My wife and I recently latched onto a new favorite detective. His name is Sidney Chambers and he’s the hero of a series of mystery short-stories that Sue and I are reading out loud to each other. I’m especially amused by the fact that Sidney’s “day” job is pastoring an Anglican church in England in the 1950s. Go pastors!
Whodunits (if they’re well-written) draw readers into the story by dropping clues here and there that point to the guilty party — if we’re observant enough to pick up on those hints. Sue and I frequently put down the mystery that we’re reading, review the evidence that’s been presented thus far and make a guess as to who the murderer is. Occasionally (but quite rarely) we correctly identify the culprit before the author unmasks him at the end of the book.
If you’re a daily Bible reader (and I hope that you are, or at least that you’re on the road to becoming one), there is no better skill to develop than the power of observation. You won’t be able to apply God’s Word to your life until you learn to see what God is driving home in the text. In my book, Walk, I teach four kinds of observations to look for in every Bible passage.
BTW: If you have just finished studying Context, on your own or in a small group (as part of Christ Community Church’s Aha! campaign), I would encourage you / your group to work through Walk next. In four brief chapters, Walk will coach you through the simple C->O->M->A method of Bible study, and you’ll soon be drawing life-changing, personal applications from your daily Bible reading.
The O of the COMA Bible study approach stands for observations. The four kinds to look for as you’re reading Scripture are as follows. (You might want to write them down on the inside cover of your Bible.) After I define what is meant by them, I’ll use one of these four categories to glean some insights from today’s Bible reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18.
Theme: The theme of any passage of Scripture is usually spelled out for us as a section heading. For example, just before verse 6 of 2 Thessalonians 3 (i.e. the first verse of today’s reading), you’ll see the heading: “Warning Against Idleness.” Guess what God wants to say to you in this portion of His Word? Is there some important area of life in which you’re being lazy?
Repeating words or ideas: This is the category of observations that really caught my attention as I read today’s Scripture. I’ll come back to it in a moment and tell you what I saw in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18 along these lines.
Truths about God: This is the best category to fall back on when you’ve read a passage and can’t seem to squeeze anything out of it. Ask yourself the question: “What does this text teach me — directly or by inference — about the character or activities of God (Father, Son or Holy Spirit)?”
Something striking: Did anything jump off the page at you as you read? Was there a line or a verse that you felt inclined to underline or put a check mark next to? Why did it catch your attention?
OK. Those are the four kinds of observations to look for in your Bible reading. You don’t have to always use all four categories, nor do you need to uncover everything that’s tucked away in the text. In fact, all it takes is one good observation — from any of the four categories — for you to come away with a message from God and an application to your life (the M and the A of COMA).
The kind of observation that I found myself making in today’s Scripture reading was that of repeating words or ideas. Several examples caught my eye. Did you note any of the following?
Idleness vs. hard work. I went looking for this repeating idea after being tipped off by the heading at the top of the passage (which, as I’ve already noted, spells out the theme of the text): “Warning Against Idleness”. I circled the word “idle” 3 or 4 times in my Bible — as well as the contrasting words “work,” “laboring” and “toiling”. While Paul is no doubt urging us to be diligent in our vocational pursuits, this principle might also be applied to working hard at our marriages, our serving opportunities, our character development, etc.
The authority of spiritual leaders. Did you observe how many times Paul asserts his authority in this passage? “We command you brothers and sisters” (v.6); “we gave you this rule” (v.10); “we command and urge” (v.12); “obey our instruction” (v.14). Do we take the exhortations of our pastors seriously — or do we treat their sermons as bits of advice from which to pick and choose?
The importance of having and being good role models. “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example” (v.7); “(We) offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (v.9).
Avoid those who are bad influences. “Keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive” (v.6); “Do not associate with them” (v.14).
Those are the repeating words or ideas that I saw in today’s Scripture passage.