Introduction to studying the Bible in Discipleship

Goal 

To train people in the spiritual discipline of reading the Bible and hearing God speak through the scriptures.

Foundation

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3, 16-17 (HCSB). 

This means that scripture is given to change our mindset and equip us for every type of good work. The term – man of God – refers to someone dedicated to knowing and serving God. This verse makes it clear that the goal of studying scripture is to be equipped for good works. Indeed, if the study of scripture does not result in an outflow of good works, the study will not be profitable. 

Put another way, the main reason why people get tired of studying the scripture is that they don’t have any outflow for what they are reading.

Principle #1: 
Unless we see scripture as serving to equip us for good works, we will grow dry and bored with it, sooner or later.

Now of course, we seek intimacy with God for the sake of intimacy with him. We read his word in order to know him better. Yes, there is a beauty to his logic and poetry in his words that can be very satisfying and enriching, but even when we are studying the word for our own edification this must be balanced with the other spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and service. But the spiritual disciplines and the cultivation of our personal relationship with God has got to result in good works. 

Principle #2:
Vary your approach to suit the person

It is wrong to assume that studying scripture is only meaningful when someone is already born again. Actually, when we begin a bible study, our disciples will not be men or women of God, but babes if they are indeed even born-again. You can begin to read the Word with seekers, losers, winners, rebels, criminals, Pharisees, fundamentalists, liberals, feminists, racists, or radicals. Remember, the Scriptures Jesus used were powerful enough to convince Satan to stop tempting him. So the Scriptures enlighten even those who don’t want to live by them yet. The key is the approach. That has to vary under the leading of the Holy Spirit to fit the person and the situation.

In one-on-one Discipleship, while there are elements of teaching the word and its principles, in essence, you are bearing witness to what you have learnt from Christ. Remember the Disciples were sent out as witnesses before the New Testament had been written. So the essence of the Christian life is not to be a student of the Bible. It is to be a follower of Christ. Of course the Bible is the bridge that we have to the facts about the life of Christ. But if we make it all about the Bible and not all about Jesus then we will miss the point.

Principle #3:

Be a witness

The Disciples of Jesus were instructed to bear witness to what they had seen, to what Jesus did, and to the transformation that resulted from the Words of Jesus. Later we see that the Apostles varied their approach depending on the audience. Peter gave his hearers a full tour of the Old Testament before landing his point. Paul quoted the OT a lot but also often focussed on his testimony or revelations that he had been given.

When you invite people to read the Word with you, you are inviting them to join you in the process of  hearing from God as you read together, which in many ways will mirror your own journey of getting to know God.

When the dimension of testimony is eliminated from the process of study, it becomes dry and academic. I remember, when I was growing up, being encouraged to use my Bible reading notes. I did not really enjoy those bite-sized passages of scripture because I was not able to relate to the person who wrote them. There was nothing of his personal testimony contained in those booklets. Furthermore the points being made were so often abstract and theological rather than vividly practical.  

So in my experience, not all passages of the Bible are suitable or relevant to the initial stages of Discipleship. Remember, the assignment of Jesus – teaching them everything that I commanded you, baptising etc and these signs following. (Matt 28 and Mark 16)

That means we probably need to teach someone the core principles and practices before debating the symbolism of the tabernacle or the timeline of the millenium.

So, when we make disciples, we want to focus on what Jesus did, said and taught and what he commanded us to do. This implies that in the Discipleship process, different parts of the Bible need to be read in a different way. It is a collection of books – not a single book.

Reflection first 

  • Your first job when making a disciple is to be a witness. 
  • What has God done for you? What is your testimony? 
  • How does the Word speak to you? 
  • If you are not reading and learning from the Word what will you share? 

Useful reminders

  1. Let the Holy Spirit guide you
    Prayer and personal preparation
  2. Press into the passage not your prejudices
    Read without filters
  3. Keep it simple by focussing on the story
    The person needs to be impressed by the Bible and not your knowledge of it
  4. Emphasise actions rather than abstracts
    Keep pointing to the application in daily life 
  5. Be flexible, vary the length of the passage you read together
    Move on when you cannot see an application/action. 

So where do we begin

The Bible was not written as an ordered set of instructions but as an unfolding revelation of the story of God’s attempts to impart knowledge, wisdom and understanding to people. This means that the best place to begin reading it varies with the individual. You have to ask the Lord where to start with each person you are reading with.  

But if you are asking for a systematic introduction I recommend starting with Mark. I tell the person that it is the first account of the life of Jesus and that it contains all the headlines and most important information. While reading Mark, we find references all the key topics that you need to cover when you start leading someone to Christ. 

So, for example, already in the first chapter you discover that John the Baptist shows up – you explain then that usually God speaks through messengers. This is why meeting and learning together is so important. 

Later, Jesus calls people to repent – not just come as they are – think how different this is to the Zeitgeist. 

The Gospel of Mark includes: 

  • Baptism
  • The promise of the Holy Spirit 
  • Deliverance 
  • Forgiveness of Sins
  • Opposition from the religious establishment  
  • Healing 
  • Parables about the Kingdom 
  • Crucifixion
    The resurrection 
  • The Great Commission
  • Because it is so comprehensive and compact Mark is an excellent starting point. But as the Lord leads you can bring in cross-references and your testimony to explain the action points more clearly. 

So you can use Mark as an anchor or a backbone. The important thing is to read it with a supernatural or spiritual worldview. At school, in Religious Education, we read Mark but all the demons were though of as mental illness and the miracles were taken to be signs of the Messiah, at best, or exaggerations at worst. And our vicar killed the message of the Book by talking about the Q-document and the issue of what texts are common to the other Gospels. So it became a primer for a University Theology course and of no use to daily life.  

While going through Mark and talking about repentance and Baptism, you will need to look at the creation story and the 10 commandments to explain repentance. You might go to Acts to give the Example of Saul to Paul or to Romans to explain Baptism. 

To be continued

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Gottesdienst in Salem, DE

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