Being Bereans: 8 Steps for Studying Scripture

In the book of Acts during Paul’s second missionary Journey, Luke records two contrasting pictures of how someone receives and pursues the truth of God’s Word. On the one hand there are those in Thessalonica. These Jews heard Paul and only a few were persuaded. The majority rejected Paul’s teaching because they were unwilling to honesty hear what he had to say. On the other hand were the Bereans. Here’s what Luke says of them:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:11

It’s not as if these Bereans naively accepted Paul’s words without any challenge or investigation. No, they “examined the scriptures to see if these things were so.” G. Campbell Morgan expresses this well:

“It was not a quick belief that made them noble, for they were skeptical; but their skepticism was accompanied by determined anxiety to find out. The noble hearer is not the man who immediately says yes to the interpretation of the preacher. The noble hearer is the man who appeals again and again to the scriptures themselves, to find out if these things be true.”

G. Campbell Morgan

The noble Bereans set an example not just for skeptics who hear the gospel for the first time; they exemplify principles that every believer should desire. We should all desire to “examine the scriptures.”

That said, how are we to go about examining the scriptures? I want to offer 8 simple steps in examining your Bible carefully in order to get the most out of it, with the desire to know the author of the Bible deeper.

  1. Read the text—I don’t mean your 30 minute devotional each morning. No, I mean start with a book of the Bible, take one paragraph at a time, and read that paragraph over and over again. Read it, and then read it again. Read it. Pause. Reflect. And then read it again.
  2. Observe the Text—After you read the passage before you, take out a pen and interact with the words on the page. If you don’t like to write in your Bible then print the passage out on a piece of paper. Circle words that stick out to you. Underline phrases you may not understand. Notice words that repeat. Point out important connecting words like conjunctions and adverbs that connect phrases together. Exhaust with your pen everything you see in the text. By doing this you can begin to make sense of how the passage fits together.
  3. Ask the text questions—After you have observed all you can in the passage begin asking the text questions. What is this place mentioned here? What does this word mean? Why does the author use this term? How does this passage connect with what comes before and after? How does this passage fit into the larger context of the chapter; the book; the Bible? Are there people, places, words, anything that you don’t now? Right it down! What you are trying to do at this point is get to the heart of what the author intended to communicate in the words he has written down. The answers to these questions will supply the meaning of the text before you.
  4. Summarize the text—After you have attempted to answer all of the questions you will inevitably have a concoction of material before you. Now you can begin summarizing all of your material into a terse proposition. Ask yourself this question—“if I could summarize this passage in a sentence or two what would it be?” By doing this you will be able to get a grip on what the author was seeking to communicate. All of your study up to this point has been for the purpose of grasping the main idea of the passage. It is summarizing all of the details in the passage into a succinct idea.
  5. Ask a “Paul” about the text—One of my sayings is that every Christian needs a “Paul” and a “Timothy.” That is, each of us need someone to help guide us in understanding the scriptures, and we need to be guiding someone in the scriptures. Thus, after you have poured hours into your passage take all of your conclusions and discuss them with someone who is mature in their knowledge of the Bible. Articulate how you have come to your conclusions and see what wisdom they have to offer about your findings.
    Additionally, this may be a good time to consult a few good Bible Commentaries. Bible commentaries are like inviting top Bible scholars over to your house to discuss what they think about the text. As I read their comments on my passage I listen to what they say, glean insight, disagree, agree, wrestle with them, etc. All of this is helpful in me gaining understanding and clarifying the truth of the passage.
  6. Teach a “Timothy” what you have discovered in the text—Now you are ready to share what you have learned with another person. Find someone who is not as far as you are in their spiritual maturity and offer to disciple them. Take what you are learning and allow them to ask you questions. Now you can offer confident answers as you have invested much time in study. This will also allow the Bible to plant deeply in your heart. I have discovered the greatest way for the Bible to stick with me is to communicate its truth to another person. When someone else can then articulate what you have taught them you have mastered the material!
  7. Pray—It would be inappropriate for me not to mention this crucial step. Throughout the entire process you must seek the Lord in asking him to lead and guide you into all truth. Pray your whole process through. Never stop seeking the Lord’s guidance as you seek to understand the Bible’s content.
  8. Repeat—Alright, do you feel good about that passage? Now move to the next one and repeat each step above! Do this year after year, day after day, and you will grow in your knowledge of the scriptures! And like the noble Bereans you will “receive the word with eagerness!”

Striving to be a Healthy Church (Part 4)

In the last post in this series I want us to consider specifically “how” we should think about developing a healthy church. In the first two posts (here and here) have tried to argue that the main goal for every church is to “present every member of a local church mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).” In the last post (here) I shifted our thinking to Matthew 28:19-20. In this text, I suggest, is “how” the local church accomplishes the goal of presenting everyone mature in Christ. As I noted the main verb in Matthew 28:19-20, “Make disciples,” points to the central goal—maturity in Christ. But how do we go about making disciples/presenting everyone mature? Jesus offers three simple steps. 

Go!

The first thing one must do to make disciples is simply to go. Discipleship will never happen if we don’t actually go anywhere! In order to make disciples the first step involves actually going to where the people are—where the harvest is, where the lost dwell, where those who are not Christians are located! Besides, if you do so you’re in pretty good company. It was Jesus, wasn’t it, that acquired the reputation for hanging out with the outsiders, those on the fringes. Luke records for us what the religious leaders thought of him:

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:2).”

Going then, has everything to do with intentionality. It involves a desire to reach those who have never made a decision to follow Christ. It involves inviting others to follow Jesus with you. Simply put, making disciples begins with leaving our comfort zones and calling others to follow Jesus with us.

Now admittedly, this aspect of disciple-making seems embarrassingly obvious—I mean going is clearly involved in getting others to follow Christ, there’s really nothing profound about that. But we also must admit that the simplicity of this command to go in no way removes the difficulty of it. It is in the going that I believe we struggle with the most. That said, here are some practical starting points when seeking to obey Christ’ command to go:

  • Begin with your family. Do you have kids? Perhaps you have an unbelieving spouse. Maybe a close cousin has never heard the gospel. Begin sharing the gospel with them. It may be difficult to begin sharing with a complete stranger, but your family can be a great starting point to practice teaching the good news. 
  • Move to your local church context. Are there unbelievers who are attending your church? Perhaps you can invite them to a small group with other Christians. Or, invite someone for a cup of coffee, or out to lunch. 
  • Those in your community. Once you have become acquainted with sharing the gospel with those in your immediate context begin praying for opportunities to share the gospel with those in your community. Your neighbor, or co-worker. I emphasize prayer because Paul exemplifies that for us in Colossians 4:2-6. Begin praying and you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities open themselves to you. 
  • Have a heart for global missions. Finally, begin fostering a heart for global missions. Jesus says “make disciples of all nations. Begin financially supporting those who serve overseas through your local church missions. Then, begin praying to God about how you can further make an impact in areas where people have never heard the good news. 

It is the simple leap of asking folks to follow Jesus that is the toughest. We’re good at discussing the idea of going, but when it comes to actually doing it, an unusual fear begins to set in and we nervously decline the opportunity to ask the individual seeker to “follow.” Our call—our mission however, moves us beyond that fear. Because we desire above all else to follow Jesus we must desire to follow his command to go. Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” Therefore, our love for Christ overcomes our fear of going, and so we go! The first step to fulfilling Christ’ command to make disciples is to go! 

Baptize

The next step to making disciples is baptizing people. Why so? Let me offer two primary reasons:

  • Public Display: First, we must realize that in the early church baptism was the act in which identified an individual and his allegiance to the Christian faith. If one was to be baptized it was a clear message to all who saw it that they were completely embracing Jesus and his teachings while renouncing everything else. To be baptized was to identify oneself to Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 alludes to this when he says: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal(or “pledge,” as in NIV) to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Private Reality: But there’s more to baptism than just an outward display of one’s allegiance to Christ—there’s a supernatural reality that happens in the individual’s life as well. Notice what Jesus says in our text: “Baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.” The phrase “in the name (or better “into the name”)” carries a significant idea. To baptize one “into the name” means to be baptized into the all that the “name represents.” In other words when one is baptized into the name of the father son and Holy Spirit they are in essence being intimately united with the essence of that person. To be baptized into the name of the trinity therefore means that one is united in a relationship with the trinity. In order to expound this wonderful reality it may be helpful to take a quick glance at Romans 6:1-4 where Paul helps us.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Here Paul says that baptism unites us in the death and resurrection of Christ. As a result, baptism allows us to receive the benefits that come with Christ death and resurrection, namely, “to walk in the newness of life.” Baptism therefore, brings us into an intimate union with God, having removed the stain of sin that previously separated us from Him! 

So, baptism is crucial in making disciples because baptism identifies those who have publicly confessed Christ as their savior and Lord and inwardly brings each individual sinner into union with Christ! In essence, baptism is the initial time when one comes from outside of the body of Christ to inside the body of Christ. It is the front door of discipleship. Discipleship without baptism is not discipleship. 

This is precisely why church, we need to prayerfully seek folks to be baptized into Christ. Baptisms indicate that we are in fact making disciples. If there are no baptisms then there is no discipleship-making! 

Teaching

These first two steps—going and baptizing— have everything to do with what we call evangelism. This is the practice of going out to folks who have never followed Jesus and asking them to do so by initially being baptized into Christ. But there’s more. Jesus goes on to say that making disciples has to do with teaching. This is the ongoing practice of the church. We never stop teaching. 

But what do we teach? Well Jesus says teach them “to observe everything I have commanded you.” That’s pretty simple. Basically, we are to teach people to be like Jesus—both by the what we say and by how we live. This is the heart of discipleship. And I believe it is appropriate to say that this idea of teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded extends to teaching each other the whole of the Bible. The OT points to Jesus, the NT reveals Jesus. In it’s entirety the Bible is Jesus! It tells us how to live and act and think like Jesus. 

And may I add, that this does not mean that making disciples requires a Masters in Theology. All that is required is sharing the truth of God’s word as you grow in it with others who have yet discovered that truth for themselves!  It’s being intentional. Grabbing a new Christian and simply meeting with them on a regular basis and pouring into their lives all that you are learning in your own growth in Christ! 

The Ongoing Cycle

So, making disciples is Christ great mission for the church. Here’s the bottom line: the main mission of disciples of Christ is to make more disciples of Christ! And making disciples is simply going, baptizing, and teaching. And that’s really the flow and life-cycle of the church. SonRise this is really all we need to concentrate our efforts on. There needs to be a constant cycle of going out, baptizing, and ongoingly teaching others about Christ.  And in order to keep the cycle going we must all constantly be motivated to go back out and reach new individuals for Christ. If we stop going, then we are simply discipling the same faces every day. That unfortunately turns Christ great commission into the great omission. 

The Hopeful Promise

 As I come to a close may I add a final word of hope for anyone feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by the idea of making disciples. For you who really desire to make disciples but feel inadequate or unqualified. Take a quick glance at the final verse in our text: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Those final words from Jesus prove why in fact we can actually accomplish this. Jesus, the one with all authority in heaven and on earth will be with us every step of the way! And He is. After Jesus descended into Heaven he left us with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit guides, directs, and empowers us to fulfill Christ’ command to make disciples of all nations! Two passages that I’ll leave you with:

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (12 Timothy 1:7).

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21). 

Belong before you believe, or believe before you belong?

Some of our leaders recently visited a local church holding a seminar on how to welcome new visitors. The practical advice and suggestions were all very helpful, but there was a phrase that caught our attention. During the seminar the speaker made a case for allowing non-members to serve in various ministries. The understanding seemed to be that if one gets plugged into the church they are more likely to return for subsequent Sundays. The hope was that eventually said person would come to know Jesus through exposure to other Christians, and eventually place their membership with the church. The speaker summarized this ministerial philosophy with the slogan, “belong before you believe.” In other words, whether one is a Christian, or simply a seeker there are no practical “lines in the sand” so to speak.

I get the heart and logic behind this statement, but I wonder if it’s biblical. It sounds pious but it may be missing the mark. It is definitely more pragmatic and yields immediate results, but is it the most healthy pursuit? Should we not call people to “believe before you belong?” Didn’t Jesus live out this philosophy? Some will reply—“Yeah but Jesus was accused for hanging out with drunks, prostitutes, and the unclean!” True, but we must ask ourselves—did Jesus hang around these people arbitrarily without any call for a change of lifestyle? Or did Jesus hang around these people for the sole purpose of calling them to “repent for the Kingdom is at hand?”

  • It was Jesus, was it not, who told the rich man to sell all of his possessions and give it to the poor before being allowed in the Kingdom (Matthew 19).
  • It was Jesus who said to the man who requested he bury his father before following Jesus, “let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8).”
  • It was Jesus who said the road to eternal life was narrow and few would find it (Matthew 7).
  • It was Jesus who said that in order to follow him you would have to love him more than your entire family (Matthew 10).
  • It was Jesus who said that one would have to deny themselves, and  take up their cross in order to follow him (Matthew 16).

In other words, have we as a church become so obsessed with attracting people into our community that we have neglected to set any standard by which one can come in? Perhaps instead of leaving the front doors of the church wide open and the back doors closed it should be the other way around.

How Making Jesus your King Can Send you to Hell.

I was struck this past week, as I was preparing for my sermon on Jesus’ feeding of the Five Thousand, by a phrase in John chapter 6:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves (John 6:26, ESV).”

In the context of John’s rendition we discover that after Jesus performs the miracle of feeding a conservative estimate of 15,000 people with five loaves and two fish, the crowds are so amazed of what they experience they try to take Jesus by force and make him their King (see John 6:15). On the surface it seems fantastic; this is Jesus’ climactic opportunity to be exalted as King and Messiah. Yet, we read that Jesus perceiving this is what they were intending to do, withdrew….why?

We discover the answer in that most provocative verse above. Jesus reveals the true intentions of the crowd—they wanted Jesus for the bread of the flesh, not the bread of life! Rather than desiring a devotional allegiance to Jesus they merely wanted Jesus for what he could give, namely their physical security.

In fact, as the texts unfolds in the rest of John 6 Jesus begins to spell out exactly what type of attitude he desires:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35).

In response to this radical call of devotion the crowds are taken back, and are not that sold on such a bizarre invitation. They are after all just wanting Jesus for his ability to feed their bellies, and perhaps heal them when they are sick. So radical was Jesus’ invitation to feed on him rather than mere physical bread, that it compelled the majority of those who claimed to be his disciples to no longer follow after him. This enormous crowd who moments earlier desired to make him their kind had now wanted nothing to do with him…

As I reflect on the massive implications of this compelling story I can’t help but wonder if this reaction is prevalent in today’s culture. Could it be that many who claim to want Jesus as their King really just desire him for what he can do for them, rather than wanting Jesus Himself? I wonder if some of us carry Jesus around, and only find him useful when he benefits our physical and emotional needs? Could it be that some of us really don’t want Jesus, but rather only want what he can give us? Could we be in danger of acting like the crowds and only wanting him because he has bread?! Is it Jesus that we want or just the benefits that come with carrying the name “Christian?” These are admittedly penetrating questions, but questions I think every serious Christian should ponder.

The irony however, is that while the crowds desired only the physical bread, it was Jesus himself that provided “everlasting satisfaction!” Jesus said “I am the bread of life!” Oh how I hope to always desire the bread of life over the bread of man! Take my friends, but give me Jesus! Take my family but give me Jesus!Take my life but Give me Jesus! As the songwriter puts it “when I come to die, give me Jesus. You can have all this world but give me Jesus!”

It’s no wonder we find these words from Jesus:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10, NLT).

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).