Being unlikely that I’ll ever move past my sincere affinity toward lists, I’d like to wrangle my appreciation for them—and increase their frequency in my life—for an extra good purpose. Sound good to you too? If so, we can make use of our summarizing skills to better personalize our understanding of whichever book of the Bible we are studying.
As I first learned in a Major Prophets class whose only textbook was the Bible (what a great idea for an overview Bible course!), to list a book of the Bible, note the paragraph breaks you see and try to summarize each paragraph in one sentence. Preferably, do so in words that are natural to you.
Speaking from experience, paraphrasing Bible passages into these lists is useful against scattered thoughts, next-room-over noises, seemingly-relentless email dings, and the daily to-do list that somehow presses its priorities—even when it’s out of sight.
I’ll attempt to write, in my own words and in one, sometimes-too-long sentence, what I understand each paragraph to say in the book of Jude. I am using my ESV Bible for paragraph breaks.
Jude 1: Jude introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James to his recipients—who are called to Christ, and loved and kept by God.
Jude 2: Jude wishes his recipients much mercy, peace, and love.
Jude 3-4: Jude wanted to write to his recipients about what they shared in common—saving faith in Jesus Christ; instead, he felt compelled to charge them to assert the already-distributed truth of their faith toward the lies that were distorting its meaning.
Jude 5-7: Jude thinks his recipients need a reminder: the same Christ who saves also administers eternal flames of punishment to those who do not believe (he cites examples of Egypt, fallen angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah).
Jude 8-13: Jude warns against relying upon and making judgments based upon subjective dreams and instincts; he says this can lead to what is murderous, greedy, fruitless, wild, and wandering behavior that results in utter, eternal darkness (references are made to Cain, Balaam, and Korah).
Jude 14-16: Jude seeks to sway his recipients that God will come to decisively judge and convict the ungodly of their deeds—deeds like being ungrateful, boasting, and seeking to profit at cost to others.
Jude 17-23: Jude’s recipients are to act categorically different from the ungodly through doing the following: growing in holy faith, praying in the Spirit, remaining in God’s love, patiently waiting for the return of Christ, having mercy on those who doubt, seeking to see as many as possible become saved, showing mercy without fear of others’ judgment, and maintaining a hatred of sin and evil.
Jude 24-25: Most of all, his recipients are categorically different because of the keeping of Christ who will joyfully present believers blameless—and without stumbling away—to the matchless, eternal glory of God.
I am still working toward brevity in this list. I heartily employ dashes, semi-colons, and parenthesis as I compose my sentences—there is much nuance in God’s Word. But being succinct is worth the continued effort because afterward, I can see my paraphrasing work demonstrate the flow of the book.
As these lists form, the shape, or the path of reason, in a book also begins to emerge. The at-a-glance benefits of these summaries can also help us split the book into sections because we can see where big changes happen, like in direction, pace, focus, and theme. And we might even be able to put the whole book into one sentence at the end. Here’s my attempt with Jude:
Jude writes that maintaining the unchanging nature of God’s impending judgment for the wicked is necessary to the integrity of any church who holds to the common salvation of Christ, that they might continue in holiness, love, mercy, fearlessness and hatred of sin and evil to the glory of the forever-honored God who is able to present them blameless in the end.
By interacting with the thoughts of Scripture in this personal way I am both impressed with how much I can remember afterward, and with how well I can identify what especially requires further study. After listing, we can do further research through the great gifts of Bible study tools available to us in word studies, commentaries, Bible dictionaries, etc. from those who have devoted their lives’ time to Bible study.
This method, when I employ it, helps me to focus. It helps me take notice that my to-do list is so far outdone by the rich truths in the Bible. God certainly has my daily concerns in His hands if He can orchestrate such a marvelous Christian salvation, distributed once to all the saints, worthy of our efforts and protection, and given to our hearts by a greatly-honored and only God who continues us in the faith until He comes again. As we continually study these truths, they become definitively more a part of our thoughts, lives, words, and actions. So let’s learn them, write them, list them, and help ourselves remember them.