The bible is able to sit quite comfortably alongside your daily reading notes and on the desk of a president or prime minister. Whatever our reasons are for reading the bible we should all want to know what it means and once we have determined what it means, what does it mean for the decisions I make and the actions I perform. Reading for meaning matters or what we have read won’t mean anything to us or for us. The bible is more than a devotional aid and it’s time we reintroduce this important truth to those who may have forgotten.
Beginning with questions
Questioning why we read the bible is a beneficial step in seeking to read the bible better than what we do. In other words, our approach to reading will affect our understanding, how we come to interpret the text. For instance, if our goal, our purpose in reading God’s word is about what we can get out of it then this will shape how we read the word. Because what we seek to get out of God’s word is inevitably linked to and affected by the kind of questions we ask of the text. Am I expecting to find something that confirms what I think is right or am I seeking to know what is right? Since it is possible for people to determine what they believe even before they have read the word of God, such people can easily fall into the trap of reversing the flow of truth. Truth comes from God to us, through his word and Spirit, but some have concluded that since what they believe is true and since Jesus believes what is true, then Jesus must believe what they believe and therefore they must be believing the truth. We can all see the problems with this kind of thinking and what it can lead to.
To teach or not to teach
We don’t tend to ask questions of the bible that we think we already know the answers to. This has partly to do with our interests and the beliefs that we come to hold through experiencing family, life, work, and other parts of life in this world. We can also feel that a sermon has had nothing to say because it has had nothing to say to me and my personal circumstances but this can be quickly addressed. All this person would need to do is study the word of God in order to teach it to someone they don’t know and who they will never meet (the teaching must be sent to them like a letter, like a New Testament letter). What will happen is that such a person will have to read the scriptures with a different set of questions, questions that don’t focus on themselves. We find out what the text says by reading it, we find out what the text means through a series of questions and all of these questions should focus on the text. Once the meaning has been determined it will speak to every person in every generation.
If we believe the bible teaches on society, business, economics, family, marriage, education, health care, and a list of other subjects we will not believe or accuse a bible teacher of imposing subjects onto the text of scripture. However, if the bible does not address a specific subject that is being presented by the teacher, then we can say that he is imposing a view on to the text of scripture, perhaps in order to give it some authority by association and this is something that should not happen. But it is equally possible for us to not be aware of many subjects the bible covers and end up accusing the bible teacher of imposing his views when in fact he is expounding the text. Reading scripture involves learning from scripture, the questions we ask should stem from our desire to seek and find rather than coming to the text with certain expectations.
Since we are to believe and understand what we read when reading the word of God, reading for meaning should be our aim. Those who read scripture with specific expectations need to be made aware of two specific dangers they no doubt face. The first is spotted in those who start treating their daily reading notes like the horoscopes you can find in a national newspaper. If they don’t find what they are looking for, they read the following day’s devotions, in this respect, the Christian has become like the atheist who follows the horoscopes (which you should not do, heed the warning, Deuteronomy 18:10), who buys a different newspaper so that they can receive a different reading. The second danger follows on from the first, that if we don’t find what we are looking for in God’s word, either because God’s word will not answer that specific question or you just haven’t read the bible well enough to know what it says. The second danger is the temptation is to turn to other sources. We will either turn to someone who will teach what we want to hear, keeping ourselves from questioning its validity (because we may not know how to) or we will turn to the world to find what we are looking for and we might even gain the whole world but at what cost?
If we come to God’s word, seeking God and the truth we will find what we are looking for. But if we come with certain expectations, we must be prepared that we may not receive what we’re after and even though we would have heard something (depending on what part of scripture you were reading), the lesson will be lost or hidden by our expectations. Not only is this a big enough problem in and of itself, but what it leads to is even more problematic, since it leads to practices, and decisions that we think will bring about certain results when they can do no such thing.
There is one commitment that can be made which will immediately improve our reading of scripture, it is to read the word every day. Try reading longer passages, read chapters, and even whole books over the course of a day. You can try reading the bible without any devotional aid and commit to reading it this way (you can do this alongside your devotional reading) every day. We should aim to read God’s word often and have the desire to know what it means, to strengthen our faith, and to understand what we believe.