A friend texts you a strange picture of a piece of rusted iron fashioned into the shape of the number “1.”
As you try to figure out the significance of the picture, another text arrives from the same friend. It is the same image; only this time the picture shows a wider angle. The iron “1” is actually a dagger sticking through an eyeball. Disgusting.
A new picture arrives with an even wider angle of the scene. Now, you see the iron “1” sticking through the eyeball of a person’s head and into his brain. Thankfully, you don’t recognize the face.
“This is getting stranger by the minute,” you think to yourself, when all of a sudden a wider view of the image arrives revealing the person’s upper torso and arms. With the iron “1” sticking through the eyeball and into the brain, the person has his hands stretched out with all of his fingers spread wide.
Finally, one last picture arrives. Now you see the entire scene. The iron “1” is sticking through the person’s eyeball, through his brain, causing his hands to stretch out completely as he kneels on his knees.
What is this crazy picture all about? Bible study, of course. Each element of the story is designed to be a quick reference to remember how to study any passage of scripture. Here’s how it works:
The Iron #1: Choose one complete idea of Scripture.
The first step to studying Scripture is choosing a passage to study. The rule of thumb here is to choose a passage containing one complete idea — no more, no less.
If you choose less than one complete thought, you will have difficulty determining one complete meaning. This is frustrating and dangerous. Frustrating because you won’t understand what God is saying, dangerous because it leaves room for you to add your own ideas (which might be opposite of what God is saying).
This would be like sending a recipe to a friend only to find out that the friend only read the instructions to turn on the oven. That might not accomplish the results they desire (especially if they don’t turn it off). Just like with a recipe, you have to study a complete thought of Scripture.
If, on the other hand, you choose a passage containing more than one complete thought (i.e. six chapters containing four parables and three different conversations), you will likely find it difficult to focus on any one idea. Again — frustrating and dangerous. Imagine your friend trying to cook five recipes at the same time — in the same pan!
The Eyeball: Observe the Text.
In our story, the iron #1 is stuck in the man’s eyeball. Likewise, the second step to studying Scripture is to observe the text.
Read the text. Read it again. Read what happens before and after. Ask questions like, “Who wrote this?” “Who is involved?” “Who is being spoken to?” “Where is this happening?” “What else is going on?” Notice any key words or repeating phrases. Determine what is going on.
The Brain: Interpret the Text.
The iron #1 goes through the man’s eye directly to his brain. That’s to help us remember that we have to think about and interpret Scripture.
Eventually, Bible study comes down to asking, “What does this mean?” In any given text, there is only one true meaning: God’s meaning. It’s not a matter of “What I think” or “What this sounds like.” Rather, we must ask, “What is God saying?”
God has given us a brain to discern His Word and His Spirit to illuminate the Word to our minds. This means we approach the Word seeking the Spirit’s help as we meditate on its meaning.
One of the best questions to ask is, “what does the rest of the Bible say about this?” Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.
The Hands: Apply the Text.
Here’s a great phrase to remember: Every passage has one meaning but many applications. In other words, God’s Word doesn’t change — it means exactly what God intended for it to mean from the beginning. But it is also timeless and relevant for application in all situations.
For instance, if I determine that the meaning of the passage I am studying is “Love others,” I can think of dozens of applications: Help my neighbor with yard work, treat my mother with honor, spend time serving an elderly friend, etc.
That’s why the man in our story’s hands are extended with every finger spread wide — to remind us that there are multiple ways to apply every text.
By the way, when thinking about how to apply a text, remember: the more specific, the better. It’s one thing to say, “Help my neighbor.” It’s another thing to say, “Every time I mow my yard, I’ll check to see if Larry’s yard needs to be mowed. If it does, I’ll mow it without asking.”
Understanding the meaning of Scripture is pointless unless we apply it.
The Knees: Pray the Text.
Finally, the man in the story is on his knees -a posture we usually associate with prayer.
Imagine God’s communication to us like a circle. God is at the top of the circle and we are at the bottom. God communicates to us through His Word — so imagine a Bible going from God to us clockwise around the circle. As we receive the Word, the Holy Spirit illuminates it to us. Then, as we understand the Word, we communicate back to God with the help of the Holy Spirit. Imagine our prayers continuing clockwise around the circle going back to God.
We pray about lots of things. We go to God with whatever is on our hearts. But our prayers should be shaped by the message of His Word. As we learn to “love one another” in Scripture, we should begin praying that God will help us to “Love Larry — even when he plays loud music at night,” or “Honor mom even when she disapproves of a decision I’ve made.” If you pray this way, you’ll be surprised what happens the next time Larry plays loud music or your mother disapproves of something. God will answer your prayer.
Now, think about the story — the iron “1,” the eyeball, the brain, the hands, and the knees. Each piece is meant to help you recall how to study the Word. So the next time you are reading your Bible, and you want a little help with your study think about that poor guy with the iron “1.” Hopefully, its stuck in your brain by now (pun intended)!