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How to Apply Scripture to Life
As we have already seen in the introduction, the ultimate goal of all Bible study is application, not interpretation. Since God wants to change our lives through his Word, it is important to learn how to apply Scripture to our lives before learning any other methods of Bible study. In fact, the techniques you learn in this chapter will be used in each of the following study methods. Regardless of the method you choose to use, at the end of each study you will need to make practical steps of application concerning the things the Lord shows you. (In this book, every time we talk about application, refer back to this method for an explanation.)
When you use these techniques by themselves (and not with another method), it is called the "Devotional Method of Bible Study." This is the type of simple study that you can use in your quiet time.
The Devotional Method of Bible Study involves taking a passage of the Bible, large or small, and prayerfully meditating on it until the Holy Spirit shows you a way to apply its truth to your own life in a way that is personal, practical, possible, and provable. The goal is for you to take seriously the Word of God and "do what it says" (James 1:22).
WHY APPLICATION IS IMPORTANT
The Bible was given to us to show us how we can have a relationship with Almighty God and how we are to live our lives his way in this world. It was given to change our lives to become more like that of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul declared that it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training the believer in righteous living (2 Tim. 3:16).
The Bible is a practical book, for it is concerned with practical godly living. Bible study without personal application can be just an academic exercise with no spiritual value. The Bible was written to be applied to our lives. In his succinct way Howard Hendricks has said, "Interpretation without application is abortion!" We want to note here that application is necessary for our Christian lives, that it is hard work, and that good applications are possible if we follow some basic principles.
APPLICATION IS NECESSARY FOR OUR LIVES
Study of the Word of God should lead to its application in our lives, with the result that the Scriptures change us to conform more with the will of God.
1. You can't really get to know the Word of God unless you apply it to your life. During his ministry Jesus had a number of encounters with the religious leaders of his time. These were primarily the Pharisees, the acknowledged scholars of the day; the scribes, legal and religious experts in Jewish law; and the Sadducees, the liberalizing element in Jewish society at that time. On one occasion the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection from the dead, asked Jesus a trick question.
Jesus' answer is indeed interesting. He said to them, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). The Sadducees had an intellectual knowledge of the facts of the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament), but they did not apply these principles in a personal way.
You can be a walking Bible encyclopedia, with your head crammed full of biblical knowledge, but it won't do you any good if you don't apply it practically in daily living. If you study the Word of God without applying it to your life, you are no better off than the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' day. You really don't know the Scriptures until you put them into practice.
2. Studying the Word of God can be dangerous if you merely study it without applying it. Bible study without application can be dangerous because knowledge puffs up. The apostle Paul stated, "Knowledge puffs up while love builds up" (1 Cor. 8:1). The Greek word translated "puffs up" contains the idea of being inflated with pride that in turn leads to arrogance. The Bible tells us that the devil knows the Word intellectually (see his temptation of Jesus — Matt. 4:1 – 11), and we also know that he is puffed up with pride and is arrogant. When you correctly apply the Word of God to your life, you eliminate the danger of being puffed up with pride.
Bible study without application can be dangerous because knowledge requires action. What a man knows should find expression in what he does. James declared, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22). God's commands are not optional. He doesn't say, "Please won't you consider doing this?" He commands, "Do it!" And he expects us to obey.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compared an obedient disciple to a wise man: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice [action] is like a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matt. 7:24). When the trials of life came along, the wise man's life stood firm while the foolish man's — the one who did not practice what he knew — came crashing down (Matt. 7:25 – 27). Also, King David was known as a man after God's own heart because he applied the Word to his life and practiced what he knew. The psalmist wrote, "I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands" (Ps. 119:59 – 60). You, too, need to put what you know into action.
Bible study without application can be dangerous because knowledge increases responsibility. If you get serious about studying the Bible, you will be held more accountable than the average person, because with added knowledge comes added responsibility. James wrote, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them" (James 4:17). With a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures comes a stronger judgment if you fail to apply them. When you start studying the Bible, God begins showing you areas of your life that need changing and calls you to greater responsibility. If you are not planning on applying the lessons you receive from your Bible study, it would be better for you not to study the Bible at all! You will just be heaping more judgment on yourself!
John Milton, a great Christian poet, is reputed to have said, "The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him." That sums up what we are talking about in applying our study of Scripture: we are to know God, love him, and then be like him.
APPLICATION IS HARD WORK
It would seem that applying the Bible would be fairly simple, but actually it is the hardest part of Bible study. Why is that? Application doesn't happen by accident. We have to plan for it, or it will never come about. Three things that make applying Scripture to our lives so difficult are that it requires thinking, the devil fights it viciously, and we naturally resist change.
1. Application is hard work because it requires serious thinking. Sometimes it takes a long period of meditation (concentrated, prayerful thinking) before we see a way to apply a truth of Scripture we have studied. Sometimes it may mean looking beneath a temporary rule to see a timeless principle in the text. Sometimes it means looking beyond a local custom to see a universal insight. All this takes time and concentration that we may be hesitant and reluctant to give.
2. Application is hard work because Satan fights it viciously. The devil's strongest attacks often come in your quiet time when you are trying to apply what you have studied. Satan knows that as long as you are content with merely having head knowledge of the Word, you are not much of a threat to his plans. But as soon as you get serious about making some changes in your life, he will fight you tooth and nail. He hates doers of the Word. He will let you study the Bible all you desire as long as you don't ask yourself, "Now what am I going to do with all that I've learned?"
3. Application is hard work because we naturally resist change. Often we don't "feel" like changing, which is what true application requires. We live by our emotions rather than by our wills, for we are content to stay the way we are. We hear Christians saying they don't feel like studying the Bible or they don't feel like praying or they don't feel like witnessing. Feeling has nothing to do with living the Christian life, for feelings come and go. The key to spiritual maturity is to live for Jesus Christ not because we feel good, but because we know it is the right thing to do. I have discovered that if the only time I study the Bible, pray, or witness is when I feel like it, the devil makes sure I never feel like it!
You apply the Word of God to your life not because you may feel like it that day or week, but because you know God expects it of you. Applied Bible study as an act of the will leads to maturity and is a basis for stability in your Christian life.
FOUR STEPS TO PRACTICAL APPLICATION
When you do a devotional Bible study, follow four simple steps. These steps can be summarized in the words pray, meditate, apply, and memorize.
STEP ONE Pray for Insight on How to Apply the Passage
Ask God to help you apply the Scripture you are studying and show you specifically what he wants you to do. You already know that God wants you to do two things: obey his Word and share it with others. In your prayer tell God that you are ready to obey what he will show you and that you are willing to share that application with others.
STEP TWO Meditate on the Verse(s) You Have Chosen to Study
Meditation is the key to discovering how to apply Scripture to your life. Meditation is essentially thought digestion. You take a thought God gives you, put it in your mind, and think on it over and over again. Meditation may be compared to rumination; that's what a cow does when it chews its cud. It eats some grass and sends it to its first stomach; then it lies down, brings the grass up, chews on it, and swallows it again. This process of digestion is repeated three times. Scriptural meditation is reading a passage in the Bible, then concentrating on it in different ways. Here are several practical ways you can meditate on a passage of Scripture:
Visualize the scene of the narrative in your mind. Put yourself into the biblical situation and try to picture yourself as an active participant. Whether you are reading the historical books of the Old Testament, the Gospels, or the book of Acts, imagine yourself in that historical context. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were involved in that situation. What would you say? What would you do?
If you are studying John 4, for example, visualize yourself as being right there with Jesus, the woman at the well, the disciples, and the inhabitants of Sychar. How would you feel if you were the one whom Jesus asked for a drink of water at the well near Sychar? What would your emotions be if you were one of the disciples who witnessed this incident?
Another example of visualization in meditation is to imagine yourself as the apostle Paul in prison writing the letter we know as 2 Timothy. Picture yourself in that Roman jail, condemned to death and awaiting execution, and alone except for Luke. Feel the loneliness Paul must have felt, but also feel the triumph he must have felt as he wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7). When you start visualizing a scene, Scripture comes tremendously alive to you.
Emphasize words in the passage under study. Read through a verse aloud several times, each time emphasizing a different word, and watch new meanings develop. For instance, if you are meditating on Philippians 4:13, you would emphasize the words as follows:
"I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
"I CAN do all this through him who gives me strength."
"I can DO all this through him who gives me strength."
"I can do ALL THIS through him who gives me strength."
"I can do all this THROUGH him who gives me strength."
"I can do all this through HIM who gives me strength."
"I can do all this through him WHO gives me strength."
"I can do all this through him who GIVES me strength."
"I can do all this through him who gives ME strength."
"I can do all this through him who gives me STRENGTH."
You will get 10 different meanings from this verse as you go through and emphasize a different word each time.
Paraphrase the passage under study. Take the verse or passage you are studying and rephrase it in your own words. As you think on it, use contemporary words and phrases to express timeless biblical truths. The Living Bible and Eugene Peterson's The Message are two examples of paraphrases of Scripture.
Personalize the passage you are studying. This can be done by putting your name in place of the pronouns or nouns used in Scripture. For example, John 3:16 would read, "For God so loved Rick Warren that he gave his one and only Son, that if Rick believes in him he shall not perish but have eternal life."
Use the S-P-A-C-E P-E-T-S acrostic. This acrostic is a useful aid to meditation. Each letter represents a question that can help you apply the passage to your life. If you memorize the nine questions that this acrostic represents, you will have them available every time you want to meditate on a passage. This acrostic asks: Is there any ...
Sin to confess? Do I need to make any restitution?
Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?
BLDBLDommand to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy, or a negative one to avoid?
Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to or beware of?
Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or other biblical teachings?
Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?
Pray the verse or passage back to God. Put the passage under study into the first person singular, turn it into a prayer, and pray it back to God. The book of Psalms is a good example of this method of meditation. Bill Gothard has said that David memorized the law of God, then personalized it and gave it back to God in the Psalms.
An example of this method of meditation may be seen in the use of the first three verses of Psalm 23:
Thank you, Lord, for being my Shepherd, and that I lack nothing.
Thank you for making me lie down in green pastures, for leading me beside quiet waters, for refreshing my soul.
Thank you for guiding me along the right paths for your name's sake.
Which one of these methods should you use in your meditation? The one that best fits what you are studying, or a combination of them. If you are studying the book of Proverbs, for example, it may be difficult to visualize a scene in your mind, but you can emphasize the words and pray some of the teachings back to God.
STEP THREE Write Out an Application
Write an application of the insights you have discovered through your meditation. Writing your application out on paper helps you be specific. If you don't write something down, you will soon forget it. This is particularly necessary when you are dealing with a spiritual truth. If you can't put it down on paper, you haven't really thought it through. It's been proven that if you write something down, you will remember it longer and be able to express to others what you have learned.
Excerpted from Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods by Rick Warren Copyright © 2011 by Rick Warren . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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