Progressive Devotions is the most recent, most sophisticated and most public version of something I’ve been doing for years – recording the results of my personal Bible study. Today, we’ll look at how you can use writing to improve your understanding of the Bible and preserve the fruit of your labors for the future.
Before we consider a few writing methods you might use, let’s talk about why you should bother to keep a journal in the first place. What good is it?
Prove what you know
Writing helps you prove to yourself that you really understand what you’ve read. You might be shocked if you ever tried to put some of your most cherished beliefs in writing. Writing tends to expose the gaps in your grasp of a topic. You’ll probably disagree with this, but I’ve found that people who are masters of their craft can almost always explain it to an interested audience. On the other hand, if you can’t express it, you don’t possess it.
Improve what you know
Besides revealing what you know, writing is a great tool for improving and refining your knowledge. Editing your writing and sharpening your understanding go hand in hand. You’ll revise one paragraph because it doesn’t accurately express what you know. You’ll revise another paragraph because writing has caused you to rethink the topic.
Preserve the harvest
Writing preserves the results of your study for future use. The disciples gathered 12 baskets full of fragments after the Lord fed the multitude. They did it so that nothing would be lost (Joh 6:12-13). How many years worth of study have you lost because you have not recorded them? Your notes can be a valuable resource if you ever have to teach a class or preach a sermon.
Leave a legacy
Writing provides a book of remembrance. You can see how the Lord has worked in your life, teaching you and helping you apply His Word. If the Lord should tarry, your writing will be a record of your spiritual journey that the next generation will treasure. Your writings can bless people long after you are gone.
If you’re convinced that keeping study notes or a journal is worth doing, let’s take a look at some of the things you might record there.
Adventures in writing
Three writing methods you can use to improve your understanding of a Bible passage are to outline it, summarize it and paraphrase it.
We have talked about rightly dividing the word of truth (2Ti. 2:15). That phrase could literally be translated as to cut straight. When you’re outlining a passage, you divide it up into its logical parts. In other words, you draw the line between where one idea ends and the next begins. Here is an example where the Lord Jesus divided the Scriptures precisely. First, read the New Testament account of Christ’s first public ministry of the Word.
“And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luk 4:17-21)
Now take a look at the Old Testament Scripture Jesus was reading and see where He drew the line.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, | and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;” (Isa 61:1-2)
Jesus left out “the day of vengeance” part of the passage because that comes later in the prophetic timetable.
Remember, too, as you outline passages that chapter and verse divisions were not inspired. They came long after the Bible was complete. Sometimes they get in the way.
It was too long to include in today’s study, but I’ve uploaded a sample outline of Colossians 1 to help you get a better idea of what I’m talking about. It’s in pdf format, so you’ll need Adobe Acrobat to read it.
Another way to record your study findings is to summarize a passage. To summarize a passage, break it down into a subject and statements. The subject is the topic, or main idea, of the passage. The statements are the truths the passage states about the subject.
Finally, you can test your understanding of a passage by rewriting it in everyday English. The goal here is to put God’s Word into your words. Write the paraphrase the way you might if you were writing a children’s book. Again, my sample paraphrase of Colossians 1:9-12 is in the same pdf document as the sample outline above.
Points to Ponder
- Do you keep a written record of what you have learned from God’s Word?
- Do you keep a written record of God’s work in your life?
- Are you willing to give it a try?
Read More About It
Read Ephesians 2 again and try your hand at each of the writing techniques we talked about today. That is, outline, summarize and paraphrase Ephesians 2.