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Elements of Productive Bible Study: Read

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

by John MacArthur

By now, we can agree that God’s Word is the foundation of our spiritual growth. But how do the words on the pages of Scripture translate into greater godliness and deeper sanctification in the lives of God’s people?

To help you get the most from God’s Word, I want to highlight some key elements of productive Bible study. The first one is simple—we have to read it.

It’s a very basic instruction, but it’s one that’s often overlooked in the pursuit of quick and easy spiritual development. You can’t grow from Scripture if you don’t know it, and you won’t know it if you don’t read it.

The question then becomes, “How should I read it?” There are all sorts of helpful Bible-reading schedules and plans—there’s even a version of the study Bible called The MacArthur Daily Bible that’s designed to be read over the course of a year. Pick a plan and stick with it—the method doesn’t matter nearly as much as the motivation.

And your motivation matters a great deal. If you’re simply reading your Bible to say you’ve read it—to fulfill a requirement rather than glean and grow from God’s eternal truth—you can’t expect to see fruit of your study in your life. Speed-reading and thorough biblical understanding do not go hand in hand, and there are no corners to cut when it comes to studying Scripture. If you want to know it, you have to read it carefully, intently, and faithfully.

The pattern that has worked best for me over the years is repetition. Not the kind of shallow, mindless repetition recommended in various spiritual formation methods. I’m not talking about disengaging your mind and waiting for a mystical word from the Lord. Cherry-picking disjointed words and phrases from the Bible is a recipe for confusion, frustration, and theological error. Instead, we need to dig deeply to understand the context and content of God’s truth.

I’ll take a New Testament book or a large section from a book and read it over and over, day after day. Sometimes I’ll read it for thirty days—sometimes much longer. The point is to saturate my mind with the text. I want to know it from every angle, to be able to explain its major themes, and to understand what the author had to say to his original audience, and the implications his teaching has for my life.

The whole point of reading is to understand what the Bible says. And it’s helpful for more than just the passage immediately in front of you. As your knowledge of Scripture increases, you’ll start to see how one passage informs and explains other passages. You’ll start to see the connections between the biblical authors, how the Old and New Testaments work together in harmony, and how the Bible is the best resource for explaining the Bible.

It’s hard to understand that if you’re handcuffed to a concordance, or you only ever hunt and peck through God’s Word, looking for nuggets of truth that “speak to you.”

Faithfully reading Scripture deepens your understanding, trains you to think biblically, and stimulates your spiritual growth. Don’t let a lack of discipline or a short attention span be an excuse to miss out on those blessings.

(And if you don’t already have a Scripture-reading plan, you can follow our daily devotionals online here.)


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#1  Posted by Matthew Christie  |  Wednesday, September 26, 2012at 7:06 AM

What are the opinions on the Horner reading plan? I have been using it off and on for a few years and when I am able to stay consistent it is really good, but falling behind is easy too if I miss a couple days.

#2  Posted by Rick White  |  Wednesday, September 26, 2012at 7:08 AM

I've found that the MacArthur Study Bible is a great resource for understanding scripture. Most times I will just read the text but if I come across a section that I'm not sure if I understand properly I just drop down to the study notes and always gain very good insight into what the text is saying. I once had a minister tell me that I should use a text only Bible when studying but would find myself getting stuck on portions of scripture that I wasn't sure of the meaning. It sure helps having someone like John MacArthur explaining the text when I get stuck.

#3  Posted by Jordan Bushey  |  Wednesday, September 26, 2012at 9:03 AM

I too use the MacArthur Study Bible as the main source of study. I've even got it on Kindle, which is extremely convenient, as the study bible is rather bulky and not very portable. I used to read the notes only when I was stuck at a point I didn't understand, but now I read all of the notes because I've found there is ancillary information that I find elucidates the passages even more.

#5  Posted by Lisa Mifflin  |  Wednesday, September 26, 2012at 2:03 PM

I love Professor Horner's program idea - this is my second year. I say "idea" because I have changed it to make it what I want. I made myself bookmarks with boxes to check off, and changed the order a little, giving more emphasis to books I want to read 4-6 times per year, and less to some of the books he emphasizes. I do not fret over missing a day, I just keep moving. I do not use dates on my bookmarks. If I am extremely busy, I will read 3 chapters that day and then the other 7 the next. Or I will read part in the morning and part in the evening. I particularly love seeing the connections in Scripture, and it has given me a great hunger for the Word.

I think Dr. MacArthur said it best - it's all about the motivation, not the check boxes.

#6  Posted by John Wolf  |  Thursday, September 27, 2012at 3:37 AM

I agree that the MacArthur study Bible is EXCELLENT as well as his commentary series. These days one needs to know the Bible very well, as there are many false prophets. Last night I was listening to the radio and a so called Christian counselor was on and he never once referred to scripture or the Holy Spirit for healing. I have heard MacArthur, Charles Stanley, Erwin Lutzer, James MacDonald, and such preach against psychology, and for good reason.

#7  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Thursday, September 27, 2012at 8:11 AM

I also study with the MacArthur Study Bible . It has helped me greatly with understanding text. It keeps me from "reading into" the wrong meaning and applying it to my situations in life. Although, the true meaning usually does put me on the right track, and looking at my situation in the right way.