Abraham Lincoln said,

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time.” “Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it.” “During this Legislative period, I had studied law, and removed to Springfield to practice (sic) it. “…(A)nd to impart all which has been accidentally discovered or invented upon ordinary motive; but, by exciting emulation, for premiums, and for the pride and honor of success.”

The above quotations would make it seem that Abraham Lincoln thought the way to save the country was through less litigation. To that end, he studied law and moved to Springfield. There, he practiced law and showed what he had developed in law.

In reality, those quotes have almost nothing to do with that synopsis. They came from four different writings from the former president: Lincoln’s Advice to Lawyers (1850), his Address in Independence Hall (1861), his Second Autobiography (1859), and his Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society (1859).

We would never think of taking a line or paragraph from four different speeches of a president written years apart to develop a political ideology. Yet, how often do we do the very same thing with God’s word? We piece together a verse here with a verse there and use a particular verse to trampoline off to another text. What we would never do with a man’s letters, we routinely do to those given to us by the Almighty.

If we are to “Excel in Our Bible Study,” we MUST begin to think in terms of whole books. There are at least six reasons why studying whole books is important.

  1. It helps us see the main message. It is easy to lose sight of what a book is about when we only look at a portion or a few portions of it. By looking only at the highlights, you could be persuaded that The Andy Griffith Show is a police drama. However, when you watch a whole episode, you realize it is a comedy surrounding a sheriff and his community (albeit it the greatest television show in history). One can take the book of Philippians and think it is a book about joy, Hebrews about the history of the Old Testament, and Genesis about the failings of heads of households. Studying a book in its entirety helps us see the arc of a book and the main point of a letter.
  2. It makes the text the master, not the student. In the latter, we “master” the text when we know how to piece it together properly. In reality, the text has already been put together perfectly by the Master Teacher. Again, in the latter, to align ourselves with the text, we must patchwork the proper texts together. In the former, we align ourselves with the text by changing our lives to submit to its message.
  3. It studies the text the way the New Testament church did. Imagine the church in Galatia receiving their letter from Paul. An elder walks before the congregation and announces, “Just as soon as we get a copy of Paul’s letter to the Romans and John’s Revelation, then we can read and understand this letter!” No, the church at Galatia was meant to understand their letter as a stand-alone book. Of course, there is unity among the 66 books of scripture. Nevertheless, each book can and should be studied on its own merits!
  4. It helps us connect passages. This connection is not to passages in other books but rather to the main message of the book in question and to other pericopes in that book. So, what do the qualifications of elders (I Timothy 3) have to do with taking care of widows (I Timothy 5)? Studying an entire book helps you see those connections.
  5. It makes us study passages we may not normally. Let’s face it: we all have our favorite texts. In Ephesians, we love the doxology of chapter 1, the unity of chapter 4, and the armor of God in chapter 6. Be that as it may, how much time are we willing to spend on the prayer that ends chapter 3? Studying a whole book forces us to deal with normally are not as quick to turn to in the texts that we study.
  6. It honors God. When we study a book in its entirety and focus on the message God gives, we walk away saying, “How cool is that book? How awesome is that message God gave us?” When I sit in a class where a tapestry of passages is pieced together, I am tempted to leave thinking, “Man, that preacher really knows his Bible!” “Did you hear how many verses he quoted in that lesson? He is so smart!”

Other reasons could be given, but hopefully, these are enough to show the power and importance of studying whole books. Start with a smaller book (like Titus or Colossians). Read it all the way through in one sitting. Do so several times. Keep a pad near you and write down observations you make from the text. Think of how one section connects to the one before it, the one after it, and the overall message.

I would guess Abraham Lincoln would be quite upset if he knew I was trying to piece together different quotes to make him say what I wanted him to say. In a far greater way, I am sure the Lord does not appreciate when I do that to His word.

May the Almighty bless you as you study the Bible by thinking in terms of a whole book. And may He help us as we strive to Excel at Bible Study!

Corey Sawyers
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Corey Sawyers is the preaching minister at the Martin (TN) Church of Christ and an adjunct instructor with Bear Valley Bible Institute. He began preaching at the age of 15, filling in throughout Northwest Tennessee. He has been in full-time ministry since 1998 and has served with congregations in Tennessee and Colorado. He and his wife, Melody, married in 1996, and both are graduates of Bear Valley Bible Institute. They have three sons. Garrett is the youth minister at the Greenfield (TN) Church of Christ and is soon to be married to Bailey Jones. Gordon is the preacher for the Knob Creek Church of Christ in Dukedom, TN, and is soon to be married to Lauren Kelly. Gannon is still at home and wants to go into ministry when he grows up. Corey loves his family, ministry, the Tennessee Vols, the Andy Griffith Show, drinking coffee, and banana pudding.