When teaching some Bible study tips to an adult Sunday School class I had them pick a chapter at random. Then we performed the following exercise I had picked up from a sermon by James MacDonald on Walk in the Word. The chapter was 1 John 5, and it was a perfect example.
- Read 1-3 chapters at a time (less for doctrinal passages, more for history)
- Question it
- What portion stands out to me? Why?
- Is there an example for me to follow?
- Is there an error for me to avoid?
- Is there a duty for me to perform?
- Is there a promise for me to claim?
- Is there a sin for me to confess?
- Plan it – make a plan for how you will use it
- Pray it – pray scripture back to God
- Share it – helps others, and helps us to remember it
There are lots of ways to study the Bible, but when in doubt try the plan above. No matter how well you know the Bible you can get a lot out of this exercise. Sometimes we focus too much on the things we don’t understand and not enough on the things we do understand and can work on today.
Whenever I addressed one of the items above I noted it in bold.
Faith in the Son of God
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
This is just one of the many passages noting that Jesus is the only way. Those who truly love God will love Jesus. If you believe Jesus is the Messiah then you are born of God. Otherwise, you are not. That stood out to me, and it highlights an error to avoid: the type of religious pluralism that says all paths to God are equally valid.
2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This was another passage that stood out to me showing the exclusivity of Jesus. And note how we show love for God: By obeying his commands. This is our duty. Do we do it perfectly? No. But it is much easier when we don’t quench or grieve the Holy Spirit. We aren’t saved because of our obedience, but we aim for obedience because we are saved.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Again, notice how direct the teaching is: If you have the Son you have life. if you do not have the Son you do not have life. It is carefully written to note both possibilities, so we can’t read it as, “Well, if you have the Son you have life but you can get that life other ways as well . . .” And if we don’t believe God we make him out to be a liar! That is certainly an error to avoid.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Consider the wonderful promises of assurance and access noted in verses 13-15. How much better does it get than that? We have assurance of eternal life and that God hears us. We can hear from him whenever we open his word.
16 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
This book seems to end abruptly. It might have had more literal meaning to the original readers who lived in cultures where literal idols were worshiped – or those who live in cultures like that today – whereas our idols are more figurative but no less destructive (money, fame, etc.). Putting anything before God is an error to avoid and we should confess our sins of doing that daily.
John is often considered the “love” Apostle but he certainly isn’t soft on sin. He is a great example to follow, because he risked everything for his faith and lived it out authentically. In fact, in reading 1 John he comes across much more strongly on sin than even Paul seems to. It is useful to read the whole book so you get the proper context. John seems to make some broad and strong statements that must be considered together to get the full meaning.
So how do I plan to use this? To remind myself of the importance of obeying God’s commands to love him and my neighbors.
I prayed it back to God, thanking him for his salvation, promises and access.
And I shared it with you!
Blessings to you on your study and enjoyment of God’s word.