Tag Archives: How to Study the Bible

How to Study through a Passage of Scripture

 

Have you ever wondered how to work through a passage of Scripture for personal study and for more than just a cursory reading? Perhaps you would like to start studying your Bible or a particular passage but are unsure of how to start or what it might even look like. Below, I’ve included my thoughts from Matthew 6:25-34 as a simple example of how to get started. It goes without saying, the more you read and re-read the Bible, the more insight and understanding you will gain.

I’ve found it is sometimes helpful to break the verses/passage into smaller parts and ask yourself what you see (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How).  For example, Who is the intended audience? What does the author intend to convey here? What does this reveal about God?  The parts of the passage I’ve broken down are in bold below. Next, it may be helpful to observe what contribution that part may have to the whole, both the immediate context, the chapter/book as a whole, and other relevant passages of Scripture (cross-references). Finally, I’ve not included it in the example below, but after working through the passage as best you can, then consult a commentary or study Bible to see if you are on the right track, can supplement your thoughts with additional notes, or answer any lingering questions (as noted below). Those with an interest in more advanced study of a passage would’ve started with the Greek and either translated the passage on their own, or would have at least kept an eye on the individual words for potential meaning and usage.  For the purpose of this example, I used a more “literal translation” (ESV), since most people will be more comfortable using a translation in their own language.

Pray for understanding and the Spirit’s illumination of your particular passage.

Read the passage (Matthew 6:25-34 is the example I used below)

25 “Therefore

  • Always key
    • This provides a link to what was previously spoken of and a transition to what will now be addressed
    • “Therefore” would seem to indicate that this entire discussion on anxiety is in some way related to “laying up treasures in heaven” and the immediate preceding verse “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and money”

I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.

  • Thesis statement
  • “I tell you”
    • The words of Christ
      • Offers encouragement and conviction
  • Do Not
    • The language of command
  • Anxious – thoughts or feelings of the mind that indicate worry or distress
    • About What?
  1. Life
  2. Eat
  3. Drink
  4. Body
  5. Clothing

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

  • Rhetorical question asked as a transition into an example to prove Jesus’ thesis statement from above
  • Life does not find its worth in food or clothing, but in the glory of God

26 Look at the birds of the air:

  • Observance of God’s creation for the purpose of seeing the outworking of His providence
  • Note two things here:
    • A remedy for anxiety can be found in the observance of nature
    • This observation is meant to bring thoughts of God to our minds, namely His providence, but other attributes could flow out from this, i.e. goodness, sovereignty, love, etc.

they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

  • Again, working through the observation of nature, namely birds.
  • Think through their life; note that they don’t “do” anything for food; they don’t plant, reap, or gather/store.
  • Despite this, the Father feeds them

Are you not of more value than they?

  • This should bring to mind Genesis 1&2
    • Man is created in the image of God
    • Man has more intrinsic worth than other creation, i.e. animals
    • Christ died for man
    • Therefore man’s worth is intrinsically tied to God, Who gives them their worth over and above birds
      • A multitude of passages could be examined here
        • Co-heirs with Christ
        • Children of God
        • Union with Christ
        • Romans 8, etc.

27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

  • Utilizing another rhetorical device, which by implication must be answered in the negative, “no one can”.

28 And why are you anxious about clothing?

  • This is a transitional question to shift from life (food) to clothing.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,

  • Again Jesus appeals to the observation of nature
  • There must be, at least implicit, an encouragement to observe nature for the purpose of 1)meditations on the glory and majesty of God in caring for His creation 2) a device for combating anxiety

29 yet I tell you,

  • The words of Christ; the Intercessor and High Priest of believers; The Great Mediator between God and Man, the God-Man.
  • This simple statement should give us encouragement in the face of anxiety that He who has “in every way been tempted like we are, yet is without sin” (Hebrews 4:15) is concerned with our anxious thoughts and has provided so simple of an alternative, namely the observation of His care and providence over creation.

even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

  • Argument from lesser (flowers) to the greater (Solomon)
  • One should be encouraged to review the providence of God in the life of Solomon and note specifically the promises/fulfillment of God in His life. see: 1 Kings 1 and following; Proverbs

30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field,

  • The “if” here will connect with the later phrase “will He…”
  • This is the 3rd argument from observation of nature (birds, flowers, grass)

which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,

  • A parenthetical statement that serves as a reminder of the temporary nature of grass to further illustrate the point
    • As believers, we should be keenly aware of the love and care that God has for us in 1) Sending His Son to die for us 2) Preserving us in this life for His purposes and glory 3) Bringing us into glory with Him in a renewed body for life everlasting; far superior than the temporary clothing that He gives to grass
    • Despite the “alive today, burned tomorrow” temporary nature of grass, God still takes the time and effort to “clothe” it

will he not much more clothe you,

  • Argument from the lesser (grass) to the greater (believers) utilized again.

O you of little faith?

  • A mild rebuke in the midst of the exhortation
  • This should be a reminder that anxiety is a lack of faith
    • This is sin

31 Therefore

  • Always key
    • Here serves as a transition to bring to conclusion the exhortation against anxiety

do not be anxious,

  • This has the language of command
    • This puts anxious feelings on the level of disobedience, i.e. sin, again

saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

  • Grumbling and mumbling; reminiscent of Numbers 11 and the Israelites murmuring about manna and quail
  • Perhaps a subtle contrast here is the prior encouragement to observe nature with the anxious person’s observation of a perceived lack of goods, food, drink, clothes.
    • The anxious mind focuses on self, instead of on God
      • Anxiety is at its heart selfish, self-reliant, and concerned with self-preservation

32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

  • For
    • Builds upon the previous statement and brings it forward
  • If Gentiles here is to include believers today, i.e. Christian Non-Jews, then this entire pericope is non-sensical.
    • Yes the audience is likely a majority of ethnic Jews (His disciples in the immediate audience) however, there must be another meaning implied here, namely that the Gentiles are a non-Godfearing, unbelieving people, i.e. pagans. See Matthew 18:17
      • Further support for this may be found in the Old Testament
        • See also the Apostle Paul: Ephesians 2:11, 4:17; 1 Thess. 4:5 and the Apostle Peter: 1 Peter 4:3
    • “Seeking after” serves as a reminder that anxiety is an exercise in selfish gain, whether this be for material possessions or bodily preservation
    • An appeal to the omniscience of God
      • There is at least a note of compassion here in that God the Father, in His omniscience, is aware of the believers everyday needs

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

  • Surely there is a contrast between “seeking” in verse 32 and “seeking” here in this passage
    • The former seeks for things of this world, the latter seeks the things of God.
  • Seeking is 1) Of God’s Kingdom 2) God’s Righteousness
    • What is this?
      • Kingdom is referenced more in Matthew than any other NT book
        • Examine Matthew’s usage prior to this passage
    • How does one do this?
      • It is a setting of the mind
        • The background for this must at least partially be found in the earlier verses of the Sermon on the Mount, namely Matthew 5
        • See also the model prayer from earlier in this same chapter Matthew 6:9-13
          • Your kingdom come
          • Give us this day our daily bread
        • If you seek these things, in opposition to those things, your mind will not have time to focus on self, nor be anxious about your own kingdom and self

and all these things will be added to you.

  • “These things” – note the previous use in verse 32, which seems to be defined in verse 31
    • Food
    • Drink
    • Clothing

34 Therefore

  • Again key, as our Lord transitions into His concluding exhortation

do not be anxious about tomorrow,

  • The language of command again
  • Tomorrow is an all-inclusive term to catch everything that He has just included (likely back to the thesis in verse 25)
    • Life
    • Eat
    • Drink
    • Body
    • Clothing

for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

  • This seems to imply, not that tomorrow has the ability to be anxious, nor that when tomorrow comes it’s ok to be anxious, but that in conjunction with the following statement, tomorrow’s challenges will be sufficient in their own right

Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

  • One day at a time

Summarizing how to combat anxiety:

  1. Christ commands against it
  2. Anxiety reveals a lack of faith and a failure to trust in the promises and provision of God
  3. Life’s value is not found in either food or drink, nor in the body itself, but in the glory of God; therefore our bodies are not our own, we were bought with a price and should take great comfort in knowing that; because of this, we have value to God
  4. Creation observation #1 – Birds
  5. Creation observation #2 – Flowers
  6. Creation observation #3 – Grass
  7. God’s providential dealings in each of these examples should cause us to marvel, yet as we are superior to these examples by relation so too is God’s care for us as His children.
  8. Pagans seek after their own self-interests, personal kingdom, etc. and self is at the heart of anxiety; Contrast with seeking after the things of God, namely His kingdom and His righteousness
  9. One day at a time resting in the promises of God and embracing the provision that He grants His children daily; His mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness!

Where do you go from here?  Read & Study (both of which you’ve done here!) Now Meditate.  Think about what you have read; what God has revealed about Himself; What about His character; What about the nature of sin.  Meditation is not absent minded, it is thinking deeply on the Word of God.

Next, Application.  This may be simply coming to an understanding about something you did not previously know of God, His character, promises, provision, etc.  Or about yourself, i.e. it may require repentance, prayer, faith, change in your attitude toward sin, etc.

Read. Study. Meditate. Apply. Repeat.