Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting to know the Bible, part 2

Why is it important?
The Bible is the Christian’s handbook for life. It shows us God’s dealing throughout history, beginning with a particular focus on the nation of Israel from the time of Abraham onwards, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. We read about Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, the moment where history changed forever, as man’s sin could finally be forgiven. We see the working of the Holy Spirit in the early church, and how the message of the Gospel went out into all the world. We have the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude giving us practical instruction on how to live the Christian life. We have the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets and John the apostle, describing the events that will yet unfold in the last days when God will bring final judgement upon the world for sin, and establish His eternal kingdom.
The Bible is the primary means by which God reveals His character to us. If we don’t know the Bible very well, it follows that we are unlikely to know God very well. The Bible gives us hope and comfort in a world of turmoil. The better we know it, the stronger our anchor will be in difficult times.

Is it still relevant?
The short answer is ‘yes’. But what about the laws about sacrifices, feasts, uncleanness, and so forth? While these are not relevant to Christians on a practical level, these passages of Scripture are worth reading because they demonstrate aspects of Christ to us. “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). And what about the genealogies? If the genealogies show us nothing else, they show us that God keeps track of who we are and where we have come from. It shows us that God is interested in each of us as individuals.

Why should we read it over and over?
Reading the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does failing to read the Bible mean that you cease being a Christian. However, reading the Bible does make you a strong Christian, and that’s why it’s important to read it over and over, as often as possible. People estimate that only 10-30% of Christians have actually read the whole Bible.
The Bible is God’s primary means of communicating with us. It isn’t just words on a page – with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it brings life to your spirit. This is why when atheists read the Bible, they can’t see past the blood and violence of the Old Testament, and come away saying it’s full of contradictions and fairy tales.
When George W. Bush mentioned that he reads the Bible every day, a comedian responded, ‘He’s 56 years old – finish the book!’ Indeed, many Christians think that once they’ve read the Bible through once, that’s enough. But reading it over and over is very, very beneficial to you. It’s as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12, even though we know these things and are firmly established in the truth, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them again. Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would bring His words to our remembrance (John 14:26). You can’t be reminded of something you’ve never heard or read in the first place. So if you haven’t read through the whole Bible, my challenge to you is to start doing this. There are plenty of tools out there to help you, including here. And, if you’re in the 10-30% who have already read through the Bible, I hope you are continuing to read it, over and over. This is the way it becomes embedded in your heart, so that you will be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And each time you read it, the Holy Spirit will reveal something new to you that you haven’t seen before.

What should I do if I find reading it gets boring?
Usually I find that if the Bible seems boring, it’s because I’m not reading it under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without that, it just becomes words on a page. But with the Holy Spirit guiding you, even the lists of genealogies that most people skip over, can yield treasures.
Before you start reading, pray. One of my favourite verses is Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.” Ask God to speak to you through what you are about to read. Ask Him to help you concentrate. Then read it, absorb it, let it seep into your spirit. If there are any verses that jump off the page at you, pray. Thank God for revealing Himself to you through His Word, and commit to applying it to your life, starting today. Or if there is a passage that you don’t understand, pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to explain it to you. The explanation may not come immediately, but it will come. It can be really helpful to keep a notebook or journal to demonstrate to yourself – not to anyone else (unless you choose to) – how God has been speaking to you through His Word.
Whatever you do, if reading the Bible gets boring, don’t stop. That would be like a runner giving up and sitting down instead of pushing through to the finish line. One way to keep going with your daily Bible reading is to be reading multiple books at a time. For example, daily readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament. Sure, there may be passages that you don’t get much out of, like the genealogies. But it would be a mistake to not read them at all.

How do I put it into practice?
Putting the Bible into practice is very important. Jesus told a story of two men who built houses: one on the rock (representing a person who put His words into practice) and one on the sand (representing a person who didn’t). Although both houses looked the same on the outside, when the storm came, the house on the rock survived while the house on the sand was destroyed (Matt. 7:24-27). It was the foundation the houses were built upon, that made all the difference. For the Christian, that foundation must be Jesus Christ and the Word of God (1 Cor. 3:11). God hasn’t just given us His Word for us to read, or to know, or to memorise – but to do. God’s commands are not difficult – Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29) – but it requires discipline on our part to obey Him.
We also need to be careful not to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees did, and think that the Christian life is solely a matter of keeping rules. While Jesus and Paul do give some instructions on what we should and shouldn’t be doing, the best way to put God’s Word into practice is not only doing these specific things, but examining the principles behind them. At the end of the day, Jesus said that all rules can be condensed into two: Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and loving your neighbour as yourself. ‘Love’ in this context is putting the other person and their needs and comfort ahead of your own. So, keeping God’s commands are not only a matter of what we do, but our attitude as well.
Yes, we will all fail – some of us on a very regular basis. But this is where we can turn to God for forgiveness, and ask Him to strengthen us for next time. The important thing is to keep going – keep reading God’s Word, keep pressing on in the Lord, keep allowing the Holy Spirit to mould you into the image of Christ. It’s a lifelong process; we will never be perfect on this side of eternity. But one day we will be completed; we will see the Lord face to face and be in His presence forever.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. In the coming weeks we’ll start looking at some overviews of each of the books of the Bible, with some hints on what to expect and hidden treasures to look out for as you read.

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