Reading God’s Word (1)
These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Acts 17.11
A subtle shift
We need to say a bit more about the importance of reading the Bible. Reading the Bible is the starting-point for having the Word of God dwell in us richly. So we need to get this right and keep it right if we’re going to know the joy and rejoicing that come from feeding regularly on the Word of the Lord.
Over the previous generation, a subtle shift has been occurring among certain students of the Bible concerning how to read and benefit from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The founders of the modern evangelical movement, that post-World War II generation of pastors and theologians, understood the Bible to be the Word of God, faithful, reliable, true, authoritative, and inerrant in all it asserts. It is to be received and read so that it dwells in us richly, and obeyed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice.
In making this commitment, our evangelical forebears were doing nothing more than restating what faithful Christians have believed in all generations.
The second generation of evangelical leaders reaffirmed this commitment to the final authority and utter reliability of Scripture in the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. There the heirs of the modern evangelical movement declared, “The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian church in this and every age. Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word. To stray from Scripture in faith or conduct is disloyalty to our Master. Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.”
But now, in the third and the early years of the fourth generation of the evangelical movement, while the old commitment to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible remains in place, at least intellectually, a dramatically new view of the Bible has brought forth an approach to understanding Scripture that is having the effect of undermining the teaching of Scripture in its entirety.
Scripture as palette
Among certain preachers and teachers in our day, the Scriptures have come to be regarded more like an artist’s palette than like the rules for making art. The various “colors” of Scripture are there for the artist to select and combine in painting out his own unique view of the world, and, taking this approach, he can claim that he has drawn such a view from the Scriptures. For one who approaches Scripture this way, his use of the Bible is determined, not by the teaching of Scriptures, but by his view of the world. Scripture is a palette for painting out one’s beliefs; we turn to it to endorse our preconceived ideas, which are very often shaped more by the spirit of the age than the Spirit of God.
As bad as this practice is – and it is everywhere and increasing (we’ll have more to say about this in a later installment in this series) – what’s even worse is that the people of God, who ought to be searching the Scriptures daily to discern the truth or falsity of what they’re hearing, are allowing their own reading and study of Scripture to fall by the wayside. Because we aren’t reading the Bible as faithfully as we should, we are susceptible to being pulled away from the Bible by those who claim to be teaching it to us.
The is a form of wrong reading of the Scriptures – failing to read them consistently, deeply, reflectively, and with a view to obedience. You are reading the Scriptures wrong if you simply hear what someone tells you about “what the Scriptures say” and, because you happen to agree – or disagree – with the view being espoused, confirm or reject it accordingly. This is not what the Bereans did. They heard Paul readily. But then, in their synagogues, homes, and among friends, they searched the Scriptures daily to determine whether what they were hearing was true. We are reading Scripture wrong if we are not reading it daily, and listening as it speaks to us about all of life.
The Bereans were people who took Scripture seriously, and they were not about to embrace any teaching that did not conform to what Word of God revealed.
Scripture as spiritual food
Scripture is not an artist’s palette for clever interpreters with preconceived notions about things true and good, to paint whatever they believe on the canvas of their ministries. Scripture likens itself to food, food for the rejoicing of the soul, and we must partake of all the counsel of God in Scripture in ways that find us going ever more deeply into the Word to gain the nourishment we need. As our minds grow in understanding the revelation of God, we bring our hearts, consciences, and lives into line with what God intends. We do not simply pick and choose from Scripture to support something we believe, no matter how sincerely or passionately.
Right reading of Scripture begins with daily reading and meditation, and regular study of the Word with serious, like-minded students. Set a time to read daily. You may need to get up a little earlier or stay up later at night. Or perhaps give up something you’re doing now to feed on the Word of God, consistently every day. Find a place to read – quiet, isolated, and one that will encourage reflection. Select a version of Scripture that reads well to you, and make sure you give yourself to such right reading every day. Find some study partners and begin holding one another accountable for right reading of the Word of God.
You will be vulnerable to the false teachings of well-meaning but wrong-headed Bible teachers if you are not daily and regularly reading and searching the Scriptures for yourself. If you are reading the Bible wrong in this regard, there’s no time like the present to begin reading right.
1. Why do you think the discipline of daily Bible reading, meditation, and study has come to be neglected, or used sparingly, by many Christians?
2. Imagine that you are trying to encourage a new Christian to take up the discipline of daily Bible reading. What points would you make to persuade him of the importance of doing so?
3. Meditate on 2 Timothy 3.15-17. Why was Scripture given? How does it do its work?
Next steps – Preparation: On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 indicates “Daily, Deeply, Obediently”, how would you assess your practice of reading the Scriptures at this time? Why did you choose that number? Share your answers with a Christian friend, and begin praying for one another about becoming better students of God’s Word.
T. M. Moore
To learn more about understanding and using the Bible, enroll in the course, Introduction to Biblical Theology. It’s free and online, and you can study at your own pace or with friends. To learn more and to register, click here. This week’s study is Part 4 of a series on The Word of God, and is available as a free download by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.