bible-reader

1 Timothy 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

Our taking in and applying accurate knowledge of God’s Word can lead to eternal life. (John 17:3) Therefore, all Christian should realize just how important it is to read, study, and apply the Holy Scriptures, as well as Bible study literature. In fact, hundreds of millions of Christians today are blessed with Bible study tools unlike any previous generation. From the moment we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are also accepting the command to proclaim, exhort, to teach the Scriptures, so as to make disciples. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8) On 1 Timothy 4:13 Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin write,

4:13 A second emphasis Paul wanted Timothy to make involves proclaiming God’s message. Until Paul arrived back on the scene, Timothy was to apply himself to reading, preaching, and teaching. The very brevity of these instructions indicates their genuineness. If these words had come from the second century, the list would have been longer and would have included some reference to the ordinances. Some interpreters see these instructions as a model for public worship patterned after the synagogue. Fee points out that public worship also included prayers (2:1–7), singing (cf. the hymn in 1 Tim 3:16), words of testimony (1 Cor 14:26), and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17–34). Public worship was much more than reading, praying, and teaching. These instructions are not merely a pattern for worship, but they present a positive method of opposing false teaching.

“Reading” refers to the public reading of Scripture. Scripture included at least the Old Testament, but it may have referred also to the rapidly growing collection of New Testament writings (see 2 Pet 3:16). The command to read would presuppose a wise selection of passages for reading and an alertness to guard against the reading of suspicious or erroneous words. At a time when believers lacked personal copies of God’s Word, such a practice was essential to promote knowledge of the divine message. “Preaching” includes moral instruction that appeals to the will (e.g., Acts 13:15). “Teaching” makes an appeal to the intellect and informs listeners about the truths of the Christian faith. (See Rom 12:7–8, where Paul mentioned teaching and encouraging together.)[1]

how-to-study-your-bible1There is a pleasure, a genuine happiness, a contentment, and joy, which come from reading, studying, and applying God’s Word. This is true because the Scriptures offer us guidance and direction that aids us in living a life that coincides with our existence as a creation of Almighty God. For example, we have a moral law that was written on our heart. (Rom. 2:14-15) However, at the same time, we have warring against the law of our mind and taking us captive in the law of sin which is in our members. (Rom. 7:21-25) When we live by the moral law, it brings us joy, when we live by the law of sin; it brings about distress, anxiety, regret to both mind and heart, creating a conflict between our two natures. Listen to the apostle Paul,

The Conflict of Two Natures

Romans 7:14-25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if what I am not willing to do, this I am doing, I agree that the law is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the desire is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if what I do not want to do, this I am doing, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21 I find then the law in me that when I want to do right, that evil is present in me. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive in the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin.

7:14–17. Paul begins his shift in emphasis from the past tense to the present tense in this verse. In this entire section (7:14–25), he says the same thing in several different ways (it is sin living in me, v. 17; “it is sin living in me,” v. 20; “the law of sin at work within my members,” v. 23). Like a prism, he splits a ray of truth into its component parts, allowing the whole to be seen in light of its parts. If Paul’s point in this section were to be summarized in one verse, Galatians 5:17 would likely be it: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” As we have already seen, the Spirit is absent from this discussion save for the reference in verse 6 where Paul contrasts the era of the written code with the new way of the Spirit. That conflict continues to be his theme in the remainder of Romans 7.

At the outset, it must be noted that, just as the debate was joined in 7:7–13 concerning the identity of the “I” in those verses, so the debate rages on here. The primary thorn in the flesh of interpreters is verse 14 itself, where Paul says he is unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. After all, was not the point of Romans 6 to say that the believers “used to be slaves to sin” but were now “slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17–18)? Verse 14, along with verses 18 and 24, make it difficult for many to believe that Paul is describing his experience as normative for the Christian life.

Some interpreters (e.g., Stott, pp. 209–211) see Paul writing as a believer, but as an Old Testament, or pre-Pentecost, believer who does not have the benefit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. Still others reject the notion that Paul is writing from the perspective of spiritual regeneration; that 7:14–25 describes the experience of an unregenerate person (e.g., Moo, pp. 445–451).

Appealing once again to the plainness of Scripture, it is entirely credible to take Paul’s words at face value in describing his present Christian experience (and thus what is likely to be the experience of all believers). The key to understanding Paul’s perspective is the ability to hold in tension seemingly conflicting points of view in the present eschatological age in which we live. What is true positionally for the believer may not always be true practically in his or her experience. Seemingly, if we are no longer slaves to sin, we would never sin again; perfectionism would be achieved.

But in all the times when Paul chastised sinning believers such as the Corinthians and the Galatians, he never accused them of not being Christians. He called them weak, immature, childish, but not unregenerate. Paul understood the tension between positional truth and practical expression. Thus, in his own life, he could bemoan the intense realization of the pull of sin and its constant assault on the members of his body and its use of the law to provoke him to sin, while at the same time confess that “in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (v. 22). No unbeliever delights in God’s law. According to Paul, unbelievers view God’s truth as foolishness, not a source of delight (1 Cor. 1:18–27; 2:14).

Consistent with Jewish thought, Christian eschatology recognizes that the present age is not the age to come; there is a difference between the two (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:21; 1 Tim. 4:8; Titus 2:12). One does not begin when the other ends; rather, they overlap. George E. Ladd’s writings on the kingdom of God best illuminate the “tension” in which we now live (see, e.g., his The Gospel of the Kingdom, 1959, esp. ch. 2). The inclusion of the kingdom of God into the kingdom of Satan vis-à-vis the ministry of Jesus has created conflicting kingdoms for a period of time until the kingdom of God is consummated and fills the earth. It is the conflicting period of time that accounts for the tension between the desire to do right and the temptation to do wrong. We do not achieve on earth the perfection we will enjoy in heaven.

Romans 6, 7, and 8 should not be viewed in a linear fashion, as if the believer moves from one to the other.

Rather, all are true for the believer, all the time (except for Rom. 7:7–13, which pictures the preconversion person’s relationship with the law). And they take place in the tense period of overlap illustrated below:

During this period of overlap, the believer occupies a position described by C. K. Barrett:

It is of the essence of Christian life that men are simul justi, simul peccatores, at the same time righteous and sinners. They are righteous in Christ, sinners in themselves (or, in Adam). Because Christ is now hidden from men’s eyes in heaven until his parousia [presence, second coming], the holiness and righteousness of Christians, which are not their own but his, are hidden, and the body of sin is all too clearly visible.… [The believer] is, and he is not, free from sin; he lives, and he does not live, for God; he is at the same time a righteous man and a sinner. This ambiguous personal position reflects the eschatological situation. The Age to Come has dawned, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; but the present age has not passed. The two exist uneasily side by side, and Christians still look earnestly for the redemption of the body (8:23), knowing that they have been saved in hope (8:24). (Barrett, pp. 120–121, 142–143)

Paul had been a Christian approximately twenty-five years when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Why do we think that Paul should have walked in perfection, or even in victory, every moment of his own spiritual experience? Remember, he had no one to lean on and learn from. How long would it have taken him to make the radical transformation from living life under the law to living life under grace (Rom. 6:14)?

Throughout his apostolic ministry, Paul was painting a picture of the dawning of a new age while trying to sit back and enjoy the sunrise himself. Who does not know mature believers today who continue to wrestle with sin and identify with Paul’s experience, while at the same time remaining submitted to the Holy Spirit in their life? Rather than being a picture of an unbeliever, Romans 7:14–25, together with Romans 8, pictures the believer who has been positionally delivered from the law but who, experientially, lives in the tension of the “now but not yet.”

It probably is true that in the lives of most earnest Christians the two conditions Paul described [the struggle of Romans 7 and the victory of Romans 8] exist in a sort of cyclical advance. Recognition of our inability to live up to our deepest spiritual longings (ch. 7) leads us to cast ourselves upon God’s Spirit for power and victory (ch. 8). Failure to continue in reliance upon the power of the Spirit places us once again in a position inviting defeat. Sanctification is a gradual process that repeatedly takes the believer through this recurring sequence of failure through dependency upon self to triumph through the indwelling Spirit. (Mounce, pp. 167–168)

And it is not just with regard to the law that we find this tension. Anders Nygren has noted the consistency of tension in describing sanctification all the way through chapters 6 through 8 of Romans (noted by Mounce, p. 168). We can illustrate it this way:

 

 

We are …

 

Yet we …

 

Romans 6

 

free from sin

 

must battle against sin

 

Romans 7

 

free from the law

 

are not free from its criteria for righteousness

 

Romans 8

 

free from death

 

long for the redemption of the body

Seeing the tension that exists in all realms of our sanctification makes the second half of Romans 7 easier to understand. The first contrast Paul draws between himself and the law is that the law is spiritual (good, holy, righteous) but that he is unspiritual. When he looks at the law and sees that it contains what he should do, and then looks at himself doing what he does not do, he does not understand. That is more a statement of consternation than confusion, for Paul clearly understands: it is no longer I myself who [does the opposite of the law], but it is sin living in me. Does Paul have to commit the sin that the law sets before him vis-à-vis its commands? No—he has been rescued from the obligation to obey sin and disobey the law, as he will testify in verses 24–25. But the conflict is there, and it presents itself in two ways.

7:18–20. First, Paul does what is not desired, “those things which [he] ought not to have done” in the words of the Anglican confession. When Paul says, What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing, his words must be measured against his life for interpretation. Had Paul not done much that he desired to do in obedience to Jesus Christ? Had he not suffered greatly for the sake of the spread of the gospel, nearly losing his life on more than one occasion? Certainly there is evidence that Paul did much of what he wanted to do. What then of his words?

He is speaking of the sinful capacity that lives in him still. If it were up to Paul (or to us), we would do only what the law wants us to do. Yet we keep on doing the opposite. Paul does not mean that he does only evil, or that he does more evil than good, but that the conflict with evil is one that keeps on (present active indicative of prasso). The lure of sin is not dead though we have died to it. It will not die during “this present age” until we die physically. Only in “the age to come” will we be free from doing those things which we ought not to do.

Not only does Paul do what is not desired; he does not do what is desired.

7:21–23. Here Paul uses the law motif to illustrate from another angle the conflict he experiences. Two laws are mentioned: the law of my mind (his desire to obey God’s law), and the law of sin (that which wars against the law of his mind). He states a principle by which these two laws conflict with one another: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. All of us can identify with the apostle’s succinct summary of the spiritual experience.

Not only Paul, but all believers, have “left undone those things which we ought to have done.” And as the Anglican confession rightly concludes (“there is no health in us”), Paul is about to explode with his own spiritual diagnosis.

One of the results of the gospel is that it delivers us from the condemnation of the law. “Of what use then is the Law? To lead us to Christ, the Truth—to waken in our minds a sense of what our deepest nature, the presence, namely, of God in us, requires of us—to let us know, in part by failure, that the purest efforts of will of which we are capable cannot lift us up even to the abstaining from wrong to our neighbor” (George MacDonald, in Lewis, p. 20).

The law did its perfect work in the apostle Paul, reviving his soul (Ps. 19:7a). It convicted him of his sin and showed him that the only deliverance for him was Jesus Christ. No wonder Paul could call the law a “tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24, NASB). That is exactly what the law did for him. Once delivered from the law, Paul was able to serve the ends of the law—righteousness—in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:6).

Paul summarizes the entire chapter—the conflict of the believer that causes him or her to remain dependent upon the Spirit—in the final verse. When it is Paul the believer talking, he makes himself a slave to God’s law. But when his sinful capacity speaks out, he is a slave to the law of sin. As mentioned in this chapter earlier, it is a shame that chapter divisions in our Bibles cause us to “stop” at certain points in the consideration of the text. While this is a logical point in the flow of Paul’s thought for a pause, Romans 7 and 8 should be read together. Immediately, Paul moves from wretchedness to victory in declaring that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set him “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). The gospel is indeed good news, delivering the believer from death by law to life by grace through the Spirit.[2]

The apostle John informs Christians just how blessed they are if they are reading, studying and applying God’s Word. He writes, “Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3) There is a “special blessing to the reader and to the ones hearing and complying with the moral and ethical standards to be advocated in the following chapters’ words.”[3] Yes, we need to read, study, and apply the words of all forty plus Bible authors in their sixty-six books that reveal the will and purposes of the Father. (Matt. 7:21-23; 1 John 2:15-17) Listen to the words of the Psalmist,

The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

Blessed is the man     who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners,     nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of Jehovah,     and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree     planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,     and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

1:1 The commendation is expressed in the opening words, blessed is the man. The term “blessed” does not imply that God has bestowed some particular favor; a different Hebrew term is used to indicate that. Rather, it means that the person has so conducted himself that a condition of blessedness has resulted. “Oh, the happiness that man experiences,” the psalmist is saying. And it is a happiness that is very definitely related to conduct. The good life is attractive and brings real, not superficial, happiness.

The source of this happiness is twofold. First, it lies in the avoidance of all of the ways of the wicked. There are some things that a righteous man, a wise man, will not do. (He) does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, refusing to adopt their hedonistic philosophy or to be taken in by their devious casuistry.

The wicked are the godless. Isaiah says that they “are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud,” adding, “ ‘there is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’ ” (Isa 57:20–21). Or stand in the way of sinners. Note the progression—“walks, stands, sits.” That is the nature of involvement in sin. One begins by tuning in on evil counsel. He next ventures an occasional indulgence, in the presence of bad company, even if it means a violation of his conscience. Then, before he realizes it, his life is cast in the new mold; and the change has been so complete that he has become one of that circle who take delight in sneering at goodness and ridiculing religion. The righteous man habitually shunned all of this. The verbs, in the Hebrew, are perfect (completed action), indicating with the negatives what, all the while, he has never done, i.e., “who has never walked.”

1:2 The state of blessedness or happiness in life finds its source more in what a person does than in what he refrains from doing. The wise man refuses to walk in the way of evil, not because he is bound by an oversensitive conscience but because he has chosen to walk a better way. When it is a matter of choice between the counsel of the wicked and the way of the Lord, for him it is no contest. He chooses the latter. To him the law of the Lord is not a burden to be borne, nor even an obligation to be met, but a delight to be enjoyed. It is a gift from the Creator of life providing instruction on how best to live in such a way as to find fullness of life and, consequently, happiness. In a word, happiness is not found by searching for it, not an achievement of the will; happiness is doing what is right. And God has revealed what right is. Any of us who ignores God’s direction does so at great peril, for the law of the Lord alone gives meaning and direction to human existence. To abandon the Scriptures is to be left adrift on the sea of life without chart or compass.

On his law he meditates. The purpose of such concern for God’s law is indicated in Josh 1:8—“that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” The delight lies in doing the will of God, not just in knowing it. Thus Jesus would say: “Blessed rather are [Oh, the happiness to them!] those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

1:3 To indicate what it is like to walk in the way of God, the psalmist uses the figure of a luxurious tree planted by streams of water. The tree, thus situated, is enabled to do what is natural to it; which yields its fruit in season. Just so, vitality and fruitfulness are characteristics of the life of righteousness, not as a reward or enticement, but as a natural consequence of such a life. In bearing fruit, the tree is fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. The man of wisdom is doing the same, finding his purpose in life and life’s fulfillment in doing the will of God.

Whatever he does prospers. This statement appears to be a categorical assertion to the effect that the righteous man will never experience any reverses. However, human experience says the contrary (consider Job, for example), and elsewhere the Psalms deal with the suffering of the righteous. Dahood proposes an alternate translation: “Whatever it (the tree) produces is good.” On the basis of the Hebrew text, this is possible. Charles A. Briggs and others translate: “So all that he doeth, he carries through successfully”7—or to a successful outcome—meaning that whatever he does will result in good. A righteous man, like a good tree, will bear good fruit. God’s law of the harvest is immutable.[4]

Active Thinking and Meditation

How can we get the most out of our reading of God’s Word and the overabundance of Bible study tools available today? First, not all Bible study tools are created equal. Second, each Bible verse has but one meaning, which is what the author meant by the words that he used. It is best if we have at least a fundamental understanding of how to interpret the Scriptures ourselves.[5] This way, we are able to see if a Bible scholar is going beyond what the Bible author intended, or worse still, concealing what the Bible author meant to convey. It is also imperative that we trust only literal translations to be the Word of God (ASV, ESV, NASB, and the UASV). An interpretive translation (CEV, NLT, NIV, NRSV and the like), is nothing more than what the translator or committee believe the Bible author meant by the words that he used. On the other hand, the literal translation is what the Bible author said in our modern day languages.

Moreover, not all Bible commentaries and encyclopedias are to be absolutely trusted either. We have over 40,000 different Christian denominations that believe that they are the truth and the way. Is the “truth” important? Yes, very much so, the Father describes himself as “the God of truth.” (Psa. 31:5) He judges according to truth. (Rom. 2:2; compare John 7:24) In his Word, the Father has given just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments. (Neh. 9:13; Psa. 19:9; 119:142, 151, 160) God’s Word is truth and only one absolute truth. (John 17:17; compare James 1:18) It is our job to ascertain that truth. Those who desire to have a righteous standing before God should walk in his truth and serve him in truth. (Josh. 24:14; 1 Sam. 12:24; Psa. 25:4, 5; 26:3-6; 43:3; 86:11; Isa. 38:3) Just know that there are multiple views on every Bible doctrine.

While God will not miraculously implant biblical truths within our minds, he will guide us if we are receptive to what is true. Let us follow in the footsteps of Joshua, who lead the Israelites after their trek through the wilderness. He was told, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Josh. 1:7-8) On these verse Max Anders and Kenneth Gangel writes,

1:7-8. At the center of Joshua’s faith would be the Word of God, this Book of the Law. The word meditate could be rendered “mutter.” As Madvig puts it, “When one continually mutters God’s Word to himself, he is constantly thinking about it. Knowledge of God’s law is not enough; one must also ‘be careful to do’ what it commands” (Madvig, 257). Most scholars believe this refers to some portion of the Levitical law already held by the priests. Certainly the Ten Commandments would be a part of it, but the reference would spread far beyond those boundaries. Joshua would receive direct revelation and was in that exact mode while God talked to him, but that didn’t change the importance of the written word.

I like the way Francis Schaeffer puts it:

But though Joshua was going to have this special leading from the Lord, this was not to detract from the central reference point and chief control: the written book. The Word of God written in the book set the limitations. Thus, Joshua was already functioning in the way Bible-believing Christians function. Sometimes God does lead in other ways, but such leading must always be within the circle of his external, propositional commands in Scripture. Even if a person had an Urim and a Thummin as well as a priest to guide him, this would not change his basic authority. The primary leading would come from the written, propositional revelation of God, from the Bible (Schaeffer, 32).

Much has been made of the word successful that appears in verses 7 and 8, and also the word prosperous to which it attaches at the end of verse 8. It should be obvious to any serious Bible student that financial achievement is not in view here. The so-called “prosperity gospel” cannot be argued from any portion of God’s Word and certainly not from these verses in the first chapter of Joshua. Success and prosperity come when a person follows God’s will, obeys God’s Word, and achieves God’s goal, not when the offerings are greater this year than they were last year at this time.

God never forces us to live a victorious Christian life. He teaches and promises and provides principles. But if we fail to cross the river and possess the land, we will remain in a spiritual desert. God is not looking for people with self-confidence but people with God-confidence.

Joshua understood how important the principles of the law are to God. The Lord didn’t just airmail the stone tablets to Israel on a windstorm; he met personally with their leader. Exodus 24 tells us that Joshua was the only other person on that mountain with Moses that day. We don’t know how close he was to the glory cloud, but it must have been an awesome experience. What looked like consuming fire on top of the mountain engulfed Moses for forty days and nights while he met with God. Joshua was the first to see the glow of God’s glory on Moses’ face and the first to see the stones etched by the finger of God.

My son Jeff coaches a recreational department boy’s basketball team. Half the boys who play have never participated in organized basketball before, so Jeff works hard to build their confidence. He does that by reminding them to remember what they learn and do in practice when they get into a game. If they follow the basic rules and remember the basic skills, they can play well.

In simple terms, this is what God said to Joshua and what he says to us: “Get back to the basics. Remember the rules. Learn the law. Practice the principles.”

The problem is that sometimes we become like those little boys. We get out on the basketball court of life where referees blow whistles and people in different colored shirts try to take the ball away, and we lose our confidence and composure. Then we discover that every time we forget God’s promises and principles we end up in chaos.[6]

An important note to keep in mind is; we are not interested in speed, i.e., seeing how fast we can cover God’s Word. If we have set a period of time to read and study the Bible, do not fret over covering a lot of material, but rather we will want to take our time. Keep in mind that we are studying so as to draw close to God as we make changes in our lives, to help us affect changes in our family and congregation life, to evangelize and help save the lives of other, and finally, to help save some who may have begun to doubt. At times, we may become bogged down in a verse that is difficult and complex and it may require extra attention, to get at what the author meant. As we work our way through this publication, take note of the commentaries that are used throughout and how they offer us depth in understanding. As we read and study, consider things actively. Analyze what the Bible or person in the Bible is saying, ‘what is there point,’ or how can I use this in my life or share this information with another? As the author of the book of proverbs says, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer.” (Proverbs 15:28)

Questions for Mediation

  • How does our happiness depend on how much we put into our study of God’s Word?
  • Why is it important that we meditate on what we read and study?
  • Why should we use association and visualization when reading the Scriptures?
  • For what four reads are we reading and studying God’s Word?

INTRODUCTION Maintaining a Secure Hold That the Is the Word of God

Joshua 23:14-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which Jehovah your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed. 15 But just as all the good promises that Jehovah your God has spoken to you have come upon you, so Jehovah will bring upon you all the calamity that he promised and will annihilate you from this good land that Jehovah your God has given you. 16 If you transgress the covenant of Jehovah your God that he commanded you and you go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of Jehovah will blaze against you and you will quickly perish from the good land that he has given you.”

The above is the reminder that the aged Joshua gave to the leaders of Israel, who would take over guiding Israel in the Promised Land. However, as we well know from the book of Judges, they did not heed this wise counsel to rad, study and apply God’s Word. How did things turn out for them? Just as the good promises of God came true, so too the calamity that he promised of annihilating the Israelites from the good land came true as well. Why is this ancient history from 3,500 years ago important? The apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) We certainly do not want to do anything that would result in our forfeiting our hope. Now, let us use a commentary to get a deeper look at Joshua’s words and those from the apostle Paul.

Joshua 23:14-16

23:14 Joshua indicated that he was about to die soon (lit., “today”). His words—“I am about to go the way of all the earth”—were also spoken by David to his son Solomon when he was about to die (1 Kgs 2:2). The passion with which they were to regard the Lord is indicated by the phrase “with all your heart and soul,” an expression used in Deut 6:5 to indicate the passion with which the Israelites were to love him (cf. the link to Deut. 6:5 in v. 11). Not only were they to love him in this manner, they were also to know with the same degree of certainty that his promises did come to pass. The repeated affirmations that God’s promises were fulfilled highlights an important motif in the book, and they pick up most specifically on the similar statement in 21:45 (cf. also 22:4).

23:15–16 Joshua’s logic as he concluded his speech was that, just as surely as the Lord’s promises had come true for Israel’s good, so also his swift and devastating punishment would come upon the Israelites if they violated the covenant. God’s anger would burn (rh) against his people, and, indeed, this did happen many times in Israel’s history. Whenever the Lord’s anger burned against his people, they suffered, usually at the hands of a foreign enemy. The following passages are typical: (1) “The anger of the Lord burned [rh] against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years” (Judg 3:8); (2) “He became angry with them [lit., “the anger of the Lord burned (rh) against them”]. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites” (Judg 10:7); (3) “So the Lord’s anger burned [rh] against Israel, and for a long time he kept them under the power of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-Hadad his son” (2 Kgs 13:3). In Joshua, this had already happened once previously (7:1: “So the Lord’s anger burned [rh] against Israel”), and the results had been devastating.

This time, however, the results would be even more devastating. Joshua promised Israel that they would perish from the good land in which they lived if they forsook the Lord (cf. also v. 13). The land belonged to God, and it was his to give and his to take away. This promise saw its dramatic fulfillment when Judah was carried into Babylonian captivity because of its repeated transgression of the covenant (2 Kings 25). In this way, too, God’s promises came to pass: if his people obeyed him, they enjoyed great blessing; but if they disobeyed him, they would suffer great calamity. God displayed remarkable patience, suffering through centuries of his people’s covenant violations and disobedience. He repeatedly sent foreign oppressors to punish and prophets to warn, until the time came when his patience reached an end, and he sent them into exile.[7]

Romans 15:14-16

15:14–16 Although Paul had never visited or ministered to the Christian congregation in Rome, he was confident that they were a healthy church (chap. 16 reveals that he knew a number of them personally). Morally, they were “full of goodness,” intellectually they were “complete in knowledge,” and functionally they were “competent to instruct one another.”2 Williams says they were “competent to counsel.” The believers in Rome were expected to help one another toward spiritual maturity. They were to advise and instruct one another.3 None were so wise that they had nothing more to learn, and none were so inept that they had nothing of value to share. Spiritual insight is by no means the sole prerogative of those with high intelligence.

Paul reflected that in parts of his epistle he had written rather boldly (v. 15). It was his way of refreshing their memory regarding certain basic tenets of the Christian faith they had previously learned. Paul did not pretend to be bringing them theological insights they never had heard. His tone was courteous. His letter to the church in Rome was in keeping with his role as the Apostle to the Gentiles (cf. 11:13; Gal 2:8). Paul’s service as a priest of Christ Jesus was to proclaim the gospel of God. Using the language of religious ceremony, he pictured his role as that of a priest bringing an offering to God. The offering consisted of believing Gentiles who had been sanctified by the Holy Spirit (cf. Phil 2:17 for another example of liturgical metaphor).[8]

While we may say Paul said this, Peter wrote that, and the like, we must remember that God is the actual author of the Bible and he used men to pen it. Paul was moved along by Holy Spirit to tell us “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Peter was moved along by Holy Spirit to tell us “for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Pet. 1:21) Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, saying, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also is at work in you who believe.” (1 Thess. 2:13) Once a Christian is truly convinced of the above, they will pay heed to it and to build their lives around what it contains.

How Can We Help Unbelievers to Appreciate it?

If we have come to accept the above as being true, it is likely that that same Holy Spirit moves us, to share what we have learned from God’s Word. Sadly, though, many to whom we evangelize do not share our conviction that the Bible really is the Word of God. Some might even be relatives, persons that we certainly want to help find the path of salvation. (Matt. 7:13-14) How can we help them? Certainly, we must do so by having a deep knowledge of Scripture ourselves. We need to be familiar with the history of the entire Bible, who the persons within are, what they have done and said, why the Bible authors said what they have, and what they meant by their words. This is why we need a regular Bible reading and commentary study program. We also need to be familiar with the many Bible difficulties within the Bible.[9] This takes time but not as much as one might suspect. If we were to study just a half hour per days, seven days a week, we would be quite surprised at how much will have been accomplished after just one year. It is imperative that we being consistent. We cannot be on again, off again about our studies. When we share the Word, we should share directly from it, as “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) The Bible will reveal the true heart condition of the one we are sharing it with, and we have to be prepared to move on if we note that he or she is unreceptive, having a closed heart and mind. However, we share Bible truths with gentleness and respect, so that if any life event should alter this one’s heart condition, he or she will give the Word of God another hearing. The Bible’s influence is far more powerful than anything that we personally might say. The Psalmist tells us,

Psalm 119:130 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

130 The unfolding of your words gives light;     it gives understanding to the simple.

The compassion for God’s word in this psalm by its author is unquestionable. He says: Your statutes are wonderful (פְּלָאוֹת, pəlā˒ôth, “miracles”) (v. 129a). The unfolding of your words gives light (v. 130a). The “unfolding” (פֵּתַח, pētha, “opening, entrance”) of God’s words is like the opening of a door (the temple doors?) that causes light from inside to enlighten the mind of the “open-minded” (simple). Indeed, he prays: Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees (v. 135, cp. Num 6:25). The psalmist cannot get enough of God’s word. He pants like a deer: I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands (v. 131, cp. Ps 42:1, 2).[10]

However, what are we to do if a person says, ‘I don’t believe in the Bible’? Should we take this to mean that he or she has a closed heart or mind? No, not initially, if they are willing to reason. This is why we need to be prepared to offer an answer at the right time. Have any ever watched a YouTube video where a Christian is trying to witness to an unbeliever and the unbeliever is making the Christian look foolish? This is because that Christian was not skilled in the art of conversation, teaching, and reasoning from the Scriptures.[11] Sadly, our churches are not teaching these things at this time. However, just because the churches have fallen down on their responsibilities, this does not mean that we will not be held accountable for failing to carry out Jesus command to proclaim the Word, teach, and make disciples. (Matt. 24:14; 28:1-20; Ac 1:8) It may be that this person has seen the hypocrisy within the church and has been turned off by it.[12] It may be that, he has read a book, which undermines the Bible as the Word of God.[13] We can start by digging a little deeper, asking, ‘May I ask what there is in the Bible that you find hard to accept?’

In some cases, we can be grateful that a number of people will accept straightforward evidence that the Bible is the inspired, fully inerrant, authoritative Word of God, simply because the Bible says this about itself. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rev. 1:1) In addition, they accept the fact that the Bible has scores of prophecies that were uttered hundreds of years in advance and came true just as foretold. Therefore, the Bible must have come from a superhuman source. (2 Pet. 1:20-21; Isa. 42:9) Then, when one considers the odds of forty men penning sixty-six books over a sixteen hundred year period, evidencing complete harmony, it comes across as impossible without supernatural intervention. There are numerous places where the Bible is, scientifically accurate about things centuries before science ever established them as being true. Even the candor of the Bible authors is confirmation of its authors being moved along by Holy Spirit, who had no problem exposing their own sins, something that was and is not common in writings. Generally, it is the other way; an author tends to cover up their shortcomings and boast of exploits that never took place. Lastly, there is the long history of leaders and world powers trying to wipe out the Bible and its influence, eve its false friend Catholicism, with its keeping the Bible locked up in Latin, a dead language, for centuries, so the common man could not read it. Yet, it is the most produced book beyond any other.

Personal Bible Reading and Study

There has long been a trend for pastors and religious leaders to recommend a one-year Bible reading program, which we would not recommend for the serious student of God’s Word. At best, a one-year reading program will help its reader to know a few Bible stories, and introduce them to a few Bible characters. Instead, we recommend a five-year Bible reading program. With this Bible reading program, the reader will know far more of the Bible stories, the background behind those stories, what the author actually meant by what he wrote, and be able to explain hundreds of Bible difficulties[14] that exist from Genesis to Revelation. The student in this program will gain far more than this. Focus on verse 2 in the Psalm below.

Psalm 1:1-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

Blessed is the man     who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners,     nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of Jehovah,     and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree     planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,     and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

We should begin every study by thanking God for his Word, the Bible, and his helping us to understand it. We may read the Bible from cover to cover fifty times in our life, each time taking one year, which will give us a very basic understanding of the Bible stories and accounts within it. However, we not only want to know what is in it, but we also want to be able to (1) understand it, (2) share it and (3) defend it. For this, we need to study it from cover to cover three to five times in our life, each time taking about three to five years, depending on the business of our life.

Imagine that our spouse has spent several hours making us dinner. Picture the sweat and toil of overseeing so many things going on at one time: several on the stovetop, in the oven, and in the microwave, and having it all done at the same time. Now, imagine the pain of heart, if we sat down, and rushed through the meal, to get away to something that interests us more. God spent 1,600 years, with forty plus writers, throughout atrocious times of six world powers that persecuted his people, to bring us sixty-six books that came together to make but one book. He does not want his servants rushing through that well-prepared spiritual meal. One of God’s authors makes just that point (Focus on verse 8),

Joshua 1:7-9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid, and do not be dismayed, for Jehovah your God is with you wherever you go.”

Does Joshua expect us literally to meditate in a study of God’s Word day and night from Genesis to Revelation? No, but it does mean that we should give our time to God so that we are studying at a pace that will allow for some serious meditation. When we study the Bible in a meditative way, it will allow us to take notice of what the author truly meant, and how that meaning can influence our lives today. A good commentary, like the Holman Old and New Testament commentary volumes, will enable us to investigate the Bible verse-by-verse, even investigating many important words, the historical setting, hard to understand passages, all for the purpose of application, striking us in a deeply personal way. Getting the sense of God’s guidance gives us resilient incentive to put it into practice.

Before We Begin Our Study Program

We need to study a book on Biblical interpretation. I highly recommend Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck (January 1991).[1] This is absolutely the best book on the Basics of Biblical Interpretation. I also recommend INTERPRETING THE BIBLE: Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics by Edward D. Andrews. In addition, we need to study a book on the basics of Biblical doctrines. I recommend CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY: The Evangelism Study Tool (Jul 16, 2016) by Edward Andrews[2] Moreover, we need to study one book on effective evangelism, and we would recommend THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK: How All Christians Can Effectively Share God’s Word in Their Community by Edward D. Andrews.[3]

Therefore, the Bible student should study the following books before beginning program:

  • Basic Bible Interpretation.
  • BASICS OF BIBLICAL CRITICISM: Helpful or Harmful? [Second Edition].
  • The Evangelism Handbook.

[1] ISBN: 978-0781438773

[2] ISBN: 978-1945757037

[3] ISBN: 978-0615877938

Books that one needs in this five-year Bible reading program are The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (2001).[15] One will also need the Holman Old and New Testament Commentary Volumes.[16] If one’s finances are limited, buy these Holman Commentary volumes one at a time. Doing it that way means that we would only have to buy one volume every two to four months. One will also need to buy the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. In addition, we will need The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (2008) by Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe. One will also need The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Old and New Testament Volumes), which may be expensive. Therefore, if you can buy them one at a time, or get them used on Amazon.com, this would be best for those on a limited income. Lastly, every Christian needs to know how to interpret the Bible correctly. For this Bible study program, the first book should be Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck.

The first Bible reading would be Genesis 4:1-26. The student would begin by praying that God would provide understanding, and help apply his Word and grow in knowledge. The student then meditatively reads those verses. After that, use the Holman Old Testament Commentary on Genesis by Stephen J. Bramer. The student would read the corresponding chapter to the Bible verses. Then, examine the section in the volume Deeper Discoveries. The Deeper Discoveries section helps the reader to understand the most important words, phrases, backgrounds, and teaching of each chapter. After completing this portion of the study, pick up The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. We want to see if there are any Bible difficulties, which fall within this section of Bible reading, Genesis 4:1-26. The students will have seven Bible difficulties to read the concluding portion of the study. I have added one of the difficulties identified by Andrews so that students can see they are written to be easily understood.

Genesis 4:3 Why was Cain’s offering unacceptable to God?

There are two aspects of Cain’s offering, which found him unapproved before God: (1) his attitude and (2) the type of offering.

Eventually, Cain and Abel came before God with their offerings. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to Jehovah.” (Gen 4:3, ASV) “Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” (Gen 4:4, ESV) It is likely that both Cain and Abel were close to 100 years old t the time, as Adam was 130 years old when he fathered his third son, Seth. (Gen 4:25; 5:3)

We can establish that the two sons became aware of their sinful state and sought our God’s favor. How they garnered this knowledge is guesswork, but it is likely by way of the father, Adam. Adam likely informed them about the coming seed and the hope that lie before humankind.[17] Therefore, it seems that they had given some thought to their condition and stand before God, and realized that they needed to try to atone for their sinful condition. The Bible does not inform us just how much time they had given to this need before they started to offer a sacrifice. Rather, God chose to convey the more important aspect, each one’s heart attitude, which gives us an inside look at their thinking.

Some scholars have suggested that Eve felt that Cain was the “seed” of the Genesis 3:15 prophecy that would destroy the serpent, “she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’” (Gen 4:1) It might be that Cain shared in this belief and had begun to think too much of himself, and thus the haughty spirit. If this is the case, he was very mistaken. His brother Abel had a whole other spirit, as he offered his sacrifice in faith, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” (Heb. 11:4)

It seems that Abel was capable of discerning the need for blood to be involved in the atoning sacrifice while Cain was not, or simply did not care. Therefore, it was the heart attitude of Cain as well. Consequently, “but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Gen 4:5, NIV) It may well be that Cain had little regard for the atoning sacrifice, giving it little thought, going through the motions of the act only. However, as later biblical history would show, Jehovah God is not one to be satisfied with formal worship. Cain had developed a bad heart attitude, and Jehovah well knew that his motives were not sincere. The way Cain reacted to the evaluation of his sacrifice only evidenced what Jehovah already knew. Instead of seeking to improve the situation, “Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Gen 4:5) As you read the rest of the account, it will become clearer as to the type of temperament Cain had before God.

Genesis 4:6-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

6 Then Jehovah said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will there not be a lifting up?[18] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain said to Abel his brother. “Let us go out into the field.”[19] And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Then Jehovah[20] said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to Jehovah, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 So Jehovah said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And Jehovah put a mark on Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah, and dwelt in the land of Nod,[21] east of Eden.

The last section of the study opens the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary to read the chapter from this, as well. This may seem overwhelming for one study period. When we first sit, and see how many verses are in the chapter that will be studied that day, open the books and see how long they are as well. If the material seems too long, break it into two or even three study sessions. In study session one, do the Bible reading and the corresponding Holman Commentary Chapter and Deeper Discoveries. In study session two, do the Bible difficulties from the Big Book of Bible Difficulties and the chapter Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Basics in Biblical Interpretation

Step 1: What is the historical setting and background for the author of the book and his audience? Who wrote the book? When and under what circumstances was the book written? Where was the book written? Who were the recipients of the book? Did you find anything noteworthy about the place of the recipients? What is the theme of the book? What was the purpose for writing the book?

Step 2a: What would this text mean to the original audience? (The meaning of a text is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his readers.)

Step 2b: If there are any words in this section that one does not understand, or that stand out as interesting words that may shed some insight on the meaning, look them up in a word dictionary, such as Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

Step 2c: After reading this section from the three Bible translations, do a word study and write down what you think the author meant. Then, pick up a trustworthy commentary, like Holman Old or New Testament commentary volume, and see if you have it correct.

Step 3: Explain the original meaning in one or two sentences, preferably one. Then, take the sentence or two and place it in a short phrase.

Step 4: Now, consider their circumstances, the reason for it being written, what it meant to them, and consider examples from today that would be similar to that time, which would fit the pattern of meaning. What implications can be drawn from the original meaning?

Step 5: Find the pattern of meaning, the “thing like these,” and consider how it could apply in modern life. How should individual Christians today live out the implications and principles?

Biblical Interpretation Explained In Greater Detail

Step 1: What is the historical setting and background for the author of the book and his audience? Who wrote the book? When and under what circumstances was the book written? Where was the book written? Who were the recipients of the book? Did you find anything noteworthy about the place of the recipients? What is the theme of the book? What was the purpose for writing the book? The first step is observation, to get as close to the original text as possible. If you do not read Hebrew or Greek; then, two or three literal translations are preferred (ESV, NASB, and HCSB). The above Bible background information may seem daunting, but it can all be found in the Holman Bible Handbook or the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

Step 2a: What would this text have meant to the original audience? (The meaning of a text is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his readers.) Once someone has an understanding of step 1, read and reread the text in its context. In most Bibles, there are indentations or breaks where the subject matter changes. Look for the indentations that are before and after the text, and read and read that whole section from three literal translations. If there are no indentations, read the whole chapter and identify where the subject matter changes.

Step 2b: If there are any words in the section that one does not understand, or that stands out as interesting words that may shed some insight on the meaning, look them up in a word dictionary, such as Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. For example, if the text was Ephesians 5:14, ask what Paul meant by “sleeper” in verse 14. If it was Ephesians 5:18, what did Paul mean by using the word “debauchery” in relation to “getting drunk with wine.” I would recommend Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words by William D. Mounce (Sep 19, 2006) Do not buy the Amazon Kindle edition until they work out a difficulty. If you have Logos Bible Software, it would be good to add this book if it did not come with the package.

Step 2c: After reading the section from the three Bible translations, do a word study and write down what you think the author meant. Then, pick up a trustworthy commentary, like Holman Old or New Testament commentary volume, checking to see if you have it correct. It can be more affordable to buy one volume each time a project is assigned so that it is spread out over time. If one cannot afford each volume of these commentary sets, Holman has a one-volume commentary of the entire Bible. Also, check with the pastor of your church because he may allow you to take a volume home for the assignment.

Step 3: Explain the original meaning in one or two sentences, preferably one. Then, take the sentence or two and place it in a short phrase. If you look in the Bible for Ephesians chapter five, you will find verses 1-5 or 6 are marked off as a section, and the phrase that captures the sense of the meaning, is “imitators of God.” Then, verses 6-16 of that same chapter can be broken down to “light versus darkness” or “walk like children of light.”

Step 4: Consider their circumstances, the reason for it being written, what it meant to them, and consider examples from our day that would be similar to the time they lived, which would fit the pattern of meaning. What implications can be drawn from the original meaning? Part of this fourth step ensures the Bible student stays within the pattern of the original meaning to determine any implications for the reader.

An example would be the admonition that Paul gave the Ephesian congregation at 5:18, “do not get drunk with wine.” Was Paul talking about beer that existed then, too? Surely, he was not explicitly referring to whiskey, which would be centuries before it was invented. Yes, Paul refers to the others because they provide implications that can be derived from the original meaning.

Step 5: Find the pattern of meaning, the “thing like these,” and consider how it could apply in modern life. How should individual Christians today live out the implications and principles?

What are the Most Efficient and Productive Ways to Read and study a Bible Study tool?

STEPS TO READING A TEXT BOOK

  • Ponder the title and subtitle for a moment
  • Read the book description on the back as you keep the title and subtitle in mind
  • Read through the Table of Content, considering how it relates to the title and subtitle.
  • Read the Preface, which will tell you the author’s intentions
  • Read the Introduction that will help break you into what is coming

How to Read the Chapters

  • Ponder the chapter title
  • Read the headings and subheading of the chapter and see how it relates to the chapter title
  • Get out a legal pad and write the headings and subheadings on the legal pad as questions, which will be your review questions
  • Read the next heading and paragraph(s), ask yourself the heading as a question and answer it in your own words.
  • Read the next heading and paragraph(s) and do the same. Continue this until you are done with the chapter.
  • Close the book and ask yourself the heading questions. If there are any that you stammer on, reread that material.
  • Finally, read the chapter title, the headings and subheadings to refresh the mind, and then write a summary paragraph of the entire chapter

Do the above for Every Chapter

Our Bible reading and study will be richly rewarding when done in this manner! There is little doubt that the Bible is far deeper and more complex than most Christians will admit. It is a task, which takes a lifetime of study and, even then, we are left wanting. However, as we read and study over the years, we will grow spiritually stronger. By way of our deep Bible study, we can draw ever closer to our heaven Father, as well as to our Christian brothers and sisters. It will help us to heed the apostle Paul’s counsel (Focus on verse 16),

Philippians 2:14-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I can boast because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

If any reader doubts the above study program, please take note of our use of a variety of commentaries throughout this book. Pause, take note of the insight that they are providing as to what the biblical author meant, the historical setting of the verse under discussion, the Bible background, why the Bible author was saying what he was, and how we can apply this in our lives today. The Holman Old and New Testament Commentary is written on an 8th to 9th grade level but is very informative, as it makes things easy to understand. The New American Commentary is much deeper and more dialed, yet still easy to understand. The Pillar New Testament Commentary may be a bit deeper than the others may but it is still very good for churchgoers to get the deeper things of God’s Word. Now, let us take an in-depth look at what Paul meant

Holman New Testament Commentary

2:14. When you allow God to work in you, you do everything without complaining or arguing. Unsaved people might be expected to complain and dispute, but Christians are to have changed lives. We do the work God has for us without being negative or rebellious.

2:15. If we are obedient, we may become blameless and pure or “without fault” in contrast to the culture around us. Our life resembles our divine Father rather than our pagan neighbors. People recognize us as God’s children (see Deut. 32:5). Believers are to be so distinct from unbelievers that we stand out as positive models. If God is working in our lives, we are to be unlike the godless society around us. We are to make them curious as to why we are not like them. Christ, himself, said that we are to be “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Paul says we are to be as conspicuous in the world as stars are in the dark nighttime heavens.

2:16. How do we shine like stars in the night? How do we live out this ongoing moral example as children who reflect the perfection of the Father? We grasp hold of the gospel. The marginal note in the niv reads, “hold on to,” the normal meaning of the Greek epexontes. Only God’s Word can give us direction and power to let God do his work in our lives and keep us pure before him.

Paul looks forward to witnessing the progress these Christians will make in their lives. They are the reason for his ministry. He wants the concluding scene of history to show that his life had meaning. As he stands at the final judgment to hear God’s evaluation of his life, he wants to hear that the Philippians have indeed been the stars of the universe. Then his ministry will not be without meaning or empty. He will have run life’s race victoriously. He will have completed his life’s occupation successfully. He exhibits a similar anticipation in 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”[22]

The New American Commentary

The Command to Stop Complaining (2:14)

2:14 The command has positive force although it is framed negatively. The use of the words no doubt comes from the Old Testament text, but their appropriateness to Philippians is a question. What would the positive command be? Would it be to trust God in everything since complaining is at the root a failure to accept God’s plans and provisions? That seems unlikely because the problems within the group still govern the context. Perhaps it was to be accepting of the ways and efforts of others in the church since Paul warned about self-seeking (2:3–4). Whatever the problem, it was a concern which affected the moral life of the church and its witness to the world. Paul implied that if dissension stopped the church would be on its way to purity of life and action.

The Purpose of the Command (2:15–16)

2:15–16 Employing terminology like his prayer in 1:9–11, Paul looked for the completion of the Philippians’ character. They were to become pure and blameless. The terms speak to the moral nature of their lives. They were to have complete Christian character, and they were to have no offense in relation to others. This hope was further expressed by Paul’s statement, “children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.” This statement explains the first so that “without fault” incorporates “blameless and pure.” They were children of God already; Paul hoped they would become blameless.

This consistent character is particularly striking when viewed against the backdrop of the world. Two metaphors describe the contrast between Christians and non-Christians. First, using the words of Deut 32:5, Paul described the world as distorted and depraved. The use of such language stressed the moral distinctiveness of Christians. Purity and blamelessness were the standard by which the distortions of the world were measured. Thus Paul meant that the world was morally crooked, distorted by its failure to understand the word of God. The ministry of the church, then, was to provide a straight model for distorted lives.

The second metaphor comes from astronomy. The Philippians, with their unblemished moral character, shone like stars in the universe. Even with their imperfections, they were the light of the world to those in darkness. This mission was accomplished by their holding out the word of life.181 All assume that the “word of life” is the gospel, of which Paul had so much to say in this epistle. The word “hold out,” however, may mean “holding fast” or “proffering.”183 The immediate context supports “holding fast” because Paul’s discussion concerned moral conduct. By their lives, the Philippians were actually holding fast to the gospel. By so doing, their lives also became the measuring rod and illumination of the world around them.

Paul ended this section with a personal appeal. His converts were his life. Equally, his life was Christ. Like other seeming paradoxes, this one blended perfectly in Paul’s mind. He urged them to progress in their lives so that his efforts would be profitable. Looking to the day of Christ, the day of judgment, he wanted to have fruit from his labor. Using athletic imagery, he stated he wanted not “to have run … for nothing.” At other places, he expressed that desire in terms of his personal understanding of Christ (3:12–14).

Here he related it to his ministry. Was he selfishly motivated in this? Two factors require a negative answer to the question. First, Paul’s life was Christ (1:20–21). Paul knew that everything he did, Christ actually did, and all of his glory was for Jesus’ glory. Paul’s energies, therefore, contributed to the glory of Christ whom he so much loved. Second, it hardly seems consistent in a context devoted to selflessness and warning about personal ambition that Paul would so blatantly express his own selfish wish. That the Philippians were to live a certain way for his benefit would be the height of egoism. In baring his concerns, Paul openly spoke in terms of his ministry. He had previously just as openly revealed his deepest motivation to please Christ. There was no conflict![23]

Deep personal study helps us to draw closer to our loving heavenly Father because we are getting to know him better as we take in deeper, more intimate, accurate knowledge of him. It would be no different in our drawing closer to our friends. Certainly, we can recognize that if we had mere surface knowledge about a friend, he or she would not be a best friend; they would be more of an associate. Deep personal study will help us to ‘hold fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ we can boast because we did not run in vain nor toil in vain.’ (Philippians 2:16)

Questions for Meditation

  • Why did the Father have the Bible written and miraculously intervene at times, so that it would be preserved until our day?
  • What must we do first before we can help others appreciate the Word of God?
  • After we have gained a deeper knowledge of the Father and his Word, how can we better help others to appreciate it?
  • Why is regular personal Bible reading and study beneficial?
  • How might we read Bible study books such as this one? What steps might we go through to get the most out of it?

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[1] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 138.

[2] Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier, Romans, vol. 6, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 227–232.

[3] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1992), 59–60.

[4] S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn, Psalms, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1999), 87–89.

[5] INTERPRETING THE BIBLE: Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics by Edward D. Andrews

[6] Anders, Max; Gangel, Kenneth. Holman Old Testament Commentary – Joshua (pp. 13-15). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[7] David M. Howard Jr., Joshua, vol. 5, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 424–425.

[8] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 266.

[9] OVERCOMING BIBLE DIFFICULTIES: Answers to the So-Called Errors and Contradictions by Edward D. Andrews

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES -GENESIS- CPH Apologetic Commentary by Edward D. Andrews

[10] S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn, Psalms, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1999), 388.

[11] CONVERSATIONAL EVANGELISM by Edward D. Andrews

THE CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST: Always Being Prepared to Make a Defense By Edward D. Andrews

THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK: How All Christians Can Effectively Share God’s Word in Their Community by Edward D. Andrews

[12] In the news today, “Jerry Falwell, Jr., President of Liberty University, announced at a Thursday press conference plans for the upcoming Trump Liberty Casino, to be located on campus to serve students and faculty.”

Liberty University Announces Plans To Open On-Campus Trump .., http://babylonbee.com/news/liberty-university-announces-plans-open-campus-trump- (accessed September 16, 2016).

[13] Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2007) by Bart D. Ehrman

This author has penned a book that deals with Ehrman’s attempt at undermining the New Testament.

Misrepresenting Jesus: Debunking Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus [Second Edition] (2016) by Edward D Andrews

[14] These so-called Bible difficulties are what Bible critics call errors and contradictions. However, they are not errors and contradictions, but rather difficulties because we are far removed from their time and culture, as well as their languages, which was Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

[15] We want to use a good literal translation (ESV, NASB, HCSB, or LEB), because literal translations bring you closer to the original, while the interpretive translations (NIV somewhat, NLT, TEV, CEV), distance you from the originals.

[16] If you feel that you are a more advanced student of the Bible, you can replace Holman Commentary volumes with the Old and New Testament volumes of The New American Commentary.

[17] Adam’s family must have received God’s revelation about the necessity of sacrifice to create and maintain fellowship with God. The background to this was probably the sacrifice that God performed to provide the clothing to cover Adam and Eve’s shame (see Gen. 3:21). Anders, Max; Gangel, Kenneth; Bramer, Stephen J. (2003-04-01). Holman Old Testament Commentary – Genesis: 1 (p. 56). Holman Reference. Kindle Edition.

[18]  This is a shortening of the Hebrew idiom “to lift up the face,” which means “to accept” favorably

[19] Genesis 4:8: SP LXX It Syr inserts these bracketed words; Vg, “Let us go outdoors”; MT omits; some MSS and editions have an interval here.

[20] The Tetragrammaton, God’s personal name, יהוה (JHVH/YHWH), which is found in the Hebrew Old Testament 6,828 times.

[21] I.e. wandering

[22] Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 227–228.

[23] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 112–114.

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