Challenge 3: Learn How to Study the Bible by Studying Philippians
Let's be honest: everybody talks about Bible study, but few men feel competent to open the Word of God, take out a notebook, and to study the Bible for themselves. We defer to the 'experts' for two reasons: (1) we are too lazy to do the hard work of Bible study, and (2) we doubt whether we have - or can develop - the skills required for Bible study. This is tragic. Paul's challenge to Timothy ought to be felt by every Christian man: 'Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth' (2 Tim. 2:15). Just as a soldier needs to be able to handle a weapon, and a surgeon to wield a scalpel, so every Christian ought to be adept at reading and interpreting the the Word of God. If we take seriously that God's Word is a lamp to our feet, food for our soul, and a sword in our hand, then no skill in life is more important than being able to read and apply the Bible.
Therefore, the objectives of challenge 3 are twofold: first, to teach you how to study the Bible and, second, to help you develop the habit of studying the Bible. We all need consistent nudges forward if we are going to make long-term progress in spiritual disciplines. Consider challenge 3 one big push to help you become a man of the Word.
Read Philippians (Entire Letter) 1x Each Day for 7 Days
Bible study requires zooming in and zooming out, sometimes focusing on the forest, other times paying attention to the leaves, branches, and bark of particular trees. This week we are focusing on seeing the big picture. You will do this by reading the entire letter of Philippians one time, each day.
On average, it only takes 14 minutes to read through the letter of Philippians. Guys, no excuses, this assignment is doable regardless of how busy your life is.
Head's up: in following weeks we will focus on 'inductive Bible study', that is, a basic method of digging into the details of the Bible. Week by week we will add new tools of study until eventually you have the basic kit required to study the Word.
Finally, here is a useful sermon by John MacArthur on 'How to Study the Bible'. It should fire up your heart to go out and become a man of the Word.
Do an Inductive Bible Study of Philippians chapter 2
I realize the word 'inductive' is going to scare some of you. Recall your Lamaze breathing techniques and relax. By 'inductive' I just mean that we are going to do the hard manual work of studying the Bible for ourselves. All of us like to take shortcuts. Spiritually, this means that we would much prefer to listen passively to an 'expert' than to study actively on our own. (Why cook if PizzaHut delivers?) Yet, in case you haven't yet caught on, this decathlon is not about lowering the bar, but raising it. This is your opportunity to man-up and develop the basic skills that lead to long-term spiritual growth. Bible study is one of these vital skills.
Study Chapter 3 of Philippians
Practice will not make us perfect, but it will make us better. The aim this week is to keep going, to keep learning, to keep applying our basic method of Bible study so that you feel more competent to study the Word of God. Chapter 3 is one of the peaks of the New Testament. Many a Christian being faced with tiredness, shame, or despair has found fuel to advance in the journey by reading this passage. Men, relish these verses. Chip away at the rock until the gold becomes visible and the lustre of the gospel captivates your hearts.
Review the basic steps for Bible study:
Preliminary Step: Set Yourself Up to Succeed
Set up a daily ritual: fix a time for Bible study as predictable and unchanging as brushing your teeth.
Gather the basic tools - Bible, notebook, pen, English Dictionary, Bible Dictionary (more could and should be added to this list over time)
Step 1: Identify a Unit of the Bible to Study
Philippians 2 is made up of five thought units: vs. 1-5, vs. 5-11, vs. 12-18, vs. 19-24, vs. 25-30.
Most Bibles will indicate units of thought by either providing headings or by arranging the text in paragraphs.
Attempt to study one unit of text (i.e. one big idea) each day that you do Bible study.
Step 2: Figure Out What You Don't Know
Just as muscle growth occurs by pushing our bodies, intellectual growth occurs by pushing our minds. How do you do this? By forcing yourself to discover what you don't know.
No technique uncovers what we don't know better than trying to put a verse or sentence in your own words (paraphrasing). If you can't translate a verse in your own words, then you don't know what the writer is saying.
Write down in your notebook any questions you have (such as words you cannot define, ideas you do not understand, etc.).
Step 3: Do the Hard Work of Answering Your Questions
Imagine that you are lifting weights. Every time a rep gets hard someone steps up and lifts the weight for you. What would happen? You would never grow. The same is true with Bible study.
Look up key words in a Bible Dictionary or in a Study Bible.
Look up the 'cross-references' usually placed in the margin of a Bible. By comparing similar passages you will make new and unexpected discoveries.
Think! Think! Think! Covet truth like a miser covets gold.
Write down the answers to your questions.
Step 4: Check Your Answers with Someone Smarter Than You
Meet weekly with a more mature Christian to talk about what you have been learning or a group of men studying the same passage.
Read the notes in the bottom of a study Bible or read a commentary on the passage (but only after first doing the homework!).
Step 5: Make It Personal
I think it was Walt Hendricksen who said that interpretation without application is abortion. Never leave a passage until you have asked the painful question, 'How should I be changed by this truth?' The goal is transformation, not information.
Final Advice: Have a Growth-Mindset
Chesterton onced commented, 'A thing worth doing is worth doing badly.' It's okay if you find Bible study confusing and difficult at first. The more steadfast you are in this effort, the more clarity and ease will come with time. Aim for long-term growth, not short-term comfort.
Here is a brief article you can read for further teaching on Bible study. Also, be sure to watch the video below.
Men, don't be shy: contact me if you want further help. I'm happy to Skype or Facetime to give one-on-one coaching.
Study Chapter 4 of Philippians
Men don't give up now. If you've fallen off the saddle and missed a week of the decathlon, don't sweat it. Just get up, wipe the dust off your boots, and get back on the horse again.
This week we will be finishing up our challenge to study through the book of Philippians. Our key concept this month is competence: the importance of developing the basic skills required to benefit from spiritual disciplines. Your focus this week will be the last chapter of Philippians. If you thought chapter 3 was good, chapter 4 is just as stunning. Climb this peak and rejoice as you relish the privilege of being a soldier of the Lamb.
Instead of a video, this week I'm attaching an interview I recorded last week with Hank Miltenberger. Hank is a successful businessman, a model Christian father and husband, and a triathlete who for more than 30 years has consistently made time for diligent Bible study. If you listen to this interview you will get tips for how ordinary men can become skilled in handling the Word of God. In the course of the conversation Hank discusses (1) the importance of Bible study, (2) the basic tool kit needed, (3) the mechanics of Bible study, (4) long and short term goals, and (5) how to stay motivated.
Here is a link to the interview. Also, to help you, I've written out a list of the books Hank mentions with links to Amazon. You can find my notes here.