Discipleship and spiritual formation curriculum for new believers, new Christians

11. Bible - Guidebook for Living

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
 

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Thinking about the inspiration of the Bible and the authority of ScriptureSometimes we get discouraged at the slow pace of our own spiritual growth. But remember that Jesus spent three years with his disciples teaching them, encouraging them, sometimes even rebuking them when they needed it. This is a process, not a speed contest.

Unlike the disciples, we don't have Jesus with us in the flesh. But we do have several powerful aids to our spiritual growth:

  1. Christ's Spirit lives within us -- the Holy Spirit. He reminds us of what Jesus taught and helps to work change within us. We considered his ministry in Lesson 7.
  2. Christian brothers and sisters are with us to encourage us, teach us, love us, model for us the life of Christ -- and rebuke us when we need it. They are part of the family in which we are being raised. This connection is vital to our growth. We considered this in Lesson 4.
  3. The Bible, God's Word, continues to instruct us, day after day, and conveys to us the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. Though we looked at this briefly in Lesson 2, let's consider this in greater detail today.

Inspiration of Scripture

As you have probably recognized, the Bible is not just another book. Christians call it Holy Scripture because it has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Let me explain what we mean by that. The Apostle Paul wrote:

"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16, NRSV)

The word "inspired" here means, literally, "God-breathed." St. Peter put it slightly differently:

"No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21)

When we say that the Bible is inspired, we mean that the Holy Spirit worked to guide each Bible author in the 1,500-year span of time during which the Scriptures were being written.

In most cases, the Holy Spirit did not dictate the words. Rather, the Holy Spirit inspired the writer to record God's message accurately in the writer's own words. But that makes it no less inspired.

Of course, each writer lived in a particular culture at a particular point in history and wrote in a particular language. As we understand what the writer meant to say in his own cultural and historical setting, we can hear God speaking to us.

In some instances, the Spirit has inspired authors to record the history of men's arrogance and disobedience for us to learn from. At other times the Spirit inspired profiles of men and women of faith for us to emulate. The Spirit inspired ancient poets to write songs of praise in the Psalms, and prophets to bring messages from God to correct his people. In the New Testament, the Spirit inspired Paul, Peter, and other apostles to write letters to guide the early church. The Bible contains many varieties of teaching, but all are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Authority of Scripture

Since Scripture is inspired by God, it is authoritative. We believe that the Bible speaks with God's authority to direct our faith and lives in every area about which it teaches.

Not a Law Book, but a Love Book

Some Christians get pretty legalistic, acting as if the Bible were a law book. It is not. Rather it is God teaching his people how to live. Once Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment in the Old Testament. Jesus replied:

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind.'
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it:
'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

These two commands -- (1) Love God and (2) Love your neighbor -- are the basic commands. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament largely explain how to live out these commands in our everyday lives.

Nevertheless, we are to take Jesus' instruction to his disciples very seriously. We can't reinterpret it "in love" to suit our own desires. Jesus' teaching is authoritative.

But his teaching is also freeing, not some kind of heavy burden on our lives. Jesus told his followers:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Why We Should Read the Bible

I hope that you will develop the life-long habit of reading the Bible. Here's why:

  1. Instruction. Jesus' teaching is powerful and direct from God. That is why you will want to read the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus' apostles. Otherwise you will be ignorant. Jesus said:
    "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
  2. Correction. Many are the times that I have read something in the Bible that spoke directly to something wrong in my life that needed fixing. The Word brings conviction -- and change. I'm a better person for it. The author of Hebrews says:
    "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
  3. Examples. The Bible is full of stories of real people who encountered God and who God used powerfully. You will learn a lot from their successes as well as their mistakes. The Bible includes hundreds of case studies of God working with people.
  4. Training and Growth. The Bible is a kind of training manual in how to live. As you read and begin to internalize its contents, you will grow stronger and more powerful in the Lord.
  5. Inspiration. Many times you will be inspired, awed, amazed, when you are reading the Bible. All of a sudden you will see something there -- a new insight, a new truth will stand out to you.

The Holy Spirit Illuminates the Word

The source of these sudden insights and inspirations is the Holy Spirit at work in you. Since the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures in the first place, it is not surprising that he will illuminate them to you as well. Trying to read or teach the Bible without the work of the Holy Spirit is like trying to drive a car without oil. The Spirit works with the Word.

New Testament

Now let me explain a bit about the kinds of books there are in the New Testament. The 27 books and letters are categorized in this way:

Gospels Records of Jesus' life and teachings. There are four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Start your reading of the Bible here.
Acts of the Apostles An exciting history of the early growth of Christianity.
Paul's Letters The Apostle Paul was originally a vicious opponent of Christianity until he met Christ in a vision and was radically changed. God used him to spread belief in Jesus all over the Mediterranean region. He was martyred in Rome about 65 AD under Emperor Nero. He wrote about 13 letters that are in our Bibles.
General Letters These letters are written by other apostles and early Christian leaders, mainly Peter, James, and John.
Revelation This is a unique book designed to give persecuted Christians hope and encouragement about the future. It is filled with symbols that seem bizarre to us, but all of it has powerful meaning when you understand it. Save this for later reading.

Translations

Now let me say a word about Bible translations. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew.20The New Testament was written in Greek. Bible scholars who have spent their lives studying these languages have translated the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts into English and many other languages. For more on this, see Appendix 3. "How to Select a Bible."

There's a difference, however, between a translation and a paraphrase. A translation seeks to be an accurate rendering of the original language, without going beyond what was said in the original. A paraphrase on the other hand, is freer with its renderings, endeavoring to put the concept into everyday words, often adding ideas that weren't in the original. Here are some examples:

Translations Paraphrases
King James Version (KJV, 1611)
New International Version (NIV, 1973, 1983)
New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1977)
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989)
Living Bible (LB, 1971)
The Message (Msg, 1993)

If you don't already have a Bible, I recommend that you get a good, modern translation -- preferably one of the newer translations listed above. If your first language is not English, I encourage you to obtain a Bible in your own language. That way you can learn God's word more easily.

Study Bible

When you can save up money for one, I recommend that you get a study Bible. This is a Bible that includes lots of notes about hard-to-understand verses and a list of other verses that amplify the same topic of the verse you are reading. In the back you may find a brief Bible dictionary so you can look up topics and a concordance, a kind of index of the Bible by the key word used in some of the Bible's most meaningful verses. You will find that a good study Bible will be a resource that you can use for many years to help you learn the Bible better.

Daily Bible Reading

As I mentioned in Lesson 2, one of the most important disciplines you can develop is that of daily Bible reading. Setting aside 5 to 10 minutes each day for a quiet time in which to read the Bible and pray will literally change your life and supercharge your growth in faith.

Here are a couple of Bible reading plans:

New Testament one chapter a day: Remember that chapters are relatively short. You can probably read a chapter in five minutes or less. Start in the Gospels and work through to Revelation. Since the New Testament has 260 chapters (some shorter, some longer), you will get through the entire New Testament a little more than once each year. This is a great place for you to start.

Three Bible chapters a day: When you have grown some as a Christ-follower, you will want to add the Old Testament to your daily reading. This takes about 10 minutes on most days -- a bit more with longer chapters. Here is a "balanced diet":

  • The Psalms are the praise and prayer book of the Bible, so I read one of these each day. There are 150 Psalms or chapters, so you will get through the Psalms twice in a year.
  • The Old Testament contains 929 chapters (minus the 150 chapters in Psalms). That leaves you 779 chapters. You will get through the Old Testament once every two years.
  • The New Testament contains 260 chapters, so you get through it in less than a year.

If you'd like to print out a daily Bible reading guide that you can tuck into your Bible, you can find links to several Bible reading plans online (www.jesuswalk.com/beginning/bible-reading-plans.htm).

When the Bible Seems Boring

Sometimes when you sit down to read the Bible it will seem boring -- you just can't get into it, or your mind glides over the surface so you can't even remember what you have just read. Sometimes your spirit will be sluggish or your mind tired. Do not be too hard on yourself. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."21

Try making some changes. Pray aloud before you read. Change your position: stand up or kneel rather than sitting. Read less that day or study a single verse or paragraph. I have found that reading aloud helps me concentrate when I'm distracted.

Yes, some days you won't seem to get much out of your Bible reading time, but keep at it. Over time you will find that regular Bible reading will change your life.

Scripture Memory

During JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey I have asked you to memorize one key verse each week. Even though Scripture memory may seem difficult at first, keep at it. Find a verse that speaks to you and commit it to memory. Write it down on a paper or card and tape it to the wall or a mirror where you will see it often. Say it aloud -- first reading it, then saying it from memory as you are able, only looking when you forget a word or phrase. Then occasionally review the verses you've learned.

The value in Scripture memory is that you will always have God's word in your head -- even if you don't have your Bible handy. You will find this especially helpful in times of temptation and loneliness. Having memorized Bible verses is also useful when you are telling somebody about Jesus.

Reading Aloud

Finally, try reading the Bible aloud. This is especially profitable:

  1. Before or after meals with your family,
  2. At small group meetings,
  3. At church services, and
  4. By yourself
  JesusWalk - Beginning the Journey book cover
Printed books, e-books, and a DVD set are available

Reading aloud increases your comprehension of the Bible, since now you have not one, but three ways to encounter the Word with your senses:

  1. Reading
  2. Speaking
  3. Listening
As you let the Bible become a regular friend and earpiece into the heart of God, you will find the words of the Psalmist to be true:

"Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path." (Psalms 119:105)

Prayer

Father, thank you for giving us the Scriptures. Sometimes they are comforting. Sometimes they make us uncomfortable. Sometimes you speak directly to us with clarity through your Word. Thank you for this gift. Help us to use your gift as it was intended. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Memory Verse

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)

Questions and Discussion Points

  1. Read aloud five times today's memory verse (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and write it on a card.
  2. Discuss. When we say that the Scripture is inspired, what do we mean?
  3. Discuss. Have you ever had the Holy Spirit illuminate a verse for you? What was it like?
  4. Activity. Open your Bible to the Table of Contents. Then open to each of the major sections of the New Testament. Gospels (begins with Matthew), Acts, Paul's Letters (begins with Romans), General Letters (begins with Hebrews), and Revelation. Read a few verses in each section to get the flavor.
  5. Discuss. What Bible translation do you use? What is the difference between a Bible translation and a Bible paraphrase?
  6. Activity. Look at the various features of a study Bible. (Mentor: If you don't have one, try to borrow one to bring to the meeting.) Look for scripture cross references, footnotes, a concordance, and other helps.
  7. Your own Bible. If you don't have your own Bible yet, what is your plan to earn the money to purchase one? What kind would you like to get?
  8. Select a daily Bible reading plan that seems to suit you and begin to use it this coming week. You can view several Bible reading plans online
    (http://www.jesuswalk.com/beginning/bible-reading-plans.htm), then print one out to carry in your Bible.
  9. Review. Last week we talked about regular giving to God's work on a percentage basis. What plan for regular giving have you decided upon?
  10. Review. Last week we talked about service to others. In what ways is God using you to serve others?
  11. Review your memory verses from Lesson 1 (Ephesians 2:8-9), Lesson 2 (John 8:31-32), Lesson 3 (1 John 1:9), Lesson 4 (John 13:34-35), Lesson 5 (1 John 4:7-8), and Lesson 6 (John 3:16), Lesson 7 (John 14:16-17), Lesson 8 (Matthew 5:16), Lesson 9 (Psalms 34:1), and Lesson 10 (Mark 10:45). Try to say them together with your mentor without looking at your cards.
  12. Pray for each other. Share with your mentor your needs to pray about and ask your mentor how you should pray for him or her. Then spend a few minutes praying for each other aloud and for those to whom you are witnessing.
  13. Appointment. Set a time and place to meet and go through next week's lesson.

20. A few chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic, a language similar to Hebrew.

21. Matthew 26:41.


JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
New Christian, New Believer Discipleship Training and Spiritual Formation

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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