Three Essential Steps We’re Tempted to Rush when Teaching the Bible
Slowing down is hard for me. After a frantic morning of hurrying the kids off to school, it can be difficult to transition to preparing my text to teach. I’m always tempted to rush so that I can write a message and check it off of my “to do” list. Thankfully, the gentle prompting of the Spirit reminds me that I need to spend time with him in the passage I’m studying in order to teach it well. Here are three essential steps that I’m tempted to rush and three reminders of why we must not! I hope they encourage you as they have encouraged me.
1. Pray for illumination!
Often I stare at the passage in front of me and think, “Yeah….I’ve got nothing.” This is because the reality is that I am not adequate to understand the Bible on my own. In 1 Corinthians 2:6-15, Paul says that the natural man cannot understand the mystery of the gospel of Jesus. This means that apart from being born again by the Spirit and apart from his ongoing ministry to reveal Christ to me in his inspired Word, I really have got nothing. I need illumination; I need to have my mind opened to understand. Thankfully, Paul also says those of us who are in Christ have had this mystery revealed to us, that we have the mind of Christ. This is God’s tremendous promise that he wants me to understand his Word and that he is willing to help me interpret it.
So on the basis of this promise, every time I open the Bible, I ask the Spirit to help me understand…to ascertain God’s meaning in the text and how it points to Jesus. He always does.
2. Spend time in the text.
Once again, it is hard for me to slow down! It takes effort to simply sit in my passage, but it is always worth it. Here are some ways that help me. First, I read or listen to the text repeatedly (Last week it was Philippians 1:1-11). I have the Bible on CD, so I played this section in the car. I spent some of my morning devotional time reading those verses and jotting down the ideas the Spirit ministered to me. I wrote down key words, like “affection” (vs. 8) and “knowledge” (vs. 9), and looked up other places in Scripture where they are used. I regularly read various English translations of the Bible and study the Greek with Bible Works.
The benefit of slowing down is that it gives the Spirit time to help me understand the text. Although God has one intended meaning for each text, which I could get from somewhere else, he wants to convey it to me personally in his Word. This is because he loves me and delights in revealing himself to me. And this is because he wants my teaching to be the product of his work in and through me, not from someone else. I will always need commentaries to keep me on track, but first I must seek to understand the text by itself.
3. Figure out how your text points to Jesus
In Luke 24, Jesus says that the entire Bible is about him. This means that every single passage points to him in some way. In Philippians 1, seeing this is easy because Paul is writing to the Philippians directly about Christ. But even with the clear connections to Jesus, I almost missed the best one.
In verses 1-11, Paul expresses his love for the Philippians. He says that he is always remembering them and praying for them (even though it’s been 12 years since they were together!). He has them in his heart, and he longs for them all the time in the very depths of his being. It’s pretty mushy (in a good way)! And it’s heartening to see the love that the Lord can create between believers. But there is also something more going on. Paul says that all of this love is actually “the affection of Christ Jesus” (vs 8). This means that Paul’s expression of love is just a small picture of how much Jesus loves you and me! This broke through when I read these words by Dennis Johnson in his commentary on Philippians: “[Paul’s] letter to Philippi is also Jesus’ expression of love to us today. So we are not just eavesdropping on somebody else’s correspondence from a bygone era: Jesus the living Lord is looking us straight in the eye and saying, ‘This is how I love you.’” I can hardly describe the good those words did to my soul. And it was this insight that ministered the most to the women in the study.
Bottom line: It is worth it to slow down and spend time to ask for illumination, to take in the text and to see all the ways in which it legitimately points to Jesus.