Sunday by Sunday teachers open the Bible, convinced it is God's special choice for speaking to us today, even as He did to the generations some 2,000 years and more ago.
The Bible is a personal Book. It is about people. Yes, its history is of people centuries past, of God's initiatives toward them and their responses to Him. Yet it is infinitely more--a love Book that tells the extreme limits a holy, loving God and Heavenly Father would go to bring back to himself the children He lost. That includes us. The thesis of the Book is John 3:16.
The Bible is the only dependable record of the supremely special Person, Jesus Christ. Thus the Bible is, above everything, a redemptive Book.
The Bible is also a practical Book--the Book to live by. It tells us more about ourselves than we can imagine. The Bible pictures humankind, their origin, sin, and salvation. Its narratives range from the awful foolishness and tragedy of human hate to wonderful expressions of love, devotion, and faith. Its history is of the bad and the ugly and the good and the beautiful. Especially in the Psalms are the portraits of every phase of life--joy, sorrow, victory, defeat, struggle, disgrace, monotony. The expressions range from lament to praise, complaint to petition, begging to celebration. Overshadowing throughout is God's love and ethic for His creation.
The truths of the Bible are timeless. However, these truths were first given to and recorded by people in a vastly different time and culture. Every Sunday morning we must bridge from the then to the now. We cannot separate Scripture from its historical, cultural, and grammatical settings. The history is of centuries gone. The culture is Oriental in its interests and mores. The language is not only foreign but ancient. How can we guide class members into personal conversations with the Bible that help them discover and understand its timeless truths, then apply them to everyday living?
Not easily. We may have done our homework well by uncovering the grammatical and historical meanings of the text. However, among our tendencies is inadvertently letting our presuppositions sidetrack us into wrong uses of the actual biblical meaning and intention. When we move on to affirming its meaning for life today, we may slip into applications quite distant from the text.
Being an effective teacher
I recall one of my seminary professors saying we sometimes use ventriloquism in our teaching: We set the Bible on our knee and make it say what we want. Always, the Bible says what it means and means what it says.
The thesis of this article is that the Bible is a practical and personal book. The Bible is a book of human events, but the primary purpose of the Bible is not the events. It is "God's action in human events" (William S. LaSor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederick William Bush, Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, page 108). The great problems of life are spiritual. People desperately need God: "They will not ask for help unless they believe in Him, and they will not believe in Him unless they have heard of Him, and they will not hear unless they get a preacher, and they will not have a preacher unless one is sent. But as the Scripture says, the footsteps of those who bring the good news is a welcome sound.... So faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:14-17, The New Jerusalem Bible). We do not violate the text by equating teacher with preacher.
Methods vary for approaching a text, breaking it down into its parts and discovering its meaning, purpose, and application of the lesson. Some are more complex. Following is an uncomplicated approach for developing the objective of a lesson from John 14. The objective of the lesson is that the student will "know," "feel," and "do."
Theme or Idea: God has prepared a place with many rooms, and Jesus has shown He is the way, the truth, and the life, and He has shown me God. Therefore, if I believe, I don't need to be afraid, for He is preparing a place for me, and He is coming again for me so that I may be with Him.
Objective or Purpose: To identify Christ's promises to the believers and to compare the promises with the conditions.
Following that exercise, you are ready to develop the lesson. The usual resources for your preparation are your study Bible, concordance, commentary, and Bible dictionary (and not the least is Webster's).
Three basic principles must guide your interpretation and application of Scripture. Briefly they are:
1. Always look for the natural meaning. God intended for His Word to be a clear and commonly understood communication from Him to ordinary human beings.
2. Always look for the historical meaning. Because God gave His Word to those who heard it first, we can understand only if we understand its historical setting. True, we may comprehend more fully than those first hearers; for example, prophecies of Jesus as Messiah. The point is, our understanding cannot be substantially different.
3. Always look for the general meaning. God does not change. He is self-consistent, so His Word is consistent in itself. Remember, the underlying purpose of the Bible is redemptive. It will always point to Christ. That should be implicit in your lesson.
Every Bible lesson requires a response. God expects His children to grow in obedience, faith, and love for Him and His Word. He gave us the Bible to help in every step. That's only when the lesson's application truly is from the Bible.
Harris L. Jansen, D.Min., served on the faculty of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He lives in Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.