Crafting your own topical Bible study may seem daunting. But it’s easily doable with a few research tools (such as keyword search at Bible Gateway) and this guide. Take these steps to learn about a topic of your choice:
- Identify Biblical references to your topic. Do an Internet search, use a Bible concordance (reference section by character, phrase, and/or word), or read or skim the Bible to locate relevant passages.
- Think about what you want to get out of the study. Describe what you want to accomplish. Write specific questions you’d like answered.
- For each Bible passage, identify the lesson on the chosen topic. For example, define instructions and approaches relating to the topic. Pose these questions: “What does the passage tell me about God, what does this passage tell me about humans and human behavior, and how I should apply this passage to my thoughts and actions?”
- Looking at multiple passages on a topic, what is a theme relating to the topic?
- Do any of the passages seem to send a different message about the topic than the others? Can you reconcile these seeming differences?
- Does your topical study give you insights that are enlightening, troubling, surprising, or comforting? Describe what you’ve learned.
Doing a topical study is rewarding but can be tricky. It’s rewarding because you can find Biblical wisdom to guide you in practical matters. It’s tricky because you need to be careful not to simply confirm what you believe.
Be thorough in identifying relevant passages so you’ll get a deep and broad understanding of a topic. Find references in both the New Testament and Old Testament, and find multiple references if possible.
An Example of the Topical Bible Study Method
The topic I’ll study is on managing a business and household affairs.
Here are some things I want to know:
- How can I be successful in managing a business and managing household affairs?
- Does God even want me to be successful? Should I consider how God wants me to be faithful rather than successful?
- How can I honor God in managing my paid work (my job or business) and my personal financial life (household affairs)?
There are many passages that reference these ideas but for this example, I’ll consider Proverbs 31 and Luke 12:13-34. Questions that I’ll seek to answer appear in italics and my responses follow.
Main Takeaways from Each Passage
For each passage, what is the Biblical lesson on the topic? What does the passage tell me about God, what does the passage tell me about humans and human behavior, and how I should apply this lesson to my thoughts and actions?
In Proverbs 31, I see that it’s wise to be careful about who I trust — both for personal relationships and business ones. Trusting the wrong person can be destructive, not just for kings and those in power (the first section seems to be directed at royalty) but for regular people like me.
Throughout this passage, I get the message that God wants me to make sure my family and those who work for me have the basics. He also wants me to advocate for the poor and needy, and respect their rights. In terms of actions, I wouldn’t want to make money in a way that exploits the poor. Similarly, I wouldn’t want to exploit the rich either. However, the passage speaks about helping and protecting the poor.
From a practical perspective, I should provide or arrange to provide food, clothing, and shelter for my children and others in my purview (in the Bible, servant girls; in the real world, employees and those with whom I do business). As far as business management and household management, the ideal seems to be someone who is diligent and who possesses and uses a broad range of skills (sourcing and buying materials, investing and reinvesting money, making clothes, knowing the value of her skills, etc.). Fearing God is the cornerstone of living this ideal life.
Even though the first section of Proverbs 31 focuses on the king and the second part, on the woman, both indicate that having the right people around or avoiding the wrong ones can be of tremendous value. What stands out to me is that people with wealth and power can easily lose their position if they don’t pay attention to what’s going on and blindly trust others. They also need to be on guard for taking themselves too seriously and not paying attention to the people around them.
A takeaway for me is that God wants us (and me!) to use our gifts and talents in our everyday lives. He wants us to think smartly about all our decisions, whether it’s about a big real estate purchase or the food we buy at the grocery store. I don’t think he wants us to belabor our decisions, but to develop habits that result in doing the right things.
Sometimes, we may think that one or two big decisions shape our lives. I think that can be true. However, this passage points to more mundane actions that influence how we live and whether we’re able to enjoy life.
I can honor God and be effective by fearing and respecting him, using my talents to make wise decisions, being diligent in my endeavors, being careful who I trust, and taking care of my family and colleagues.
Just like in Proverbs 31, there are two parts to Luke 12:13-34. There’s the parable of the rich fool and there’s the “don’t worry” words, both from Jesus.
This passage tells me that I can either honor God and pursue him OR love money. As far as household management, well, I’m not supposed to worry. There’s so much out of my control, I shouldn’t even bother to influence the events of my life. In both sections of this passage, Jesus encourages me to seek God’s kingdom first and build up treasures in heaven.
Jesus’s words contrast with my inclinations. On the one hand, I love the idea that God will take care of me no matter what; on the other, I want to benefit from my diligence.
However, I get that there’s a difference between being anxious and simply taking actions and letting God handle the outcomes. For example, I don’t think God has a problem with me buying insurance or certain kinds of insurance like health insurance or car insurance required by law. However, he might be bothered if I focused on trying to micromanage every possible risk. Just like the woman in Proverbs, I need to be wise about buying insurance: some risks are worth insuring while others aren’t.
Looking at these passages in Luke, I believe God is neutral at best about my success in the world. He’s more interested in how much I trust him. Further, Jesus isn’t just trying to get me to change my priorities to love him more, he’s also describing life after death. He’s cautioning me to get my priorities straight right now — so I’ll know what truly matters AND I’ll be glad later.
Themes on this Topic
Is there a theme in regard to this topic when I consider multiple passages?
The most prominent theme to me is to fear God first and then think about other aspects of managing a business and household.
Consistency of Messages
Do any of the passages seem to send a different message about the topic than the others? Can I reconcile these seeming differences?
The message seems to vary from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Proverbs focuses on being diligent, taking care of the poor and needy, and enjoying the fruits of my labor. Luke encourages trusting God and not really thinking about building wealth.
I wonder if the primary or immediate audiences are different, and so have a different message. The rich and powerful in Proverbs are encouraged to be diligent, wise, and mindful of the poor whereas the disciples in Luke (who may have left their professions to follow Jesus) are told to trust God for their provision.
Both passages give me a sense that God wants me to order my priorities with an understanding that we are eternal beings. I should honor him by recognizing that others are worthy of respect and care no matter their social or financial status. I should also honor God by recognizing and using my talents, knowing my worth, and devoting my gifts to God’s purposes. All of these principles can be applied to managing a business and household.
Insights from Topical Bible Study
Does the topical study give me insights that are enlightening, troubling, surprising, or comforting? Describe what I learned.
First, let me mention something that’s been bothering me and relates to these passages. I know a few folks who claim not to worry and tell me that I worry too much. I think I’ve gotten better so perhaps their assessment of me no longer holds true. But, while I get that Jesus tells us not to worry, I think that my concerns and my diligence in addressing concerns have been helpful — if not to me, then to my family.
Meanwhile, some of the people I know who don’t worry have lives that are train wrecks. I’ve had difficulty reconciling these notions of trusting Jesus but still being diligent. I really don’t think they’re mutually exclusive and maybe these other folks are either learning to trust God with their brokenness or they’ve wrongly decided to ignore aspects of their lives that need attention.
To be sure, there are things that can’t be fixed and accepting them and not worrying really is essential. So, I don’t think God’s saying, yeah go ahead and cross the street even though traffic is heavy and a bus is coming. He’s saying honor me above all, trust me so much that your lack of anxiety and worry is freeing. But you don’t have to make uninformed, impulsive decisions and ignore your health, finances, etc. in order to show me you trust me.
Nevertheless, some of my decisions may look foolish — like giving to the poor or advocating for the needy at risk of personal loss — but ultimately putting God first isn’t stupid.
What I’ve learned as I’ve considered these passages: I need to focus on following Jesus, put my efforts toward doing what God wants me to do, make sure I’m being honorable in my business and personal dealings, and relax. I don’t need to ignore the obvious things that need to be taken care of and if I’m presented with opportunities or I want to pursue opportunities, then I should do that. These can be prompts from God with ways to exercise my talents.
I enjoy topical studies because I can learn how to apply Biblical wisdom to practical aspects of my life. As I practice these principles, I often get greater insights into God’s character and how he wants me to live and interact with people. These experiences in turn help me to gain deeper understanding of how much Jesus loves me and wants me to abide in his love, not just for his sake but for mine as well.
What topics would you like to study?