How can the average man study the Bible? My Lessons from Ruth

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This post is the second in a series LRI Staff Member Melanie Ingland’s recent trip where she had the opportunity to teach the wives of the men enrolled in the Training National Trainers program in Central Asia this fall.

This is a follow up post describing her experience using Leadership Resources International’s curriculum and Bible Study method on Ruth. You can read post 1 here.

If you read my first post, you would remember that I was very discouraged when thinking about teaching the book of Ruth.

I can’t begin to describe the difference or give you a full picture of how I have changed and been affected. I will attempt to give you a before and after and all of the in-between.

I want to give you a window into the way I learned how to study Ruth and then how I taught it to the women on my recent trip.

I grew up in church and came to know Christ at a very young age (8 yrs old).  I was in youth group, went to every service the church offered and spent many summers at Christian summer camp.  I have memorized hundreds of Bible verses and soaked up theological knowledge by the books.  I attended a Christian Bible school and had to have numerous Bible classes including 2 semesters of Biblical Theology.

I own dozens of Christian books and theological study tools like Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Ryrie’s Basic Theology. By bookcase has multiple versions of Study Bibles, Bible dictionaries and Bible handbooks.  I am NOT telling you all of this so you think more highly of me or think that I am smart.  Far from it.

After ALL of this training and reading, the single most beneficial tool to help me study the Bible was the day I spent with my co-worker Paul, the Curriculum Coordinator for LRI, prepping for my Ruth study.

Some of you may be like me.  I have often thought “How can I  study the Bible?  How can I get something out of this?”  For centuries we didn’t have the literature we have today.  The average person didn’t have a library full of commentaries and study Bibles to use in preparation for personal Bible study.  When the New Testament church wanted to learn about Christ and apply God’s teaching, they couldn’t pull out the latest edition of John MacArthur’s New Testament Commentaries.  So I often was frustrated that these were the tools I was given.

How could I go through all of the training and knowledge and still feel like I didn’t have a grasp on practical Bible study?  

Paul offered to sit down with me and show me how we teach the groups of men and women around the world.  Unlike all of my college classes and sermons, this was hands on.  Paul and I spent hours working through the book of Ruth and he taught me tools I can use that translates into any book of the Bible.

We actually studied the book of Ruth!  I left that room full of appreciation for Ruth, the Bible and God’s amazing story of redemption.  I also came away with an enlightened mind!  I wanted to yell out to everyone who has ever taught me and said “WHY DIDN’T I LEARN THIS BEFORE?!”  How come it has taken me YEARS of being immersed in Biblical “stuff” to figure out how to do this?

The beauty of this is it is SO simple!  There is not magic formula.  There are no books, gimmicks or certain IQ you need to learn.  You don’t have to know a certain language or have a certain education to study the Word.

That is the beauty of the Training National Trainers Curriculum. We don’t use the variety of helps that are available today (even though they are valuable). Our goal is to study the Word of God in depth by learning practical and powerful hermeneutical tools and applying them to the text. By doing that, we equip pastors around the world to dig up the treasures in God’s word themselves–and not be dependent on external resources to get to God’s truth.

I will walk you through the main parts of what we studied and then what I learned so you can see an example of what I am talking about.

Step 1: OBSERVE

As simple as it sounds, the first step is to read and re-read the passage.  Not just for the sake of reading it, but think through what is happening.  You need to ask good questions.  Questions like who, what, when and where reveal things about the text and give clues into what the author is trying to say.  Search the passage, like a treasure hunt, for repeated words, thoughts or actions.  Are there keywords, themes or character shifts?  What transition words are used?  Does the author reveal who they are, who they are writing to or where it takes place?

Don’t spend this time creating interpretations or applications.  Many times we want to immediately come to a conclusion about what is being said.  Instead spend time just reading the passage with curiosity, discernment and perseverance.

This was a huge step for me.  I usually want to read and immediately start applying.  It was so enjoying (and pressure free!) to just read the word.  Simply soak in what the author is saying and curiously dig through what is happening.  It sounds really basic but that is what this step is.  You are gathering all the facts, like a doctor, to come up with a diagnosis.

Here are a few samples of my observations from Ruth chapter 1:

  • Naomi and her husband moved to Moab because of Famine
  • They had two sons who were married to women named Orpah and Ruth
  • This happened during the time of Judges
  • Despite famine Naomi left Jerusalem full and now she feels empty

The next step is:

Step 2: INTERPRET

Now that you have gained all of the important information on your topic it is time to start figuring out what it means.  It is most helpful to break things down to the major ideas and the main idea.  Think of it like a necklace.  All of the pearls are the major ideas but the main idea is the string that ties them all together.  This is important since coming up with the main idea helps us to focus on what the author is trying to say.

Here are some main ideas for Chapter 1:

  • Naomi feels like God is against her and she is bitter
  • Ruth is faithful to God and to Naomi
  • Orpah’s reaction to Naomi is a normal reaction which magnifies what Ruth does and makes it seem even more extraordinary

Once you have all of your main ideas written down, try to come up with one sentence that sums the whole passage up.  This was really hard for me.  I am a wordy person so I had to really examine what I found in the passage in order to come up with a concise conclusion.  Here is what I came up with for Chapter 1.

Even in Naomi’s bitter times we see the faithfulness of God through Ruth.  

Step 3: APPLICATION

This is a very important aspect of Bible study.  When you go too quickly  in observation and interpretation,  your applications aren’t deep and sometimes you can misinterpret the message.  I am guilty of reading quickly and then coming up with whatever application comes to mind.  By making this the final piece of the puzzle it allows you to let the text speak for itself.  This is actually the easiest step because you can see all of the information funneled down all and then you ask “how does this apply to me?”

You can ask yourself… “Is there an application already in the text?”,  ”How does the situation of our lives today correspond with the situation of the original audience?” and  ”What does this passage tell us about God and how show we live in light of that?”

Here are some of the applications from chapter 1

  • Patience when we don’t see what is happening
  • Our blessing is not dependent on our response to God (Naomi felt bitter and upset but God still blessed her)
  • What kind of life do we lead and will people talk about us when we leave?  (The women in Bethlehem remembered Naomi and her attitude when they saw her come back).

There are many other wonderful applications from these passages.

PITFALLS

It is really easy to misinterpret what the Bible is saying and put our own wisdom into the lessons.  Here is an example.  I have heard many messages (and have probably been guilty of this myself) condemning Naomi and her family for moving to Moab.  They say that since the Moabites were enemies of Israel and there is no mention of them talking to God about their decision they were condemned for their decision.  The death of the children and their heartache is related to their own plans to move to Moab.

Let’s ask the questions:

  • What does the author say?
  • Does he pronounce condemnation?
  • Does he give praise?
  • How much attention is given to the narrative about their move in comparison to other subjects?

If you look at the passage, you will see that the author is silent on many of these questions.  There is no hint about this being a bad decisions or a good one.  There is no connection to their actions and the deaths in the family.  The author spends only 2 verses in the 22 verses of chapter 1 on the subject.  The lesson? Make sure you don’t major on the minor.  Don’t read into the passage things that aren’t there.  Don’t condemn and praise when the author doesn’t condemn and praise.

It is really easy to pick out what we think are easy lessons.  Sometimes we have to dig and discover what is happening and it takes some effort but not only can we do it…it is worth it.

CONTEXT

The other quick lesson that I learned is the importance of context.  We looked at context from a literary standpoint, a historical standpoint and an overarching Biblical standpoint.  It was so helpful to see how this book fits into its perfect place in the Bible.  We looked at how Moab and Israel were coming from dark places (This was a time of judges and darkness in Israel’s history.  In fact, the famine in the land that drove Naomi out was God’s punishment on Israel).  We looked at the Moabites and their relationship with Israel (clue…it was not good.  Read Judges 3:12-30; Numbers 21-25; Deut 23).  We also looked at the major events in the Bible and how Ruth fit into that.

Seeing all of the pieces come together makes me appreciate what is happening in the story.  I understand the intricacies of what is being written.  What an enlightening experience to more fully understand God’s beautiful plan of redemption being carried on through these two women and the blessings they receive in the process.

I am so grateful for the simple tools that I was given.  I know that these tools are just a small portion of what we give the people we train over a 4 year period.

What a relief to realize that the average man can know and understand God’s scripture on his own!

Praise be to God for the book of Ruth!  

Author: Melanie Ingland

You can read more about us on our website: our resources, what we do and our methods.

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Leadership Resources

Leadership Resources exists to equip and encourage pastors around the world to teach God’s word with God’s heart. Learn more about our work, our approach, and see how your church can make a worldwide difference with God's Word.

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