Here are some suggestions for taking advantage of their strengths.
1. Not all study Bibles are created equal
Sometimes when publishers have a bestseller on their hands, they’ll pull out all the stops to repackage that content in as many ways as possible. One way they’ll attempt to do that is spin it into a study Bible. This is often a hackneyed attempt to siphon another $40 out of their fanbase. Don’t fall for it. The Prayer of Jabez Devotional Bible probably won’t help you expand your territory.
They’ll also take advantage of study Bibles for niche markets. Be wary of those, too. Trust me—no one needs the Denture Wearers Devotional Bible or the Long-Haul Truck Driver’s Study Bible.
2. Study notes aren’t Scripture
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in a small-group where real interesting, powerful discussion is going on, and then someone kills the conversation by quoting their study notes like they’re a definitive answer to the topic at hand.
Your study notes are not Scripture—they’re commentary. Some of them are correct, some of them are not, and some fall somewhere in-between, so take them with a grain of salt.
3. Read from a text-only Bible
Hearing from the Holy Spirit is a huge casualty of becoming study-Bible reliant. If you can’t read your study Bible without constantly looking down for the notes’ interpretation, it’s probably wise to get a text-only Bible for some of your devotional reading.
4. Be aware of theological bias
If you’re reading the Reformed Study Bible, it should be obvious that the notes will have some theological bias. But if you’re reading any Bible featuring one person’s commentary, you’re augmenting your Bible reading with their bias, too. That’s completely okay as long as you’re aware of it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bibles with a number of theologically-varied contributors (like the New International Study Bible), will often offer no information on some of the trickier passages. The strong, contrary positions sometimes cancel each other out and they don’t say anything—sometimes that’s no better than the bias.
5. Let the Holy Spirit inform you on application
The Life Application Study Bible is one of the most popular study Bibles of all time. It has some really great material in it, but you need to remember: powerful, life-changing Scripture reading happens when the Holy Spirit takes the truth of the Word and speaks to you personally about its application. Devotional reading is more than study; it’s about allowing room for the Holy Spirit to touch on particular areas for your development. Sometimes these areas don’t apply to everyone—they’re specific to you. Leave room for the Spirit to do this work.