Sweeter Than Honey: Part Two

Sweeter Than Honey: Part Two

A Guided Bible Study

by NR Johnson | July 5, 2018

I love the concept of baking. 

Growing up, my mom was a fantastic cook for the family and weekly would bake bread and other goodies that we could hardly wait to gobble up. And nothing, in my mind, was better than a piece of warm bread, pulled from the oven, dripping with real butter and honey. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

When I left home and was out on my own, I decided to try my hand at the art of making bread. It fell flat. Literally. So I resorted to buying bread for the next few years.

A year ago, I decided to try again and jumped in with both feet — buying a Bosch mixer. I like fancy kitchen gadgets, and this one came with all the bells and whistles. I even splurged on a stone grain mill so I could make my own healthy wheat flour.

The days of amazing bread-baking were near — I could smell it.

I was ready. I had enthusiasm, the right tools, and fresh wheat berries ready to grind.

I popped my mixture into the oven and voilà! Yet something other than bread came out. I’m not sure what it was, but it was inedible and ended up in the trash. I tried again, with the same lackluster trash-bin result.

What was I doing wrong?

I consulted my mom, a few church ladies who regularly bake bread, the Bosch recipe book, and even watched several how-to videos on YouTube. 

The conclusion — my process was wrong.

Apparently the order of mixing ingredients and then giving bread time to rise DO matter! Who knew?!?

The same is true in Bible study.

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The Bible Study Process

Much like baking bread, the process of Bible study is important. While a myriad of “recipes” for good Bible study are available, let me give you one that is easy to use — the one I have used for more than a decade.

Before you study a passage, I encourage you to read the verse(s) through several times and spend time in prayer, asking the Author Himself to give you wisdom and insight into His Word.

Now you can ask three key questions.

1) What does it say?  (OBSERVATION)

The first question is to gain an understanding of the passage itself — what do you see in the passage? What does it say?

Grab a piece of paper and pen (or your computer) and begin to list everything you see in the passage; it will be amazing how much you discover. 

The purpose is not to come to conclusions or find how the passage applies to your life — you merely want to know what the passage says. Look at the context (the verses that come before and after your passage), look up difficult words, ask lots of questions, and make simple observations.

An elementary school teacher brought a goldfish into her classroom and had the students tell her what they noticed about the fish. At first, they said things like “it’s orange” and “it breathes water.” But as she continued to press them to keep going, they noticed things they didn’t see at first — “the fish had a black dot behind his right eye” and “his left fin moves faster than his right.”

Good observations take time. Don’t rush. Be patient. Keep looking.

Ask yourself the classic journalist questions — who, what, when, where, why, how? Here are a few more to consider:

  • What is happening? Who is speaking? Who is the audience? What is being spoken, and what is not being said?
  • What is the tone, mood, or attitude of what I'm studying? (Every author has a "voice" or "tone.")
  • What do certain words mean? Look up words you don't know, or better yet, get on a website like blueletterbible.org, type in the passage, and look up Hebrew/Greek definitions, descriptions, and what other verses in Scripture use that word.
  • Is there anything I can discover through the grammar? (Yes, sometimes grammar is important.)
  • Is there any historical or cultural background I need to know?
  • Is there anything from the context that might affect my understanding of the passage?

Visit deeperChristian.com/observations to download a list of 50+ great questions to ask in the observation stage of Bible study.

Remember, you are not making any conclusions or interpreting what the passage means — you are only observing.

Observation will take the longest time of the three key steps in the Bible study process. Don’t rush! Like giving a good loaf of bread time to rise, it’s important to give the Holy Spirit time to reveal truth to you. If you sprint through the observation stage to get to the application, you will often miss the depth of truth Jesus wants to reveal.

2) What does it mean?  (INTERPRETATION)

Once you’ve read the passage through several times and walked through the observation stage, you are ready to ask: “What does it mean?”

We don’t ask, “What does it mean to ME?” Rather, we ask, “What did the passage mean to the original audience the author wrote to?”

The author wasn’t writing specifically to you in the twenty-first century, he was writing with a specific purpose to an audience in a particular culture and historical setting. 

For example, the book of Ephesians was written by Paul to the believers in Ephesus with the purpose to exhort them to build their lives around Jesus Christ (i.e. to live from their position IN Christ). When I study a passage in Ephesians, I must remember that the interpretation must be from the perspective of Paul writing to first-century Christians living in Ephesus.

In the interpretation stage, I transition from observing the text to asking: What do all these observations tell me about what the author said to his audience? What is the truth concept in the text? What is the principle the author wants his audience to know and apply? How would you express the concept/principle in a single sentence?

Once you discover a principle or concept from within Scripture, it demands a response. That leads us to ask the third question.

3) What does it change?  (APPLICATION)

Too often in Bible study, we either rush to the application or skip it altogether. Like a good recipe, the order is important — if you make a few observations and jump to application, you may have missed the whole concept (i.e. you don’t really know what the passage means). If you try to figure out what it means without observing, you won’t come to a proper conclusion. The three steps are all important — and should be done in order.

At this point, you’ve made observations and discovered the principle or truth concept from the passage. You can now ask: What does it change in me? How does this apply to my life?

Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” When you approach the Word with the desire to be examined, pierced, and transformed, you can rest assured God will do it. 

Do not neglect this last question. Your life will only change when you allow the Word to be applied. To skip this step limits your study to information and academics, but allowing the Spirit of God to apply the truth to your life causes growth and transformation. This goes back to what we discussed in the last magazine issue — the purpose of Bible study is to grow in our intimacy with Jesus Christ and to be transformed by truth.

If transformation is your desire, you will often find yourself squirming in your chair, being convicted by truth, and knowing what the Holy Spirit desires to change in your life to shape you into a woman of the Word — with the heart, mind, and attitude of Jesus. Allow the Spirit to measure your life against the Bible and to change whatever doesn’t measure up.

Put It Into Practice

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Take a passage, read it through several times, and ask three questions. While we could layer on advanced levels of study, if you’re new to Bible study, start here.

Baking bread is easy — once you know what you’re doing. The same is true with Bible study. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work and will take time, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Don’t get frustrated if you struggle in the beginning. Use it as an opportunity to cling all the more to the Author — asking Him to reveal and apply the truth of His Word to you.

For more than a decade, I have found an incredible richness in the study of God’s Word. It continues to change my life as I seek greater intimacy with Jesus Christ. I don’t want to be the same person next year as I am today — I long for growth and transformation …  don’t you?

And just as it has taken me time to understand how to bake a good loaf of bread, I am confident you can know (and experience) how to study God’s Word for yourself.

In this eight-week Bible study guide, I want to guide you through the Bible study process by applying the three questions to Philippians 4:8, where Paul gives us a list of eight things we should think upon.

 

I invite you to join me on this exciting journey of diving into God’s Word to know Him more. Though this guide may appear simple, it has the potential to radically change your life as you seek to grow in intimacy with Christ through His Word. Know I am praying for you and cheering you on into the endless depths of Jesus and His Word.

Ready to Get Started? 

Week One: Overview 

  • Read Philippians at least twice this week (though every day is preferable). This will help you with the overall context And focus of the book.
  • Key prayer: ask God (the author) to prepare your heart and give you insight into his word.

Questions to ask & thoughts for study:

  • Who is the author of Philippians?
  • Who is he writing to?  From reading the book, what do you know about the people, their struggles, their desires, etc.?
  • Read Philippians 4:4-9 several times.  How do verses 4-7 affect what we are to "think upon" in verse 8?
The context for our passage (Philippians 4:4-7) is full of commands: rejoice, be known by your gentleness, don’t be anxious, make your requests known to God (by prayer and supplication with gratitude). The result of which is a simple statement of fact: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Paul then tells us what to think upon (4:8). Recognize that it is through Christ Jesus, who is our peace (Eph. 2:14), that we are able to think the way we ought. Having the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) does not come through self-effort or human ability. The only way to think differently — having a godly mind in which you think about what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy — is to submit and surrender every thought to Jesus and allow Him to guard and protect your heart and mind.
 
*To read six articles I wrote on this passage, which may help give you additional thoughts for your study, please visit: deeperChristian.com/whatever

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Week Two: Whatever is True

Observation: What does it say?

  • Make observations on the word true, especially in light of the context of 4:4-9. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started:
  • What is truth? Is it more than just facts and information?
  • How can we know the truth?
  • Go to blueletterbible.org and type in Philippians 4:8. Click on “tools” to the left of the verse to open up the interlinear tab. On the word “true,” click on the Strong’s Number (G227) to view the original Greek word.
  • What information can you find on this word (alēthēs)? Check out the definitions under “outline of biblical usage.” Read the other verses where this word shows up by viewing the concordance at the bottom of the page.
  • What other passages in Scripture do you know that talk about truth? (i.e. read John 1:14-17; 8:32; 14:6; 16:13; 17:17; etc.)

Interpretation: What does it mean?

  • What would it mean to be a first-century Christian in the midst of a pagan culture with a myriad of ideologies commissioned by Paul to think upon truth?   
  • How would you state the truth nugget/concept in a single sentence?

Application: What does it change?

  • How can you specifically and practically apply this truth to your life today … this week?

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Week Three: Whatever is Noble

Observation: What does it say?

  • Make observations on the word noble (some translations say “honest” or “honorable”), especially in light of the context of 4:4-9. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started:
  • What does it mean for something to be noble, honest, or honorable?
  • How can we know that something is noble?
  • Go to blueletterbible.org and do a word study on noble (semnos – G4586). (See week two’s study for details on how to do it.)
  • Why can this word be translated noble, honest, or honorable? What makes those translations the same and different? What insight does that give you on the word?

Interpretation: What does it mean?

  • What would it mean to be a first-century Christian commissioned by Paul to think upon that which noble, honest, and honorable?   
  • How would you state the truth nugget/concept in a single sentence?

Application: What does it change?

  • How can you specifically and practically apply this truth to your life today … this week?

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Week Four: Whatever is Just

Observation: What does it say?

  • Make observations on the word just, especially in light of the context of 4:4-9. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started:
  • As an adjective, the word “just” can be translated “righteous.” What insight does this give you?
  • Go to blueletterbible.org and do a word study on just (dikaios – G1342). (See week two’s study for details on how to do it.)
  • This word is sometimes used to describe God. (See John 17:25, Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14, 1 John 2:1.) Also, we learn the righteous (dikaios) shall live by faith (Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38) and their prayer is powerful and effective (Jms. 5:16). Look up these verses and list any observations/insights you gain.

Interpretation: What does it mean?

  • What would it mean to be a first-century Christian commissioned by Paul to think upon that which just/righteous? Consider the fact that the Greek/Roman culture used this word to describe a person who was duty-bound to the gods or other people. 
  • How would you state the truth nugget/concept in a single sentence?

Application: What does it change?

  • How can you specifically and practically apply this truth to your life today … this week?

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Week Five: Whatever is Pure

Observation: What does it say?

  • Make observations on the word pure, especially in light of the context of 4:4-9. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started:
  • Go to blueletterbible.org and do a word study on pure (hagnos – G53). (See week two’s study for details on how to do it.)
  • The word pure in our passage is from the same root as the word “saint” and is defined as holy, morally clean, and undefiled. In a similar sense, a saint is one who is set apart, undefiled, and uninfluenced by the world around them. What insight does this give?

Interpretation: What does it mean?

  • What would it mean to be a first-century Christian living in a sin-soaked world (much like ours) commissioned by Paul to think upon that which pure and holy?
  • How would you state the truth nugget/concept in a single sentence?

Application: What does it change?

  • How can you specifically and practically apply this truth to your life today … this week?

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Week Six: Whatever is Lovely

Observation: What does it say?

  • Make observations on the word lovely, especially in light of the context of 4:4-9. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started:
  • Go to blueletterbible.org and do a word study on lovely (prosphilēs – G4375). (See week two’s study for details on how to do it.)
  • Note that the Greek word prosphilēs is made up of two Greek words. One is the word for “toward” the other is the word “love” (phileo). A good translation would be “that which pushes you toward love” or “that which calls forth love.”

Interpretation: What does it mean?

  • What would it mean to be a first-century Christian commissioned by Paul to think upon that which is lovely?
  • How would you state the truth nugget/concept in a single sentence?

Application: What does it change?

  • How can you specifically and practically apply this truth to your life today … this week?

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Week Seven: Whatever is of Good Report

Observation: What does it say?

  • Make observations on the word good report, especially in light of the context of 4:4-9. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started:
  • Go to blueletterbible.org and do a word study on good report (euphēmos – G2163). (See week two’s study for details on how to do it.)
  • Note Philippians 4:8 is the only time this word shows up in the New Testament. The word comes from the pagan culture where a moment of silence was taken before they offered a sacrifice to the gods. That moment of holy silence was called “good report.” The idea is that what is spoken before a sacrifice is what the gods would hear. Paul is saying that our minds are to be of “holy silence,” or in other words, we are to only think upon the things that are fit for God to hear. The words on our lips and the thoughts in our mind should be pleasing and acceptable for God to hear.

Interpretation: What does it mean?

  • What would it mean to be a first-century Christian commissioned by Paul to think upon that which is of good report?

Application: What does it change?

  • How can you specifically and practically apply this truth to your life today … this week?

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Week Eight: Whatever is Virtuous & Praiseworthy

Observation: What does it say?

  • Make observations on the words virtue and praise, especially in light of the context of 4:4-9. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you started:
  • Go to blueletterbible.org and do a word study on virtue (aretē – G703) and praise (epainos – G1868). (See week two’s study for details on how to do it.)
  • What insight does 1 Peter 2:9 and 2 Peter 1:3-7 give to our understanding of virtue?
    How do the Psalms and their declaration to “praise God” help our understanding of this passage?

Interpretation: What does it mean?

  • What would it mean to be a first-century Christian commissioned by Paul to think upon that which is virtuous and praiseworthy?
  • How would you state the truth nugget/concept in a single sentence?

Application: What does it change?

  • How can you specifically and practically apply this truth to your life today … this week?

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NRJohnson is a writer, teacher, and communicator who helps Christians build their lives around Jesus Christ. His passion is for believers to gain greater intimacy with Jesus, understand God’s Word, experience the victorious Christian life, and transform the world through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is an avid fan of Set Apart Girl Magazine and proudly showcases them on his living room coffee table. Connect with his ministry and learn more about how to study the Bible at: deeperChristian.com/Bible.