8 Tips for Reading the Bible

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40 ESV

It is safe to assume that few people have much experience in reading ancient documents like the Bible; therefore, in concluding this series, I hope to provide some advice on how to read the Bible.

First, it is important to understand that the entire Bible has one great theme: Jesus Christ. Even though He is never mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Jesus is the center and purpose of all Scripture. In fact, He said so Himself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).” In that context, only the Old Testament had been written; therefore, Christ explicitly stated that the Old Testament is entirely about Him.

Second, consider the genre. Though the Bible is a united book, it is also a library of books. Books like Genesis, Samuel, Matthew, and Acts are narratives. They tell history and should be read as such. Psalms and Proverbs are collections of poems and wisdom respectively, so they are unique from the other books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a philosophical treatise. Song of Solomon is an epic love poem. Romans and Hebrews are letters systematically explaining the gospel to western and eastern mindsets respectively.

Third, love it, memorize it, and meditate on it. If anything could be said about reading the Bible, fill your life with it. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible, and it is dedicated to declaring the excellence of the Scriptures. As you read, pray that God would give you delight in His Word. Make an effort to store it in your heart by memorizing it. Do not read for a few minutes and go on with your day. After memorizing, meditate upon the Word. Roll its words around in your mind, thinking deeply upon God’s thoughts.


Because the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, we should strive to know and understand it more and more. From a human perspective, the Bible is gigantic, so it can be quite intimidating to begin reading the Bible. Here are some suggestions for how to begin your journey in the Scriptures.

First, resolve to read the Bible every day. Even if you find yourself not understanding much, continue to read it. The more time you spend with the Bible, the more you will learn.

Second, begin with the New Testament. The entire Bible is crucial for us as God’s people, but some books are easier to read than others. Start with the New Testament, reading the life of Jesus, the history of the church, and the letters of the apostles.

Third, ask questions about what you’ve read. Paul’s list of the profitability of Scripture from 2 Timothy 2:2 is a good guide. If the Bible helps us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness, ask those types of questions. What does this text teach me (about God, humanity, sin, etc.)? Does this passage reveal any sin or faults in my thinking? How might God use this text to correct me? How might He use it to train me toward righteousness?

Fourth, buy a good study Bible. There are many good study Bibles in book stores, but the best currently is the ESV Study Bible. Study Bibles provide comments, notes, articles, and other resources side-by-side the Bible to help you better understand what you are reading. Other study Bibles worth considering are: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, the John MacArthur Study Bible, and the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.

Fifth, and most important, pray for God to help you understand His Word. This literally cannot be overemphasized. There is no commentary, study Bible, or sermon that will ever replace the heart transformation of prayerfully reading God’s Word for yourself.

The Narrow Gate | Matthew 7:13-14

Week 14 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

OPENING THOUGHT

Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples in order to teach them what citizenship within the kingdom of heaven should look like. He began the sermon with the Beatitudes, which defined the characteristics that ought to mark Christ’s followers. He then clarified the Christian’s purpose on earth and explained how we are supposed to relate to the Old Testament’s laws and commandments. In chapter six, Jesus taught how we give to the poor, pray, and fast incorrectly. He also encouraged us to store our treasure in heaven, not on earth, and when they are secure with God, we can truly live without anxiety, knowing that God is in control.

In chapter seven, Jesus warned us against hypocritically judging others, telling us to first take the log out our own eye before getting a speck out of our brother’s eye. He then encouraged us to petition the Father in prayer. He explains that our heavenly Father will lovingly give to us what we need, so long as we first recognize our dependency upon Him. Furthermore, once we know the loving-kindness of the Father, it will transform how we love and treat the people around us.

Today, we will cover just two small verses, yet they are loaded with meaning and impact. Here Jesus commands His disciples to travel down the difficult path, entering into the narrow gate, which leads to eternal life and to avoid the easy road with a broad gate, which leads to destruction. Our Lord is describing in metaphor the only two ways of living that are available to us. Either we will follow Christ down the narrow road or we will take whatever path pleases us, which ultimately is all a part of the broad path to destruction.

Read verses 13-14 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus tells us that there are only two paths with two gates, the narrow leads to life and the broad leads to destruction. What is the narrow gate of which Jesus is speaking?
  2. Why is the gate narrow and the path hard that leads to life?
  3. Is God righteous by only providing one way of salvation?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Consider Jesus’ command: enter by the narrow gate. Take time to prayerfully meditate upon the gospel, coming to God in repentance once again.
  • Pray. Pray for friends and family in your life who are traveling down the broad and easy road toward destruction that they may come to know the truth of the gospel.

The Process of Creation | Genesis 1:2-25

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)

OPENING THOUGHT

Though only one verse into the study, my hope is that even from the first verse of Genesis that you would begin to understand the magnitude and glorious power of our God. Within the span of a few words, we learned that God is eternal, transcendent, and incomprehensible. He stands outside of all creation because He created all of it. Unique and holy, there is no one and nothing like God. And in His infinite grace and mercy, He has given to us His Word that we might know Him as our Father!

Now we read how creation came about. Verse 2 gives a very ominous and foreboding tone. For some reason, the earth was formless, void, and covered with the deep. The deep was an interesting Hebrew concept for viewing the ocean. When they looked upon the sea, they saw everything in nature that could not be tamed. The waters of the deep represented the chaos of nature. God then proceeds to bring order to the chaos through creation.

The days of creation are organized into two groups. The first three days focus on God forming the formlessness of earth. The final three days then center upon God filling the void on earth. Also the days correspond with one another. Day one corresponds with day four, day two with day five, and day three with day six. The first set forms. The final set fills. This process stands in sharp contrast to the chaotic nature of verse 2. Of the many lessons to be learned from these verses, one of the largest is that our God is a God of order and process, not of chaos and disorder.

Read verse 2 and discuss the following.

  1. This verse describes the primordial earth in disorder and chaos, but we are told that the Spirit was hovering upon the face of the deep. God, through His Word and by His Spirit, would soon form the formless and fill the empty. How is this similar to the miracle of salvation?

Read verses 3-5 and discuss the following.

  1. God begins creation by bring light into the darkness. Of course, when light enters darkness, the darkness is dispelled. How does this provide a picture of Christ’s coming into the world?

Read verses 6-10 and discuss the following.

  1. Day two describes God commanding the deep (the waters that covered the face of the earth), creating the sky and the sea. What does God’s commanding of the deep reveal to us about Him?

Read verses 11-13 and discuss the following.

  1. Day three sees God forming land and vegetation, which God did to prepare the earth for the creation of humanity. What does this tell us about the provision of God?

Read verses 14-19 and discuss the following.

  1. In day four, God sets the celestial objects in the heavens. Today, we know that stars are immensely large and full of magnificently powerful chemical reactions; however, their creation is covered in three words: “and the stars.” Why does God place so much emphasis upon earth, even though it is little more than a pale, blue dot in the universe? What do the heavens tell us about the glory of God?

Read verses 20-25 and discuss the following.

  1. On day five and six, God fills the sea, sky, and land with fish, birds, and animals. God commands them to be fruitful and fill the earth, which is a blessing to them. Why are the commands of God always blessings to those who obey?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the billions upon billions of stars and galaxies in the heavens, and then consider if you have a glorious enough view of God.
  • Throughout these first days of creation, God orders the chaos for the purpose of providing a home for humanity. Reflect upon your own faith, and think about whether you trust God to provide in everyday matters.

Jacob’s Vision | Genesis 28:10-22

Week 4 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION 

A he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heave. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:12)

Tn Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you. (Genesis 28:20-22)

And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the Angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. (John 1:51)

OPENING THOUGHT 

The account of Abraham’s descendants is already a bumpy one. Isaac followed in the faith of his father, but he also walked after Abraham’s sins. So far, Jacob and Esau have been less than ideal sons. Their fighting began in their mother’s womb and continued to grow with them. After Esau foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup, we last saw how Jacob also stole Esau’s blessing. Following Jacob’s deception, Esau was so angry with his brother that he began to actively plot his murder.

Our present text occurs while Jacob is journeying to the homeland of his mother, a significant 500 miles away from home. Along the way, Jacob takes rest for the night and finds himself swept up in a vision of God. He sees a great ladder with the angels ascending and descending upon it. Above the ladder is God, who pronounces the covenantal blessing of Abraham and Isaac upon Jacob. He awakes from the vision awestruck and afraid. The text then concludes with Jacob creating an monument, calling the place Bethel (the house of God), and vowing to serve the LORD.

This is easily one of the most important moments of Jacob’s life. Until now, God spoke to Abraham and Isaac but not to Jacob. He had heard of God but not from God. Now the LORD would not merely be the God of his father and grandfather but his God also. The power of this event is also evident even in its structure. First, God calls to Jacob, promising to bless him, and then Jacob responds to God in worship. That is the pattern for all believers throughout history: God gives grace, and we respond in worship.

Read verses 10-15 and discuss the following. 

  • God appears to Jacob for the first time through an extraordinary vision. Does God still use visions or similar signs to speak to believers today?
  • Jacob’s vision is of angels ascending and descending upon a heavenly ladder while God stands above it. How do Jesus’ words in John 1:51 connect to this vision? Why does Jesus use this imagery for Himself?

Read verses 16-22 and discuss the following.

  • Even after receiving tremendous promises of blessings, Jacob still wakes from the vision afraid, which displays a fear of the LORD in him. What is the fear of the LORD, and why is it important for followers of Christ?
  • Jacob worshipfully responds to God’s gracious blessings by vowing to serve the LORD and give Him a tenth of his possessions. In what ways do you live a worshipful life daily in response to believing the gospel?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER 

  • Obey. Consider the actions of worship that Jacob takes in response to God’s blessings. Do you similarly worship God with your life and finances? Ask the LORD to guide you into sacrificial giving.
  • Pray. Though Jacob received a stunning vision, we have in the Bible the full Word of God; therefore, give thanks to God for His revelation in the Scriptures.
COPYRIGHT© B.C. NEWTON 2016

Jesus’ Revelation | Revelation 1

Seven Letters Week 1

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1 ESV)

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3 ESV)

Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. (Revelation 1:19 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Revelation is a weird book. I mean, really weird. Like, demon-locusts and sulfur-breathing horses with snake tails weird. Yet for all of its weirdness, Revelation is a crucial book of the Bible for understanding how the story of humanity will end.

The premise of the book is that Jesus reveals Himself to the Apostle John several decades after He ascended into heaven, leaving behind His disciples to continue His ministry on earth.  Think about it: John was essentially Jesus’ best friend, the disciple whom He loved, and Jesus appears to John again. Surely this must have been a reunion of the highest order, right?

Well, John describes Jesus’ voice as being as loud as a trumpet and that His face was shining like the full strength of the sun. In fact, Jesus’ glory is so overwhelming that John immediately faints from the sheer enormity of it all. Needless to say, it likely wasn’t the reunion that John had imagined.

Nevertheless, as we study the first section of Revelation, Jesus’ seven letters to the seven churches in Asia, let us approach these words with their due awe and reverence. Just as John gave this book for the hearing and obedience of the first-century church, so must we be ready to listen and obey them today.

Read verses 1-3 and discuss the following.

  1. Revelation comes with a promise of blessing for those who read, hear, and obey the words within it. How is this promise similar to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27?

Read verses 4-8 and discuss the following.

  1. In verse six, John declares that after God loved us by freeing us from sin He made us a kingdom and priests of God. What is the significance of these two things? What do other books of the Bible say on the matter?

Read verses 9-20 and discuss the following.

  1. In his vision, John hears Jesus tell him to write down the words that Jesus will dictate to him. In what ways does this mirror Peter’s explanation of how Scripture is written in 2 Peter 1:21?
  2. John’s immediate response to Jesus’ glory is to fall down before Him. Even though John is likely afraid, Jesus tells him not to fear. Given how often the Bible speaks about the fear of God, how is it possible to rightly fear God but also obey such commands to not be afraid?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Reread the entire chapter, paying careful attention to the glorious descriptions of Christ. Prayerfully consider whether your view of Christ and His glory matches His revealed majesty here.
  • Reflect upon your reading and obedience to the Scriptures and in what ways you may better submit yourself to the obeying the Word of God.

My Lord & My God | Dec 28

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 ESV)

The account of “doubting Thomas” is a Sunday School classic. Though being one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, Thomas wrestled to believe the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In fact, he boldly declared that unless he could touch Christ’s wounds with his own hands he would not believe that Jesus was really alive.

Jesus, of course, shows up eight days later to give Thomas the proof that he sought.

Just as the birth of Christ is meaningless without understanding the cross, Jesus’ death is pointless without His resurrection. If on the cross Jesus was bruised, the serpent’s head is crushed during Christ’s resurrection.

By conquering death, Jesus gave us reason to hope in His conquering of death for us as well.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  // 1 Corinthians 15:17

Thomas immediately realizes implications of Jesus’ resurrection by calling Jesus his Lord and God.

By calling Jesus Lord, Thomas declares that Jesus is his ruler (or master) and that he is Jesus’ servant (or slave).

Thomas then explicitly calls Jesus his God. For a Jew to proclaim divinity to a man was absolutely unthinkable, so for Thomas to risk such blaspheme can only mean that he became thoroughly convinced that Jesus is God.


Take time to reflect upon the words of Thomas. Is Jesus your Lord and God as well? If so, what implications does that thought have upon how we understand 1 Corinthians 6:19-20?


 

It Is Finished | Dec 27

When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30 ESV)

Christmas means nothing without the cross.

Indeed, it is a miracle that Jesus was born of a virgin, fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies, and healed the sick, yet without the His death, none of it would have mattered. As the Messiah, Jesus came to defeat sin and death; however, Jesus could not save us from sin without first paying the price of our sin, which is death. If God simply overlooked our sins, He would cease to be just.

Jesus, therefore, satisfied the mercy and the justice of God.

Though He was without sin, Jesus faced death in our place. He absorbed the serpent’s venom, becoming the sacrificial king of Isaiah 53. Christ suffered the wrath of God in order that we might know the grace and mercy of God. This means that we are only saved from God’s wrath by Jesus’ atoning death.

If the entirety of our salvation is dependent upon Jesus’ death, its sufficiency is of the utmost importance.

Should there be one sin that Jesus did not atone for or if there is one drop of God’s wrath not satisfied, we will be undone.

Thankfully, such is not the case.

Instead, Christ proclaimed that His work is finished. Jesus’ blood is entirely sufficient for our redemption and justification.


Are there still areas of your life where you strive to earn God’s favor apart from trusting in the finished work of Christ?