What a concept—to find out from the Bible how to go about studying it! Believe it or not, important elements of Bible study are missed when biblical principles for the study of Scripture are ignored. We are not speaking here about hermeneutics and exegesis, technical terms dealing with the methodology used for the study of the Bible. We’re speaking about how to study the Word one-on-one in order for that someone to respond submissively to God’s counsel and accept it as their own.
Surprisingly, the Bible offers some examples of people studying the Bible with others—e.g., when Jesus, on the way to Emmaus, shared from the Bible with two discouraged disciples as they walked. He addressed the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of the Messiah (Luke 24:13-35) and other studies. Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7) and Paul’s arguments before the men of Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41). In each case, a careful use of Scripture is made under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
But perhaps the most comprehensive example comes from the story of Philip the deacon, who led the Ethiopian eunuch to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal Savior (Acts 8:26-39). The entire story affords us with the opportunity to look at a logical process of giving a Bible study that will result in decisions leading to conversion. So take your Bible, open to Acts 8, read the story a couple of times, and get ready to think through seven biblical steps for giving Bible studies.
STEP 1: Become a Person of the Spirit (Acts 8:26, 29, 39)
The most important step is not one you can take but has to do with the Bible student. To be a person of the Spirit sets the tone for everything else in the joyful adventure of leading people to Christ through Bible study. But before you give up in discouragement, thinking this is too lofty an ideal to hope for, let’s see what it means to be a person of the Spirit.
We are told that Philip was a man “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3, 5), which had obviously influenced even his own immediate family (Acts 21:8).
Paul said that the will of God was that we’d be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:15-18). That means we must be open to God for Him to come into our lives fully. It means that Christ no longer lives merely with us but actually lives in us, as He told His disciples (John 14:16, 17, 20). For that to happen, you and I must be willing to die daily (1 Cor. 15:31), and let Christ live in us daily (Gal. 2:20). Here is the source of all power and wisdom in our ministry on behalf of others, the fact that we don’t really do this work, but that God does the work through us.
Submission to the management of the Holy Spirit is critical to the success of anyone wishing to become effective in giving Bible studies. If we want to see people saved, we must be saved ourselves—we must be in Christ (Ephesians 1), and this is only a prayer away: “[He] who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).
Christ “does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34), and those who are being led by the Spirit are not only children of God but also put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13, 14). These the Lord will use to great effect in the salvation of others.
STEP 2: Act Immediately Upon the Spirit’s Prompting (Acts 8:26, 27, 29, 30)
The road from Jerusalem to Gaza is a desolate and dangerous desert road. It is not the place a person should travel alone for fear of robbers or death by the elements. However, Philip did not argue. Neither did he do so when prompted to approach the chariot of someone clearly above his social status. And he did so in spite of potentially serious cultural and language differences.
But here is a warning. Some eager-beaver workers approach any and all with offers of Bible studies even when people are not ready to engage in them yet. We should not equate eagerness to reach out to others with the prompting of the Spirit. That is why step number one is so crucial. If that is in place, clear opportunities will present themselves, for God will make sure someone full of the Spirit can be connected with someone looking for God. “All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 109).
The key here is not to hesitate, not to be fearful, not to wait until you have more knowledge before you help. If a neighbor appears to be opening to the love of God, if a coworker begins asking questions about God or the Bible, then this is your cue to approach them with help, offering them to go to the one source of truth that has all the answers we need.
STEP 3: Engage—Listen and Ask Questions (Acts 8:30)
Many make the mistake of barely listening and never asking questions. Too eager to share what they know, they forget to learn where others are. As Bible study facilitators, we must listen carefully to what people say about themselves and about what they read in Scripture about God. This will help us understand their frame of reference and pinpoint potential misunderstandings. Also, asking questions is never as intrusive as making statements. Asking often gives the other person the opportunity for further reflection on their views. This step should be a staple methodology every time we have a Bible study.
One helpful technique is simply to paraphrase what they just said in the form of a question. For example, they read Revelation 1:10 and declare that is how to know the Sabbath is on Sunday. You could respond: “What you’re saying is that this text points to Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, is that right?” Then, you could gently ask, “Would you be willing to read the text again?” After the reading, you could ask, “Does it mention a specific day of the week in this text?” And another follow-up question could be, “Should we, then, try to find where the Bible identifies the Lord’s day?”
To listen and to ask questions allows for both clarification in the study and also personal reflection. Remember that you don’t ever change a person’s mind; only God can. He does so through an internal process. The more truth is internalized, the more conviction is brought upon the soul.
STEP 4: Have Them Read Scripture Aloud (Acts 8:30, 32-34)
As insignificant as this may sound, it is important. Some people do not read well and may be embarrassed to do so before someone else. However, you can put them at ease by starting to read aloud. Then leave them to read the next key word or finish the sentence. Eventually, they’ll feel secure enough not to mind that they don’t read well.
You take the fear out of the Word. Reading it impresses their own minds, giving them courage and boldness that what they read is actually what God is saying. Expression deepens impression.
STEP 5: Start Where They Are (Acts 8:35)
Here is perhaps the least-practiced step in the process of giving fruitful Bible studies. Many lay Bible teachers can imagine starting only with lesson one of a set of Bible studies. That is, of course, ideal, but we should begin with their interests and questions. Answering questions no one is asking is not practical, and it does not encourage continued interest.
Step 5 implies the need to know your Bible, so you can go anywhere there to find the answer. That may be a bit daunting to some, but remember you have two outs. One is to delay the answer or part of it until the next study, simply acknowledging you’ll need to study that for yourself a bit more. Two is to anticipate the time when you plan to deal with that in the future. For instance, if they ask about hell from the parable of Jesus in Luke 16:19-31, you know it’d be better for them to understand first the Bible teaching of the non-immortality of the soul. You can say, “That is an excellent question, but many people are confused about this parable because they don’t really know the Bible’s teaching on death. Would you like for us to study that first, so we can understand what Jesus said here?”
Usually, people have only a few burning questions. Once you deal with those, and build trust, you can suggest a more systematic study of Scripture. Share with them that more complex teaching is always easier after foundations have been established.
STEP 6: Focus on Christ (Acts 8:35)
This, of course, is obvious, but many fail to do so. “The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross” ( Gospel Workers, p. 315).
The truth is that the love and character of Christ is the only power capable of transforming a sinful heart (Rom. 2:4). Mere information will not do it. And the Bible teacher does not want the Bible student to be a better informed sinner but a converted one. Wherever you are in Scripture, point to Jesus. If your study is on Daniel 2, point to the coming of Jesus as the next king to rule the world. If your study is on the judgment, point to Jesus as our Judge and Advocate, the One who knows all about us and is still willing to defend us. If your study is on Babylon as a false system of worship, point to Jesus as the One longing for His people to come out of Babylon and be saved. Always focus on Jesus.
STEP 7: Encourage Baptism as Soon as Possible (Acts 8:36-39)
The greatest failure of those giving Bible studies to people is their reticence to ask for decisions. Among the greatest fears is to encourage them to be baptized. Not making decisions stunts spiritual growth. When people are under conviction, e.g., the Ethiopian official in our story, you must encourage them to move forward in absolute faith. If they are under conviction, the Spirit led them to that point. Seize the moment without hesitation! When they are under conviction is the best time for them to act. Delay simply means danger. Even the apostle Paul had to be told to avoid delay (Acts 22:16). This is very important.
We must recognize that “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) will take a lifetime to absorb. The key is to keep growing (2 Pet. 3:18). Does the person studying have Christ in his or her life? If that is so, they have life (1 John 5:12) and must indicate that by a public commitment of their death to self and resurrection in Jesus (Rom. 6:35). Help them set a baptismal date, not many days from their conviction to be baptized, and work toward that date. Never delay this decision. This means, of course, that they’ll join the body of Christ, since baptism is always connected to entrance into the church (1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 2:41, 47).
Ron E. M. Clouzet
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists