2008 - Vol. 24
an especially rewarding way to
by Jeanne Kun
a topical Bible study?
At various stages of my life I have
made it a regular practice to include some topical study in my daily pattern
of' prayer and Scripture reading. Often the easiest and most helpful way
of doing this has been to choose a particular theme or topic and read what
the Bible says about it.
A simple topical approach can be
used in a variety of ways and for many purposes. At times I have armed
myself through study, using the word of God to defend myself against temptation,
to combat sin in my life, or to overcome some weakness or difficulty that
plagues me. Actively and consciously taking hold of God’s word by familiarizing
myself with what is written in Scripture on a specific theme has been a
tremendous aid to countering and conquering problems in my life such as
anxiety, ingratitude, self-concern, and resentment.
To give one example, reflecting on
passages about thanksgiving has prevented me from falling into feelings
of ingratitude, discontent, and dissatisfaction with my life and circumstances.
When I have been prone to focusing on what I don't have, rather than recalling
all the good that God has blessed me with, or when I have simply taken
God and his providence for granted, rather than acknowledging him with
appreciation and gratitude, some straightforward, direct verses have refocused
my attention on thanksgiving: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say
so, whom he has redeemed from trouble” (Psalm 107:1-2).
In doing topical
studies, we can also learn much about God’s own character and his call
to us to imitate him by choosing such themes as faithfulness, zeal, mercy,
compassion, and steadfast love. Other possible themes concern instruction
in Christian living: intercession, forgiveness, obedience, discipleship,
and right speech, to suggest only a few.
Topical study can be quickly mastered
and easily made use of by following a few basic steps:
a theme and begin to search the Scripture along those lines.
I usually choose my theme with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to bring
to my attention a topic of interest or concern. It may, for example, be
a particular sin such as uncontrolled anger or self-pity, an area for growth
such as generosity or hospitality, an aspect of God’s nature and character
I want to learn more about. Then I start my search by reading a familiar
passage on the topic, and proceed to follow up the cross-references listed
in the margins and footnotes that most study Bibles offer. I have also
found it helpful to use a concordance to make a list of passages related
to the chosen topic and to read them.
Cross-references or chain-references
are worth pursuing, as they often lead to passages that, though related
in meaning to the theme, do not include the same main word drawn from the
Additional aids at this stage of
reading and study may be a topical Bible, a dictionary, and a thesaurus.
A topical Bible is a text supplement to Scripture arranged by topic, grouping
all the verses on a theme by section together under the particular theme
heading. While this can be convenient for easily summarizing verses, I
usually find it more beneficial to actually do the search through the Bible
myself, because it impresses the passages on me more clearly and relates
them to their whole context in the Bible.
A dictionary provides the common
definition or meaning of the topic and may add shades of nuances of understanding.
Similarly, a thesaurus offers synonyms that expand on the meaning. Often
there are synonyms or related words that will give added insight. For example,
“faithful” readily brings to mind “trustworthy,” “reliable,” and “constant.”
Looking up the opposite, or antonym, can also be of value. Delving into
a contrasting word sheds light on the meaning of the original: “fearful”
versus “bold,” or “pride” in contrast to “humility.”
I have found the secular English
definitions at times to be very much in accord with the use of the word
in Scripture, and on other occasions I have seen how removed the current
meaning has become from the Christian meaning. An instance of this discrepancy
is clear in regard to “joy.” The dictionary defines it as “a glad feeling,”
but this is much shallower than the Christian understanding and experience
of joy as a mark of our relationship with the Lord, a movement of the will
(not just emotion!) in response to the truths of salvation, a fruit of
the Holy Spirit, and the result, as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often
said, “of burning love for Jesus.”
your reading by writing down the most significant verses in a notebook.
Though this takes some time and discipline, my own experience is that copying
down the verses serves to write them on my mind and heart and also leaves
me with a handy reference in the future. Often at moments of difficulty
in my life I have reread those passages related to the particular concern
I have had. These notes can quickly refresh my memory on a specific topic.
Besides writing out the key verses on the theme I add personal insights,
reflections, resolutions, and questions. Resolutions may arise from seeing
how I fall short of God’s standard and recognizing a heed for personal
conversion and growth in an area. My questions may be: “What does this
mean for my life today? Have I been faithful in this area? What will I
do about it?”
your study with a short summary or resume of what you have learned.
For example, as God was teaching me about gratitude and thankfulness through
my study, I had much to meditate on in my prayer time. I summarized God’s
word to me as, “Replace fear and discontent with gratitude.” I realized
that I learned not only that it is proper to give thanks, but how and when
and why I am to be thankful.
your resolutions to your daily life. A study of God’s word falls
short if our own attitudes, thoughts, and behavior remain unaffected by
it. One should truly be able to say along with the psalmist, “I have laid
up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
Kun is a noted author and a senior woman leader in the Word
of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. A lengthier version of
this article was originally published in God’s Word Today, May 1985.
Adapted and reprinted with permission of the author.]