Becoming Disciples of the Word of God

I’ve entitled this article “Becoming Disciples of the Word of God.” What is a disciple? In simple terms, a disciple is “a learning follower.” We all know of course that in a portion of what we call “The Great Commission,” Jesus calls upon us to “teach all nations,” that is more accurately translated “make disciples” or to “enroll as a scholar.” So we see that in that commission comes not only the command to go and share the gospel, but also to enroll believers to be disciples … so that they may grow personally and become capable of sharing with others the good news of the gospel. So, our goal should be “to know Christ and to make Him known.” Though we will not take the time to advance this thought here, I firmly believe that Jesus taught not only that we should “believe on Him” in order to be saved, but also that EVERY BELIEVER ALSO IS CALLED TO BE A DISCIPLE … NO EXCEPTIONS!   

There is a burden we carry as we’ve traveled for 35+ years across the country in revival ministry.  We’ve had the privilege to minister in some of the most solid, Bible preaching churches in our land.  That burden is a desire for God’s people to grow in love with the scriptures, and develop the daily habit of spending time with the Lord in His Word.  As one man said, “The Bible is ‘God’s love letter’ to His children and brothers & sisters … we ought to read our mail daily!” I think perhaps one of the greatest experiences for us as believers is what has been called “the joy of personal discovery.” To be able to get alone with God, open & read His Word, and then have the Holy Spirit of God (who authored the scriptures) teach us about God – Himself, reveal His plan for our lives & then learn how we can grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was indeed Peter’s exhortation in his first epistle, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby.”(I Pet.2:2)

Over and over again throughout the scriptures, both Old & New Testament we are exhorted about the importance of having the Word to feed our souls as believers. It should be a daily practice in our lives, a Godly exercise (I Tim.4:7-9) that helps keeps us strong in the Lord, & a necessary tool for Godly fellowship with other believers & for being able to confidently share the gospel with unbelievers. Remember Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:

Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.  Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this you shall both save yourself, and them that hear thee.     1 Tim. 4:13,16 (KJV)

Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth. II Tim.2:15

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 perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. II Tim. 3:16,17 

And then, of course, we have the wonderful testimony given of the Berean Christians in The Book of Acts:

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures dailywhether those things were so.  

Acts 17:11

             For these reasons (and a myriad of others that could be given from scripture) the following suggestions and guidelines are given to help us as “ordinary” believers to “get into the Word for ourselves and allow the Word to get into us!” Let me begin by giving you a simple outline for basic Bible study, and then we will look at each one in greater detail!

 

Here are the 5 steps:

1)    Request

2)    Read

3)    Record

4)    Respond

5)    Reproduce

 

It’s really quite simple … you just have to get started. The longer you “practice” the more it will become a habit, a good habit. So, here goes!

 

1)   Request:

 

  • Ask the Spirit to guide you into all truth.   (Jn. 16:13, I Cor. 2:9-13, I John 2:27)

As you read the scriptures listed under this heading you will see for yourself that one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to teach us the scriptures and the commands of Jesus. When I sit down to spend time with the Lord in the Bible, I begin with a prayer, asking God to teach me from His Word, to show me the true meaning of a passage and also how it applies to my life. Even as a preacher, I must come to the scriptures for my daily sustenance, that is, for my “meat, bread & potatoes” if you will … oh yes, and also my dessert! His words are “sweeter than honey” (Ps.19:10; 119:103) & Job also tells us “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”(Job 23:12).  

I will tell you that many times I’ve opened my Bible and started reading without a conscious prayer and dependency on the Holy Spirit to guide & teach me … you know what I mean, sort of going through “the motions of devotions,” and about two chapters into that process find that I’ve not learned anything nor had anything I read to stick with me! In other words, I’ve basically wasted my time and energy. When I realize that … I ask God’s forgiveness for trying to “do it on my own,” then go back and reread the very same passage, now with a ‘conscious dependence on Him’ to teach me … and it seems as if the passage explodes off the page and I learn new insight into God and His ways! We need Him to teach us the scriptures.

 

  • Whatever God reveals … I will obey !

 The second lesson I’ve learned about this time is to be sure I am in agreement with God and His way of thinking. Remember the passage where Isaiah tells us that our natural way of thinking does not usually line up with God’s? (Isa. 55:8,9) So, for me, I’ve learned in my prayer to say something like this, “Lord, I don’t know what You are going to show me in Your Word today, but I want to go on record, before we even get started, that I agree with You!”  Whatever that may require, if it means changing my way of thinking about a particular subject, or if it means a change in my lifestyle, I am going to obey the Lord.  Let’s remember this: The key to understanding truth in the scriptures is obedience. (Psa. 111:10) So, let this attitude prevail in our devotional time … “Lord, whatever You speak to me about, I will obey!”

            We have the example in scripture of Ezra, whom God called a “ready scribe.” This verse tells us why he was a ready scribe.

Ezra 7:10 – Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

 

He had:

  • Prepared the heart
  • Sought God’s Word

He was:

  • Committed to obey
  • Committed to teach

 

2)   Read:

  • Consecutively – Do not hop, skip, and jump through the scriptures! Do not try the “close your eyes and point to a verse” approach to discover God’s will on a daily basis. That can get you into trouble! Your growth in understanding the Bible should come about little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept (Isa.28).  If you are “new” to spending time in the scriptures, perhaps you want to begin with the Gospel of John in the New Testament.
  • Slowly … thoughtfully This is not the place to try out your speed reading! Your are not running a race here. Study of the scriptures is a marathon, not a 100 yard sprint.

 Neh. 8:8 – So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly and they gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

  • Examined the text – “distinctly”
  • Expounded the truth – “gave the sense”
  • Explained the teaching – “caused them to understand”

3)   Record:

You need a notebook or a journal or perhaps even a wide margin Bible in which to record what God is saying to you through your study time. You will find that you remember a larger quantity of what you read and record, versus merely what you read.

 

What is God saying to me?

I)           Ask Questions

 

a)     What does it say?    Who, What, Where, Why, When ??

  • Who? – who is the author and who are the recipients of the letter?
  • What? – what is the cause – is this letter being written for instruction, to praise God or someone receiving the letter, is it in order to inform or notify the recipients of what God is doing or has done?
  • Where? – written from where and to whom?( It has impact to consider what Paul is saying when sitting in prison telling the church at Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always” and to “be content, no matter what the situation” presents to them.   To think of John writing Revelation while being exiled on the isle of Patmos, suffering for his faith has impact on your reading, etc., you get the point.)
  • Why? – to be able to line the book up with one of God’s four purposes for giving us the scriptures, sometimes help us with reading & comprehending the message, the purpose for this letter. Based on II Tim.3:16, is this letter written for doctrine, reproof, correction or instruction in righteousness? Some, of course, include far more than one purpose.
  • When? – sometimes understanding the history of a book helps especially in Old Testament when reading a book written during captivity or when the hearts of God’s people were perhaps not focused on serving God as they ought to be, or like the book of Judges where you learn that the reason for such chaos and unusual happenings in the people of God was because “every man did that which was right in their own eyes.” No wonder they were in such a mess!

 

b)     Consider the context in which it was written. 

Remember:  A text, without a context is a pretext! i.e. – the conclusion drawn is “misleading or an untrue” interpretation.  

For example, Mt.6:33 is sometimes quoted to say “if we seek God, He will give us whatever we want based on this passage.” If you study the context of this passage, the “things” which God promised to add to you are specifically food, drink & clothing as outlined in verses 25-33, not a “fill in the blank” with whatever you want.

Another example would be: Jn.12:32 in which Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” This is often used and quoted by a Worship Leader in a service to say, “let’s just lift up Jesus in our singing and He has promised to draw men to Himself.” God may indeed draw men to Himself during Christ exalting singing and preaching, however, when you read the passage in its context, John, the writer of the gospel tells us in the very next verse that Jesus said this “signifying that kind of death he would die.” In other words, the “lifting up” Jesus was talking about was his death through crucifixion, not just an exciting praise service. That is the meaning of this text, in its context … Jesus was to be crucified and through that sacrificial death, He would “draw all men unto Himself!”

 

c)     What does it mean ?

What are the principles that I should “take away” from this passage? Sometimes it is helpful to use a good dictionary to look up key words, or to learn to use the cross references and concordance already available in most of our Bibles. I am convinced that “the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself” … use the cross references that others have already studied and shared with us in the center columns of your pages. It’s also good to read an accurate commentary along with your personal study. Probably the most well known and longest standing, practical and trustworthy one that comes to mind is Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Usually reasonable in price and usually comes with Bible Software programs at no added expense.

 

d)     What should I do as a result of this passage?

      This is a helpful train of thought to develop when studying the scriptures. As I am reading and reflecting … is there a promise to claim … is there a command to obey … is there a sin that needs to be confessed … is there an example I need to follow in this passage?

           

II)              Summarize:  Here are a few suggestions you may want to use to help you grasp spiritual truth.  You may want to develop:

  • Chapter Title
  • Paragraph Title
  • Key thoughts (sometimes I’ve mulled over these for weeks on end):

                                    * What do ye more than others? Mt.5:47

                                    * Ye have not so learned Christ! Eph.4:20

  • Look for repeated words or phrases:    * “Ye are” …  I Cor. 3:9b,3:9c,3:16

                                                                          * “In Whom” … Eph. 1:7,11,13; 2:22; 3:12; 4:16

  • Identify a key verse in the passage

 

 III)    Paraphrase  – you may want to write out a passage in your own words and personalize it by “putting yourself” right in the midst of the passage. For example, let’s take a personal application of Psalm 1:1 –

 

Ps.1:1 – I will be blessed of the Lord as I learn to guard myself against the counsel of the ungodly (which really is any counsel that is not based on the absolute truth as revealed in the scriptures). I will be blessed of the Lord as I refuse to take upon me the attitudes of those who do not know Christ, and as I refuse to become comfortable as a scornful man or a mocker of God’s Words and Ways!

 

            One tool that might help you in doing this is “The Amplified Bible.” When used properly, this Bible can be a great help in giving you understanding of a particular passage and presenting it in language you can get your mind around. In the front of the Amplified Bible is a key that tells you how to use it. It will give you certain words that are the true meaning of original language, some are English equivalents at the time of the translation, some are a modern way of  expressing the true meaning of the verse. Use the key correctly and it is a great tool.

 

          4) Respond: Ask yourself the question, what is the proper response to what God has shown me today?

 

  • Is there something for which I can praise God?
  • Is there something I need to take to Him in prayer?
  • What would be a proper response of humility as I see what God has shown me today?
  • Is there a change that needs to take place in my life… something I need to do in obedience to the Lord?

      5) Reproduce:   Be committed by God’s grace to see Him reproduce in the lives of others what He is doing in you by freely sharing with others His fresh work of grace in your heart. Verbally telling others what God is showing you helps produce accountability in our Christian lives. We all NEED accountability … someone wisely said, “Without accountability the Christian life is optional!”

 

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  Phil. 4:9  (ESV)

 

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Acts 17:11

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