The late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey was famous for telling stories of little-known facts about a range of topics that were fascinating to learn about. (Did you know that Fidel Castro, as a twelve-year-old boy, wrote to newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt, congratulating him on his presidency and asking for a ten-dollar bill?) After dazzling his audience with engaging tales, he would inevitably sign off by saying, "And now you know the rest of the story."
This leads me to think about many Christians and their knowledge of the Bible. Too often, entire sections of the Bible are virtually unknown and truths still lay unearthed to many of us. Rather than read and understand passages in context, we are tempted to seize upon a verse, perhaps overheard in conversation or read on a pillow somewhere, and it becomes "a word from the Lord" that we grab hold of for the day. Yet, while the verse is a part of the story, it is far from the rest of the story.
Compounded on top of this tragedy is the exponential increase of this mistake when we do it in small groups with other Christians. Surely you've seen it, if not participated in it. I have. People sitting in a circle, Bibles open, verses read, and then the fatal question, "What does this passage mean to you?" So much for learning the rest of the story. This question conveniently segues into the long narrative of our life events, which we seem to believe are more interesting.
You see, the problem is not with the Bible or the absence of any interest in it. It is with our abbreviated treatment of it. I applaud and champion people's discussing and thinking about the Scripture. The problem comes when that exercise becomes an appetizer to the entrée of our thoughts, feelings, and subjective interpretations. I am sure people mean to apply what they have learned, but at that rate, it would be comparable to someone's saying they are successfully swimming—in their bathtub.
So what are the alternatives? The next time we get together to open God's Word to study it, we should hold our gaze in the text longer to learn more than what a quick reading will offer us. When we do come up to breathe, ask, "What does this text mean to you?" Second Peter 1:20–21 teaches us that the Bible claims dual authorship. The Holy Spirit wrote the Bible. He did that through the use of men. They used words written in history in a context within a specific genre. In order to begin to mine the truths that God has given us, we would do well to study more carefully what has been written to better understand what God's Word is teaching.
With that in mind, here are five steps to guide your group Bible studies:
Pray before you study. Ask God to guide the minds of the group members and to give you a sensitive heart to what you learn in order to understand and obey (Ps. 119:26–27, 29).
One of the most neglected disciplines of studying the Bible is staring at the text long enough to ask important questions and find the answers. Who is the author and who is the audience? How does the context in which the author writes inform the understanding of the lessons that God's Word teaches? Is there an imperative to obey, a principle to learn, or a sin to flee? What does this text teach you about the character of God?
This is when you move from considering what the text says to what it means. At times, it will be obvious. Other times, it will take more investigation. Are there similar themes addressed in other places of Scripture that cast light on this text? Consider the genre of writing (poetry, prophecy, narrative, etc.) and how that informs your interpretation.
Questions might have been answered at this point, but lives have not changed (James 1:22). Ask what you intend to do or what needs to change in your thinking in light of the text you are studying.
A group studying the Bible together is well served by a leader who has experience in accurately handling the Word. The leader should be capable of helping point out what might be missed while affirming others who have contributed. Groups need someone to say, "That is a good point from the Bible but that is not found in this text."
The Rest of the Story
If you follow these steps, I promise you will get closer to learning the rest of the story. What will it tell you? It will tell you of a God who is powerful in creation and wise in all of His purposes. It will teach you that man is unimaginably sinful in all his ways but, amazingly, offered redemption in Christ. It will tell you of a people whom God has redeemed for His divine purposes to serve as a billboard of His grace and mercy. You will learn of a future when justice is final, redemption is complete, and the righteous triumphant. And woven through all of this are destroyed kings and empowered prisoners, sarcastic prophets and repenting tax collectors, all telling the story that Jesus saves. So keep studying, and you will know the rest of the story.