According to a news story, two inmates in the Dorchester, Maryland county jail discovered that a stiff cover on a Bible left in their cell was just the tool they needed for prying back the defective lock on their jail cell door. That door led to the fire escape, and that fire escape led to freedom.
That is certainly a new use for the Bible. That's what we want to talk about this morning - using the Bible. James says:
James 1:21-22 (NKJV) Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
James is calling his readers to receive the word of God and to live out its precepts. The problem is few of us are hearers anymore. The majority of Christians spend very little time with this holy book. And because we do not first hear the Word, our doing is anemic, halfhearted, inadequate.
Back up in James to verse 19:
James 1:19 (NKJV) So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
James tells his readers to be "swift to hear". In this context, James is talking about the Word of God. We are to be quick to hear God's Word. Are we?
We live in a fast paced society with a multiplicity of attractions so appealing that many believers are not ready and eager to avail themselves of the opportunities of increasing their acquaintance with the Word of God.
I challenge you to set aside a time each day to hear what this book has to say. Spending time each day with this book is as essential to our lives as having good food and proper exercise. Many of us are exercising in some way to improve our bodies. Some of us are taking classes to improve our minds. Yet, we are neglecting that most critical part of our lives, our spiritual lives. Thus, I want to challenge you to begin a regimen of spending time delving into the word of life, that you may become a hearer and then a doer of the Word.
We need to do this, because our failure to read the Bible regularly stunts our spiritual growth. All the great leaders in the church have been avid Bible readers. That doesn't mean this is just a book for leaders. It means that each of us has an opportunity to become giants in the faith. Regular sustained contact with the Word of God is the main means of Christian growth.
Other things are important for us on our spiritual pilgrimage: preaching, group Bible study, Christian literature, and family devotions. Yet, they cannot replace individual Bible study.
I recently read of one person's experience, Paulette Hawkins of West Virginia. For quite some time after she trusted Christ, she still felt empty. Paulette always thought that once someone became a Christian he or she would be filled with instant happiness and a sense of fulfillment. She thought she would feel different than she did before. She never expected to feel this emptiness. Paulette even began questioning the validity of her faith.
One day, as Paulette was reading the Bible, she realized something she never did before. She read Jesus' response to Satan when he was being tempted in the wilderness, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." At that moment Paulette realized she needed to be fed spiritually. Paulette set aside time each day to read her Bible and pray. The time she spent in prayer and Bible reading soon erased her feeling of emptiness. "Now I have an abundant life," she says, "because I am learning wonderful things about God as I feed on the Bible's words. God is my best friend, and I look forward to reading my Bible every day."
The prophet Jeremiah put it this way:
Jeremiah 15:16 (NKJV) Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.
If your life lacks joy, maybe it's because you are not feeding on God's word every day. We need to spend time regularly in God's word. That is the best cure I know for spiritual emptiness. Many of us are not even aware of the richness and sufficiency in the Scriptures.
I am afraid that for many of us what we do with the Bible contradicts what we say about the Bible. We say that this is God's Word. We say that this is inspired by his Holy Spirit. We say that God makes himself fully known by his holy and divine Word as far as is necessary for our salvation and to bring him glory. We say that these Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God and whatsoever we ought to believe unto salvation is taught here.
The Westminster Confession of faith, chapter 1, paragraph 1 states:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Paragraph ten reads:
The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
Do you believe that? We affirm this as truth, but we do very little with the Bible. I am not talking about unchurched people. I am talking about Christians, about us here this morning at Berean Bible Church.
I read a story about a pastor who while visiting a family, asked to see the family Bible. The mother turned to the little daughter and said, "Go get the book Mummy and Daddy look at so much." The daughter ran out and came back with the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Most Christians spend little, if any time, reading the Bible. The sad fact is many of us, even in the church, are Biblically illiterate. A pastor of a large suburban mainline Protestant church did a survey on his congregation's knowledge of the Scriptures. Here is what he found: a third could not identify Calvary as the place of the crucifixion; 43% did not know the significance of Gethsemane; 75% did not know the significance of Pentecost. He asked them, "How many people did Jesus baptize?" The answers varied from zero to 5000. The number, of course, is zero. Only 58% in that mainline church could identify the four gospels. Would we do any better?
The Bible is undiscovered treasure for many of us. How is your faith this morning? Is it alive, growing? If not, maybe you are not nurturing it as you ought.
Why is it that while we say such great things about the Bible, we do so little with it? One possible explanation is that we don't believe what we say about it. If this Bible is just another book, it has no special claim on our time and attention. It may, then, be important historically, because so many people have believed it. We might need to know something about the Bible to understand our western culture. Yet, if this is not God's Word, then we can leave it in the library alongside many other books. Do you really believe this is a special book, inspired by God's Holy Spirit? Do you believe that what this book says, "God says"?
Another possible explanation of why we spend so little time in God's Word is that, while we believe that the Bible is a special book, somehow we never have experienced the blessing of reading it. If we don't enjoy reading the Bible, and if we haven't experienced blessing in reading it, we are not going to persevere in reading it faithfully. There may be many reasons we have failed to experience blessings from our reading of the Bible.
We can read the Bible wrongly. For example, we read the Bible wrongly when we isolate passages apart from their context. Sam Irvin, that colorful old Senator from North Carolina, told a story of a fire and brimstone preacher in North Carolina who didn't think women should wear topknots. Now most of you are too young to know about topknots - those spiraling hairstyles that were very popular earlier in the last century. This preacher didn't think women ought to wear topknots. This preacher preached a sermon entitled, "Topknot, Come Down."
An angry woman in his congregation confronted him afterwards and said, "There is no place in the Bible that says I should not wear a topknot!" The preacher said, "It's right here in Matthew 24:17, `Let him which is on the house top not come down' . . . "
It has been said that you can prove anything you want from the Bible. Such proofs, however, usually involve the error of ignoring the context.
We also read the Bible wrongly by treating it like a book of magic. If you start reading the Bible, all your problems won't mysteriously disappear. If you start carrying it in your car, it won't protect you from having a wreck. If you carry it close to your heart, it won't necessarily stop a stray bullet. There's nothing magical about the Bible. I make that point, because there are those who would use the Bible as a fortune teller uses her tarot cards, or as a good luck charm, or for some other bizarre purpose.
There was once a great statesman who, when he was sick, would eat pages out of the Bible for a cure. Eating the pages didn't seem to harm him, but it's doubtful that they did him much good either. The Bible is not a book of magic.
We must rightly read the Bible. That means to read it obediently. It is possible to read the Bible without applying it to ourselves or obeying it. That's what James was referring to. Listening, but not doing. We must read obediently, if we would read aright.
To read the Bible aright also means to read with a spirit of devotion or worship. Our attitudes toward the Bible and toward God, as revealed in Christ, go together. If we love Christ, we will love reading about him. Imagine Laura Eccles when John is out to sea. When she gets a letter from him, does she leave it unopened collecting dust on the shelf? Of course not! On the way back to the house from the mailbox, she has probably already torn open the envelope to read her beloved's words.
Reading the Bible helps us lift our gaze from our circumstances to Christ. We all go through difficult times. This is when the Bible becomes our best friend. Charles Stanley tells a story about a time in his ministry when he was really struggling - lots of opposition, lots of conflict of all sorts. In the midst of this turmoil, an elderly member of his church invited him to her apartment for lunch. Stanley hesitated. It was a busy time, and he was reluctant to go. He didn't know if she was going to preach him a sermon or what. She could tell he was hesitant and said, "Son, you need to come."
Finally, he agreed. He met her downstairs at the retirement community where she lived. They had lunch there, and then rode the elevator to her apartment. Entering the apartment, she said, "Now son, I don't want you to sit down. I want to show you something." She took him to a place in her living room. There she had a picture of Daniel in the lion's den hanging up on the wall.
She said, "Son, I just want you to look at this picture and tell me what you see." Stanley looked at the picture and saw that all the lions had their mouths closed and some of them were lying down there. Daniel was standing with his hands behind him looking up at this red light coming into the prison. Stanley told the older lady everything he knew to tell her. He told her all about Daniel and the lions and the bones. She asked, "Anything else, son?" He said, "No, ma'am." She put her arm around him and said, "Son, what I want you to see is, Daniel doesn't have his eyes on the lions, but on Christ."
Charles Stanley goes on to say that was the greatest message he could receive at that time in his life. Daniel wasn't looking at the lions. Daniel was looking at Christ. God's Word helps us do that.
Bible reading is an act of worship. We are not just opening the Word selfishly to find what we can discover for ourselves, we are giving honor to God as revealed in his Son in the flesh. The Bible is the grand story of salvation in Jesus, promised and fulfilled. When we, as Christians, ignore the Word of Christ, we dishonor Christ.
John 5:39 (NKJV) "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Notice that it doesn't say, "Know Scripture." It says, "Let Scripture dwell in you." The word "dwell" is from the Greek word enoikeo, which means: "to inhabit one and influence him." Scripture is to be the dominate influence on your thinking. When we, as Christians, ignore the Word of Christ, we dishonor Christ.
I said that we may not be reading the Bible because when we did try to read it, we did not find much of a blessing in reading. That may come because we treated the Bible like a book of magic and ripped passages out of context. We may not have read obediently and devotionally.
I want to go on now and suggest some hints for improved Bible reading and study as we read obediently and devotionally.
The first suggestion is just to read, Just Plain Read. Or as Nike would say, "Just Do It!" Read regularly and read long sections. We spend a lot of time reading papers and magazines. How many people do you know that turn on the TV and just watch it for five minutes and then turn it off? Regular, systematic reading is best. We find it hard to get into that habit. That is one of the reasons that I have suggested the Daily Walk magazine. It will take you through the whole Bible in a year. This tool can be very helpful, because it will give you a plan; each day you will know what you are to read. It adds background and history along with devotional thought that will stimulate and encourage you. If you do not have a Bible reading plan, I strongly suggest subscribing to the Daily Walk.
The second suggestion is to Read with Humility. Don't read looking for proof of your favorite doctrine. Don't read looking for verses to give to others. Read to receive. For many of us, this is the hardest step of all. We think we know it all already. We need to come like an empty cup. Read to learn more about the God who loves you and sent His Son to die in order to pay your sin debt. Before we read, we should pray:
Psalms 119:18 (NKJV) Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.
Third suggestion: Read in a Translation That You Understand. There is good reason for reading the Bible in modern translations. We must read to understand. An older translation such as King James' English, as beautiful as it is, can be a barrier to understanding. A little girl lost her front teeth and it caused her to talk with a lisp. One day her grandmother was reading to her from her King James version of the Bible. She read such words as `sayeth' and `hath' and `doth' and so on. After a while, the little girl exclaimed, "So God had his teeth out, too!" There's nothing like reading the word in a modern translation to put the teeth back into the Word.
My fourth suggestion is to Read the Bible Existentially. What I mean by this is that we should get passionately and personally involved in what we read. Put yourself in the place of the characters that you are reading about. I was reading last week about Samson. As I read, I was thinking, "What was it like to fight 1,000 men and win? What was he thinking when he told Delilah the secret of his strength?" As I read about the Levite whose concubine was raped in Gibeah, I grew angry.
Judges 19:25-28 (NKJV) But the men would not heed him. So the man took his concubine and brought her out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until morning; and when the day began to break, they let her go. 26 Then the woman came as the day was dawning, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her master was, till it was light. 27 When her master arose in the morning, and opened the doors of the house and went out to go his way, there was his concubine, fallen at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold. 28 And he said to her, "Get up and let us be going." But there was no answer. So the man lifted her onto the donkey; and the man got up and went to his place.
Notice what he said to his concubine who had been gang raped, "Get up and let us be going." What kind of a man is this? Did he not care about this woman at all? This is one cold hearted individual. The Scripture says that a righteous man even cares about his animals:
Proverbs 12:10 (GWT) A righteous person cares <even> about the life of his animals, but the compassion of wicked people is <nothing but> cruelty.
I would say, that based upon this verse, that the Levite was a wicked man. If you read the Bible existentially, this man has to get you upset. In order to read like this, you have to be thinking about what you read. It is possible to read, to let the words flow through our eyes or even through our minds without thinking at all. Read and put your self in their sandals. You should read with a pen. If you find a verse you like, underline it or put a star in the margin. If there is something you don't understand, put a question mark in the margin. If it reminds you of another verse, jot that down. If you sense an application, make note of it.
My fifth suggestion is to Memorize verses that stand out to you as you read. Now, some of us find it easier to memorize than others, but we all can commit some things to memory. I think that as we memorize, we are fulfilling the command to "Let Christ dwell in us richly."
Psalms 119:11 (NKJV) Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!
Deuteronomy 6:6 (NKJV) "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
I think that memorization helps us fulfill these verses. I would suggest that everyone do some memorization..This is not just something for children. Jacob DeShazer was a volunteer gunner on one of the planes that struck Japan in April 1942. His plane dropped its bombs, then ran into difficulty and crashed. Jacob DeShazer parachuted into Japanese-held country, where he was held captive for 40 horrible months. He was brutalized, he was deprived, and he was terrified in every possible way.
However, as the war started turning against the Japanese, the prison camps became somewhat more humane. Some of the guards were more sympathetic. They started giving the prisoners vitamins and medical treatment, better food and books, including the Bible.
DeShazer was one of those fortunate enough to have a Bible. As he read and reread and memorized, he experienced a profound change in his life. He found both his thinking and his behavior altered as the word became a part of him. He no longer hated his guards, even though some of them still brutalized him. His fear of torture fled. He experienced God's presence in his life. His Bible became a source of meaning and hope and comfort and truth. This is the proper use of the Bible.
As a sixth suggestion, I would encourage you to Use Study Tools. Some of you have study Bibles with notes and comments on the bottom of each page. Those can be helpful, but you have to remember that these notes and comments are not the Bible. Every once in a while, someone will say something like this, "Well, my Bible says," and they go on to read a comment from a footnote in their study Bible. Such notes and comments are not inspired and infallible like the Bible text itself. They are someone's comments.
They may be true. They may be misleading. We must not confuse our Bible study
tools with the Bible. I would suggest that every home should have the following three Bible study tools: A concordance, Bible dictionary, and a book on hermeneutics.
Knowing how important it is, and that we ought to read the Bible, is no good unless we actually do so. As the New Year quickly approaches, I would ask you to commit yourself to regular reading of God's Word in 2001. Depending upon your reading speed, you should be able to read through the Bible in one year by reading about 15 minutes each day.
Now you say, "I don't have time." Really, you have no time for God? We have time for what we feel is important, and what we enjoy. We have time for what we want to do. To say, "I don't have time" is to say, "In my scheme of life, God is just not important enough."
Are you willing to commit yourself to read through the entire Bible in 2001? In spite of all our religious activities, for many of us the Bible is a side issue. We will never know real joy if we only have a one minute God, one minute devotions, one minute prayers, and only attend one hour worship services on Sunday morning. Christians must be people of the book. Everyone is to be a Bible reader.