It sometimes seems like ours and the upcoming generations have a sort of in-built ADD that recoils at reading anything longer than 140 characters. One concern these days is that people, and especially the younger generations, are less and less inclined to engage in deep thought and have albeit lost the skill of critical thinking and basic logic. Instead we’ve become a church and society that is satisfied with “sound bite theology”, or what I’d call “bumper sticker theology”, rather than really desiring to get into the meat of the Word. I realize I’m broad brushing here, and don’t think I’m implying that everyone is this way, but bear with me a little… if we really believe the bible to be the Word of God himself and have a love for it – should we not be careful and passionate to truly understand what He’s saying to us?
2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to, “…do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” So there is some work to be done when reading and handling God’s word!
Why this disconnect?
I certainly don’t see this in the Psalms… Speaking of one who is blessed, it says “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2 ESV)
In Psalm 119:16 it says, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
And Psalm 119:47-48, “for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”
Nor can I see this anywhere else in the commands pertaining to the handling of God’s word… “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it…” (Joshua 1:8a ESV)
In fact, in light of much of the testimony of scripture about our attitude toward God’s word, I see it making 1-2 hour sermons seem inadequate—as the meditation on the Word is something to be done day and night! And should not the exposition of such eternal themes not warrant appropriate time to expound the timeless? (Perhaps this is humorously illustrated in Acts 20 where Paul preaches so long that a young man falls asleep on the windowsill, falls to his death – so Paul goes down, raises him from the dead, then continues preaching until morning! Hah!) The question then has to be asked – if we truly “delight” in the Word of God, why are we so unable to endure any sort of extended period of biblical study, preaching or reading? Have we truly delighted in His full Word? Or do we just like finding cute catch phrases that look good on status updates, coffee mugs and duck-faced mirror selfies?
So what has brought us here?
Memes. I know – that may sound funny – but we have somewhat become a meme-culture, forming a lot of our opinions on clever one-liners… We were once a microwave society, not being able to wait for even 2 mins for a hot pocket, emails replaced ‘snail mail’, now we’re fast becoming people who’s concept of communication is limited to a 140 character tweet… No longer do jokes have a story – now they are simply a one liner meme – and even worse – it has to be illustrated by a picture also to keep our attention lest we get distracted halfway by the bazillion other things crying for our attention! Culture now is far too accustomed to push button results, the efficiency and instant gratification of modern conveniences has produced in all of us an impatience to struggle through something which we cannot instantly understand.
It is a sort of aversion to hard work and this spills over into our unwillingness to labour in the faith. It is an inability to slow down, put away the busy (and often unnecessary) distractions to quiet our souls and feast on the Word. If God’s word is our daily bread – for sure some are voluntarily malnourished – but beyond that, why would we only take nibbles? I too have fallen before to this tendency to be lazy with the Word of God and be satisfied with a sound bite that ‘tickles my itching ear’. Or to think that by reading a verse or two, or even a chapter that I’ve ticked off something on my ‘spiritual checklist’ and earned some sort of merit bible brownie points – oh how quickly we fall from grace back to works of the law! The appeal to trifle with the Word is very real and pervasive indeed.
Gone are the days where sermons are at least an hour or two long… nope – Mr. Preacher – you have exactly 20 mins to explain this concept which men have written volumes on so you can get me out of here on time to catch the game after church and get back to my other distractions I use to rob myself of true joy… (Now I’m not arguing for inordinately long services) but make no mistake, this culture has dug us into the attention deficit of which we are currently paying off in the debt of poor theology and doctrine. We’ve traded deep theological truth with shallow bumper-sticker slogans or maybe even worse… we have “claimed to be wise, and instead become fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images we’ve concocted in our own minds.” (Romans 1:22) The price we pay is true joy in exchange for fleeting pleasure.
So why the alarm here?
Why is this so dangerous? So what if I take a verse I like and post it up? If it encourages me, lifts my spirits or makes me feel better – what’s the harm if it’s a little out of context?
Well – for starters – realize that that sequence of objections was very heavily ‘me-centric’. Also – if your theology is primarily comprised of these sound bites and clichéd catch phrases – it will not have the depth required to stand firm against any real storm. The truth is; I am less concerned about your immediate happiness as I am about your lasting joy! I understand that cute catchy phrases are easier to remember than a huge passage and may serve a purpose in helping things stick, however I think this quote from Richard Beck says it well:
“In sum, sound-bite theology is meeting a need: Copying fidelity. But the problem is also clear: A sound-bite theology is good for transmission but it isn’t good for theological reflection. Sound-bite theology is spiritually and intellectually impoverished. Which means that loads of people are trying to solve or confront deep issues in their lives with a theology that amounts to a slogan.” [Richard Beck, experimentaltheology.blogspot.ca]
Every text has a context and it is important to understand the context in which a particular verse is set. As we know, anything can be taken out of context and made to seem to say whatever we want it to. One of the main problems with settling for sound-bite theology is that our hearts are naturally given to corruption. We have in us a sin nature, an inner rebellion which we are constantly struggling with even as believers (see Romans 7). And as such, our tendency hasn’t changed since the Fall – where the Serpent tempts, “did God really say…” and we foolishly want to redefine good and evil for ourselves, biting of that forbidden fruit. To put it bluntly, by ripping a verse out of context and twisting it to say something else – we are actually doing the same thing the Devil did in Matthew 4 when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. How many times have you heard people quote Matthew 7:1 out of context – “judge not lest ye be judged”? (And for some reason in the King James Version always) There’s a context to that, and we best be prepared to know how to respond to such misuses. Paul Washer says it this way, “People tell me judge not lest ye be judged. I always tell them, twist not scripture lest ye be like satan.”
In 1 Corinthians 2:14 it says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” God’s Word is the way by which the Spirit sanctifies our hearts—this very passage goes on to say that through this we have the “mind of Christ”. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds through the Word, not the removal of our minds by laziness!
So okay, fine. I don’t spend time to read the context—I’m not a theologian! I post one-liner verses and make them fit what I want to say. What’s the danger? Well for one, if we interpret the bible wrong—it’s actually no better than not reading or believing the bible at all! Because what we believe is not what the text is saying, but rather what we are saying and just twisting the text to support a preconceived idea. This can be somewhat humorously (somewhat tragically) illustrated by some examples of misquoted verses… I’ll use three to make my point:
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
We’ve all heard this used to promote everything from good body image and self-esteem, to knowing your worth, to what essentially ends up as self-help positive confession affirmation or worst of all – a caption on a teenage girl YOLO Instagram selfie.
The entire verse says, “I praise YOU, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are YOUR works, my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14 ESV). The focus isn’t us but by taking it out of context, we’ve twisted the thrust of the verse. Instead of pointing to our Creator and HIS glory, we use it out-of-context to draw attention to and worship ourselves—though cleverly disguised as a cultural redefinition of ‘self esteem’ but truly it is better called outright vanity. This approach is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a cultural solution with a biblical façade. The bible isn’t about you and how awesome you are, it’s about God and how everything – even you, point to HIS greatness.
Now, does this mean that we shouldn’t have some sort of healthy body image and self-perception? Absolutely we should. However, as Christians, our worth is not found primarily in ourselves—we are not self-made creatures. We are created in the image of God. However, the consistent testimony of scripture is that we’ve made it a marred image—that we are vile, rebellious, sinful, spiritually dead, haters of God by nature (Rom 3:23, Col 2:13, Eph 2:1, Rom 1:30, Rom 5:10). We not just sinned, but continually sin—and not just accidentally, but wilfully rebel against the law written on our hearts (James 1:13-15). But then the grace of God through the Cross redeems our broken image and rescues our helpless state. That’s the source of our worth—not our frailty—but the glory of God who loved us despite us, for His own sake and Who demonstrates it in that “while we were yet still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Finding self worth in any other way, is distinctively non-Christian.
“Don’t worry! God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
You are trying to encourage that person, to give them hope and strength, to inspire them to keep going. Here’s the problem… It’s not in the Bible. Yes, he does!! In fact, it would seem sometimes that’s the point!
This notion seems to be taken from I Corinthians 10:13, which says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV, emphasis mine.)
1 Corinthians promises that God will not allow us to face temptation to sin that we can’t defeat with him. It is not promising us an easy life that we can handle on our own. Again we see the problem of this misinterpretation is its inherent “me-centricism”—because it is saying God won’t give you more than YOU can handle… so then what use do you have of God? You can do it! You are strong enough… YOU… YOU… YOU. That might be okay, there’s just one tiny detail against it though—mainly being almost the entire testimony of scripture and especially the New Testament!
2 Timothy 3:12 promises us that “ALL who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (Can’t remember the last time I heard someone naming and claiming that promise! Maybe we should make some flyers and sell book & DVD set…) Romans 8:36 which quotes Psalm 44:22, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Our Lord himself told us of the hardships we’d face as His true followers (John 15:18-19, 16:33) Peter says that we “have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) It seems that for His own good purposes, God does allow things which are bigger than us to happen so that in them we can more clearly see our own insufficiency and His all-sufficiency. He allows things which are more than we can handle to drive us to total dependency on Him as both our hope for the future and strength for the present.
Am I saying that the Christian life is all doom and gloom, poverty and hunger? Obviously not—though it may be for some, and indeed it is for many! To offer shallow platitudes to someone who is truly deeply hurting is to put bandaids on a gaping wound, and without a sound ‘theology of suffering’ and true hope in Christ, they will haemorrhage out. The problem of pain in this world is one we cannot afford to offer pithy clichés, and especially not misquoted or twisted scripture. The only way we’ll have any hope of developing and growing our roots down deep in Christ to weather the storms of life is to not settle for surface readings and dig to establish ourselves firmly in the truth of His Word.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Having a hard time studying for that exam? Don’t worry – just take a little bit of Philippians 4:13! Training hard in the gym, and trying to hit a new personal lifting best? Bro, do you even 4:13? Can’t quite romance that girl you have a crush on? If you like it put a 4:13 on it!! Need that job promotion? Claim your 4:13 retirement plan!! Okay, you get the point… “SCARcastic” joking aside, (and yes that’s not a typo) there are some major problems with this use of the verse…
Before verse 13, Paul is talking about how he has learned to be content in whatever state he finds himself. He says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil 4:12 ESV) It is then he says that he can do all things through Christ—but of course, two important questions we must ask. One being, what are these “all things”, and secondly what does he mean by being “strengthened”?
To answer the first question is easy, the “all things” most naturally refer to what he was previously talking about—that in whatever situation, whether if he is living large in Lydia’s mansion, or starving to death in a Roman jail—the all things are the various situations and difficulties of life. Good or bad.
The second part may be a bit trickier to figure out, but also very clear once we understand the context. Firstly, I’d like to point out where the source of strength is clearly implied to be coming from – Christ. But what is this strengthening? Is it an empowerment to do whatever we want? Well, clearly not as we just established – the all things is referring to the joys and sufferings of life. So within the context, this strengthening is actually better to be understood as endurance. Paul is saying that, through Christ, he can endure and weather all things. That no matter what storms of life may come, Christ is His strength to face them. This is even more clearly seen if we check out the original language.
In the Greek, the phrase is “πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με” (panta ischyō en tō endynamounti me). Literally translated it would read, “I am strong for all things in the one strengthening me.” The word ἰσχύω (ischyō) – has the meaning of being strengthened, to be able to, to prevail or endure. So a plainly literal meaning can be taken to be saying, “I am able to endure all these either joyous or difficult situations I just mentioned because of the One who is strengthening me.”
Paul’s point is not that you can do anything you want just because you have Jesus, but rather that because of Him, you can endure whatever life throws at you because of the hope you have in Him! In light of what we just spoke about having a good ‘theology of suffering’ this verse rightly understood in context is invaluable. Taken within the full thrust of Paul’s thought in the letter, it would lead us to live lives of radical obedience and joyful sacrifice to God. Just look at Phil 1:21-22, 27, 29, 2:3-12, 3:7-11, 13, and 4:4-7. To miss this is to sadly miss the whole point of Paul’s letter!
Probably the saddest thing that I see from this trend to settle for “bumper sticker theology” is the utter bankruptcy of God’s truth in times of need or the development of a wayward theology that lead people into error. If someone were to take only the “happy” verses about God, they may end up with an image of a God much like Barney instead of His true nature—perfect in all his attributes—just, merciful, loving, hating evil, patient, but also wrathful against sin, etc. In effect, they’d end up not worshipping the true God, but actually an idol of their own mind, a god of their own imagination. In other instances, someone may only focus on verses that talk about obedience and the law, or sin and payment—but totally miss the fact that the Christian life should be marked by joyful exultation in all of who God is and what He has done for us.
We rob ourselves, we rob our fellow believers, we rob those who need a true message of hope when we are not diligent to discern the scriptures. But I think most sadly to me, is the loss of the joy of Christian faith. A joy not in the superficial happy sense, which comes and goes with the ebbing and flow of the emotional tides of life, but rather one rooted firmly in the unshakable truth of God’s enduring word. C.S. Lewis once said that, “joy is the serious business of Heaven.” I believe it is Christian joy that is one of the most powerful motivating and sustaining factors for faith, faithfulness, evangelism and victory over sin in believer’s life. For out of the abundance of our hearts we speak and do naturally. If we store up in our hearts God’s truth, what would pour out of us naturally would be the overflow of that and we’d struggle a lot less in trying to do the things which we don’t want to do.
I think we can sometimes profess that we believe the scriptures are sufficient and powerful, but then in practice not really live that out. We choose instead to turn to quick fixes, clichés, even church programs and events, revivals and retreats… and all of these apart from the work of the Spirit in using the Word to illuminate and ignite hearts for Him are poor substitutes which will only produce temporary behaviour modification at best and miss the true goal of heart transformation. Lewis writes in his book, The Weight of Glory that, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” We settle for the mud pies of a “bumper sticker theology” but we can’t even yet imagine the true delicacy of “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.”
So what is the remedy?
How do we rectify this tendency to shallow biblical knowledge or misinterpretation? Aside from the obvious need to pray for God to reveal truth to us and open up our eyes, I will attempt to briefly offer a few practical suggestions:
Realize the power of the Word:
Some have the false notion that the Spirit’s primary work in the believer is in signs and wonders, or shaking, or some other experience. Or that somehow what we need is not more doctrine, oh no, that stuff is too heady and boring – we need better programs, gimicks, amazing experiences and games. Don’t get me wrong – these things may have a place in the Christian life at some point… But thinking like that just shows how much we actually don’t believe in the power of the Word to wash us and transform our minds. We don’t trust that God by His Spirit moving through the preaching, study and meditation on His Word can produce in people what no amount of human striving ever could. A transformed heart.
“The Spirit inspired the Word and therefore goes where the Word goes. The more of God’s Word you know and love, the more of God’s Spirit you will experience.” (John Piper, Desiring God, pg 148) How can one then make the division that somehow more study of the Word will quench the Spirit? The fact is we greatly underestimate and under-appreciate the power of God’s Word… but you know, it only created the Universe and all – so that’s understandable… 😛
Read in context:
For the most part this means reading the books of the bible as you would any other. I don’t know why we do what we do with the bible but would never imagine to do so with any other book! We rip verses out of their natural context and quote them in isolation to say what we want them to. We don’t do that with any other books, why would we deal so strangely with the Word of God? We’ve all done it, flipped open the bible, point to a random verse and claiming it as the verse of the day. Playing bible roulette and randomly flipping to pages is not going to give you any sort of robust theology. Don’t gamble with your theology like that.
As much as possible, we should aim to read a book of the bible from beginning to end. Or at the very least, in sequence, stopping and picking up where you left off to continue the train of thought. And like other books, if that book is part of a series, you need to read the “prequels” to get the context first. Much of the bad interpretations we have today would be avoided if we simply applied the same common sense rules we do when reading other books. Sometimes I find mapping out the flow of argument, or highlighting and linking the major themes or ideas in a passage to be helpful. Journaling and making notes is invaluable. John Piper on Desiring God (also on youtube) has a great video series called “Look at the Book” which is excellent for learning how to follow the flow of a text.
Now, given, the bible is a book unlike all others – and especially so because we are unacquainted with some of its ancient context. However, this is where the command in 2 Timothy 2:15, to study to show ourselves approved to God—rightly discerning the Word, comes in. Sometimes, bible study takes work! Sometimes it takes hard work. But, like a miner digging for gold—we too are plundering the depths of God’s Word for a reward which far outweighs precious metals and jewels. So sometimes you will have to consult good commentaries and other resources to properly understand a text. With today’s information age – we really have no excuse other than our own laziness.
Let the bible read you:
This isn’t some Zen Buddhist bible reading technique… I simply mean that we are to submit ourselves to the clear teaching of the Word. To do so, we approach it with no agenda, but simply to see what is plainly there and then to follow and respond to that. Sometimes that may be take a little work to understand what it is saying, but our goal should always be to discern that and submit to it. A lot of times people can use the bible to proof text what they already have in their minds instead of allowing the text to speak for itself and change our minds!
The best way to avoid this is as I just discussed – to follow the natural flow of the text and read it as a whole. In this way, the text controls the message and not us. This is why exegetical preaching is the most effective way of communicating the truth of God – because it helps to avoid the minister injecting his own ideas and allows the text to control the message, and thus to allow the Spirit to speak through it more clearly.
One interpretation, many applications:
I’ve often heard people say, “well this is what this verse means to me.” Or, “well, that’s your interpretation.” However, this is a very post-modern approach to truth and really resembles more of secular relativism than anything remotely Christian. Avoid allegory – don’t read things in that aren’t there in the text. Also understand, what I’m NOT arguing for is some ethereal, disconnected “deeper meaning” to the text that isn’t actually there. Sometimes we see people playing around with Bible Codes and all sorts of weird and novel ways to extract some “hidden” message from the Bible via extraneous manipulation of the text. This mystical reading of the Word really has its roots in Gnosticism and is not Christian. This is not true bible study. What I mean is to simply understand what is plainly written and intended by the author to be understood. Often times the simplest reading should be the preferred reading.
The bible has an intended message. The authors wrote in coherent sentences, building a line of thought and argument to convince us of a specific truth. It is not a mess of haphazardly put together phrases with no intended meaning like a top-20 pop song. It is our duty then to extract the meaning the author had when he wrote – not what we want to get out of it. For those who take a post-modern approach to reading the bible, the mere fact that we are even discussing this shows that we believe there is some specific meaning in the text, otherwise why bother? Understand that the danger of saying that the bible’s meaning is all up for subjective interpretation (which really isn’t interpretation in a true sense, it would more be ascribing meaning) is to demolish any hope of a Christian truth claim since then on what grounds would you argue for the truth of the Gospel message?
Now, though there may only be one correct interpretation – I do believe there could be many right applications. This is because a lot of the bible teaches us principles which we can then apply to our lives, or that tell us something about who God is in how He has acted in history. There are many different genres of literature in the bible, and not everything is prescriptive (for example, David sleeping with Bathsheba and killing Uriah). Some of the bible is simply descriptive – and it is pretty easy for us to recognize this. We know the difference between a narrative or story and a recipe. Similarly, there are many other genres like poetry, prophesy, biographies, letters, etc. and we have to be aware of the genre we’re reading so that we can read it properly. So while there may be one correct interpretation of what the bible is saying, how that is played out practically in our lives as we try to apply the principles we learn may look different depending on the circumstances. For example, the way the application of the Great Commission might play out in my life may be to go on long term missions somewhere. However, in your life – it could just mean being a faithful witness in the business, school or neighbourhood you’re already in. The point is that we’re both fulfilling the principle, which is to make disciples.
Read in community:
The Christian life was not meant to be lived in isolation – and in fact we open ourselves up to false doctrine and interpretation apart from the correcting influence of the body of Christ. “Wisdom is established in a multitude of counsellors.” (Prov 15:22) Because we are all fallen and flawed people, we will err no matter how hard we try to be faithful. However, not everyone errs in the same way – and being involved in communally reading the bible will help open us to correction from others who will more clearly see the log in our own eyes. Be part of a community that loves the Lord and takes His Word seriously.
Check with how passages of scripture have been historically understood by faithful men of God. We should be very weary of new and innovative interpretation of scripture. If that is not how the church over history has understood the text, it is quite possible we’re wrong. See how other bible scholars have interpreted it – not everyone needs to be a bible scholar, and with the abundance of books and information online, we don’t have to be. Much of the early Church Fathers and the great men of God from the Reformation and other periods of times past are available online for free! No need to reinvent the wheel. So watch out for novel interpretations.
God is speaking to us through His Word. It is curious the pairing of words by Jesus in Matthew 22:31, “have you not read what God said to you…” We would expect it to say, have you not read what was written to you? But he says, have you not heard – what was said to you (speaking of the scriptures). So it is clear that our Lord regarded the written Word of God to be also the voice of God in a believer’s life. It is our task to make sure we hear Him rightly. We can sometimes hear of people running around to this and that – looking for a ‘word from the Lord’. We want to know that God is present, involved and communicating with us. However, you wonder why you feel like God isn’t talking to you? You want to know what God is saying to you? You need to be in His Word and in a community that seeks to understand His Word. Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together… (Hebrews 10:25)
Look for the joy:
George Mueller writes in his autobiography about something which was life-changing for him in his morning devotions. He discovered that, “the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord… how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished…” He did this by not just reading the word, but meditating on it. Slowing down, and allowing it to comfort, encourage, warn, reprove, instruct and rebuke him and thus, he was brought into an experiential communion with God on his mornings.
Something important to note, especially for those who are in ministry is this,
“the first thing I did . . . was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul.”
This is not self-improvement, but feasting one’s soul at the banquet of God. We are commanded to “delight yourself in the Lord.” (Psalm 37:4) Joy in the Lord is not optional for the Christian – it is essential!
This is why the Kingdom of Heaven is described as a man finding a treasure and selling all that he has IN HIS JOY! Joy is littered all throughout the scriptures. A holy delight is not just a suggestion, and the scriptures are the kindling for that fire of passion to burn bright. Norman Fiering puts it this way, “Disinterested love to God is impossible because the desire for happiness is intrinsic to all willing or loving whatsoever, and God is the necessary end of the search for happiness. Logically one cannot be disinterested about the source or basis of all interest.”
Psalm 19:8, 119:16, 119:111, Jeremiah 15:16, John 15:11 and many others make it an imperative for us to pursue joy in the Word. To not do so is to abandon the revealed will of God, which is also called sin. It follows from all this that it is impossible that anyone can pursue happiness with too much passion and zeal for the Word. This pursuit to make oneself happy in the Lord is not sin. Sin is pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found (Jeremiah 2:12-13), or pursing it in the right direction, but with lukewarm, half-hearted affections (Revelation 3:16). To say that we love God without loving His Word as well is to lie. Jonathan Edwards puts it this way in his famous book, Religious Affections, “Holy affections are not heat without light, but ever more arise from some information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge.”
So what’s my end goal here? It’s not to brow beat some people because they aren’t spending 10 hours a day studying the Greek parsing on a passage of scripture. It’s not even to make you feel guilty for not reading enough! (Though, I think we could probably all use a little nudge from time to time.) My end goal (as it should be for anyone who preaches or teaches the Word) is ultimately to redirect you to the Word of God, and to seeing and savouring it rightly. To see the folly of a “bumper sticker theology” and even the inherent dangers—and hopefully to inspire you to deeper understanding and resulting conviction from God’s Word.
Most of all, I hope that you would—along with countless other saints before—find your delight in His Word and ultimately in Him. Because, “An holy love and hope are principles that are vastly more efficacious upon the heart, to make it tender… than a slavish fear of hell.” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, p.360.) There is no stronger motivating factor than a heart which is enraptured by the truth of God’s Word, because to delight in Him is to delight in the things He loves, and to naturally do the things he delights in. Our pleasure and His become intertwined as we are conformed more to His image.
“God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.”
(Jonathan Edwards, Miscellanies no 448, p. 133)
Not wanting to just rant and not leave you with some resources – here are a few links and book titles to get you started on deepening your study of the Word. Don’t become overwhelmed that you will never get through all of this – every journey begins with one step. This one will take all of us who are serious about God’s Word the rest of our lives. I pray you’ll be blessed…
John Piper’s Look at the Book video series.
How to Study Your Bible: Interpretation – Audio Sermon by John MacArthur
http://www.desiringgod.org/ – for tons of resources, articles, and book suggestions by John Piper and his team.
http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/ – a wonderful library of videos, blogs, articles, editorials, books and media. All well written by studied and faithful men of God.
Mastered by the Book – Good video discussion on biblical authority and interpretation with Don Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller.
http://biblehub.com/ – great online tool for studying the bible. Get commentaries, Greek & Hebrew lexicons, interlinears, and more.
Truth Endures – YouTube channel – A good resource for some solid preaching of the word to accompany your own personal study.
Book for preachers – “Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching” by Mohler, Piper and Sproul.