It is an interesting thing – words that were written thousands of years ago still change lives!
Here I am, at a small desk, in an office in a small church, way out in the middle of nowhere, with my Bible open beside me and even here, even now, my heart is being changed. This morning, Psalm 19 is active in my soul, reviving it, enlightening my eyes, making me wise, rejoicing my heart in ways that both warn me and reward me. What a valuable thing the Word of God is! How sweet it is to our hearts!
On my desk are the works of and about great men of the Word. There are books by John Bunyan, John MacArthur, R.C Sproul, and John Piper. I have recently read biographies about John and Charles Wesley and D.M. Lloyd-Jones. Each of these men are well-known for their focus on the Word of God and are much loved by those who have been touched by the Gospel in their lives. It often happens to me, that as I listen to men such as these preach and as I read about the impact that their preaching had on their culture, I am both encouraged and challenged. It is so encouraging to have the Word opened up and proclaimed in such a way that I am exposed to the raw intimacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am also challenged by the many ways in which my heart still embraces a harsh rebellion against the One who calls me into repentance. When I hear them and read their words I am continually pointed back to the Ancient Words that contain Life Itself. What is it about the way they studied the Bible that brings out this kind of emphasis. Where does the power of their ministry come from? What is it that they do to grow into the spiritual giants that they have become? Is it magic? Is there a special code that they have to make sense of the Bible?
I want to tell you a secret this morning. I want to share the secret to understanding the Bible the way that each of these men do. It’s not mind-blowing or earth shattering but if you follow this plan you could have your mind blown and the world as you know it shattered!
First of all you need to read the Bible for what it says. The Bible was written by humans…. for humans! It was written by shepherds, farmers, fishermen, politicians, priests, warriors, contractors and such. It was written for normal people to read and share. This is what the Apostle John meant in John 20:31 – “…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” When John wrote his gospel he fully intended for the average person to read it and understand it. As we read the words that John, or any of the authors of the books of the Bible, has written we need to take what they say at face value. What is the plain reading of these words? That’s all. Really! We just need to read the words and let them speak for themselves. When you’re reading a passage, ask yourself: “what is the author saying, what am I to understand about this passage?” The first step to understanding the Bible is to simply read it for what it says.
Second, you need to read it for what it means. The Bible was written by humans who had something specific to say to other humans. It was written to communicate certain things about certain things pertaining to God, His will, His work, His Presence, and His plans. It was written to communicate certain things about humanity, our creation, our fall, our sin, our salvation, our behavior, and even our eternal destiny. After we read the Bible for what it says, we also need to make certain that we understand what the author means by what he says. We need to approach the reading of the Word with thoughtful hearts and minds. When Luke, the author of the book of Acts was writing about Pentecost, or Stephen, or even about Paul in Corinth, he intended for his readers to understand what he was writing about without having to read the Gospels of Matthew or Mark or John. He wrote in such a way that we do not have to read Paul’s Epistles to grasp Luke’s intentions. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t compare and enlarge our understanding of those things but they aren’t necessary to grasp what Luke actually means when he writes. We need to realize that there is no Bible code. We can all understand most of the passages in the Bible if we simply read and figure out what the author meant to say to us. When you’re reading a passage, ask yourself: “what does the author mean for me to know or do as a response to this passage?” The second step to understanding the Bible is to simply read it for what the author intended for you to understand.
Third, you need to read it in light of what you already know. The Bible is full of Truth! It has over a thousand pages of the Revelation of God Almighty. It IS a daunting Presence to be sure but once we become familiar with its format we begin to see that it has been structured in such a way that it can be studied and understood. The more we read it for what it says and for what it means, the smaller and easier it gets to understand (and… remarkably the deeper and larger it becomes as we grow in our understanding of its message and meaning!). Several of my sons and I hunt with Falcons and Hawks that we have trapped in the wild. It’s really interesting to us that the more we drive around looking for birds to trap, the smaller the geography of the area becomes. As we take ‘short cuts’ (that sometimes turn in to much longer roads than we intended) and end up in places that we didn’t know were even connected we grow in our overall perspective of the area. Whenever this happens I say: “Wow! Chattanooga just got smaller!” because we were learning how the different neighborhoods and industrial parks were connected. It’s the same kind of thing with our Bible study. As we are reading our Bible for what it says and means we will see ways in which it is connected with other parts of the Bible. We will remember people and places. We will begin to see something the author of Hebrews said that reminds us of something that someone else said in the Old Testament. As we read this Word we will see Him in greater and fuller ways and we will begin to grow as our hearts are inclined to Him. We also need to understand that our pastors have this in mind as they prepare their messages. Our pastors have been given to us by Christ, for this very reason. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:12-14 that Christ has given us pastors “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” As we read, we need to ask ourselves “how does what I’m reading in the Bible right now help me to understand what I have already read in the Bible?” As you read the Bible this way you will be surprised at how often you proclaim: “Wow! The Bible just got smaller!”
And finally, you need to share what you read with someone else. This one thing will change your life. The very essence of the Bible is that it is words! Words with meaning! Words of truth. Words that change lives. Words that are alive and powerful! I’m not sure how many times I have heard a speaker say that we need to share the Gospel and if necessary use words. What a ridiculous statement. Listen to how Paul describes this process for us in 2 Corinthians 5:20. He tells us that “we are ambassadors for Christ” and then he makes this statement: “God making His appeal through us.” What a beautiful picture of the Word of God at work in our lives. Our mission in life is to have God’s very Word coming from and through us! The Gospel IS words! God’s revelation of Christ to His creatures is expressed verbally and has been recorded for our understanding and faith. Without words there is no communication, no opportunity for faith, and zero content to the Gospel. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the ground. The farmer goes to sleep and wakes up day after day and the seed sprouts and grows but the farmer doesn’t know how. God’s Word works! God’s Word lives! God’s Word succeeds! We need to read the Bible with reverence and a sense of connection to the Mind behind this Message! As I sit here, at my desk, in my office, at the small church here in North Dakota, I, myself, am once again challenged by these words that I am sharing with you: “The secret to understanding the Bible is simple – read it and keep reading it! Read it and share it! Throughout history we see men and women who have been changed by this Powerful Word and who have seen others changed by this Living and Active Word!”
How has God’s Word changed you? How has it brought life into you? What are you reading in the Bible right now?
I’ve just read Philippians again and as I read it I began to recall sermons and teachings and areas in that book God used to change me. I was thrilled as those recollections were brought forth to me again because I had actually forgotten how sweet it was while I was reading it God made them come alive to me. This verse has been on my mind since this morning:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
I remember that verse hung on to me and captivated me for days if not weeks and this morning I was thrilled to have remembered it once again!