How to Help Others Experience Familiar Scriptures in Fresh Ways

Change your perspective to see the Bible anew

Getting a different perspective on the familiar is a great way to gain new insight, to see things afresh. As many people are, I’m a creature of habit. I have my favorite place to sit at church. It’s always amazing to me how different it can feel to sit on the opposite side of the sanctuary. The previously unseen suddenly becomes visible!

The same principle can be applied to Bible engagement.

A common method for helping people engage Scripture afresh is to encourage reading in a different version of the Bible—step away from the NIV or ESV for a while and spend time reading in The Message. Here are four more methods that can help make familiar Scripture fresh, personal, and yield new insights.

Flip it

Several familiar passages advocate positive traits while calling us to eschew the negative. Flipping these around, making the positive negative or the negative positive, can yield some intriguing results. For example, look at Galatians 5:8-16. Paul offers lists of what living by the flesh and living by the Spirit looks like.

These lists are very familiar to many Christians, and it’s fun to look at the “bad” things and attribute them to those we deem, um, less righteous than ourselves. Not that you or I would ever do that! But, by “flipping” the list of fleshy no-no’s in verses 19-21, we yield an even more complete list of markers for a Spirit filled life. Take a look:

Original (ESV): “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Flipped (from ESV): Now the works of the Spirit are evident: sexual fidelity, purity, chastity, devotion, faith, empathy, peace, trusting, patience, camaraderie, agreement, unity, respect, sobriety, restraint, and things like these. I encourage you, as I encouraged you before, that those who do such things will inherit the kingdom of God.

So now instead of a list of no-no’s we have a list of yes-do’s. In other words, we gain a clearer perspective on the desirable traits of the Christian life and the fruit we are to bear.

Change it

I gave a devotional sermon on the topic of grace and wanted to really make clear how important and expansive grace is, especially as we are to extend it to others. The word for grace, charis, is sometimes translated as charity. The Greek word agape often translated as “love” is also sometimes translated as “charity.” Love and grace are related. Who knew? This gave me an idea.

A very familiar passage is the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13. I took that passage and replaced “love” with “grace.” Here’s a snippet modified from the ESV:

Grace is patient and kind; grace does not envy or boast; grace is not arrogant or rude. Grace does not insist on its own way; grace is not irritable or resentful; grace does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Grace bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Grace never ends. (Adapted from verses 4-8a)

Wow. This offers a much clearer view of how we are to dispense the grace we’ve received from Christ to our fellow Christians.

Define it

Defining words and concepts in Scripture involves following a rabbit trail, those side tracks that often lead away from a central point. While not always a good thing to do when developing a sermon or writing an article, it’s a form of research that can yield some cool insights.

Awhile back I came across this great quote by Ted Olsen, writing in Christianity Today: “The tragic glory of Christianity is that Jesus chose really sinful humans to be his body on earth. We will be scandalized by each other until he returns to fix things. In the meantime, we're supposed to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The phrase “spur one another on” comes from Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (NIV).

The quote and verse intrigued me, so I decided to look more deeply. First, I looked up the verse on BlueLetterBible.org to see “spur” in the Greek. The word used is paroxusmos, which includes some intense meanings, such as “an inciting, incitement, irritation.”

Next, I looked up “spur” in the American Heritage Dictionary and looked at synonyms. One odd word popped out, “fillip,” which means a “snap or light blow made by pressing a fingertip against the thumb and suddenly releasing it.” My dad would fillip me when I was misbehaving, especially during church. It got my attention!

Putting this all together, it becomes clear that spurring one another on to good deeds can be, from time to time, a little painful. We’re not talking about a gentle nudge, but rather a clear push to do the right thing.

Now, I don’t advocate going around snapping people with fillips, but the next time we get irritated when someone gives us advice, we can think of Hebrews 10:24 and take the spur to heart! My dad’s purpose was not to hurt me, but to help me correct wrong behavior. It worked! Well, usually. Moving on.

Personalize it

This is an oldie but a goodie. It involves simply adding your name or changing you or your in a verse to me or my. For example, Philippians 4:19 states, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (ESV). You can change it to read, “And my God will supply every need of mine according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” or “And my God will supply every need of Stephen’s [insert your name] according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

The well-known verse from Ephesians 2:10 is a favorite of mine. It becomes more personal when changed to read, “For I am his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them” (adapted from ESV).

There are a ton of Scriptures where personalization will work, including several prayers. Doing this doesn’t change the meaning of the passage, but rather helps us see how personal and intimate God’s word really is.

Summing up, by simply changing perspective we can increase Bible engagement, whether in our own individual study or when leading others. The previously unseen suddenly becomes visible!

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Stephen R. Clark
Stephen R. Clark

Stephen R. Clark is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and the principal of CleverSmith™ Writing (www.CleverSmith.com) based in Oreland, Pennsylvania. He also does communications for his church, Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church (www.HVPC.org). You can learn far more than you probably want to know about him at www.StephenRClark.com.

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