The Word of God, as the psalmist proclaims, “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We speak often of the Bible as the “Truth,” His Word as being “God-breathed,” and “living and active.” Christians revere the Word of God, and understand it’s importance in instructing in all truth. But, have you found yourself having difficulty interpreting or understanding the text? Do you read casually, but struggle with the deeper meaning or relevance to your situation and life? I hope to help you approach the Word of God with confidence, utilizing what is known as the inductive study method. This type of study is the cornerstone of my sermon prep. It focuses on three components: observation, interpretation, and application.
The first step is to read the text. In my experience, it is easier to begin with a New Testament epistle, identifying a small section you would like to understand on a deeper level. When reading the text have pen and paper handy, and while you read note any obvious truths in the text. Next, as you read, ask questions of the text. Remember, as your teacher may have told you, there isn’t a question that’s a bad question. Ask questions about the meaning of particular words, theological claims, authorship, audience, and historical context, among others. Lastly, take note of repeated words throughout the passage, or language that is emphasized.
The second step is to begin to move towards an understanding of the original meaning of the text. This is where you will investigate the obvious truths further. You’ll do this by probing similar texts. The references that are noted in the margins of your Bible are a great starting point. Next, answer the questions that you have of the text, and define the words that are emphasized. This is where tools come into play. Utilize tools such as a study Bible, commentary or a Bible dictionary to help you. A concordance will also come in handy as you cross reference words and word usage in other passages. Finally, explore the historical context, authorship and audience. These all help you to understand what was occurring around the text, which is a key aspect of interpreting the text.
The Bible is a vital part of our spiritual growth. Therefore, we must strive to apply its truth claims to our lives. We come to the Bible in hopes that it will help us to grow in Christlikeness. This is the point of this final step, not just that we have more knowledge of the Bible, but that it transforms our lives. When moving to apply the text, think through how you can live in light of the teaching. In essence, we ask the question, “What does this mean to me?” Or, “How does this affect me?”
Finally, give yourself time to practice this method. You will likely struggle at first, but stay the course, work out the three steps, and measure your conclusions against trusted brothers and sisters in Christ. The key to going deeper is to keep trying, keep practicing, and keep asking. May the Word of God dwell in you richly!