Category: Food for Thought

Read & Study the
Bible in New Ways

Posted by on 08/24/2017 in: ,

The Bible is an ancient text. So, it isn’t surprising when we get a little bored while reading it—especially with our entertainment-saturated culture. The average person watches only 10-seconds of a video on Facebook! If our attention spans can only handle 10-seconds of a video, how can we possibly stay focused while reading a historic text over and over again for our entire lives?

Well, we have a few ideas for you! This blog post will offer five ways to study and read the Bible in a fresh way.

1) READ DIFFERENT TRANSLATIONS

Ever wondered what the difference is between all the English Bible translations? There are so many! The best way to think about this is to imagine a spectrum. One on end, there are Bibles that are translated word-for-word. These are very literal. Then, on the other side, you have Bibles that are paraphrased versions. In the middle, you have Bibles that are translated by sentence or thought.

So, why would you want to read different translations? Languages are complex with idioms and phrases that don’t translate well word-for-word. At the same time, a paraphrase may miss out on key details. Comparing translations will give you the full picture, and also give you a fresh perspective on the verses you have read several times over.

In our app, it’s super easy to read two translations at once. Just pull open another Bible in the split-screen window!

2) CHECK OUT THE CROSS REFERENCES

Have you ever noticed the little green letters that appear in your Bible in our app? Those are cross references! Any time a verse appears that corresponds directly to another verse in the Bible, it gets tagged. Here’s an example:

In John 1, we learn about Jesus being at the beginning of all creation, bringing everything to life. Verse 5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” If you look closely, you’ll see an “h” appear right after the verse number. By tapping this, you’ll pull up the list of cross references, and you can look at the corresponding verses in the pop-up window. This cross reference took us to John 3:19, which talks about light coming into the world, but humanity hating the light because they were evil and loved darkness. Put together, we can now understand that John is foreshadowing Christ’s coming and death in the beginning chapters of his book.

So, how can using cross references help you read the Bible in fresh ways? The Bible is one, big historical narrative that tells the story of God redeeming his people. When we use cross references, we are able to more clearly see the connections between these events, the ways God fulfilled His promises, and the richness of the text.

3) USE GOSPEL HARMONIES

We’ve created Gospel Harmonies to make studying Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John easier. Instead of flipping through your Bible to find the stories that correspond to one another, we’ve made them available in one screen. The best way to explain this is to show you.

Why use Gospel Harmonies? Each Gospel is written by a different author and with a different intention. By comparing all accounts, you can make sure to catch all the details, and perhaps make new connections you wouldn’t have made otherwise. We sell these Gospel Harmonies in several different translations as well: NASB, KJV, ESV, NIV, NKJV, NA28 with Parsings & Dictionary, and Byzantine Greek New Testament. Currently, these are all 50% off!

4) TRY A CHRONOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE

Chronological study Bibles are just what they sound like—Bibles arranged in chronological order with study notes inserted. How does this work? Here’s an example! The Chronological Study Bible (NKJV) starts the New Testament with Matthew 1:25, covering Jesus’ genealogy. There are a few study notes on the culture and society during Jesus’ birth. Verse 25 ends with Joseph believing that Mary is still a virgin and naming his son Jesus… and then the text jumps to Luke 2:1-20, sharing the more detailed account of Mary and Joseph heading to Bethlehem.

Reading a chronological study Bible can rejuvenate your quiet time by helping you see the story of God’s Word. All of the different historical accounts interact with one another and show God’s faithfulness through time. When you read it in order, you will be able to insert yourself into the story, too.

Other recommended chronological study Bibles:
Chronological Life Application Study Bible NLT (20% off)
KJV Reese Chronological Study Bible (50% off)

5) LOOK AT STUDY NOTES

Study notes provide deeper insights into the text of the Bible. Although they aren’t as developed as commentaries are, they are still very helpful when coming across difficult passages. Here’s a few study Bibles that we recommend:


NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (50% off)
Archaeological Study Bible Notes
NIV Zondervan Study Bible

FIND A NEW BOOK

Sometimes, we just need to be encouraged by another person, a new voice, or a fresh perspective. Right now we have titles on sale that are aimed at helping you read and study the Bible in new ways. You can look through the entire sale here.

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Why Every Christian
Should Study the Bible

Posted by on 08/16/2017 in: ,

This title might seem slightly redundant. Shouldn’t a Christian study the Bible because she (or he) is a Christian? If only that was enough to convince us. I graduated from a Bible college and work for a Bible app—and yet I still find myself procrastinating on reading God’s Word. Somehow, I manage to forget the importance of it all.

So, this blog post is for me just as much as it’s for you. We’re all in need of a reminder now and again. And perhaps you are reading this and you have never, on your own, truly studied the Bible. That’s alright! Let’s chat about three reasons we should study God’s Word.

1. THE BIBLE IS ALIVE

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). What does this mean? The Bible pierces our souls. It discerns our thoughts and intentions. It brings our darkness to light.

This can take place without deep, academic study. You don’t need a PhD or a seminary education in order to be changed by God’s Word. Simple meditation can bring about growth because that’s how God works. If you knock, He will answer.

This is the first reason that we should study the Bible. Even if you hold to the word study very loosely–that’s okay. Read the Bible. Even if you struggle to understand, or find it boring at times, or would rather be doing something else… find time to read the Bible. Read the Bible because God desires to communicate with you, encourage you, and make you more like Him. This can only happen when we take time to be in His presence and to read His life-giving words.

2. IT ISN’T ALWAYS ABOUT US

Now, I won’t retract what I’ve said. Simply reading the Bible is better than not reading at all. But there are a few other points we need to consider.

The Bible, being the very Word of God, deserves great respect. We need to treat it better than we would Hamlet and Don Quixote, which means taking the time to understand the author and their intent. It would be wrong to say “This line in Pride and Prejudice reminds me of my sister, so I think that Jane Austen wrote about my sister.” That would be silly! In the same way, the Bible isn’t (always) about us. It is for us and our edification, but more often than not, Scripture is talking about a group of people in an era of time that we have never experienced.

However, one of the neatest accomplishments of our God is that He composed His Word for His people through His people. He included humanity in the process. Although remarkable, this characteristic does make our job of understanding the Bible a bit harder. Scripture is wrapped in history, cultural nuance, assumptions of understanding, and genre differentiations. Leviticus was law for the Israelites, the Epistles were letters to different churches, the Psalms were songs of praise and lament, Song of Solomon… you get the picture.

So, what do we do? For starters, we can read study bible notes, single-volume commentaries, or Bible dictionaries alongside Scripture. As we grow, we could read about Hermeneutics (the study of interpreting Scripture), Systematic Theology, Greek, Hebrew, or any other number of areas of study. That way, we don’t make our own assumptions about the text, but instead listen to those who have dedicated their lives to investigating the history of God’s Word. Then, with a more accurate understanding, we can begin to apply what we have learned about God to our own lives.

3. WE’RE CALLED TO DEFEND OUR FAITH

You’ve probably heard this verse: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:14-15). What kind of defenses do we need to be able to make today—and to whom?

There may come a time when you need to answer questions such as:

These might be questions that other people ask you, or these might be questions that you ask yourself. How do you answer them? You read.

Millions of Christians have composed their defenses of the faith in books such as commentaries, apologetic undertakings, topical research, personal testimonies, and more. These, although not perfect like the Bible, are fantastic resources for you to grow in your understanding and trust of God’s Word.

OUR PASSION: INSPIRING PEOPLE TO READ GOD’S WORD

The reason the Olive Tree Bible App exists is to encourage people to read God’s Word. We also want you to study God’s Word, and to apply it to your life. This is why we work very hard with publishers to give you price reductions on titles that we think will help you achieve this goal.

Right now, we have an array of titles on sale with the aim of helping you read and study God’s Word in new ways. Check out what is available by visiting our website.

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How-to Personally Apply the Bible

Posted by on 08/09/2017 in: ,

It is a marvel how personally the Bible applies. The words pointedly address the concerns of long-ago people in faraway places, facing specific problems, many of which no longer exist. They had no difficulty seeing the application. Much of what they read was personal application to actual situations they were facing.

But nothing in the Bible was written directly to you or specifically about what you face. We are reading someone else’s mail. Yet the Bible repeatedly affirms that these words are also written for us: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4; cf. Deut. 29:29; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:15–17).

Furthermore, the Bible is primarily about God, not you. The essential subject matter is the triune Redeemer Lord, culminating in Jesus Christ. We are reading someone else’s biography. Yet that very story demonstrates how he includes us within his story.

“Personal application” proves wise when you reckon with these marvels. The Bible was written to others—but speaks to you. The Bible is about God—but draws you in. Your challenge is always to reapply Scripture afresh, because God’s purpose is always to rescript your life.

What chunk of Scripture has made the most difference in your life? What verse or passage have you turned to most frequently? What makes these exact words frequently and immediately relevant? Your answer will likely embody four foundational truths about how to read the Bible for wise application.

FIRST, THIS PASSAGE BECOMES YOUR OWN BECAUSE YOU LISTEN.

You remember what God says. He is saying this to you. You need these words. This promise, revelation, or command must be true. You must act on this call to faith and love. When you forget, you drift, stray, and flounder. When you remember and put it to work, bright truth rearranges your life. The foundation of application is always attentive listening to what God says.

SECOND, THE PASSAGE AND YOUR LIFE BECOME FUSED.

It is not simply a passage in the Bible. A specific word from God connects to some pointed struggle inside you and around you. These inner and outer troubles express your experience of the dual evil that plagues every human heart: sin and confusion from within; trouble and beguilement from without (1 Kings 8:37–39; Eccles. 9:3).

But something God says invades your darkness with his light. He meets your actual need with his actual mercies. Your life and God’s words meet. Application depends on honesty about where you need help. Your kind of trouble is everywhere in the Bible.

THIRD, YOUR APPROPRIATION OF THIS PASSAGE REVEALS HOW GOD HIMSELF DOES THE APPLYING.

He meets you before you meet him. The passage arrested you. God arranged your struggle with sin and suffering so that you would need this exact help. Without God’s initiative (“I will write it on their hearts,” Jer. 31:33) you would never make the connection. The Spirit chose to rewrite your inner script, pouring God’s love into your heart, inviting you to live in a new reality. He awakens your sense of need, gives you ears to hear, and freely gives necessary wisdom. Application is a gift, because wisdom is a gift.

FOURTH, THE APPLICATION OF BELOVED PASSAGES IS USALLY QUITE STRAIGHTFORWARD.
  • God states something in general terms. You insert your relevant particulars. For example:
    “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4). What troubles are you facing? Who is with you?
  • “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). What is your particular way of straying? How does the Lamb of God connect with your situation?
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). With what are you obsessed? What promises anchor your plea for help (Phil. 4:5, 7-9)?

Such words speak to common human experiences. A passage becomes personal when your details participate in what is said. The gap across centuries and between cultures seems almost to disappear. Your God is a very present help in trouble—this trouble. Application occurs in specifics.

Interested in learning other ways to apply God’s Word to your life? This content was pulled from the ESV Study Bible, available in our store for 50% off. This resource comes with 20,000 notes, 50 articles, maps, charts, and more. It is perfect for daily study of the Bible.

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Theology of the Psalms

Posted by on 08/04/2017 in: ,

“Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” —Psalm 83:18

As human words to and about God, the psalms instruct us in myriad ways about how to worship God. They teach us how to sing, dance, rejoice, give thanks, confess sin, grieve, express anger, make requests of God, proclaim God’s name far and wide, and much more. They are a rich resource both for individual and corporate use.

As God’s Word to us, the book of Psalms engages almost all of the great themes of the Bible. Beginning with the introductory Psalms 1–2, the Psalter lays out the two ways (that of the righteous versus that of the wicked), the importance of relying on God and His Word, God’s sovereignty and rule over all people and nations (and his attendant concern for them), the interplay between divine and human kingship, and God as a place of refuge for all.

The Psalter’s overarching theme celebrates God’s sovereign rule as the great King over all things. The climactic declaration is that “the LORD reigns.” God rules over creation itself and over all nations and people groups — including his own chosen people Israel — down to each individual person. He is a good God: holy, loving, merciful, protective of his people, faithful, a keeper of promises, a giver of good gifts. He is a just God: vindicating his people, punishing evil, caring for the marginalized. He is a great and powerful God: the Creator and Sustainer of all things, mightier than any god humans can conjure up, more powerful than all the nations and armies of the world.

As the sovereign King, God asserts his control over the most powerful forces in nature. He proclaims his authority over all the false gods of the nations, gods that were such a temptation for his own people time and time again. He opposes the wicked, whether individuals (e.g., 1:4 – 6) or nations (e.g., Psalm 2), and will mete out justice for their wickedness. He protects the vulnerable in society — the widow, the fatherless, the outsider, and the poor — and expects his representatives on earth to carry out this mission.

God’s plan for the nations is that his people Israel be a testimony to them, causing them to turn to God; it is an inclusive vision that shows God’s desire for all peoples to know him. God chose Jerusalem (i.e., Mount Zion) to be the earthly “capital” of God’s kingdom; this was the site of the temple, which was God’s dwelling place on the earth. He anointed David and his descendants to be his royal representatives on earth — his vice­regents — and so the Davidic kings had great responsibility for leading the nation in following the Lord and defending the cause of justice in society. In all of this, God himself is the source of ultimate refuge for those who are troubled.

The psalms represent a priceless treasure trove of resources for relating to God in all circumstances. They instruct us in how to live, and they teach us great truths about God the great King, his sovereign rule over all things, and his plan for reconciling the world to himself through his Son Jesus, the Christ.

What’s your favorite Psalm and why?

This blog is the last post in our NIV Zondervan Study Bible blog series! See the firstsecondthird and fourth blog posts by following the links.

You can have insightful introductions like this to every book of the Bible with theNIV Zondervan Study Bible. Learn more here.

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Paul’s Greeting to the Philippians

Posted by on 08/03/2017 in: ,

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 1:1-6

Verse-by-Verse Insights
1:1 – 2 Opening Greeting. As in most ancient letters, the authors and recipients are both mentioned at the beginning.

1:1 Paul and Timothy. Paul often co-authored letters with Timothy. The son of a Jewish mother and Greek father (Acts 16:1), Timothy was from Lystra, and after Paul visited there on his second missionary journey, he took Timothy along as a co-worker (Philippians 2:19 – 24).

God’s holy people. As people who belong to God and are incorporated into his service, they are set apart from the world for him. The Old Testament uses the phrase “holy people” of Israel (e.g., Exodus 22:31), so it is striking that Paul can freely apply it to what was probably a pre-dominantly Gentile congregation in Philippi. As Paul emphasizes in chapter 3, those who believe in Christ and are incorporated into him now share in the privileges God bestowed on Israel in the Old Testament.

holy. Christ’s death has made Christians holy (Ephesians 5:25 – 26).

in Christ Jesus at Philippi. Expresses the double location of believers: (1) they are in Christ, no longer in Adam but members of Christ’s body, and (2) they belong to the Roman colony of Philippi.

overseers. Synonymous with “elders,” men responsible for the spiritual direction of and preaching in the congregation (1 Timothy 3:1 – 7).

deacons. Responsible for affairs in the church of a more practical nature. The role has its origin in the difficult situation in Acts 6:1 – 6, where believers select “deacons” to distribute the food to widows. This is no lowly task, however, for those appointed in Acts 6 were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3); deacons must display traits of mature godliness (1 Timothy 3:8 – 10, 12 – 13).

1:2 Adapting elements from Jewish and Greek letter writing, Paul prays for the Philippians to receive “grace” (God’s work in them to accomplish what they cannot do on their own) and “peace” (experiencing the blessings of being reconciled to God).

1:3 – 8 Thanksgiving. Paul expresses his great love for the Philippians, as is evident from the joy (verse 4), confidence (verse 6), and affection (verse 8) with which he thanks God for them.

1:4 with joy. Paul expresses the emotions that accompany his prayers, first mentioning joy.

1:5 partnership. Paul rejoices that the Philippians join in the work of the gospel, which includes financially supporting him (Philippians 4:15).

from the first day. When they first accepted the gospel (compare Philippians 4:15).

1:6 being confident. A second emotion (after joy in verse Philippians 4:4) that remembering the Philippians prompts. Paul’s confidence in God’s sovereignty leads not to inactivity but to prayer for what he knows God will do. Paul is convinced that prayers are a means God uses to accomplish his purposes.

work in you. Paul knows that the Philippians’ perseverance in the faith and the gospel fruit that they bear are the work of God himself (Philippians 2:12 – 13).

the day of Christ Jesus. God’s faithful work in them endures right up until the day on which Jesus returns.

What is something new you might take away from this passage after reading it a couple times?

This blog is a part of our NIV Zondervan Study Bible blog series! See the firstsecond, and third blog posts by following the links.

All of this content and more can be tucked right inside your Bible when you use our app. Learn more here.

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His Great Love Toward Us

Posted by on 08/02/2017 in: ,

“Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the Lord.” —Psalm 117

This psalm captures the essence of praise in miniature — it is the shortest psalm in the Psalter and the shortest chapter in the Bible. The psalm opens with a call for the nations to praise the Lord (verse 1) and then gives the reason for praise: the Lord’s great love and eternal faithfulness toward his people (verse 2).

117:1
The Lord is more than a parochial or tribal deity; he is Lord of all the earth (114:3 – 8; 115:15 – 16). Consequently, all nations must praise him. Psalms pictures a great contest between the rebellious nations and their Creator (see 2:1 – 6). The nations submit to their Creator by praising him (see 2:10 – 12; 108:3).

The New Testament attests that the nations have submitted to God because they praise the Son (see 2:10 – 12). Paul quotes this verse in Romans 15:11to show that the salvation of the nations (Gentiles) has always been God’s plan. Thus, they should be welcomed into the worshiping family of God.

117:2 Love. The Lord’s faithful covenant love. In Psalm 6:4, the term unfailing love (Hebrew hesed) is one of the richest in the Bible, often denoting God’s steadfast, loyal love for his covenant people Israel. It had special meaning for God’s people coming out of Egypt (Exodus 15:13; 20:6; 34:6 – 7), and God promised this love to many generations of Israelites, including David (Psalm 89:24,28,33; 2 Samuel 7:15; Isaiah 55:3). More than half of the Bible’s references to this covenantal love are found in Psalms, about half of those in psalms of David.

Endures forever. Never wears out. His faithfulness to his covenant promises does not have an expiration date; it will endure into eternity.

How has God shown His love and faithfulness towards you?

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Love & Grace

Posted by on 08/01/2017 in: ,

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” –2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV

The God of biblical revelation is no impersonal absolute. The living God is the God of love and grace. But what do such terms mean? It is in Scripture that big terms such as “love” and “grace” are embodied in stories as well as in direct affirmations. In particular, it is Jesus Christ and his story that provides the lens through which to view what the big biblical ideas are about.

What does divine love look like?

Love is manifested in action, as the story of Jesus exemplifies. Jesus embodies the divine love in his coming and his cross. As John 3:16 famously affirms, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Paul elaborates, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). John adds to this testimony: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

As in the OT, in the NT practical consequences follow. Jesus exhibits a new paradigm for loving others (John 13:1-7). This love serves. This love shows hospitality. This love washes the feet of others. We are to love like that. Love is the new commandment (John 13:34). It is new because it is informed by the story of Christ.

This newness carries over into the Christian household. As in the OT, the NT presents no mere duty-ethic. This love is an answering love to the divine love as experienced in Christ: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This love is not manufactured by us; it is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ living within us (Gal 5:22). This love cannot possibly claim to love God while hating other believers (1 John 4:20). Some things – like knowledge and prophecy – fade away (1 Cor 13:8). But love remains (1 Cor 13:13). It never fades.

What does grace look like?

Divine grace is undeserved favor of a superior bestowed on an inferior. The Israelites experienced God’s grace when he delivered them from Egyptian oppression. God proclaims to Moses on Mount Sinai, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God” (Exod 34:6). The exodus event also shows that when God acts graciously, it means salvation for some (Israel) but often judgement for others (Egypt and its gods as in Exod 12:12-13). In Jesus the divine grace comes into view in the most personal of ways, as John points out in his prologue (John 1:17). By coming among humankind and dying on the cross, Jesus Christ did what he was not obliged to do, and he did so not for his own sake but for ours, undeserving though we are. The nature of this undeserved favor removes any grounds for our boasting before God about our meritorious works. As Paul tells the Ephesians, “It is be grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

Even though the accent on grace in Scripture focuses repeatedly on God or Christ as the gracious one, those who have received such grace must be gracious themselves. This graciousness must show itself especially in Christian generosity (2 Cor 8:9) and speech: “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Col 4:6). Unsurprisingly such gracious speech characterized Jesus Himself (Luke 4:22).

Grace and love occur together in the Bible, and both express his goodness. We deserve neither God’s love nor his grace. Church leader Irenaeus rightly said in the second century, “[Jesus] became what we are that we might become what he is.” Such is grace. Such is love.

How has the grace and love you receive from Jesus Christ affected your life and relationships with others?

Looking for more encouragement? Right now we are going through, publishing content found within this helpful resource, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible! You can read the first post in this series here.

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4 Scriptural Types of Worship

Posted by on 07/31/2017 in: ,

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” –Psalm 95:6 NIV

Worship is a dominant theme from Genesis to Revelation because the God who created all things and redeemed us in Christ is worthy to receive all honor, praise, service, and respect (e.g., Gen 12:7-8; 14:19-20; Exod 15:1-18, 21; Rev 4:11; 5:9-10, 12). Four groups of words throughout the Bible convey aspects of what we commonly call “worship.” New Testament writers use these and related terms in a transformed way to show how Jesus has fulfilled for us the pattern of worship given to Israel.

1) Worship as Homage or Grateful Submission to God:

The most common word for “worship” literally means “bend over” or “bow down.” It describes a gesture of respect or submission to human beings, to God, or to idols (Gen 18:2, Exod 18:7, 20:4-6). Combined with other gesture-words this term came to be used for the attitude of homage that the gesture represented.

Also, people sometimes expressed homage to God with prayer or praise (Gen 24:26-27, 52; Exod 34:8-9) and sometimes with silent acceptance or submission (Exod 4:31; Judg 7:15). The book of Psalms contains many different expressions of worship, including lament, repentance, prayers for vindication, songs of thanksgiving, and praise. “Bending over to the Lord” now means responding with repentance and faith to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:36-39; 10:36-43; cf. Rom 10:9-13). Such worship involves praying to him (Acts 7:59-60; 1 Cor 16:22; 1 Thess 3:11), calling on his name (1 Cor 1:2; Heb 13:15), and obeying him.

2) Worship as Service to Others:

Another group of biblical terms often translated “worship” literally means “serve” or “service.” The people of Israel were saved from slavery in Egypt so that they could serve the Lord (Exod 3:12; 4:23; 8:1). The parallel expressions “offer sacrifices to the Lord” (Exod 3:18; 5:3, 8, 17; 8:8, 25-29) and “hold a festival” (Exod 5:1) indicate that some form of ritual service was immediately in view. The sacrificial system was given to Israel to enable cleansing from sin, consecration to God’s service, and expressions of gratitude to God (Lev 1-7). The New Testament describes Jesus’ death as “a sacrifice of atonement, through shedding of his blood – to be received through faith” (Rom 3:25; cf Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2). In response to what God has done for us in Christ, we are to present our bodies to him as “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1; cf Rom 6:13, 16). In particular, Christians are to offer to God through Jesus “a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Heb 13:15).

3) Worship As Reverence or Respect for God:

There is a third group of words sometimes describes worship differently than the previous examples. Words meaning fear, reverence, or respect for God indicate the need to keep his commands (Deut 5:29; 6:2, 24; Eccl 12:13), obey his voice (1 Sam 12:14; Hag 1:12), walk in his ways (Deut 8:6; 10:12; 2 Chr 6:31), turn from evil (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3; 28:28; Prov 3:7), and serve him (Deut 6:13; 10:20; Josh 24:14; Jonah 1:9). Sacrifice and other rituals expressed reverence for God, but faithfulness and obedience to the covenant demands of God in every sphere of life also distinguished true from false religion (Exod 18:21; Ps 25:14; Mal 3:16; 4:2). The New Testament indicated that humanity’s failure to fear God and show him proper respect brings his wrath (Rom 1:18-25; Rev 14:6-7). Only by being “redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ” can we be set free to serve God “in reverent fear” (1 Pet 1:17-21; cf. Heb 12:28-29).

4) Worship And Congregational Gatherings:

Worship in the Old Testament sometimes had a corporate expression, and this was meant to encourage God’s people to serve him faithfully in their individual lives (Isa 1:10-17; Jer 7:1-29). The New Testament rarely applies the specific word “worship” to Christian meetings (but see Acts 13:2, 1 Cor 14:25). Nevertheless, prayer, praise, and submission to God’s will were central to congregational gatherings (Acts 2:42-47; 4:23-37; Eph 5:18-20; Col 3:16-17).

It may be best to speak of congregational worship as a particular expression of the total life-response that is the worship described in the new covenant. In the giving and receiving of various ministries, we may encounter God and submit ourselves to him afresh in praise and obedience, repentance, and faith (Heb 10:24-25). Singing to God is an important aspect of corporate worship, but it is not the supreme or only way of expressing devotion to God. Ministry exercised for the building up of the body of Christ in teaching, exhorting, and praying is a significant way of worshiping and glorifying God.

Which of these types of worship do you most often engage in?

Like what you read? This blog was adapted from content found in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, available in our store. Look for a new blog post being released each day this week for our NIV Zondervan Study Bible blog series.

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3 Ways Bible Dictionaries Improve Your Bible Study

Posted by on 07/24/2017 in: ,

You know what a Bible is. You also know what a dictionary is. But do you know what a Bible dictionary is, or why you should use one? Here’s three reasons to use a Bible dictionary, based on my own recent study of God’s Word.

LEARN A LITTLE CHRISTIAN TRIVIA

I was reading Psalm 111 the other day and decided to pull open the Resource Guide. As I was scrolling, I noticed that “Hallelujah” was listed under Topics. Now, I know that “Hallelujah” means “Praise the Lord” (and the app told me this, too), but I was curious if there was any other information on the phrase that I hadn’t heard before.

When I tapped on “Hallelujah” and opened my Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, I learned something hilarious. You see, when I was in high school, I sang in the choir, and we always sang songs that incorporated “Alleluia.” Turns out that, according to Vine’s, it’s a misspelling of “Hallelujah”! All this time I’ve been wondering what the difference was…

 


LEARN ABOUT GOD’S PROMISES IN HISTORY

Exodus 4 is another passage I was looking at recently. It’s here that Moses is instructed to inform Pharaoh that Israel is Yahweh’s “firstborn.” If Pharaoh does not relinquish the Israelites, God promises to kill the Egyptian ruler’s his firstborn son.

“Firstborn” is most definitely a key word in this passage–but what is its significance? There is a deep, rich history of God expressing the closeness of His relationship to the Israelites through this term, that is discoverable through using a Bible dictionary. Vine’s provides references to many other passages that teach about the cultural view of firstborn children in the Israelite community, revealing that it was a coveted position that held many benefits. A firstborn son was considered to be the most loved and to receive the greatest inheritance.

So, when the Israelites hear that God has called them His “firstborn,” a lot of emotions are stirred! According to Vine’s, being God’s “firstborn” meant enjoying a privileged position and blessings, in comparison all other nations. In Exodus 4, God is making it known that Israel is His prized child, and that no one—not even Pharaoh—can mess with them.


LEARN ABOUT GOD’S PROMISES FOR TODAY

But it doesn’t stop there. Vine’s is searchable, like a normal dictionary, and you can find a word’s definition for either the Old or New Testament. By looking up “firstborn” in the New Testament, I found passage after passage where Jesus is referred to as the “firstborn” (protokos) of creation. The most interesting reference I found was when John the Baptist proclaims that “He (Jesus) was first (protos) of me.” He’s saying much more than “Jesus was born before I was.” Instead, he is putting Jesus in the ultimate privileged position with God, receiving the highest blessing, because he is not just a son, but the Son.

Now, the important question: how does this apply to our lives? Time and time again we see God be faithful to His people, the Israelites. Better yet, we see the Father praise, glorify, and bless His Son. This seems like a pretty exclusive group.

But, we’re invited! When we believe in Christ’s atoning work, we are welcomed into this family. We enter this promise, into this privileged position with God. If you study the word “firstborn” across the Old and New Testaments, you can learn more about the history of God blessing those He calls His own. For thousands and thousands of years, God has been drawing people to Himself—and you are one of them.


ONE LAST THOUGHT

Overall, the main reason to use a Bible dictionary is this: The Bible is not our own. The Bible is a compilation of God speaking to His people through His people, in a time and culture we weren’t around for.  So, although we have been welcomed into this family, we must recognize that this family has existed for thousands of years! That takes a bit of help and research to understand—but it’s worth the investment.

This week, we are discounting Bible dictionaries in hopes of encouraging deeper study of God’s Word. Check out the Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words or the Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.) while they’re on sale.

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Insight on Ecclesiastes:
When Life Seems Meaningless

Posted by on 07/21/2017 in:

Sometimes, life seems meaningless. And sometimes, God seems distant. If you’re feeling this way, you aren’t alone! The author of Ecclesiastes struggled with the same issue, but he continued to call God good and just all the same.

“The book of Ecclesiastes, or Kohelet as it’s called in Hebrew, is not meant to comfort the reader. The author was frustrated by the contradictions, tensions and incomprehensibility of life. He asked again and again if life is meaningless.

The book’s portrait of God is unlike that found in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Nowhere does the author address God as YHWH, the more personal and intimate name for God in Hebrew and the sacred name not to be misused in the Ten Commandments. YHWH walked closely with Adam and Eve in the garden and spoke to Moses from within the burning bush.

The author instead opted for addressing God as Elohim, actually a title and a more generic and less personal Hebrew name for God. The opening lines of Genesis begin with the actions of Elohim bringing forth the heavens and the earth. Kohelet prefers this choice of addressing God, Elohim, a slightly more distant or transcendent God. “God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Ecc 5:2). The book argues for caution and reverence for the divine (see Ecc 5). It also insists that God is both just and sovereign (see Ecc 3:17; 9:1); however, the justice of God is slow and at times seems absent: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve” (Ecc 8:14).

The fact that Ecclesiastes is in the canon of Hebrew Scripture speaks to the depth, richness and nuance of Jewish theological and philosophical thought in the ancient world. The Christian canon also includes this theologically complex book. Human wisdom is often frustrated when contemplating life and the divine. But frustration, wondering and questioning all have a place in the religious life, which Ecclesiastes makes clear.

Ecclesiastes urges the reader to enjoy life, though much of life is cruel and meaningless. One should fear God, tread lightly and be grateful for simple pleasures.

The end of Kohelet also raises some interesting questions about the author’s view of God: “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc 12:13–14).

This passage is an epilogue, a common literary device in wisdom literature. But it also seems a bit out of place. Some scholars have suggested it was added by a later editor who was uncomfortable with the book as it was originally written.

Whether added later or written by the author, it is meant to balance out the tone of book. It is clear from the book that the author believed in God’s justice, though he did not always see it. The final line acts as a kind of last word. Whether one sees it or not, God’s justice will prevail.”

Does this encourage you? How does it give you a different perspective when you’re going through difficult times?

This blog was adapted from First-Century Study Bible Notes, on sale now.

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