The Difference Between Reading and Studying

Do you want to learn how to go about studying the Word of God instead of simply reading a Bible? This post explores how to start with exactly what the Bible isn’t and what God’s Word is.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I spend a lot of time talking with men who are new to the Christian faith. A few years ago when Jesus first became important in my life, I had several difficulties and struggles. I had a ton of questions that I didn’t know how to go about answering. I don’t want to give the wrong Idea here. Several men in my life could have easily answered the questions I had. I simply was unwilling to ask.

As I said, Jesus didn’t become important to me until 2012. I was 30 years old at the time. Yes, I’m a late bloomer. While I was overtaken with love and joy for Jesus, I was also embarrassed by the fact that so much of my life had passed without seeking God. I didn’t want this to be even more evident by the simple questions I had. I allowed what I thought others would find humorous to keep me in the dark and in checkmate when it came to spiritual growth. Again, no one else did this to me. I did it to myself by not reaching out to others.

This is why I put so much effort into reaching out to men who are new to the Christian faith. I go out of my way to ask them many of the same questions I had back then. By listening to their response, I can dissect any questions they may have and are holding back from asking. I do what I can to prod these questions out of them in a way that encourages instead of making them feel embarrassed for something they haven’t had the opportunity to learn.

As these conversations go further and further along and these other men see I’ve had the same questions and concerns that they have, more often than not, almost all of them will ask me the same question. The question has come up so many times that I have learned to have a little fun with how I answer.

You see, men have a fear of doing stuff wrong. This doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to think about new things. It simply means that deep in our hearts, there’s a fear of failing. Especially when it comes to something as important as growing closer to Jesus. Many of us men would rather not do something at all instead of putting ourselves at risk of failing. I’m not saying all of us, just the ones who are willing, to be honest about it.

This is no different when God first becomes important. How long should our prayers be? How many people should we be praying for? Do we really need to be at church every weekend? And, by far the question that I’m asked the most, how often should I be reading the Bible? The answer to this one is where I like to be tricky. I know my answer is going to lead to even more questions, so I purposefully aim to get them to ask, “how often do you read the Bible?”

My answer, I don’t read the Bible. I study God’s Word. Now, before we go any further, this is not me trying to sound better than anyone. I’m not saying I’m a better reader or closer to God than anyone else. I’m simply saying when someone makes it clear to me they want to grow as close to God as they possibly can, no, you don’t read the Bible. You study God’s Word. There’s a huge difference between reading and studying. Huge difference.

You read to be entertained. You study to learn. Nine times out of ten, when my response is delivered correctly, within a few questions, I’m asked how they can go about studying the Word of God instead of simply reading a Bible. I’m going to use the rest of this article to provide the answers for any readers who may be asking the same question. For this to go where it needs to, let’s start with exactly what the Bible isn’t and what God’s Word is.

What the Bible isn’t

The Bible is not a book of bedtime stories to read to our children so they fall asleep. It’s not basic instructions before leaving earth or any other Sunday school nonsense you have heard growing up, or even as an adult new to the Christian faith. As a matter of fact, the Bible wasn’t even intended for you and me. Be careful with that. Don’t take that too literally.

Although God’s Word can and should be applied to our daily lives, no, the Bible wasn’t written for half-hearted American Christians living in 2020. While Scripture was inspired by God himself, it was received through His Spirit and penned by human authors. These authors each had a very specific audience they intended to reach. No, you and I weren’t part of that original audience.

This is why it’s so easy to take Scripture out of context and wrap it around whatever we want it to relate with. The original audience wasn’t as easily able to accomplish this. The authors had specific reasons for the words they were using. Chapter 13 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was never intended to read out loud at every other wedding you attend. It’s kind of cute, but still. That wasn’t anywhere near Paul’s aim.

Another one of my favorites, that means it gets really old, is Jeremiah 29:11. Yes, God has a reason, purpose, and plan for everything that takes place in your life. If theology’s important to you, I believe everything is predestined by our sovereign God. That being said, if you knew exactly why this was being written and exactly what God’s people were experiencing at the time, you wouldn’t go out of your way to use it as quickly every time you are having a bad day.

What Scripture is

I think this can best be summed up in Hebrews 4:12:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Applying Scripture to our daily lives is one of the easiest ways to go about living relationally with God. No, we weren’t part of the original audience the Bible was intended for. That being said, all of these years later, it still can be applied in our lives.

Also, Scripture is how we go about hearing from God. I’m constantly asked if I’ve heard from God? After saying yes, I’m quickly asked what He sounds like. I don’t hesitate. God has a bit of a southern accent and some would think He sounds a little slow. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever heard me talk, you know I just explained my own voice. This is because every time I read God’s Word out loud, I’m hearing from Him. Don’t take that too far. I’m not saying I hear the voice of God. I am saying I hear from Him.

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Many of us are quick to say we would give anything to hear from God the way His prophets and people did during Old Testament times. Here’s the thing. You have the Bible. What you have is better than anything they even knew how to pray for. Something else, and this one for free. If you can’t read the Bible and obey God, why in the world would you think you would hear from Him audibly as the prophets did? Start with obeying what He commands through His Word. Then you may hear from Him differently.

Studying instead of reading

If anything I’ve written inspires you to take reading Scripture more seriously, I have a few ideas and suggestions that have worked great for me. I’m not saying this is the only way to go about studying the bible. It’s simply how I study. Here are a few simple ideas you can use to grasp a better understanding and meaning of God’s Word.

Who wrote it?

For starters, who wrote the book you are reading in the Bible? Where were they from? What are some of the significant events that happened during their lifetime and what events did they participate in? By answering these questions you have a better understanding of exactly who they were.

When and where was it written?

To read the book in the context it was written in, you have to know exactly when and where it was written. This informs you of what the Christian or Jewish world looked like at the time. The information provides you with a better understanding of the circumstances and situations that were taking place. Again, when you learn when and where the book of Jeremiah was written, you better understand exactly what was taking place at 29:11.

Who was the author writing to?

Once you have taken the time to learn about the author and when and where a book or epistle was written, who is the audience the author wanted to reach? Were they Jewish or Gentiles? How close were they to the heart of the Roman Empire? Was it a new church Paul had recently started or were they lifelong Jews finally willing to recognize Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah?

The more you learn about the original audience, the better the ability you will have to apply what you are reading into your own life. This also plays a huge role in not being led to take the Bible out of its proper context.

What was the message the Holy Spirit wanted them to convey?

Again, all of Scripture was inspired by God and written by human authors. This means, while the Bible was divinely inspired, it wasn’t exactly written perfectly. Also, you have to account for any errors that simply happened from translating Scripture out of its original language.

Still, you should clearly be able to identify what God was wanting to convey to His people. By focusing more on God’s perfect message instead of human writing, you will be better led and equipped to apply God’s Word to your own life. Here are four simple steps to help with this.

Read the Bible

What is happening in the passage you are reading? Which people and events are you reading about? What exactly is taking place?

Examine

How did the author want the original audience to respond? Remember, what you’re reading wasn’t intended for you and the life you are currently living. How did the author want his original audience to respond to God’s message? Once you have identified this, you will better be able to live out what you have read.

Application

Application is a big word. Let’s make this a little easier to chew up and digest. After reading a particular passage of Scripture, where do you need to demonstrate a level of repentance? What can you turn from that will lead you closer to Jesus? How can the Holy Spirit empower you to live out what it is you are reading?

Pray

After you have finished reading, pray to God that the time you have spent studying His Word will play a part in your sanctification. No, you’re not saved by reading the Bible. That being said, when Scripture becomes an important part of who you are as a Christian, what you’re reading plays a significant role in the transformation of your heart, mind, and soul.

Go out of your way to know God’s Word. Do it enough that you begin to love God’s Word. When this becomes important enough, you’ll learn how to live in relationship with God’s Word.

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