So today, the second Part -
Reading the Bible
No matter what the Bible might have meant to you in the past, it is always helpful to take a step back and look at the the Bible actually is about and means to us. Have you ever thought about what "the word of God" actually means?
Why does this concept not blow your mind - God decided to write to us!
An all powerful and all knowing God decided to speak to us through word - if you heard God speaking directly to us, should we not look at the Bible with the same reverence?
For a Christian nothing should be more natural than reading the Bible. If you don't really love the Bible, it is time to start praying that you would.
If we really believe the Bible is the word of God it should be much more than just a book we are familiar with, it ought to shape every aspect of our existence and guide every decision we make in life. If God is the designer and creator of this world, if He made us and placed us on this earth, and if He has taken the time to tell us who He is, who we are, and how this world operates, then what could be more important to us than the Bible?
"the Bible isn't merely an inanimate object that we study and pull information from. It has a life of its own. It acts. It reads us; it pierces to the deepest part of the being and discerns our motivations. Since our God is a living God, His Word is alive, and he works through His Word to actively transform every part of our being." - Franscis Chan
But as a Christian, what approach do you take when reading the Bible, why are you studying it in the first place? In Francis Chan's book Multiply he explores three motivations that we use most of the time to study the Bible, and what we need to do to move beyond them.
Guilt - As Christians we know we "should" be reading the Bible - no one would want to admit to this, but guilt can be a powerful motivator. (But I will admit in this blog, I have absolutely used this as a motivator to read my Bible!!!)
Status - God is pleased when we treasure his Word, but do we really think is pleased with your desire to appear intelligent?
Teaching Material - It's not wrong to use the Bible in preparation to teach others, it is necessary. The problem arises when we begin to approach the Bible only as a source for teaching material.
Just like the mirror, the Bible has the ability to reveal to you the truth of your condition.
What is the value of Truth if it doesn't change us?
I would say that Bible study is incomplete and illegitimate until it turns into obedience and transforms us. There have been times in my reading of the Bible where I have fallen into all the the poor motivators from above. So this year I have decided to focus on several of these essentials below a bit more when opening the word and would hope you may consider them as well.
Essentials to reading the Bible:
Prayer - we can't understand the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit and listening to God.
Know the difference in Application and Interpretation (Refer to Below)
Consider the Context (Refer to Below)
Let Go Of the Past - "Our experiences have an impact on our desires, which in turn affect our interpretations"
Taking yourself back to English Class -
- Find the Subject (What action is taking place)
- Find the Verb (What action is the actor performing)
- Find the Adjectives and Adverbs (How are the actor and action described)
- Find the Direct or Indirect Objects (Who or What is being acted upon)
Knowing the difference in application and interpretation when reading the Bible.
The "what it means to me" vs what it actually means. Application depends on specific life situation you may be going through at the time and a verse could mean something to you when you read it at the age of 22 and mean something totally different when you read it at the age of 35. Interpretation, on the other hand, is all about discovering what God has actually said and what He intended to communicate. I will be the first to admit when being in a Bible study group it is very easy to fall under the "lets all go around and say what we "think" this passage means to all of us" which often leads to us assuming that the Bible has a personalized meaning for each and every Christian. I am not saying it has been a bad thing in the past to "go around the room with what we get out of the passage" but I think it is always a great reminder to keep in mind the importance of actually understanding what God intended for each and every passage to mean.
(Multiply - Francis Chan)
"Consider the simple word ship. We all know what the word means (even if we didn't, we could easily find its definition in a dictionary). But ship means different things in different contexts. How do you decide whether ship is referring to a large boat or to the process of sending something? You look at the context. This isn't a complicated process, but it is absolutely essential in determining the meaning of the word. We don't usually think about this because reading words in their context is second nature to us - it probably hasn't even occurred to you that you're thinking in terms of context right now, as you read these sentences. As you read, you are deciding what these words mean based on the words around them. When you run into an ambiguous word (like the word "read" in the last two sentences, which could be taken as past or present tense, depending on the context), you automatically choose the appropriate definition or tense based on the context.
The point of using these simple examples is to highlight an essential aspect of studying the Bible: in order to understand a particular word, verse, chapter, or book , we need to consider it in light of its context. Too often, verses are read and quoted in isolation. While this is not necessarily wrong, it greatly increases the chances of misinterpretation.
Here's a helpful way to get the point across: when studying Scripture, think apple rather than orange. Typically, when eat an orange, you break it into isolated pieces and then eat the pieces individually. Whenever we read a verse, we should be mindful that we are taking a thought (a "bite) from a larger story. Always keep in mind that every verse is connected to a chapter, a book, and the entire Bible."
(Reference: Multiply, Francis Chan, 2012)