Craig Groeschel - Beginner’s Guide to Studying the Bible
There is no greater way to get to know God, his character, his nature, his goodness, and the life that he has for you than reading his living word. Amen. And yet most people don't do it, right? People around the world and with good reason, they would say, "Well, I don't really believe it," in their own mind. And so because they don't believe it, they don't do it. Or some Christians might say, "Well, I tried to read the Bible and it was boring to me," or, "it didn't really apply to my life". And so people have access to God's Word and yet either don't take time to do it or when they try, they don't really understand it.
I would argue that especially for Christians, that the biggest reason that so many Christians don't faithfully study the Bible besides the devil trying to talk them out of it, is that they don't know how to do it. Where do you start if you're gonna study the Bible and how do you study the Bible? So what a lot of people do, I've found just in my experience, is they typically do one of two different things. They'll do what I did as a kid and I thought, "Okay, I need to read the Bible". And so they start at the very beginning. They start in Genesis and it's relatively interesting and exciting, and they read Exodus and it's pretty interesting and kind of exciting.
Then they get to the book of Leviticus and they die in the book of Leviticus. They put it down in the book of Leviticus. And if you're not laughing right now, it's because you've never read the book of Leviticus. And so a lot of people will try like that and they kind of get into it and they don't get very far and so they stop. Or there's kind of a second thing that a lot of people do. I call it the Lucky Dip Method. The Lucky Dip Method is when they say, "I'm just gonna open up the Bible and I'm just gonna point my finger to a verse and whatever that verse says, I will do what it says," I'm gonna do it right now, just so you know, the Lucky Dip Method, whatever this verse says, I will do it, Ezekiel 4:12, "And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung".
That is in the Bible and I actually pre-planned that. I actually put it there, but that is a real verse. And that's typically what happens as people just put their finger in there. They just kind of end up in a weird place. That is a method, but it's not the best method. So I have a very, very, very strong goal. And what I wanna do over the next couple of weeks is I want to sincerely and very practically help you learn how to study the Bible. And when I tell you that this could be two of the most important weeks in your journey with God, that is not an overstatement at all. What I'm gonna ask you to do and I know this could be a big ask for a lot of you, is to not just be at church this weekend, but like we're gonna go for two weeks in a row. Crazy, I know like, okay, but like two weeks in a row. And if you can't do it because the weather's too nice next weekend or the weather's too bad, or the game's too good, could you at least pick it up online?
Take it seriously because if you learn to study the word of God, it can be one of the most important things you ever do in your journey with God. Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna talk about how do we study it and we're actually going to study it. We're gonna talk about how to do it and we're gonna apply it. We're gonna study a short book in the New Testament. We're gonna study the book of filet mignon in the New Testament, which is not really filet mignon, it's really Philemon. And we're gonna learn how to pronounce the books of the Bible.
For example, the Book of Job in the Old Testament is actually the Book of Job, but I called it the Book of Job when I was 20 years old in a Bible study and that was embarrassing. We're gonna learn how to pronounce it, but I'm very, very excited to teach you the word of God. And the reason is because the word of God is living. Yes. That's what it says about itself. It's living, it's active, it's powerful, it's sharper than a double edged sword. The word of God will speak to you, it will guide you, it will protect you, it will empower you. It will guard you against temptation, it will renew your mind. It will build your faith. It will show you every heavenly riches that you have in Christ Jesus. It is truth and it is the truth that will set you free.
Today we talk about how to study the Bible and we're gonna get really, really practical. Lemme give you five thoughts we're gonna look at today and then we're actually gonna apply it in the Book of Philemon. The first thing you want to do, number one, is you want to choose a translation that you understand. The second thing you're gonna want to do is you're gonna wanna choose a time, a place, and a plan to study the Bible. The third thing that we're gonna talk about today is we're gonna seek to understand the context. We're not just gonna read a verse outta context, but we're gonna understand the context as we do. The fourth thing is we're gonna read slowly and we're actually gonna ask questions of the text and to God as we read and then number five, we're gonna pray for God to speak to you and we're gonna apply what he shows you.
We're gonna do these five things. Choose a translation, a time, a place, understand the context, read slowly and ask questions, and ask God to speak to us and apply what he shows us. So we're gonna do that in the book of Philemon and we're gonna start in verses seven and eight. What I'd love for you to do is wherever you are, those online too, it's no fun without you, everybody, let's read these two verses aloud together, are you ready? If you're ready, say, I'm ready. I'm ready. Online, type in the comment section, I'm ready. Type it in, "I'm ready," are you ready? Let's do it, read it aloud. "For we have such great joy and consolation in thy love because the bowels of the saints are refresh by thee brother. Wherefore thou I might though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient".
Wow, that was awkward. That didn't make any sense at all. Why did that not make any sense? Thought number one, choose a translation you understand. That was the King James translation. Some even may say, "Now, why in the world are there different translations and what is a translation"? Let's try to understand this. The Bible is actually a book written in three original languages. It's written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. And so there are Bible scholars who translate a word in Hebrew and the word could mean this or it kind of means this. And so they'll choose the best and most accurate words.
How many of you noticed that language changes over time? When do you think the King James translation was translated? Anybody know the answer? The year is 1611, 1611. Do you think the English language has changed any since the year 1611? I don't know about you, but I think it's changed since this morning. Like I got Gen Zers in my home and I just found out, somebody told me I had Ris. I didn't know if that was dandruff, I had no idea. That's charisma. I got Ris, in case you know, I got Ris. So language changes over time.
If you go back to 1611, and you look at this text, it says, "Because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee". Back at that time, people thought that humans felt emotions in their bowels. Today, people would say, "Well, you probably feel emotions in your heart". So a modern translation would take the original word and would translate it into a language today based on the original intent. Now there were over 3000 different translations on the YouVersion Bible app alone.
How in the world do you choose one? And the answer is, I'll give you some advice, I'll tell you what I like. And my advice is just my opinion. There are a lot of different opinions. People would disagree with me. You're gonna read some stuff that says, "These are bad, these are bad," whatever. I'm gonna give you my opinion based on a lot of study. I'll recommend four to you. I'm gonna recommend to you the NIV, the NLT, the New King James and the ESV, English Standard Version. NIV and NLT would be on the side of more current language, accurate, but more like people speak today. New King James and ESV and also the NASB are more on the very accurate, accurate, accurate side without being as current in the language. So I personally study NIV and NLT and then I look at other ones to see along the way. In my opinion, those are all very, very strong translations. My top two I like to read are NIV and NLT. You can choose your own as you go, but we're gonna start with choosing a translation that we understand.
The second thing we're gonna do is we're gonna choose a time, a place, and a plan to study the Bible. Here's what I really recommend, that you have a consistent time and place. It doesn't really matter when or where, but I would recommend that it's consistent. If you don't have a consistent time and a place, you're not likely to do it. If you ask my opinion, I would recommend when possible, to do the morning.
And the reason I like the morning is because you're starting your day with God's Word that will align your heart, renew your mind, and direct your steps. That may not be possible with your schedule, but when it is, that would be my recommendation. Then I'd recommend you have a place, it might be your favorite chair, it might be your kitchen table with your Hebrews coffee mug. Little New Testament joke there for those of you that are Bible scholars in the New Testament. You might look at what you prefer as far as the method.
For example, some people prefer a paper Bible, so you can write in it and you can feel it and turn the pages. Other people might just have time on a commute. They prefer to listen or reading might not be as easy for them. You might prefer digital because you have the Bible with you everywhere you have your phone. You might go through a book of the Bible, we're studying through maybe 1 Corinthians or you might have a devotional, a little book that you read. You might have a YouVersion Bible plan, over 32,000 of those available to you to go through something that could be helpful to you. So what we're gonna do is we're going to pick a translation that we understand, we're gonna choose a time, a place, and a plan.
The third thing we're gonna do is we're gonna understand the context of what we read. And what I want to do is I wanna try to show you why this is so important. It's more important than I can describe to you. I'll illustrate it this way. What would you think if I told you that someone took a photo of me with another woman who is not my wife, out of town all alone at a restaurant? That would probably raise concern. And that really happened, is really true, but context matters more than you can imagine because I was caught having dinner alone with another woman out of town all alone at a restaurant and this woman was my daughter, Mandy.
I was so happy about this time at a ministry event in Denver with her and she was so happy about sushi. I took this picture to remember it. We were all alone on a snowy night. Only one other couple in the restaurant, who unbeknownst to me, took a photo of me and sent it to a volunteer saying this, "Does this look like Craig"? "It is Craig". And the next one says this, "And he's with another chick". Amazingly, the volunteer happened to say, "Funny, yes, it's his daughter, where are you"? And then they said, "Introduce yourself". Of all the odds as they were accusing me of being with another chick, they happened to send it to a volunteer who knew Mandy, texted it to Mandy at the table while I was sitting there and turned and looked over at that other couple.
Context matters more than you can imagine. It's a really sad day when I realized that I cannot eat with one of my daughters without getting accused. Or I have to hold up a sign that says, "This is my daughter". Or I have to say, "Forget you, I don't care, I'm eating with my daughter". Context matters more than you can imagine. So let's talk about the broad picture of context for the Bible, let's start here. The Bible, we need to understand, is a library. It's not just a single book. In fact, I'll explain it this way. The Bible is a collection of 66 different books. It's written in three languages across three continents, over a 1500 year period by 40 different authors, including shepherds and farmers and tent makers and doctors and fishermen and priests and philosophers and kings and on and on, what is it?
It's actually a collection of poems, prophecies, letters, laws, histories and biographies written by people and inspired by God telling one unified story that shows us our need for Jesus and teaches us to become like him. So when we understand what the Bible is, then we wanna understand the context of what we're reading, and we're gonna ask essentially three simple questions every time. We wanna know who wrote it, we wanna know to whom was it written. And we wanna know what is its purpose, who wrote it, to whom was it written, and what is the main story of the book of the Bible that we're reading? And so we'll start with Philemon and we'll try to get the context as we're reading Philemon. And we'll start in verses one and two and see if you can pick up the context as we go here.
What do we see? We see, "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus and Timothy, our brother to," who is he writing to? He is writing to Philemon, "Our dear friend and fellow worker and the church that meets in your home". If you wanna learn a little more context, you might get some extra resources. There is a QR code that's gonna come up on the screen in a moment. You can go ahead and capture this now. If you don't capture it now, your campus pastor will give it to you at the end of the message and those of you online, it will come up again at the end of the message for you. On the other side of this QR code, we have several resources and a very detailed study to help you learn how to study the Bible.
For example, you'll see on there the YouVersion Bible app created by our church. If you wanna learn the context of the book of Philemon, there's actually 11 studies on the book of Philemon in the YouVersion Bible app. You may get what I have here and this is a study Bible, for example, this is Philemon. And if you turn right over here, one page earlier, you have the context of Philemon and read things like, "It consists of 335 Hebrew words". And it explains the context very simply to you. If you do a very, very, very simple study like this, what you're gonna find out very quickly about the Bible is this, you're gonna find out that Paul wrote Philemon, Paul wrote it. He says up there that he wrote it. You're gonna find that it's the shortest letter that he wrote.
What's interesting is you're gonna see that he was actually, he says, "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus". He doesn't say, "Paul an apostle". Almost every other time he writes an epistle, he'll say, "Paul the apostle". And the reason he's doing this is he doesn't want to pull his official rank on his friend Philemon. He's writing this letter as a very, very dear friend. So if we're gonna summarize what we find out, we find out this, we're gonna find out that Philemon was written by Paul from a Roman prison, remember he said, a prisoner of Christ, to a wealthy man named Philemon who led a church in his home. We're gonna discover that it was written about, and this is if you just read through Philemon, you're gonna see this guy named Onesimus who was a runaway slave, we're gonna see that it was written about Onesimus, a runaway slave who had evidently stolen from Philemon.
We're gonna discover that Onesimus, this runaway slave, he stole something, he runs to Rome, and by the providence of God, he meets Paul and Paul leads Onesimus, the runaway slave to Christ. Then we're gonna discover the purpose of this letter. Paul's purpose, and this is crazy, was to encourage Philemon, the small group leader, or the church pastor and wealthy business owner, he was gonna encourage Philemon to forgive Onesimus, the runaway slave and accept a slave as a brother in Christ. With a little bit of research, you're gonna go, "This is a really big deal," because you might discover in a study Bible or from watching a video on YouTube that there were about 60 million slaves in Rome at that time.
Slavery is never right, it's never been right, wasn't right then, it's not right now. That's a whole nother point, but at that time, because there were so many, if a slave owner didn't deal with a rebellious slave, the slaves might revolt. And so you'll learn with just a little bit of research that anytime a slave runs away, they would brand F on their brow, which stands for fugitivist, which we get our word fugitive. This guy would be branded. That'd be the very least thing they would do. And then sadly, and this is horrible and we hate it, but they could beat the slave or they could actually kill the slave.
So here's what Paul's gonna say. He's gonna say, "Hey, Philemon, this guy who stole from you, who escaped, who put you at risk, who embarrassed you, I want you to receive him back and treat him not as a slave, but as an equal, treat him as a brother". And so when you know that, reading Philemon, it shapes the words you're gonna see. I'm gonna show you in verse four, and you tell me, is Paul being very, very sincere or is he buttering up Philemon? I don't know, but you ask that question. Probably because of my nature, being a little bit skeptical, I think he's buttering him up. But we don't know Paul, Paul may be way more godly than I am, but I'm asking myself, "What are his motives"? And here's what we see. He says, "Philemon, I always thank God as I remember you in my prayers".
Sounds like he's buttering up, maybe he's being sincere. We don't know. "Because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ". You're so loving and you're so holy. "Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord's people," you're so loving, you're amazing. Or maybe he's just being really sincere. "I always thank God for you, my prayers. You're so loving your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement". Maybe he's just being very sincere, maybe he's buttering up. But when you understand the context, you start to ask some very real questions. So we know the context.
Then the fourth thing we're gonna do is we're gonna read slowly and we're gonna ask questions and lemme tell you what we're gonna ask. The two biggest questions we're always gonna ask of anything we're reading in the Bible is we're always gonna ask, "What does this say about God? And what is God saying to me"? If you ask anything every time, "What does this say about the character, the nature, the goodness of God? And what is God saying to me"? If you wanna go a little bit deeper, someone else came up with this, I don't know who it is, I'd give 'em credit, but it's called the speck question, S-P-E-C-K, speck. And what you can do is S, you can ask, is there a sin to be avoided? It's a good question to ask. P, you can ask, is there a promise to be claimed? This is really, really helpful.
If you wanna take out your phones to take a picture when we get all through, you can, because this can be a game changer when you're studying the Bible. E, is there an example to follow? C, is there a command to obey? And finally, K, is there something to know about God? As you're going through the text, is there a sin to be avoided? Is there a promise to be claimed? Is there an example to follow? Is there a command to obey? Is there something to know about the character, the nature, and the goodness of God? Now, since you're all gonna be back next week, I'm gonna tell you that next week, this is going to come alive to you in a way that to me is almost mind blowing.
Today, we're setting it up. Next week we're gonna come back to this and you're gonna see how studying the Bible in context, empowered by God, the Holy Spirit, can speak to you, can form you to the image of Christ, direct your steps, renew your mind, change your heart, make you more like Jesus, and literally change your life. But you gotta come back next week to get that. So let's review, we're going step by step, making it really practical. We're gonna choose a translation you understand. We're gonna choose a time, a place, and a plan to study the Bible. We're gonna seek to understand the context. We're gonna read it really slowly and ask questions.
And number five, we're gonna pray for God to speak to you and apply whatever he shows you. So that's what we're gonna do right now. God, we ask that as we continue to study your word, that you show us more about you and that you speak to us. God, I pray that even somehow in these few verses in the next few minutes, that you would speak to people in a way that would help conform them to the image of your son Jesus. We pray this in your name and everybody said, amen, amen, amen. Those online, you can type it in the comment section, amen and amen. So let's look at verses eight and 10 and see what we find out, here's what we see. "Therefore, although in Christ," watch what Paul says, he's talking to Philemon and he's gonna ask him to forgive. "I could be bold and I could order you to do what you ought to do".
Remember, I'm an apostle, I outrank you. I could tell you, but I'm not gonna do it that way. He says, "I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love". Now watch what he does and again, this is why I think he's actually, he's pulling on every heart string, watch what Paul says. He says, "It's none other than Paul, an old man". I've been serving Jesus for a long time and I may be in the end of my life, "An old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus". I've been serving God for a long time and I'm writing you from prison, I'm in prison for Christ. So maybe he's using that as a little leverage. We don't know for sure. He said it's on these terms, "I appeal to you," and watch what he calls Onesimus, "My son," "My son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains". "I led your runaway slave to Christ. And now this slave is a son in the faith to me".
This is massive because Onesimus stole from Philemon. What do we know? He runs to Rome, he meets Paul. Paul leads him to Christ and now he's saying, "I don't see him as a slave, I see him as a son". If you go a little deeper and you can just do this, you can Google the Greek language. What does it say in the Greek? And if you do that, you'll find what I call a buried treasure or an Easter egg. If you Google, what does Onesimus mean, his name. Anybody know what his name means? His name means useful or profitable. That's what the name means.
And if you read verse eight and 11 says, "Formerly he was useless to you, but now he's become useful both to you and to me". Other versions translate it as profitable. Paul is evidently using a play on words. He's taking the name Onesimus, which means useful and he's saying formerly he was useless. Now he's use useful, now he's profitable. Because I'm a little bit of a nerd and because preachers only work on Sundays, I researched some more. I like the words formerly and but now, I like the tension. Formerly there was this, but now there was that. So I looked up those words. I just like the way they sound like literally, that's it. Formerly is a Greek word ποτέ (pote). Everybody say ποτέ (pote) but now is the word "δὲ νυνὶ" (de nyni). Everybody say δὲ νυνὶ (de nyni). Now put 'em together, ποτέ δὲ νυνὶ (pote de nyni). One more time: ποτέ δὲ νυνὶ (pote de nyni).
And what I like to say in my own notes is this. You can't have the δὲ νυνὶ without the ποτέ. I could do a lot with that. Some of it would probably be embarrassing, but if we just say it that way, you can't have the δὲ νυνὶ without the ποτέ. You can't have the but now without the formerly. Formerly Onesimus was a slave, he was useless. But now because of the power and the providence of God, he's profitable. So if I'm reading this and I'm asking, "What is the nature of God and what is God saying to me"? I'm probably saying, well, your life was formerly one thing, but now God took that thing that you didn't want and made it profitable or useful.
In fact, in the margins of my Bible back years and years ago, I wrote these words right here, "Ask God, 'What,' not 'Why.'" That's what I wrote years ago. So as I'm going through this, years ago, God was speaking to me about formerly it was one thing, but now is something else. Instead of asking God, "Why is this happening," "What do you want to say to me"? And I would ask you, what is God showing you? How is God maybe using something right now that you don't want to do something in you? Or you may look back because the providence of God is like Hebrews often best read backwards. How did God use something in your past formerly, but now it's much different. For example, let's take Mandy. From this trip, it was more meaningful to me than you could ever imagined.
This was us on our plane driving out there. This was us in the gym. And then she posted this and it meant so much to me. I actually captured it because I didn't wanna forget it. She said, "The cold never bothered us anyway. Thankful for quality time with the greatest dad in history". The reason that trip was so special to me, it was because it was our last trip we had alone. Because shortly after that, Mandy got sick and has been dealing with an ongoing, very severe chronic illness. That's the formerly where she was, but now she is getting better. But to the glory of God, he's actually using her to make a difference in the lives of people all over the world because she wasn't just sick, but she actually saw herself sick, moving toward healing with a purpose.
She got to a degree in health and she started posting online. And now when I go to different places and I'm around, they might say, thank you to the church for your generosity, a free resource, or thank you for you, always thanking you, they never even mention my sermons, but they're thanking you. Or they'll say, "Would you tell Mandy," and I hear this over again, "Would you tell Mandy thank you because she helped my daughter? Thank you because she helped me," over and over and over again because God took what was formerly something that was useless and made it very, very profitable.
What does God wanna show you? You can't have the δὲ νυνὶ without the ποτέ. Next week, this will come to life. God is writing your story. Some of you, your story might change because formerly you were sick, but now by the power of the great physician, the name that is above every name, the one who can do all things, you might being healed by the power and the goodness and the glory of God. There are some of you that formerly, you might have been addicted, but now because of the grace of Jesus in your life, you have a day sober or two days sober or three days sober, and you are on your journey to a testimony of one who has overcome the power of addiction through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Or formerly you battled with depression. But now the peace and the presence of God guards your heart, your mind, and souls in Christ Jesus. And you experience a peace that goes beyond your human ability to understand.
There may be those of you that right now, your marriage is hanging by a thread. But one day your story is, formerly we were in trouble, but now we've been healed by Jesus. We are closer and stronger than we ever have been before, serving together in church, leading a life group with real spiritual depth and intimacy. And some of you, your story changes today because your story is, "Formally I was lost and formally I was broken, and formally I was ashamed. But now I've been changed by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who makes all things new". God will write your story. When will he write it? He writes your story as you read his word, as you feed on his word, his living word, his active word, his powerful word that will speak to you and guide you and protect you and empower you and guard you from temptation and renew your mind and build your faith and show you every heavenly riches that you have in Christ Jesus. Because God's Word is truth and it's the truth that will set you free.
So my question for you is this. How many of you will pick a translation You understand? Pick a time and a place, open it up, study it every day this week and come back next week and see what God starts to do? How many of you'll say yes? Once a day, a time, and a place, lift up your hands right now, lift up your hands. Online type, "I will study the word every day this week". Just type in the comment section.
And God, I ask that even starting now, our lives would be different because we're in your word.
As you keep praying today, let me tell you the story of God. "In the beginning was the word and the word was God, and the word was with God, and the word became flesh among us. Jesus is the living word of God". Who is he? He's the lamb of God, perfect in every way. If you've ever felt guilty for your sins, it's because we've all sinned against God and Jesus is the one who never sinned. Therefore, as the word says, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son Jesus, that whosoever believes in him would not perish but would have eternal life".
Wherever you're watching from today, there are those of you, it's time for new life. Your story's about to change. Formerly you were this and now you are new. Formerly you are dead in your sins, but now you've been forgiven. Wherever you're watching from today, those who need the grace of Jesus, ready to step away from the old life when you call on his name, he hears your prayers. He forgives all of your sins. He makes you brand new, he fills you with the spirit. You will never be the same, you're not here by accident, formerly you were that and now you're being saved by Jesus wherever you are, those who say, "Yes, I need Jesus. Yes, today I surrender, I give my life to him".
That's your prayer. Lift your hands high right now all over the place and say, "Yes, that's my prayer". Praise God for you and right back there and up here, oh man, others of you today say, "Yes, Jesus, I need your grace". Lift up your hands and say, "I surrender to him". Those of you online, type it in the comments section. "I'm surrendering my life to Jesus," and as you do, let's all pray aloud. Pray:
Heavenly Father, I'm coming back next week. I'm a student of your word. Forgive me of my sins. Save me. Fill me with your spirit so I could live for you. Renew my mind with your truth so I could show your love. In all I do, my life is not my own, I give it to you. Thank you for new life. You have all of mine. In Jesus' name I pray.