November 28, 2013

Going beyond mere reading . . .

Apparently there are some who have memorized the entire Bible, others parts of the Bible, yet they make no claim to have a relationship with its Author. This attitude may have been true in Jesus’ day also. He rebuked those who claimed to be religious, but they were not happy to call Him their Messiah. Jesus pointing out that these people read the Scriptures with entirely the wrong attitude.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39–40)

The Bible was written to reveal God to those who seek Him. If compared to the cloud that went before the Israelites, it is dark and hard to understand by those who resist His Spirit, something like the Egyptians who saw His amazing deeds but refused to believe. Yet for those who did believe, that same cloud appeared bright and glorious, and led them on their escape from bondage.

This must be true concerning the Bible. God is spirit and communicates Himself in a spiritual manner. If we know the Spirit of God, then the Word of God is opened to our minds by Him.

Christians are given the Holy Spirit, yet I know I can be filled with myself and my concerns. When I come to the Bible each day, I must ask God to fill me with His Spirit, confessing anything that might stand in the way of His communication to my heart and life.

This means that before I read the Bible, I must pray and ask that God sends His Spirit to direct my understanding lest His Word of God merely flies over my head and I miss whatever He wants to say to me.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

This is such an amazing reality. Each day God speaks to me from His Word. Sometimes I am not listening very well, but when I do, what He says is always helpful and practical because it is startlingly related to my circumstances. When I finish reading, my heart is filled with awe at His grace and how He uses His Word to feed my Spirit.

Reading daily and diligently is important, but more important is knowing how to read. Paul wrote, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

For this, the Holy Spirit is helpful, but it is also helpful to consult with other Christians. This can be done in Bible study groups, hearing sound preaching, and reading books and commentaries that refer to what I am reading. I must pay attention to how the church has traditionally understood various teachings and passages. While the church and traditions are not the final authority (God’s Word holds that place), no one person has a corner on all truth. God reveals it to His people as a Body, and He is consistent. That is, Christians all over the world generally have the same understanding of His Word. We may not use the same language, but our Interpreter is the same Spirit. He does not contradict Himself.

The most important requirement for Bible study is never an academic goal, or merely to know it. Memorizing the entire Bible is useless unless I also do what it says.

Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. (Proverbs 23:12)

God does not reveal Himself to those who will ignore Him and walk on. He intends an intimate relationship built on an intimate knowledge of Him. He knows me deeply and personally and wants me to know Him like that. The Bible contains the deep things of God and cannot be understood or be of any benefit to me if I am reading it carelessly or superficially. Instead, God wants an industrious intimacy, a meek humble heart, willing to hear what He says and put it into practice in my life.

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