The Word of God is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword.
So I’m a bit surprised, in our idiot-proofing society, that every Bible is not required to come with a warning label: Caution. Dangerous. May cause injury. For here’s the thing about swords: They are sharp and have point. Which means they can do a lot of damage—including to the one wielding it.
Of course, the possibility of injury shouldn’t stop us. It should, however, encourage us to use Scripture properly. Otherwise, we will either never learn discernment, which is even more dangerous as it leaves us unarmed in enemy territory, or our discernment—our ability to separate good from evil—will be greatly impaired.
There are many great resources out there to help you learn to study Scripture well, but in the meantime, here are three basic safeguards you should employ:
1. Make sure you’re a Christian. Being a Christian is no guarantee that you won’t misuse or even abuse Scripture, but if you have not unconditionally surrendered your life to God’s sovereign rule through dependence on Christ’s payment for the crimes you’ve committed against God—well, you’re completely out of luck. You will be unable to accept Scripture as true, much less as an authority over your life. Only as a Christian will your eyes be opened and your heart receptive to Scripture. Only Christians have the full power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to handle the truth rightly.
2. Study the Context. Pull a single sentence, a single action, a single life out of its surrounding context, and you can twist it to mean anything you want. And if you can twist it, temptation will exist to do so—especially if the reality unsettles you. So to get a proper grip on Scripture, you must study the context—the immediate words surrounding a verse as well as the historical, cultural, and larger scriptural contexts. Otherwise, your sword may slip and you might impale yourself upon it.
3. Consult others. When we work in a void, we become easily distracted and lose perspective. So we need other, trustworthy Christians in our lives to balance us out: Pastors, Bible teachers, mature Christian friends, commentators. This doesn’t mean we will never disagree with them; a seminary degree or a doctorate in biblical languages does not guarantee they are right. However, their presence in our lives can provide other interpretations, different connections between passages, illumination of blind spots, and encouragement to keep digging to find out what God says.