A couple of years back I wrote a piece describing my own Bible study process. It’s not always as orderly and sequential as some would like. But it gets me digging deep. In the last couple of days I looked at a couple of parables Jesus taught from Luke which sent me down all sorts of rabbit trails. But it gave me a greater appreciation for the text.
But first, I want to talk about a memorization process I did last month. I committed myself to learn, in my own words, the early hymn from Philippians chapter two. Here it is from memory without reference to any notes:
You should have the same mindset as the incarnated Christ, who, although he was 100% God, did not consider that something to be leveraged (or we could say leveraged every five minutes) but rather he humbled himself; first by fully experiencing the human condition; second by generally taking on the posture of one who is serving, not leading; third by living out the human situation even to the point of death; finally a death that was that of someone who had done nothing wrong yet suffered the most painful torture the Romans could devise. And then, at the end of all this, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the highest name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to God the Father’s glory.
…You see, I could just memorize it as written. But this way I know the material and you know that I know it. The words have taken on life.
But not content to just rest there, I’m now looking at memorizing John 3: 17-21. (Okay, verse 16 is in there, too; but we all know that one.)
An old acquaintance from a Christian summer camp I worked at once shared the ordination process he went through to become a pastor in his denomination. You’d expect these to be hardcore questions about deep doctrinal matters, but instead, one of the examiners kicked back and said, “So… tell me about John chapter 1.” And then, “Now tell me about John chapter 2.” And so on.
It wasn’t what he was expecting. Let’s consider that line of questioning:
John 1: John’s prologue (there’s one to memorize!)
John 2: The first miracle, the wedding at Cana
John 3: Jesus and Nicodemus (where “born again” originates) and that trademark 16th verse
John 4: Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well
John 5: …uh… see this is where I would phase out…
However, he was caught a bit off-guard by the question and didn’t even do that well. So let’s go back to chapter three.
Jesus has his meetup with Nicodemus and they hash through Nick’s question about re-entering his mother’s womb in order to be reborn. And then there’s verse 16. And then? What do you think is the key theme of what follows?
One of the best parts of doing this blog is when I write the ‘tags’ that appear at the beginning of each entry. Especially if it’s something that I didn’t write. What is this really all about? What are the key points? What is the defining theme? Who is this for?
Tagging verses 17-21 of John 3, one would instantly recognize that this is a passage about light. The end product of verse 16, the result of God loving the world and giving Jesus is that light has come into the world.
17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (NLT)
The light has come. People preferred darkness. They stay away from the light because it would expose their contrariness to God’s standards and God’s best for their life. But those who see his way as the best way are actually drawn to the light so the world can see their attitudes and actions.
(The above paragraph is a little too extreme a paraphrase, my end memorization will be something in between that and the original.)
So next time you think about vs. 3:16 — and it’s hard to get away from — think about light. How light dispels darkness. How light illuminates those who choose to walk in the light.
And that’s a bit of my personal study.
P.S.: Before anyone thinks me to be super-spiritual, let me hasten to add that my November memorization project didn’t get finished. I’m still working on solidifying Titus 3: 3-7; which is another passage I would recommend.
Some translations present the clauses of Phil 2: 7 & 8 in a different sequence.