Growing by God’s Word
The Bible is a unique and powerful book.
It can overwhelm us, and swell our heart with emotion when we see God’s plan, sacrifice and love for us.
Yet, the Bible can also be confusing. (Read 2 Kings 2:24 if you disagree.) It is filled with strange names and stories of life in cultures very different from ours. And the thee’s and thou’s of older translations can make the confusion even worse.
Reading the Bible can be a bit like trying to unwrap one of those really tough plastic packages without a pair of scissors or a knife. (It is doubly frustrating when the package is holding a new pair of scissors or a knife!). What you want is in there, you just can’t get to it. After a while you may feel a bit silly and ask, “What’s wrong with me?” Nothing!
You just need the right tools.
And in the case of the Bible, maybe you need someone to show you how to get started, or some “pro tips” if you are already well down the road in studying and growing by God's Word. That’s what this unit is designed to do.
Questions we will address in this unit:
- What exactly is the Bible, and why should I read it?
- How do I understand something so vast?
- How can God’s Word help me grow in my faith?
- Can I really trust that what the Bible says is true?
- Why do Christians put so much value in what the Bible says?
- What is it about the Bible that sets it apart from any other piece of literature?
- Is a bonded leather cover really genuine ? (OK, we won't answer that one.)
Teaching / Study
Amazing Facts About the Bible
It’s one book, but it consists of 66 books, from 40 different human authors spanning a time of 1500 years and 3 continents. Yet there is one Divine Author behind each word.
It speaks of God who had no beginning or end, and is infinite beyond our imagination in His power, wisdom, holiness, glory and love and yet desires fellowship with us to the extent that He was willing to sacrifice His one and only Son for us—even when we didn’t care about Him (Romans 5:8).
It has been printed more than 5 billion times
Translated into more than 1,200 languages.
It is the single most shoplifted book in print - ironic!
It ranks number 2 on the “Most Used Sunday School Answer” (Jesus is number 1)
The Structure of the Bible
The Bible is divided into 2 sections. The Old Testament and the New Testament.
There are 39 books in the Old Testament that tell of the time from creation until 400 years before the birth of Jesus.
The New Testament consists of 27 books that record Jesus’ life, the early years of the church, as well as a number of letters written to various churches or individuals, and finally, the book of Revelation, which speaks of things to come (Revelation 4:1).
The Big Story of Scripture – in one sentence!
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells a unified story about God the Creator’s love for us...humankind’s rebellion and separation from God...and the great lengths He has gone to in order to reconcile us to Himself in Christ.
The Inspiration of Scripture
How is it that a book, written thousands of years ago, is central to our growing in our relationship to God today?
How would you respond to that question based on the passage below?
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).
What does it say is the ultimate purpose of God’s written Word?
God’s Word was not written to satisfy our curiosity. Nor is it a self-help guide. It reveals who He is and what He has done. It is His instruction manual for life, and how to draw close to Him.
It also reveals who we are. Hebrews 4:12 says it is able to "divide the thoughts and intentions" of our hearts, cutting through self-deceptions. We don’t just read the Bible; it reads us!
- What are some ways God’s Word has made a difference in your life or changed your attitude or practices?
The Uniqueness of the Bible
Christians put so much value on the Bible because, unlike any other book, it alone is “God-breathed” or inspired.
This means that He personally intervened in its writing. God wrote through human authors. He even used their unique style and personality. But when it came to the Scriptures, God made sure that what the authors wrote was truth without any error.
Because God is the source, the Bible says exactly what He wanted it to say,
“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV)
There are several other things we can conclude from the fact that Scripture has God as its Divine Author.
1. The Sufficiency of Scripture.
Nothing else needs to be revealed. We never have to go to some other book or source to find the “real” truth, or “new” truths. What we need to know as servants of God is all in there! There are many helpful Christian books, but they aren’t scripture (Jude 1:3).
- What phrase in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 would tell you that the Bible is sufficient?
2. God intended it to be understood by us.
It was not written in some cryptic, holy language or with secret codes buried in the text and hidden meanings.
- Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 again. What words or phrases would let you know this is the case?
The Old Testament was written in the ordinary language of the day, which happened to be Hebrew.
The New Testament likewise was written in the common everyday language of the known world, which was Greek. God wanted people to understand it.
Today there are modern English translations to once again put it in the everyday language of the reader, as it was originally intended.
3. It is Revelation.
As God’s revelation it contains truths about Him we could not know in any other way such as by research or reason (Job 11:7).
The Creator of the universe spoke through these authors so we could have a way to hear from Him directly, at any time.
- What are some truths about God that we can’t know apart from what the Bible reveals?
Let’s look at how the Bible helps us grow in our faith…
We Learn God’s Character and Heart from Reading His Word
While the Big Story of God’s redemption is simple, daily life is not.
When things gets tough, we find the perspective, comfort, and encouragement we need in His word :
“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
Encouragement, hope, instruction, and perspective are all available in His Word as we see God’s dealings with His people in the past.
We see His patience with Moses when he was afraid to obey God’s call on his life (Exodus 3-4). We see God fighting for His people with Joshua (Deuteronomy 3-6), and Jesus reaching out with compassion to heal and forgive, just to name a few.
We see a God who is faithful to the promises He made to His people, even when they weren’t faithful to Him.
As we read the Bible we get to know God because we see Him in action, dealing with people who are very much like us!
- Share a time when you read a story or a teaching in the Bible that opened your eyes and gave you encouragement or insight you needed.
It takes time and attention
God wants a relationship with us. As in any relationship, time and attention are required if the relationship will thrive.
Couples celebrating their golden wedding anniversary complete each other's sentences. They may even start to look alike. Yet they started out as strangers.
But they walked together through life. By two years they discovered plenty of surprises! In twenty-five years they can hardly remember not being married to each other. By the time they celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, the depth of experience they share is undeniable.
That’s how it should be in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Believing the gospel is the “I do,” the wedding celebration, but knowing, believing, and living out God’s Word in the years and decades to follow is what make your relationship with Him strong.
- Do you know anyone who has been married for a long time? How does their relationship compare to others who have only been together for a couple years?
- What is something you know about God’s character from reading it in His word? How does that affect the way you relate to God?
The Importance of Believing God’s Word
Knowing God’s word is important, yet it might surprise you to learn that even the devil knows the Scripture (Matthew 4:6).
We must also be willing to obey it and believe it. Sooner or later we will be tested in our faith. Anyone can say they have faith, but what about when hard times hit and God seems a million miles away?
James said, “the testing of our faith” produces endurance (James 1:3).
To put it simply: our faith in God grows by choosing to believe His promises and follow Him, especially when things look impossible.
That was Abraham’s experience.
He is called “the father of faith” (Romans 4:11) because when he was childless at age seventy, and his wife Sarah was sixty, he believed God’s promise that he would have a son and eventually be the father of not just one nation, but of many nations (Genesis 12:1-4; 15:1-6).
But he didn’t know it would actually take another thirty years for God to fulfill that promise!
Understandably, during those long years Abraham and Sarah struggled to continue to believe (Genesis 17 & 18).
Yet, when Sarah was ninety, and far past her childbearing years, she gave birth to Isaac, the miracle child of the promise at last!
But the greatest test of Abraham’s faith came a few years later when Isaac was probably a young teenager. Abraham had learned to trust God and His character. But then God asked something that seemed impossible:
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:1-2)
Abraham obeyed! Of course God stopped Abraham at the last second and it ended well. However…
- Look closely at the verse above. Why would God ask such a thing of Abraham?
- How did Abraham’s forty plus years of experience with God help him to obey in this most difficult test?
- Are there parts of the Bible you struggle to believe, or that don’t make sense to you? How does that affect your faith?
You might be tempted to ask, “What was Abraham thinking?” We don’t really have to guess. The writer of Hebrews explains his reasoning:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice….Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
- From this passage, why was Abraham willing to place his only son on the altar? What was his thinking?
- When God’s commands seem to make no sense at all, what can help you get beyond doubt to faith and obedience?
Renewing Your Mind
Coming to know God as Abraham did is the lifelong pursuit of a disciple. Our thinking literally needs to be transformed because the path of following Christ may look unpromising at times from a human perspective, and often “out of step” with our culture:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2)
- According to this passage, where does our thinking start out by default? What are some examples of that way of thinking?
- What does it say is the key to our “transformation?”
- From what you’ve learned, why and how is the Bible central to this renewing process?
- What would you say is the difference between “self-improvement” and transformation?
A mind renewed by the Word is essential to spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:14).
Moving on From Infancy to Maturity by God’s Word
We are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we require a different kind of nourishment.
Jesus says in Matthew 4:4, “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Peter says to long for the Word like a newborn baby longs for milk (1 Peter 2:2) “so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
But the writer of Hebrews cautions that God wants us to get beyond the “baby” stage and grow to full spiritual maturity. He tells his readers,
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child (Hebrews 5:12-13 ESV).
Think about it: A new baby is always a joy. And it’s great when they are potty trained. But no parent wants the maturing to stop there! Let’s get on to T-Ball, gymnastics, first day at school, first job, first date, first car, first apartment and more (Hebrews 6:1).
In the same way God desires we grow, by knowing and obeying His Word, from a crawling infant to an adult, who is ready to stand firm and even help others.
- How long does it take a human child to start feeding themselves, assuming there is food available?
- Have you ever heard someone in church say they didn’t get “fed”? Where does that comment fall on the spectrum of spiritual infancy to maturity?
- Would you consider yourself an infant, mature believer or somewhere in the middle? Why?
How do I start growing by God’s Word?
Get a Plan
Important things we tend to plan for.
We’re always glad when we board an airliner that the captain followed a plan to become a pilot, and that our surgeon followed a plan to become a doctor.
Likewise, growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ is not without a plan. Paul told Timothy,
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Jesus had a plan. Crowds swarmed around Jesus, “but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
- Why do you think Jesus sought out “lonely places” to pray?
Daily Quiet Time
Sometimes this practice of a daily time to read and reflect on God’s word and to pray is called a quiet time.
Think of it as the first and most important “appointment” of the day. The goal of your quiet time is not to study about Christ, but to actually meet with Him.
We will go into more detail on having a daily devotional time with God in Unit 4. But for now, if you don’t have a plan, begin by setting a time each day when you are at your best.
For many this is early morning. Tip: You may have to set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier if time is an issue. Find a private place and your Bible.
Five days this coming week pray though one of these Psalms. That is, find them in your Bible, read and reflect, turning the Psalmist’s prayer into your own, praying it to God for yourself, applying it to your life and situation. We’ve included a key thought from each to whet your appetite:
- Day One: Psalm 139 “search me, O God, and know my heart”
- Day Two: Psalm 51 “forgive me, O God”
- Day Three: Psalm 103 “Bless the Lord, O my soul...who redeems your life from the pit”
- Day Four: Psalm 91 “the Lord is my refuge’”
- Day Five: Psalm 63 “my soul thirsts for You in a dry and weary land”
Remember, these Psalms were real prayers from real people trying to follow God in a less than perfect world. Their experience was not much different from ours!
Five Ways to Get Firm Hold on the Word
Colossians 2:9 instructs us to, “hold firmly to the word of life.” Here are five practices that will help you “hold firmly” God’s Word, and let it transform you.
1. Hear: For fourteen centuries the Bible was not in print. Most people had to hear the Word from others as it was publicly read or taught. Today we are blessed with:
- Church services
- Bible App audio app while you drive
- Podcasts and videos from gifted Bible teachers
2. Read: Daily reading can consist of a few verses, to a few chapters. There are many resources with Bible reading plans we will share below.
- Unit 1 challenged us to commit to reading the book of John, a chapter a day for 21 days. That’s also a great way to start.
- There are many free online daily Bible reading and devotional apps. Check out the YouVersion Bible app, available free in your favorite app store. Reading plans range from a few days to a year. And you can track your progress.
3. Study: The difference between reading and studying the Bible is that you take notes when you study.
- Observe: Start by observing what is actually written. Our biggest challenge is to slow down. Notice the details. What was said (and not said). What does the context, the verses before and after, add to my understanding? How does one point or word relate to another? Ask the basic questions: Who are the people involved? Where did it take place? When? Why? and How?
- Interpret: After observing, continue by asking, “what does it mean?” Our goal is to find the author’s intended meaning, not what we, or someone else, might think or wish it said. Is it a story? Ask what the timeless principle is behind the action or God’s response. How does God deal with people? Can we summarize that in a timeless statement?
- Apply: Finally, the goal of study is to apply it to our own life. A passage only has one intended meaning, but can have endless applications to life from that one point. For example, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” clearly means treat others the way you want them to treat you. One meaning. But there are thousands of ways that should be applied over the course of your life. And that is the goal! To live it out as God intended.
4. Meditate: In the Bible meditation does not mean emptying your mind, but actively reflecting on part of God’s word, and how it applies to your life. We do this already. If you’ve ever gotten a love letter or a notice from the IRS, you read it over and over and try to catch the exact nuance and of course, what to do about it! Meditating on God’s Word is like that, and essential to following God:
How happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers, instead his delight is in the Lord’s instruction and he meditates on it day and night. (Psalm 1)
When you read a passage, pause and reflect: Picture the scene. Say it aloud. Paraphrase it in your own words. Personalize it and pray it to God, applying it to your life situations.
5. Memorize: Hiding God’s word in my heart by memorizing it helps me resist temptation (Psalm 119:11). It helps me make wise decisions (Psalm 119:105). And it strengthens me when I am facing trouble (Psalm 119:49). Why not start by memorizing 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Check out free Bible memory apps such as this one.
The Bible is inspired by God and it is His revelation to us
Its purpose is to equip us for life and ministry as disciples of Jesus Christ
We grow spiritually as we believe and obey God’s Word
Your Spiritual Growth Path
We grow by taking a next step!
Choose one of the two areas below and then either a “walk,” “jog,” or “run” step. The walk steps are beginning or shot term steps, the jog steps intermediate, and the run steps more challenging.
If you are still working on steps from a previous week, don’t feel pressured to do any of these! Or choose a “walk” step for now. Perhaps mark one of these for future action if that’s the case.
1- Meditating on God’s Word….
Meditate on a verse of Scripture on a daily basis. You may want to take some notes on what you have learned about God.
Set aside time to study God’s Word on a daily basis. Pray and ask God for insight into his Word and how it can apply to your daily life.
Memorize Scripture. Choose some scriptures from your daily reading to memorize. Make it a priority to hide God’s Word in your heart
2- Allow God’s Word to guide my thoughts and actions…
Read one chapter of the Bible a day. Start with John’s gospel or with the 5 Psalms in the “how to” section above..
Read the Bible straight through like a story or novel. Watch thebibleproject.com video for each book before you start it.
Make a regular habit of studying the Bible in depth. You may want to get some tools to help you or take a class at church.
Parent Next Steps
Choose one or more of the Next Steps below based on the ages of your children.
*Elementary Bible Recommendations:
The Jesus Storybook Bible
The Action Bible
*Student Bible Recommendations:
NLT Study or Life Application Bibles
Snap Shot Summary
All Scripture is inspired by God. Because of that it is...
Without error in all it teaches
Sufficient for our growth as disciples (there are no other scriptures “out there”)
Clear in the sense that God intends us to understand it and it is not written in some mystic language or with “hidden” meanings
We must know it, believe it, and obey it in order to grow spiritually to maturity
Reading it, meditating on it, studying it, and memorizing it are essentials for being established as a disciple
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon D. Fee
Bible Study Methods, Rick Warren
Why Trust the Bible, Greg Gilbert