By Michael Youssef
In a previous article, I share 7 pitfalls in Bible reading—from proof-texting to ignoring historical context—and how to avoid those deadly mistakes. But I also want to provide you with an effective and transformative means of approaching God's Word.
In order to appropriately read, heed, and obey the Word of God and maximize its impact in your life, there are three simple questions you must ask as you approach Scripture.
The Bible is not merely words on paper. Those words have God’s power and authority.
"What was the historical context of this passage to its original readers?"
As we approach God's Word we must consider, "What did this text communicate to its original audience?" The Bible was penned by dozens of individuals over a span of 1,600 years, and yet its message is incredibly consistent. The Old Testament says, "Jesus is coming." The New Testament says, "He's here!" And yet, each passage has a specific historical context. In other words, it was written to specific people at a specific time—and these details provide valuable insight into the meaning of the text.
For example, when we read the first five books of the Old Testament, which were written by Moses, we must remember that Moses was speaking to the Israelites, who for 400 years were consumed by idolatry in Egypt. They knew very little about Yahweh—only what they had heard through the oral tradition. Therefore, Moses was speaking to people who did not know who Yahweh was and hadn't experienced His power.
On the other hand, a thousand years later, we see God's prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah repeatedly say to God's people, "Remember what God did!" At this point, the Israelites knew Yahweh, but they had turned their backs on Him. They had seen Him perform miracles before their eyes, and yet they wanted to worship Baal. Therefore, Ezekiel and Jeremiah are talking to a rebellious people as opposed to, in Moses' time, an ignorant people. They were rejecting God's instructions and commands.
Consider the New Testament as well. The apostle Paul wrote to many churches in different cities—Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica—and each letter addressed problems particular to the church receiving his letter. Paul was providing godly direction in very specific issues.
Our faith is rooted in real events that happened to real people. Knowing these historical and cultural details will bring greater depth to your understanding of God and His Word. It will also protect you against faulty theology—much of which stems from a mishandling of Scripture in which verses are plucked from their original context.
"What is the real meaning of this passage?"
"What is the true meaning of this passage?" This is a crucial question to ask because many people approach the Bible with a mindset that says, "What do I want this to mean?" Make no mistake about it, the reason many people reject the Bible as the Word of God is because it runs contrary to human nature. The Bible is countercultural. While the world tells us to repay evil for evil, Jesus says, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28). While the world tells us to look out for number one, Jesus says, "[W]hoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25).
The Gospel does not make sense to the world. That's why people reject the Bible. That's why even many preachers concede, "If it's hard to accept, take what you like and leave out what you don't." May this never be true of you and me. Instead of projecting our own desires onto God's Word, let us seek to understand what God Himself is saying. To do this, we must first ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds, for God loves to reveal Himself to us. Secondly, I recommend using a trusted Bible commentary. When you encounter a passage that is difficult to understand, read interpretations from faithful Bible scholars. Double-check what you're reading. What is this passage saying about God's character? What is it saying about you and me? How does it fit into the overarching narrative of Scripture?
"How can I apply this message to my life, heeding this Truth in my home, my business, my relationships?"
For many years, I have spent the first fruits of my day with the Lord and an open Bible in front me. As I open the Word of God and read it, the Holy Spirit begins to speak to my heart, saying, "Michael, this word is for you. This encouragement is for you. This rebuke is for you. This challenge is for you. This warning is for you."
If we're honest with ourselves, one of the primary reasons we avoid reading the Bible is because it acts as a mirror—it reveals our sins, our failures, and the things we don't like about ourselves. It calls us to do things that are difficult. Hebrews 4:12 says, "[T]he word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." God's Word judges us. We may not like it, but it's for our good.
Thankfully, the Bible is not only a mirror that reveals the true state of our hearts; it is also a shower that cleanses us. When you look in the mirror and see a spirit of resentment reflected back at you—go under the shower of God's Word and allow Him to replace it with love. When you look in the mirror and see anger—go under the shower of God's Word and allow Him to replace it with self-control.
Remember this warning and instruction from God's Word:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)
When you read, heed, and obey the Word of God, three things are going to happen. You're going to find that it stretches you out on the surgeon's table; you're going to find that it operates on you, cutting out all the things that don't belong; and you're going to find that it brings complete healing and restoration to your soul.
LET GOD DO HIS WORK
In the early hours of the morning, when I have the Word of God in my hands, I pray ahead of time for the Spirit of God to open my eyes and help me to listen, whether it be for a rebuke or for encouragement. When hidden issues in my life are exposed before Him, when things I don't want to deal with confront me head on, when I am laid bare before His eyes—I am forced to conclude that the only good thing about Michael Youssef is Jesus.
My friend, the Bible is not merely words on paper. Those words have God's power and authority. Those words are sharper than a surgeon's scalpel. And that is why Satan will do everything he can to keep you away from it.
The Bible says that in the last days there is going to be a famine—not for bread or water, but for the Word of God. And when I hear that only 18 percent of Christians read the Word of God regularly, I can tell you the famine has begun. It is the burden of my life for believers like you and me to be equipped for those days so that we may be ready for the spiritual battle.
This article is adapted from Dr. Michael Youssef's teaching in Defending a Lion, Part 4.