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“When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Acts 7:58

Saul of Tarsus did some pretty evil things. He stood by and approved the stoning of the Christian prophet Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1), ravaged the church of Christ (Acts 8:3), pulled Christians out of their homes and threw them into prison (Acts 8:3), threatened the disciples, called for Christians to be slaughtered (Acts 9:1), and zealously pursued the scattered saints (Acts 9:1). As you read the book of Acts you can get a clear picture of how Saul of Tarsus was one of the greatest adversaries to the church of Christ.

What would cause a man to do such EVIL things? Saul didn’t think that Jesus Christ was the Messiah or God. He didn’t think that the gospel that the Christians were proclaiming was true. Actually, he thought that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah or God and that those who thought contrary needed to be punished. It was those thoughts that compelled him to pursue and persecute the church of Christ.

Swallow this truth. The man I just wrote about above, Saul of Tarsus, is actually the Apostle that we so dearly love, Paul. Yes, the Paul who was baptized into Christ (Acts 9:18), the man who preached the gospel to gentiles, kings, and Jews (Acts 9:15), a man persecuted for his evangelism (Acts 9:27-30), and that is just what is recorded in Acts chapter 9! Paul is remembered as one of the strongest and greatest members that the Lord’s church has ever had (2Corinthians 11:24-33).

What would cause a man to do such GREAT things? Saul thought that Jesus was the Messiah and God. Paul thought that the gospel that Christians were proclaiming was true. Not only did he think Jesus was the Messiah and God, he thought that those that didn’t know needed to hear it and those that did know needed to be encouraged to remain faithful. It was those thoughts that compelled him to preach the gospel and encourage the church.

What could have caused one man to have acted so differently? What was it that changed in this man’s life? His Thoughts! He was converted from thinking that Jesus wasn’t the Christ to thinking that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:1-20). As a result, his actions helped change history forever.

Like Saul or Paul, what we think determines how we live our lives. Like Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16-20). Take some time to think about your thoughts and how they influence your feelings and actions. Are your thoughts causing joy, peace, encouragement, and love or are they causing  sadness, destruction, despair, and consequences? It really is cause and effect. Get the right thoughts and you will produce good fruit or get the wrong thoughts and produce bad or no fruit. It’s up to you to choose which thoughts to embrace or push away.

“you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Ephesians 4:20-24

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Mom tells you to clean your room and before you know it you are angry, frustrated, dragging your feet, and treating others with contempt. Sound familiar? Thoughts can be slippery things and before we even know it, we can be acting out due to impure and ungodly thoughts. Do you find yourself doing wrong sometimes? The reality is that your ungodly fruits start with your thoughts.

Those Pesky Thoughts!

For many of us, the first thoughts we think in various situations are impure. How do we change that? It often comes back to what we are putting into our minds. What do we spend our time doing, seeing, reading, watching, and participating in? We have heard the saying that “you are brainwashed” and the reality is that we are all brainwashed. The question is with what?

Consider Paul’s words in 1Corinthians 15:35 “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.'” Paul gave this admonition because there were people out there proclaiming that there was not going to be a resurrection of the dead (1Cor. 15:12). In other words, they were teaching that if you die you pretty much are out of luck and wouldn’t be raised from the dead (1Cor. 15:12-19). Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians was that hanging around people that proclaim that horrible teaching would start to influence (corrupt) their thoughts. Even to the point that they too would start denying the resurrection of the dead! Talk about being brain washed.

Imagine that truth in your life. If something so blatantly false can infiltrate the thoughts of men imagine those things that are a little more subtle. How many times a week are you hearing, seeing, or being exposed to sinful thoughts and actions? What songs are filling your mind as you sing along to your favorite music? What videos and pictures fill your mind as you play with your phones? What are your peers filling your minds with at school? What other worldly things are putting thoughts in your head? Don’t be deceived, your thoughts are being influenced by those things you are submersed in.

Get Those Godly Thoughts!

Who is winning the battle of your mind is usually determined by what you are washing your mind with. Consider these beautiful words of the Psalmist to the youth…

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Psalm 119:9-16

The very thoughts of God have been revealed to us through the word of God! Read 1Corinthians 2:11-16. There are no thoughts better than God’s to fill your mind with. Want to start thinking godly thoughts when faced with challenging situations? Want to be a light in a dark world? Rejoice in the word of God, meditate on its precepts, and allow God’s thoughts to be your thoughts. Listen to pure and holy music, look at pictures and videos on your smart phones that put pure thoughts in your mind, and hang around your peers that will help you get to heaven. Start washing that brain!

Sharon calls Jessica and Amanda, but she decides not to call Emily. Emily is okay and Sharon enjoys seeing her at worship on Sunday mornings, but she is just not a part of their “group.” It sounds juvenile; reeking of high school drama and childish games, but it is not rare to find grown women who are apart of cliques. What is a clique you may ask? Webster’s Dictionary states that a clique is, “a narrow, exclusive circle or group of persons.” Most of the time, this word is used to describe a group of people who exclude others from their inner circle. Unfortunately, in many congregations of the Lord’s people we see women excluding other women. It may be a type of popularity contest that lures women into this form of worldliness. It is up to us to put an end to cliques in Christ! In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul writes to the church, “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:2-4). Cliques would not exist in the church if women could remember this verse in all their interactions with each other. It is useful to think of ways we can keep cliques from forming in the Lord’s body.

  1. Invite Someone New—try asking someone who you normally would not go out to lunch with if they would like to share a meal. Invite someone into your home who has never been invited before. It may be someone you have never really talked to and it may be uncomfortable at first, but it is a great way to ensure that you are not excluding others. If you invited a different person every week, just think how quickly you would get to know the congregation.
  2. Different Ages—make a new friend with one of the elderly women in the congregation. We can learn so much from these women and they have some of the best advice and wisdom to share. If you are one of the elderly women, try to look for younger women who are in need of your time. This was God’s plan for the relationship between the older and younger women of the church (Titus 2:3-5). Look also to the younger girls. You can become a mentor and “big sister” to a teenage girl. This age group often feels excluded, so it is a good place to start.
  3. Treat others as you would want to be treated (Luke 6:31)—“Do nothing out of selfish ambition” (Philippians 2:3). This attitude requires us to have an others-above-self mentality. Ask yourself if it would make you feel bad if someone did it to you or said it to you. Commit yourself to becoming occupied with how others feel about their relationship with you.

I am not saying that having one-on-one relationships or a couple of close friends is a bad thing. From scripture it seems that even Jesus had those disciples He spent more time with (Peter, James, and John—Mark 9:2, 13:3, 14:33, Luke 8:51). John was even called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). This is simply one Christian woman encouraging others to end exclusion in the body of Christ. Cliques do not belong in Christ.

Where do I start?
How do I get deeper into God’s word in order to grow?

Do these questions sound familiar? Many women feel inadequate when it comes to knowing how to study God’s word. We may read God’s word daily, but do we study it? It is vital for women of God to learn how to study the Bible. We are responsible for our own study and we are responsible for teaching our children the word of God (John 8:31; Deuteronomy 6:7). In the following series of articles we will be developing a methodology in simple steps that will help us to be better students of God’s word.

“Exegesis” may be a new word for some of you.

“Exegesis” comes from a Greek word that means “to lead or to guide out.” (ek “out” and egeisthas “to guide or lead out”) it is a process where we get out of the scriptures only what they are trying to say… Correct exegesis will keep the Bible interpreter from putting meaning back into the Bible text (Petrillo).

Exegesis, put simply, is what does the text say? (While hermeneutics deals with what the text means.)  In order to get to the application or meaning of a text, we must first know what that text says. The primary goal of Biblical exegesis is to find the author’s original purpose for writing.

Why do Exegesis?

Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:14-16,

Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (emphasis added).

  1. Some things in the scriptures are hard to understand.
    We need to be able to accurately handle the word of truth, working diligently in this endeavor (2 Timothy 2:15) and it takes in-depth study and research to understand some of the words we find in scripture. Peter is upfront with the fact that it may be difficult, but by him saying this we can infer that we should be trying to understand.
  2. Some people distort the Scriptures to their own destruction.
    What types of people distort the scriptures? The untaught and unstable. May we never be guilty of being either of these types of people. The “untaught” do not know what they are doing and are ignorant by choice because they do not seek out a teacher. The “unstable” are emotional and irrational, “tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14)

Having a methodology will help us to know where to start when we open our Bibles to study. We will be able to get deeper and truly study God’s word instead of just reading it. This series of articles will be focused on developing this methodology. Through exegesis we can find out what the text says which will later help us to understand what the text means.

Step 1: Investigate

The five Ws are used in all investigative efforts and we use them in Bible study as well.  Who?, What?, When?, Where?, and Why?  –These are the beginnings to the questions we must ask ourselves when approaching a book or letter in the New Testament (Note: we will first be focusing on the New Testament in this series and may go into specific study techniques for the Old Testament later). The goal of this first step is to get to know as much about the piece of writing as possible.

Who?: Identify the people involved. Who wrote the book and who was it written to? How are the people connected to one another? Most of the time you can find this information clearly stated within the writing itself (e.g., Romans 1:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Galatians 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:1). When reading a gospel we can usually infer the intended audience based on clues given in the text.

What?: Identify what you are reading. This is also called finding the genre. Some examples of genres we find in scripture are letters, gospels, revelation, poetry and history. They are categories or types of writings that have certain characteristics. For instance, a letter usually has a greeting and is addressed to a specific person or group of people. Just like you would read a newspaper differently than you would read a love letter, in scripture we read different genres in different ways. Letters are the most common types of writings found in the New Testament.

When?:   Find the date of the writing.  The timeframe and details most important are included in the book itself (e.g., when Paul was in prison or on Paul’s second missionary journey).  For supplementary information, we are fortunate to have the internet at our fingertips where this information can be found (most conservative scholars agree on the dates of most books) but we can also look in reliable commentaries or Bible dictionaries.

Where?:  Find background information about the place the letter was written to or the letter was written from (i.e., what they were known for, significant historical events that happened there). Research places that are mentioned, especially when studying the Gospels or Acts. Other books of the Bible are a good source for information (e.g. Acts 16:11-40 when studying Philippians).

WHY? :  We want to spend the most time and effort on this part of the investigation. This is the part where we find the purpose of the book. This is our goal in good exegesis. Why did the author write this, what was he trying to say? What was the original meaning to the original audience?

The next article will focus entirely on the WHY aspect of our investigation process.

To be continued…

Finding the WHY

Now we get to the fun part! Finding the purpose of the book is our main goal in Biblical Exegesis. Why is the author writing this? What is he trying to communicate to those who are reading his letter? As good Bible students it is imperative that we find the author’s original intended meaning and purpose before we can truly understand how we can apply the scriptures to our own lives. “Finding the purpose of the book” is another way of saying that we are going to find the “main idea,” as we learned growing up when doing reading comprehension in school. We will be looking at four helpful strategies for finding the WHY–the purpose of the book.

The first strategy for finding the purpose of the book is to identify the keywords.

Keywords are the words that the author uses most frequently (this can also include phrases).  It is only logical to conclude that when a word is used frequently it goes hand in hand with the central thrust of what the author is trying to communicate.  For example, if I were to call you up and say, “I went to the shoe store because they were having a shoe sale to end all shoe sales. It was a shoe lover’s shoe heaven. Shoes were thrown all over the shoe store, but I managed to find a pair of green shoes and a pair of orange shoes for the summer.” I am pretty confident you would conclude that the purpose for this statement was to tell you about a shoe store sale! (I used the word “shoe” 9 times, “store” twice and “sale” twice). In the same way, we can use this strategy as a clue for finding the purpose of a book.
The best way to find the keywords is to count them. Read through the book you are studying and try to be mindful of reoccurring words and then make a list where you can count how many times the word is used.
Examples:  Romans: “Faith”-63 times in 16 chapters; 1 Timothy: “Godliness”-10 times

The second strategy for finding the purpose of the book is to look for prayers.

If God’s inspired man is praying about something in his writing, you have to conclude that it is important! Prayers often talk about what is greatest on our hearts and minds and we see prayers in the scriptures that do so as well.
Examples: 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13: In this prayer, Paul prays that they’ll increase and abound in love to one another and to all, which is the point of the first three chapters. Second, he prays that God will establish their hearts in holiness at the second coming, which is the focus of chapters four and five.
Ephesians 1:15-19 Within this prayer we see the purpose of the writing and find the keywords for the book of Ephesians as well. (Riches (6 times), Power (10 times), Believers (10 times), Glory (8 times), Saints (15 times), His (37 times)).

The third strategy for finding the purpose of the book is to look for purpose statements.

How simple is that? I wish every book had a purpose statement. A purpose statement is a verse that says clearly and plainly why the author is writing.
Examples:
John 20:30-31 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name
1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

The fourth strategy for finding the purpose of the book is to look for petition verbs.

Erynn Sprouse’s recent article “Power of Persuasion” discusses petition verbs briefly and references Dr. Denny Petrillo, who teaches Biblical Exegesis at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. This series of articles I have been writing is based on the class notes given by Dr. Petrillo. I will reiterate here for the purpose of this series…

The petition verb Parakalo means “I urge, I beg, I beseech”. This strategy of finding petition verbs is specific to Paul’s writings (Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon). It is specific to Paul’s writings because it seems that Paul loves the petition verb and never uses it unless he is hammering home a point. In the English language we have tons of ways we can emphasize things. We can use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, make a statement or word bold, underline the statement, or use an exclamation point!  The Greek language did not have exclamation points or bold font and it was written all in capital letters, so they used words for emphasis. Paul’s emphasis word is Parakalo (I urge, I beg, I beseech). Whenever he uses this word it usually goes hand in hand with the purpose of the book.

Example: Romans 12:1; 15:30; 16:17, Philippians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 1:10

Finding the purpose of a book is the main goal in Biblical Exegesis. We must stay true to the text and draw out from the writing only what the original author intended to communicate. After we have found the purpose of the writing, we must read the book or letter through the “glasses” of the purpose, always relating what we are reading to what the author’s main idea was.

Step 2: Start Big and then Zoom In

Are you a verse browser? Do you read a verse in Philippians and then a couple in Romans and finish your “study” time off with a few encouraging verses from the Psalms? Do you skip around because you do not know what else to do for the 30 minutes you have set aside for your daily Bible study? I used to be the worst verse browser of all. Weeding through a long book in the Bible never seemed productive because half the time I would forget what I had just read by the time I reached the end of a chapter. Some of Paul’s sentences would drag on for half a page and I, admittedly, would be lost. How helpful it was to find a technique that taught me not only to read the Bible the way it was intended to be read, but to be able to understand it. It’s an easy technique and it’s similar to one you’re probably already familiar with. In the art world, you admire a piece of fine art by looking at the whole picture, then a section at a time, then down to individual brush strokes. Similarly, when studying the Bible, we start big with reading the entire book and then zoom in and look at paragraphs, sentences and lastly words.

Learn to think in terms of entire books

Each book of the Bible was given in its entirety and was intended to be read that way.  The Letters were actually read aloud to the whole church from the beginning to the end as written (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27). It is important that we learn to think in terms of entire books and try to explain and understand how the first chapter fits with the last chapter and how every section is connected. When starting the study of a book, it is beneficial to read through the entire book first in one sitting. I find it helpful to listen to the book on audio. If you do not have the Bible on audio, there are many sources including Biblegateway.com (click here for audio versions).

Summarize

While reading through a book, try to summarize what you have just read. (You can make notes in the margins of your Bible or start a notebook specifically for your Bible study notes. When I am teaching this material, I tell my ladies to buy a pretty notebook that will be special to them and fun to write in. mentally or on paper?). Summarizing will help sort out the main thoughts of each section. (Note: do not forget that the chapter breaks we find in our Bibles were not included in the original text and do not necessarily mark the end of a thought). Summarize each paragraph or section. While looking at a paragraph, make note of the transition statements and connections from one paragraph to another.

Make Observations

Observation of a single sentence at a time in the Biblical text can be the foundation for great exegetical work.  One assignment given in an Exegesis text book called, Grasping God’s Word says,

Find a minimum of thirty observations in Acts 1:8. List them below [paper numbered 1-30]. Avoid making interpretations or applications at this stage. That is, stay with observations. For example, an observation would be to note that the passage starts off with the conjunction “but”. This conjunction connects the sentence to the one above it in a contrasting way. If, however you were to note that the Holy Spirit empowers us for evangelism, that observation falls into the category of interpretation or application. Do not enter into the interpretation or application phase yet. Limit all thirty of your observations to details. Work hard! Dig hard! Read and reread the passage…happy hunting (Duvall 7).

I would encourage all of you to try this assignment on your own. Observations can be anything from finding reoccurring words to noting punctuation and grammar. As you get better at this you can expand from one sentence to a short section of two or three verses at a time where you will make these same types of observations. You will not do this in list form when you have a longer section of scripture, but instead can write out the verses you are studying or print them out from the computer. Skip lines and leave plenty of room to mark up the page. Use colored pens, pencils and highlighters to circle, underline, connect words, draw arrows and write notes above the text and in the margins.

Start big and then zoom in by thinking in terms of entire books, summarizing paragraphs and sections and making observations about sentences and words. Be determined to no longer be a verse browser, but a book dweller…trying to study deeply each book in its entirety.