Handling Tough Texts

How do you handle a hard passage in the Bible? Peter wrote this about Paul, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand….” But if we don’t take the time to wrestle with that passage, Peter says this is what happens next: “…which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

So here’s a 5-step plan I use when I am working through a challenging passage of Scripture.

  1. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and the same Holy Spirit lives in a Christian (1 John 2:20). Think about that: the same Holy Spirit that inspired an author to write the words of Scripture is the same Spirit that will illuminate them to you!

  1. Read the difficult passage in context

We will make our task much easier when we “zoom out” from the difficult text and read the whole passage surrounding the difficult verse/phrase. Perhaps we need to “zoom out” even farther to understand why the whole chapter or book was written.

  1. Identify the parts that are clear

Start off by identifying the parts that you do understand, and then see what light that shines on the tricky text.

  1. Cross reference with other Scriptures

Never, ever, ever draw a conclusion from just one passage of Scripture. Paul reminded his audience that he used the “whole counsel of God’s Word” (Acts 20:27) in forming his sermons. If the challenging passage contains an Old Testament passage, look it up; if it references an historical event, read that history. I also like to use biblegateway.com’s excellent search feature to find cross references.

  1. Draw conclusions on what appears to be the main point

Only after you have done step #1-4 should you attempt to draw some conclusions. You will set yourself up for error if you draw a conclusion first, and then try to find other texts in the Bible that agree with you.

The Apostle Peter writes something rather challenging in his first letter. In fact, Martin Luther said this about 1 Peter 3:18-22: “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” If you would like to see how I walk through the 5-step plan on this “obscure passage,” please check out the video below.

3 Bible Studies For You To Try

Book by book studyLast week I spoke and wrote about some tools you might use to study your Bible. Now I’d like to share some Bible study projects you might try with those new tools. As always, I recommend that beginning Bible studies go verse by verse through the Bible. I believe you will lay a strong foundation for your faith when you systematically put God’s Word into your heart.

Book By Book

I’ll use the book of Ephesians as an example. Using my Bible atlas I find that the city of Ephesus is located along an important trade route, and it is the Roman capital of the province of Asia. My Full Life Study Bible tells me that because so much trade passed through this city, this letter was probably intended to be a circular letter for all of the communities near Ephesus. As a result, Paul is not addressing any specific problems in this church, but writes theological ideas for a broad spectrum of people.

As I begin reading, I paused in the first verse when I came to the phrase “the faithful in Christ.” I asked myself, “What does it mean to be faithful IN Christ? Can I be faithful outside of Him?” By the time I got to verse 3, I saw a similar phrase: “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Now I went back and used a blue highlighter (there’s nothing special about blue, it just happened to be the first highlighter I grabbed), and marked those two “in Christ” phrases. I see two more in verse 4: “He chose us in Him” and “holy and blameless in His sight.” Going through the whole book I discovered 36 times the phrases “in Christ” or “in Him.” This is helpful to me to know the kind of security I have in Jesus.

Another thing that stood out to me were Paul’s prayers for the church. I see His very moving prayers in passages like 1:15-19 and in 3:14-21. I also see in 6:18 that he tells us to pray all kinds of prayers for ourselves and for others. And I see in 6:19 that Paul asked the church to pray for him too.

And always look for “therefore” phrases. For example in 4:24-25 or 4:32-5:1. The “therefore” phrases tell us how to live or think in light of the ideas that were just shared.

Chapter By Chapter

A good place to do this is in the Psalms or Proverbs. These are usually stand-alone chapters. When reading the chapters in these two books, I love reading them in parallel with other translations. For example, check out this from Psalm 1.

In Psalm 59, notice the superscript (or introduction). This gives us some background information to the psalm. Using my concordance, I found that this psalm was written this time in David’s life.

There is usually a theme to each chapter of the Proverbs, so try to discover that. In Proverbs 2, I noticed the “if … then” statements. In the first four verses I see things like “IF you will seek wisdom like this,” and then in verses 5-22 I see a whole bunch of blessings that follow the “then” that starts verse 5.

Word By Word

Sometimes I like to go really deep in a passage, so I slow down and look at it word by word. Here you need to use a Strong’s Concordance of the Bible. I like the one available on Blue Letter Bible. For example, next to 2 Peter 1:5, you can hover over the word “Tools” and select “Interlinear.” Clicking on “Interlinear” you will see all of the Greek words that make up this verse. By clicking on the Strong’s number, you can see the definition of that Greek word. Scrolling down a bit, you can see all of the other verses where that Greek word is used in the New Testament.

None of these tools are meant to take the place of the Holy Spirit. He is called the Spirit of Truth, and since He is the One who inspired all of the Scripture, ask His help before you begin any Bible study.

In this video I go into more detail on how I undertake all of these Bible studies. And be sure to join us next week as we take another look at different types of Bible studies.

7 Must-Have Bible Study Tools

Bonhoeffer - study the BibleIt’s been said that if the only tool a man has in his toolbox is a hammer, he tends to see every problem as a nail. In other words, we try to force every project to be handled in the exactly same way.

Sadly, for many Christians, the same is true with our knowledge of the Bible. If we have limited tools, we try to make every situation look like something we can fix with that smaller toolbox. It’s not enough for us to know only a couple of verses or a few biblical principles, and then try to use those tools to handle all of life’s situations. So let me share some basic tools that will help you expand your biblical toolbox.

Time and culture—Think about how much your culture has changed just in the 70-80 years since your grandparents were born. Think about how wardrobes have changed, and technology, and manners and customs. The earliest book of the Bible was written about 1400 BC, and the most recent book was written about 100 AD. To better understand the things I read in the Bible, here are some tools I like to use:

  • A Bible dictionary to help you know the people and various terms of their culture. I have three of them on my bookshelf, but I also like this collection from BibleGateway.
  • An atlas, to help you know where cities and major landmarks were located.
  • And here’s a cool biblical timeline.

Language—Even the English language has changed a lot since William Shakespeare penned his famous plays. But consider that the Bible was written in languages that are even older (not to mention they’re languages other than English!). To really get the full meaning of a passage, here are some tools I use:

Chain of pearls—The Bible is not a collection of isolated, independent stories or concepts, but it is a beautiful string of pearls. Every part connects to the rest of the Scripture. So some resources I use to help me discover how the pearls are strung together include:

What did I miss? What are your favorite Bible study tools? In the comments, please share books, commentaries, or online resources that you use to maximize your study of God’s Word.

This Sunday I’ll be sharing some different styles of Bible studies we can all do. If you live in the Cedar Springs area, please come join a really great group of people at Calvary Assembly of God. Otherwise, watch us on Periscope.

New Year New Attitude

New YearIf you’re looking to challenge yourself to be a better person in the New Year, you couldn’t go wrong with this list—

  1. Hate what is evil
  2. Cling to what is good
  3. Love others with real compassion
  4. Honor others above yourselves
  5. Work hard
  6. Keep growing spiritually
  7. Find new ways to serve the Lord
  8. Be joyful in hope
  9. Be patient in hard times
  10. Be faithful in prayer
  11. Share with others who are in need
  12. Practice hospitality
  13. Bless those who persecute you
  14. Laugh with your friends when they’re happy
  15. Cry with your friends when they’re sad
  16. Live in harmony with everyone
  17. Make friends with those others call “nobodies”
  18. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not
  19. Don’t respond to insults with insults, but with love
  20. Try to do what is right in the eyes of everyone
  21. Live at peace with everyone
  22. Don’t take revenge, but let God handle it
  23. Don’t let evil get the best of you, but get the best of evil by doing good

(Hat tip: Apostle Paul in Romans 12:9-21)

144 Buts

144 ButsThe book of Proverbs has so much timely wisdom. Many of the proverbs are presented as the opposite of what pop culture promotes. Nowhere is this more stark than chapters 10-15.

In these six chapters, nearly every verse uses the conjunction BUT to set apart God’s way from the world’s way. In fact, I counted 144 BUTs in these chapters. Clearly there is a lifestyle that God blesses, and a lifestyle that God rejects. 

I would encourage you to read these proverbs for yourself, but let me give you just a taste of what I’m talking about. In chapter 10, the BUTs show us that doing things God’s way leads to:

  • Joy
  • Eternal treasure
  • Honor
  • Blessing
  • Strength
  • Security
  • Peace
  • Unity
  • Wisdom

And doing things the world’s way leads to:

  • Grief
  • Worthless things
  • Disgrace
  • Rot
  • Ruin
  • Insecurity
  • Violence
  • Dissension
  • Foolishness

Or consider the proverbs about our vocabulary from chapter 12:

  • Wicked words are out for blood, BUT upright words rescue (v. 6).
  • Sinful talk ensnares, BUT righteous conversation avoids trouble (v. 13).
  • Truthful words build an honest reputation, BUT a false witness is never trustworthy (v. 17).
  • Reckless words wound, BUT wise words heal (v. 18).
  • Lies are short-lived, BUT the truth wins out (v. 19).
  • God detests lies, BUT He takes delight in those who are truthful (v. 22).

Take some time to study the BUTs in these chapters, and then comment below on what you find.

Links & Quotes

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“To fulfill God’s destiny for your life, you likely don’t have to do more; you have to do less. … Enjoy the Christmas season. Wrap the presents. Prepare your home in a festive way. Make memories with your family. But don’t let this Christmas pass without spending some time at Jesus’ feet. Long after everything else fades from this Christmas, worshiping Jesus is all that will truly last.” —Rick Warren

“Holidays in America have come to be regarded as entitlements. They’re all about us, seasons of diversion, distraction, self-indulgence, and time off work. Even the great religious celebrations of the national calendar—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter—are regarded by most Americans as opportunities to get some good bargains and enjoy a little time for relaxation, not for spiritual reflection and renewal, but just for doing whatever we want. Sort of like the way most Christians observe the Lord’s Day.” —T.M. Moore

As we are celebrating the First Advent, J. Warner Wallace asks a great question: Why didn’t the Apostle Paul mention the virgin conception?

“I am convinced many Christians today are troubled for the same reason Asa was [2 Chronicles 16:1-9]. They have war in their souls because they have traded faith for self-reliance. But the fact is, there is no way a follower of Jesus can have faith in any other source and not be troubled.” —David Wilkerson

“People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel—the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.” —John Piper

“Whether one makes the observation light-heartedly or in all seriousness, one must observe that, when the male body unites for procreation with the female, the pleasure that goes along with it is understood to be in accordance with nature, but that when male joins with male, or female with female, it is outside the bounds of nature. This outrage was first done by people whose desire for pleasure was without self-control.” —Plato. This agrees with what the Bible says in Romans 1:26-27.

Lenny Esposito has some good advice for students to defend their Christian faith in the classroom.

Seth Godin has some insight on whining—“Before starting, a question: Will it help? Like holding a grudge, or like panicking, whining rarely helps. If anything, any of the three make it far less likely that you’ll make progress solving the problem that has presented itself. And, like knuckle cracking, it’s best enjoyed alone.”

[VIDEO] Bobby Conway asks Lenny Esposito how to handle the claim “The Bible has contradictions in it”—

Links & Quotes

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“Build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children.” —John Piper

“The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary—people who acknowledge their lowly estate [Luke 1:43, 48] and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God.” —John Piper

“I try to read every book—Christian and secular—touted as ground-breaking. None of them are. We are driven by a reality placed in us by the Creator God with legitimate ways, context, and relationship to express our sexuality. If we don’t find those legitimate outlets, we will spend our lives searching for fulfillment in self-destructive ways to fill that God-given need for community, intimacy, relationship, and meaning. We cannot live without intimacy, and here I don’t mean sex. Sex is simply one of the most powerful forms of intimacy. We are not asexual beings. Being Christ-followers, striving for integrity in all things, doesn’t neuter us.” —Becky McDonald, founder and president of Women At Risk (WAR) International

“We must discipline our minds in all things to submit to the Word of God. We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and we are commanded to let His mind hold sway in all our thinking (Philippians 2:5). What the Scripture teaches concerning the disciplined life may not always seem the reasonable thing to do—because we cannot square its teaching with our experience or logic—but it is always the Word of God. Our duty is to get behind it and order all our steps accordingly.” —T.M. Moore

“Life is better when we act like we might see someone again soon, isn’t it?” —Seth Godin

This is scary (but typical of how abortion providers operate): a 911 call reveals that a teenager is held against her will and is being forced to have an abortion!

BREAKING NEWS: The US Senate has voted to repeal Obamacare, and defund Planned Parenthood!

Guillaume Bignon, a former atheist, has become a Christian. Here is Sean McDowell’s interview with him.

Archeologists in Israel have found a seal purported to belong to King Hezekiah. You can read about other verified archeological finds every day in the Archeological Study Bible.

[VIDEO] John Maxwell on the value of imagination—

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