We looked at step one last week, now I'm gonna talk about step 2.
1) Spiritual preparation.
2) General introduction.
Imagine if someone sent you an important letter, and instead of reading the whole thing, you just read one sentence in the middle of the letter! How well would you then understand the meaning of that one sentence?
Many of us have misunderstood scriptures because we have remembered verses, but not remembered the context they were given in, hence the phrase " taken out of context".
At step 2, we want to look at the context of the book in which the verses we are studying were written in.
The obvious way to do it to read the book!
Last year when I was about to start teaching through 'Matthew' I sat down and read through the whole of Matthew, I also listened to it on mp3. I have the New testament in mp3 format for the New Living Translation and for the NET bible (which is now available free on-line through Next bible).
During this time you can take down notes, but don't go too in-depth.
Once you've done this it's a good idea to read an introduction to the book by well known scholars.
'Introduction' by the way is a technical term referring to matters of authorship, date, purpose etc. So don't look at a book that says "Introduction" and think, "Well I've been a Christian for years, I don't need that!"
A book that I have is called "An Introduction to the New Testament" by D.A Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, published by Zondervan. The authors of this book need no introduction from me!
Some study Bibles also have introductions (although these will not be so in-depth). The NIV study bible has introductions written by some very well known and respected scholars, including William Mounce in Revelation.
Step 2 is a good way to get a feel for the book, and missing this step out could lead to some disastrous mistakes later (when you realise that the point you made in chapter 2, is totally contradicted in chapter 10!)
Next time it's step 3 - Literary Context.