I never used to feel there was any problem with the way the Bible was approached in women’s circles. Maybe I was too busy enjoying the laughter, Lipton tea and Tim Tam biscuits to notice. The fellowship was great, the message seemed good enough, and I was spending time in the Word like a good Christian. I never questioned it. It was what I had always done, and it seemed good enough.
Then, everything changed.
Whereas previously I had relied on Sundays, ladies’ classes, and women’s devotional books to fuel my faith, during my time at Bible College I was steeped in the Word day in and day out. I discovered for the first time the joy of delving deep into it and soaking up all its depth and richness.
Then, some time after attending Bible College, I attended a ladies’ class where they were using a certain lady’s devotional book. She based an entire argument around an incorrect translation and understanding of Colossians 2:17, pulling it out of its context. I don’t even know which translation she was using, but it read, “the reality is of Christ.”
To summarise what she said, “If you want to get real, then you have to get to Christ.”
There were many other problems with the chapter (and the chapters to come) but that was the one that stood out to me the most. I was appalled. I am sure that I barely concealed my displeasure in class (as the extroverted-loud-mouth in me is often having to do – definitely one of the chinks in my armour) and ranted to my husband when I got home, “It… was… just fluff! It hardly had any scripture, and the scripture it had wasn’t even used properly!”
Yet there was a time not to long ago when I would have just accepted that use of Scripture without question and perhaps even thought it enlightening.
There are many women in the church that are just like I was. They are trying so hard to know more about God’s Word. Their lack of knowledge isn’t because a lack of effort or desire. They just don’t know how, or where to start. So, they do what they know how and look to women’s Bible study material to fill the gap and unfortunately, the majority of what they are turning to in order to get closer to God is sadly lacking in substance. The very resources designed to help women get stronger and closer to God aren’t enough to do so, barely scratching the surface of the Word’s tremendous depths and tightly packaging the Word of God into cutesy sayings and anecdotes until it hardly meant anything anymore.
There usually just isn’t enough there to keep a vibrant, living, and active faith afloat.
I understand that women have different needs and ways of communicating, but with verses taken out of context, Bible texts interpreted in strange ways, applications being made to women that simply aren’t there, Biblical accounts twisted to mean things they never meant to illustrate, and Ladies’ Day themes like, “Plaid is Rad” (true story), “Chocolate and Friends,” “Under the Big Top,” and “Up with the Chickens!” (also a true story), it should be clear to the discerning Christian woman that the way we approach God’s Word needs to be rethought.
And it is the sad truth that with the two of these things combined (a lack of personal knowledge and a lack of good, solid teaching) many women never moving from milk to meat, even after long years of Christian service.
[Ok, so let me take a moment here to say that I realise that a lot of heart, soul, and effort is often put into these Ladies’ Days and themes, and they are encouraging in their own right. A lot of the appeal of Ladies’ Days is simply the fellowship, and there are some great exceptions that do focus on the Biblical content over cuteness.]
I want you to ask yourself, “Am I substituting a deep and intimate knowledge of the Saviour for a second hand, or surface-level knowledge?”
For the longest time, I was. After attending Sundays, Wednesdays, and ladies’ classes and reading a chapter of a women’s devotional book every week, I would be satisfied and tell myself I had spent sufficient time in His Word. While I would recite certain Bible passages and ideas, know the plan of salvation, and generally seem a very devout and well-studied Christian woman, this approach only resulted in making me a very weak Christian.
In approaching the Word of God this way, it would forever remain a hand-me-down faith, passed on to me by others; whether it was my parents, the preacher, an older woman, or a book. I would never actually study and come to know the Bible for myself or develop my own relationship with God. I would always be reliant, dependent on someone else for nourishment.
When I was honest with myself, I knew that what was written in Hebrews was true of me:
“for though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
… and for too long I was content to stay that way, but staying in such a state cannot be okay with any one of us.
It is so very important that we not become satisfied with simply learning from others our entire Christian walk. A second-hand approach to the Word is not sufficient to take us from milk to meat. We need to know it for ourselves. To know it so much that we can teach it to others. To be so full of Christ that our words and actions bubble out of us in the overflow. Your husband is counting on you. Your children are counting on you. Your church is counting on you. The younger women are counting on you. The world needs you to be salt and light.
“When women grow increasingly lax in their pursuit of Bible literacy, everyone in their circle of influence is affected. Rather than acting as salt and light, we become bland contributions to the environment we inhabit and shape, indistinguishable from those who have never been changed by the gospel. Home, church, community, and country desperately need the influence of women who know why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. They desperately need the influence of women who love deeply and actively the God proclaimed in the Bible.”
~Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word
So what can we do to change?
While it’s fine to read ladies’ books and attend Ladies’ Days that present more milk of the Word than meat, it cannot be a substitute for coming to know Christ ourselves. Really coming to know Him. Intimately. Delving deep into His Word and drawing out all the richness and nourishment for your soul.
I want to encourage you to start to look at the study of God’s Word as if it were a life-long College education, a never-ending pursuit to reach a complete understanding of the one who created you, loves you, and gave you this amazing Word in order to have a relationship with you and make both you and your life better.
“I intend to go to my grave with dirt beneath my nails and a spoon clutched in my fist. I am determined that no mountain of biblical ignorance will keep me from seeing him [God] as clearly as my seventy or eighty years on this earth will allow.”
~ Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word
When you realise that studying the Bible is a life-long pursuit, you won’t be discouraged when you hit stumbling blocks, or take a bit of time to digest a certain passage or idea. You’ll come to grips with the fact that frustration and mental strain are all a part of the learning process. Did you understand algebra the first time your teacher taught it to you? No, and it hurt to think about it. Sometimes Bible study is the same way, but like with algebra, persistence eventually pays off.
I want to encourage you to study God’s Word for yourself, and from here on to not be satisfied with any kind of hand-me-down faith. When you do this, a few less-than-exegetical lessons here and there won’t hurt, because you’ll have filled yourself up first, and you won’t end up lacking.
It’s time to take your faith into your own hands.
Here’s how you can start:
- Pick a book of the Bible to study in depth. You want this to not be too difficult to start with. In other words, don’t pick Revelation, Daniel, or Ezekiel, no matter how intriguing they may seem! Pick something like James, Philippians, or one of the gospels. Print out the first couple of chapters out triple-spaced, so you can underline, circle, and highlight with reckless abandon.
- Pray for help with understanding and digesting. God says He will give us wisdom if we ask for it (James 1:5). Leaving prayer out of the process means missing out on this beautiful promise! God doesn’t judge us for needing a bit of help with the learning process, and “gives [wisdom] generously to all without reproach.” Pray, pray, and pray again!
- Read, read, think, and read. Before you look to anyone or any book for an interpretation, try to understand it yourself! The best way to exegete is to simply read, read, think about it, then read it again. The beauty about studying a single book at a time is that you are studying the context surrounding each verse. Highlight the main ideas, circle words you don’t know, and question mark the ideas that require more careful pondering.
- Look up words you don’t know. Remembering the Bible was written in a different context and in a different language is helpful. I use Strong’s Concordance and Thayer’s Lexicon – and for special insights into specific words, plays on words, and phraseology, I go to Robertson’s Word Pictures and Vincent’s Word Studies. All of these are for free download when you use e-sword. Write down the insights you find useful.
- Find verses that have similar ideas or phrases to the one you are studying that help you to understand what is being said more clearly or deeply. More often than not, if you are presented with a difficult idea in one passage, you will find another passage with a clearer, simpler version of the idea that clarifies the more difficult verse. There are a great number of commentaries that are helpful in this way, but I love Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge as a resource for finding corresponding verses! It has no commentary on the verses, it just presents verses that have similar words and phraseology.
- Seek help. If you are really stumped with an idea, and you have read, thought, prayed, and read, then seek help from several people you trust. As the Proverb says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). Once you have their opinions, measure them up with God’s Word and see what fits.
- Re-write the verse. Once I have an idea of what the verse is saying, I re-write the verse in a way that makes sense to me. Then, when I go back to it in the future, I can read the explanation and immediately remember what it is I was thinking about it before.
- Apply the verse. Once you have a grasp on what it means, ask yourself, “What does this verse tell me about God?” “What does this verse tell me about my relationship to God?” and, “In light of this verse, what in my life needs to change?”
- Thank God for the wisdom He has given you. If you have understood a beautiful Biblical truth, then that is something to praise and thank God for. It is His will that we give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18)!
Sunday mornings, Ladies’ Days, classes, and devotional books can be a wonderful way to gain a little insight, fellowship, and encouragement from others – but they are no substitutes for learning the Word of God for yourself.
In the end, it is infinitely more important and beneficial to you that you know what God says than that you know what someone else says about what God says.
And I promise, once you start studying for yourself, you won’t look back. You can understand God’s Word for yourself, it just takes time. Once you understand that God’s will for us is able to be understood – and not some dark, mysterious place – a whole new appreciation for God and His Word is born. You will begin to crave those times when you can immerse yourself in it. You will discover a never-ending source of wisdom and wealth – and I guarantee that you will never want to substitute it for a cute little book full of flowery quotes again. You will continue to dive deeper with an insatiable craving for a knowledge of the one who gives all knowledge.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18)
“we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9, 10)
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11)
…and that is also my prayer for you. May God bless you as you seek Him.