The Importance of Meeting with God in His Word

The Importance of Meeting with God in His WordIn Exodus 19 an amazing thing happens to Moses. He’s called to the top of Mt. Sinai where he meets with the Lord and the Lord speaks with him and gives him instructions.

What if I told you, you could meet with the God of the Universe, the most powerful Being in existence and hear from Him any time you desired? That this same God who called Moses to speak with him desires to speak with you today?

The truth is we can meet with this God and we can get close to Him and we can know Him because we have a great high priest who is our mediator. Jesus Christ is the mediator for us, through His blood shed on the cross. He is the perfect sacrifice, paid once for all time. And so Hebrews 4:16 says:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

And one of the ways, I’d say the primary way, God has graciously provided for us to “draw near” to Him is through His Word, the Bible. I would argue that hearing and especially reading the word of God is the most important thing we can do in our process of sanctification.

In John 17:17, in what we call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, he says:

…Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Jesus prays for our sanctification, the daily process of being made righteous and being conformed to His image. Jesus wants us to be like Him. And in this prayer He reveals how that happens – through interaction with the truth. But He doesn’t stop there; He also makes it clear what the source of truth is that sanctifies. It is the Word of God. The Bible is composed of sanctifying truth.

Back to the book of Hebrews:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

Sanctification is about heart change and nothing impacts the believer’s heart like the word of God. Neglecting the word of God is neglecting to expose our hearts to the thing that is most needed to change them.

Why would I say it is the most important thing? Why not attending church or praying or loving our neighbor or obeying Christ? Because regular reading and study of the word of God shows us the importance of all of those other things and leads us to them. We know we should pray and how to pray because the Bible tells us those things. We know we should not neglect attending church because the Bible tells us that. We know we should love our neighbor as our self because the Bible tells us so.

When, for example, my prayer life has become dry or infrequent it is almost always because I’ve stopped spending regular time in God’s word. When I become cold to the things of God and to His church, it’s because I’ve stopped spending time reading the word. When I’m impatient with my wife and children, it’s the same reason – I’m not reading and studying God’s Word like I should.

Psalm 119 is an extended a psalm of praise and a prayer to God from a man who places high value on God’s Word.

Psalm 119: 62 says:

At midnight I rise to praise you,
because of your righteous rules.

The psalmist praises God because of God’s law. Or, said another way, because of God’s word. One thing we find is that our praise of God and our desire to obey him are functions of the time we spend in the word and it’s a circular process:

We spend time in the word —> This leads us to praise God —> This leads us back to His word to learn more about him —> which leads us to praise God, etc.

So regular, I would say daily, intake of God’s word is essential for the Christian. It is the oxygen of our Christian life. Without it we suffocate and die.

Why Read the Bible All the Way Through? – Part II

Context is King

“Old Woman Reading the Bible” by Gerrit Dou

If, as we established in the last post, the Bible is one seamless story it follows that no section stands apart from the others. There are certainly some sections of scripture that can be helpful on their own but even then to properly understand them we must have an idea of their context. There’s a saying in real estate that the three most important things are location, location and location. For scripture, it’s not far off to say the three most important things are context, context and context.

What do we mean by context? Context is knowing where the verse or passage fits in relation to the chapter, where the chapter fits in relation to the book and where the book fits in relation to scripture as a whole.

Christian apologist Greg Koukl goes so far as to say “never read a Bible verse.” Of course he doesn’t mean never read a verse at all but never to read it in isolation. I quoted this statement from Koukl while preaching one time in South America and the translator didn’t want to translate it until I explained that I was not discouraging people from reading their Bibles but from reading just a verse apart from the context in which it’s found.

We sometimes forget that every single verse, no, every single word, in the Bible is there because God chose to put it there. Every sentence is set in relation to the sentences around it in just the way God intended. So when we read our favorite passages or verses apart from the text appearing before and after them, we are missing some of what God intends to tell us with that passage.

In their excellent book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart, they say this about context:

“This (Literary context) is what most people mean when they talk about reading something in its context. Indeed this is the crucial task in exegesis, and fortunately it is something you can learn to do well without necessarily having to consult the “experts.” Essentially, literary context means first that words only have meaning in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to the preceding and succeeding sentences.” (How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, p.27)

And nothing helps us with what Fee and Stuart characterize as the crucial task in exegesis more than reading the entirety of God’s word.

Why Read the Bible All the Way Through? – Part I

“Old Woman Reading the Bible” by Gerrit Dou

God’s Word is One Seamless Story

The Bible is an amazing book. However, it’s not really a book but sixty-six books written by 40 different authors across hundreds of years. Yet despite the different authors and extended time spans, it tells one story from beginning to end.

Of course, as Christians, we realize this is so because ultimately the Bible has one author – the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us in II Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Despite this we often read the Bible piecemeal, a passage here, a verse there, and while there’s value in that, we can miss some important biblical truths that way.

For example, Malachi 3:6 tells us that the Lord never changes and Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” One of the best ways to learn that or at least have it reinforced for us is by experiencing that truth through the pages of the scriptures. When you read in the Old Testament about God choosing Abraham to be His and Abraham being justified by faith and then see that same pattern revealed throughout scripture as God deals with His people, God’s immutability is reinforced.

And what about things like God’s holiness or His justice? These attributes are illustrated over and over in the pages of the Bible. When you’re familiar with all parts of scripture they come into sharper focus. I believe the lack of a healthy fear of God we see in the church today is a direct result of a church that has no familiarity with large portions of God’s Word.

Unfortunately, a lot of us learned Bible stories, especially the ones in the Old Testament, as disjointed morality tales with the hero being Moses or Daniel or David. But these accounts are not morality tales they are links in the chain of the story of redemption, a story that began, not in Bethlehem, but in the Garden of Eden:

Sometimes called the proto evangelGenesis 3:15 says:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

    and you shall bruise his heel.

This is the first reference in scripture to God sending a savior. From that point forward, all the way to the cross, all of scripture is about God doing that – preparing people and circumstances so that “at the right time” (Romans 5:6) Jesus Christ would come into the world and bruise the serpent’s head.

All of scripture before the cross leads to the cross; all of scripture after the cross points either back to the cross or forward to Christ’s second coming.

If you doubt that, look at how Jesus viewed the scriptures. In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, the risen Christ appears to some travelers on the road to the village of Emmaus. As they walk along they talk about recent events in Jerusalem, and express their disappointment. Jesus then helps them understand why these things happened by referencing the Old Testament. In Luke 24:27 we read:

“And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself.”

The Bible is one seamless story and it’s all about Jesus Christ – not just the red letters. Therefore if we want to know all the Lord has to tell us about Christ we must read the entirety of scripture.

10 Ways to Be a Better Student of the Bible in the New Year

10 Ways to Be a Better Student of the Bible in 2013

This is the time of year people begin to think about their goals for the coming year. If one of your goals is to be a better student of the Bible in the New Year, here are 10 things to consider:

  1. Read the Bible through during the year. If you’ve never read the Bible all the way through, this should be your number one goal for the coming year with regard to your Bible study. It’s impossible to rightly understand God’s word apart from a holistic view of the Bible.  If this seems intimidating, remember that it can be done by reading less than ten chapters each day. The key is to have a plan. Don’t just start with Genesis 1:1 and say “I’ll read a little each day until I’m done”. Have a plan and follow it. One of the best is Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System.
  2. Choose one book of the Bible and read an in-depth commentary on it. When you visit a new city for the first time, you don’t want to explore it totally on your own, you need a tour guide. Commentaries perform much the same function for books of the Bible. It’s like having a tour guide to show you the best places to eat or the most important sites – theologically speaking. If you need some suggestions, try here.
  3. Read without stopping to look up things you don’t understand. This helps get the flow of a passage or book. Paul’s epistles, for example, were originally letters and would have been read in one sitting.
  4. Read stopping to look up things you don’t understand.  As a pastor at our church is fond of saying, the Bible was not written to you but it was written for you. Those to whom it was written lived in a different era and sometimes we need to understand things about that era to best understand a passage or book. So if you don’t understand a word or a custom, take time to investigate.
  5. Invest in a good systematic theology book. Two of the best are Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem and The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton.
  6. Familiarize yourself with BibleGateway.com. This site allows you to view a Bible passage in multiple translations (even multiple languages if you like) as well as view notes from several commentaries (click the “Study This” button in the upper right when you’re in a passage).  One of the most powerful features is the ability to find something in the scriptures using key words. Great for those “I know it’s in there somewhere” situations when all you can remember is a few words from a passage.
  7. Study the Bible with a friend. You can put any of these tips into practice along with someone else. For example, if you and a friend each buy a different commentary for a book study, you can benefit from two commentaries for the price of one. Partnering up is especially helpful if you’ve decided to read the Bible through during the year. A bit of accountability or even friendly competition makes reaching your goal much more likely.
  8. Attend a Bible-believing and teaching church each week. To be a serious student of the scriptures, you must belong to a church that takes them seriously as well. Look for a church where the pastor exposits the Bible each week. This will be a powerful supplement to your individual or small group study.
  9. Do a teaching outline of a passage or book. Even if you never intend to teach the Bible to others, thinking about how you would teach a particular passage if you had to will help you learn it as well. Write down the main points of the passage and then think about how best to explain those to another person. Who knows, if you practice this one enough, you may begin to desire to teach the scriptures to others.
  10. Pray. Lastly and most importantly, remember that the best resource for understanding and studying the scriptures is God Himself through the Holy Spirit. Ask God to open your eyes to the truth of His word and for the things you read to sink deeply into your heart and mind making you more and more like Christ.

What has been most helpful in your study of the Bible? I’d love to hear some other ideas.