bring forth and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the
eater...there's that hydrological cycle I mentioned to you...so shall My Word be that goes forth out of My mouth. It shall not
return unto Me void but it shall accomplish that which I please and it shall prosper in the thing where unto I sent it." Here
again God reveals to the prophet that His Word when received and applied produces the ends which God intends.
In the hymn book of the Psalms, Psalm 138:2 the psalmist says, "I will worship toward Thy holy temple, or Thy holy place,
and praise Thy name for Thy loving kindness and for Thy truth for Thou hast magnified Thy Word equal to Thy name."
There's no greater testimony to the importance of Scripture than Psalm 119. And you ought to familiarize yourself with
Psalm 119. One of the wonderful things about the study Bible is that it's going to break down Psalm 119 into all its
components, it's a long Psalm of 176 verses and every verse is about the Scripture except the very last one which is a
response. But 175 verses about the Scripture all broken down so that you can come to grips with what the Scripture really
claims for itself. But in nearly every one of those 176 verses there is an emphasis on the necessity of knowing the Word and
Turn with me to Psalm 119, and obviously we can't read all 176 verses, but I want to pinpoint some of the verses that need
to be highlighted which emphasize this call to the Word of God. Psalm 119 verse 16, "I shall delight in Thy statutes, I shall
not forget Thy Word." And here is the psalmist expressing his love for the Word and his delight in obeying it. Verse 24, "Thy
testimonies also are my delight, they are my counselors." Verse 35, "Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments for I
delight in it." Verse 47, "And I shall delight in Thy commandments which I love." Verse 48, "And I shall lift up my hands to
Thy commandments," that is I'll do them, put them into practice, "which I love and I will meditate on Thy statutes." And over
to verse 72, "The law of Thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces." Down to verse 92, "If Thy law
had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction."
And then verse 97 down to 104, "O how I love Thy law. It is my meditation all the day. Thy commandments make we wiser
than my enemies for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers for Thy testimonies are all my meditation. I
understand more than the aged because I have observed Thy precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way that I
may keep Thy Word. I have not turned aside from Thine ordinances for Thou Thyself has taught me. How sweet are Thy
words to my taste, yes sweeter than honey to my mouth. From Thy precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false
Delighting in the Word and because you delight in it you learn it and when you learn it you apply it, it effects every area of
life. It makes you wiser than your enemies, your teachers, the aged of every society. It helps you turn aside from sin and
discerns for you so that you can avoid every false way. Verse 105, "Thy Word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path."
Verse 111, "I have inherited Thy testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart." Verse 113, "I hate those who are
double minded but I love Thy law." Verse 127, "Therefore I love Thy commandments above gold, yes above fine gold."
Skipping down to verse 159, "Consider how I love Thy precepts. Revive me, O Lord, according to Thy loving kindness."
And then just several to close out, verse 161, "Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of Thy
words," 167, "My soul keeps Thy testimonies and I love them exceedingly." Verse 174, "I long for Thy salvation, O Lord,
and Thy law is my delight."
Here you have the attitude that has to be brought to bear upon the Scripture. That's what we were talking about this
morning. When you understand what you have in your hand and when you treasure this more than gold and when you
consider it sweeter than honey, when you delight in it, you will then begin to read its truth. And that's where all effective Bible
study begins. Blessed are those, says the psalmist, who keep the testimony of God and seek Him with their whole heart.
And how shall a young man cleanse his ways? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word. David said, "With my whole
heart I sought Thee. O let me not wander from Thy commandments." And so it goes. We begin with a commitment to know
the Word of God.
I can suggest to you a simple plan that you might follow. In the study Bible I have a Bible reading plan that will get you
through the Bible in a year, and many of you do that already. But let me suggest to you something that I've used through the
years that's been of real help to me. It's a way to begin to absorb scriptural data at the maximum kind of level that will help
you come to grips with what the Bible actually says, which is where you have to start. There's no shortcut to this but there is
a way that you can get after it.
Read through the Old Testament at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. Just read through it. Take a chunk of chapters
on a daily basis and just read them and when you're done go back and read them again, and just read through the Old
Testament in its sort of chronological order.
But when it comes to the New Testament which really gives us the unfolding of the mysteries hidden from those in the past
which unfolds the full meaning of the Old Testament, the New Covenant document, you need to read it more repetitiously.
And what I have suggested and what worked in my own life early on as I began to come to grips with the need to know the
Scripture was to read repetitiously. And here's a little formula that I followed and found very beneficial. I first discovered it in
an old book on how to study the Bible by James M. Grey who was a past president of The Moody Bible Institute many,
many years ago. Kind of refining off of that process, here's what worked for me.
Take a book of the Bible and read it repetitiously for 30 days. And here's how I did it. I took the book of 1 John, 1 John
has five chapters and I read 1 John every day for 30 days, just simply read it in the same version 30 times in a row. In fact I
became so enthralled by it that I actually broke the pattern on the first book and read it ninety days in a row. But at the end
of 30 days I knew what was in 1 John just because of the repetitious reading. In fact, I began to visualize my Bible and if
anybody asked me to this day what it says in 1 John 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 I'm pretty familiar with that because of repetition.
That's how your mind retains things. In fact if somebody says, "Where in the Bible does it say,`If we confess our sins He is
faithful and just,'" that's easy, 1 John chapter 1 left hand page, right hand column halfway down. You know, you begin to
visualize your Bible because of the familiarity of the text as you go over it and over it and over it.
Now at the same time I wrote a one-sentence summary of each chapter and just over the period of 30 days memorized
what that chapter was about so that I was locking into my mind an understanding of the chapters and familiarity with the text
itself. Well at the end of 90 days I had a fair understanding of what was in 1 John. I didn't yet fully understand all of it. I
hadn't gone into the depth of studying it all, but I was familiar with it. And it elevated an awful lot of questions in my mind.
Then wanting to stay within the framework of John, I went to the gospel of John. Now the gospel of John has 21 chapters
and that's too much to swallow in one month, so I divided it into three sections of seven. Using seven is about the maximum
number of chapters you want to work with. I read through the first seven chapters of John's gospel for 30 days, a second
chapter, a second seven for 30, and a third for seven for 30, so in 90 days I had gone through the gospel of John and in the
process wrote out a simple little summary of each chapter, each of the 21 chapters. Well, at the end of those 90 days of
reading seven, seven and seven, I understood what was in John. And to this day I can still visualize that and that's been
many, many years ago, probably nearly 30 years ago and I remember that the wedding at Cana was in John 2 and that the
woman at the well in Samaria is in John 4, and that Jesus encountering His brothers and their lack of faith in John 7, and the
feeding of the 5,000 in John 6, and John 10 is the shepherd chapter, and John 15 is the vine chapter, and the highly priestly
prayer is in 17 and so it goes and so it goes. Jesus in the garden is in 18. Just pure familiarity.
I also began to realize that some of the things I didn't understand in the epistle of John were explained in the gospel of John.
And that the best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself. And I learned that very early and that's why when I teach you the
Word of God, I explain the Scripture with the Scripture, don't I? Because that's the way I learned the Scripture.
And then after that I went back to Philippians and took Philippians which is a brief book of four chapters, read it 30 days in
a row and was familiar with what was there. Then I went back to the gospel of Matthew and took 28 chapters, broke them
into four sections of seven...seven for 30, seven for 30, seven for 30 and in four months I had a grasp on the book of
Matthew. Now at that pace at about seven chapters at a time going from a shorter book to a longer one, in two and a half
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