Reading the Bible has been called a ‘means of grace.’ For the Christian, it is both a privilege and duty. When people focus on the duty but misapprehend the privilege, discouragement is swift to follow.
Why do you read the Bible?
The idea Christians must read the Bible is common knowledge within the Christian community. However, it is the experience of this author that many Christians have trouble articulating why they should.
Can you answer that question?
To the satisfaction of others?
To your own satisfaction?
If you can, how well does your answer sustain your efforts? Do you struggle to take time regularly to read your Bible? If you struggle, you are in good company as many faithful Christians do. This author does.
So, right up front we have two fundamental “why” questions we need to answer before we get into the hows and wherefores: one theoretical to explain the habit, the other existential, as relates to motivation.
For many Christians, I fear the answer to both questions is the same common, but incorrect answer: “The Bible says to do it, so I am supposed to do it.”
Why is this incorrect? Does the Bible say to do it?
In fact, yes, the Bible’s own testimony places knowing the scriptures as fundamental and right, even commanded. It does so in both Testaments, Old and New. See for yourself:
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV)
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Even a quick reading of these three passages reveals God’s concern for our comprehension and exposure to his Word.
The Deuteronomy passage uses references to putting scripture up all over the place, particularly the body. The purpose is to show how much God wants the scripture to penetrate our hearts and minds.
The 2 Timothy passage tells us all Scripture is valuable because it is God breathed. That means all of scripture issues forth from God, it is his, and is therefore true and holy.
Paul lists a slew of great uses for scripture, but it is all God breathed. More on that in a moment.
1 Peter is less direct, but the context is the believer under duress, being asked to give a reason for his/her faith, and the hope that is in them.
Can you explain the gospel to the soldier holding a loaded gun to your head? What about at your execution for conversion to Christianity?
Peter is commending his Christian audience to be ready within such a context. Their daily reality was life or death persecution. While that was roughly 2000 years ago, Peter’s call to be ready has lost none of its weight, even for those of us free from such severe persecution.
So it is valuable. Still, what is my motivation?
Why read it?
If you answer that question with the imperative of “because I am supposed to,” you have missed the point.
An imperative is a command. The command to read, study and know scripture is either directly or indirectly present in all three passages given above. However, the command is not the justification for obedience, it is what obedience looks like. It is meant as guidance only. Relying on the command to motivate you will only wear you out because motivation comes from somewhere else.
Where is the motivation to read the Bible?
In the military, a soldier trains to be ready, and a good soldier takes training seriously. The question is not whether you are going to use the training soon but that you are a soldier, and by definition, you are to be ever ready. That is your identity: soldier. This is doing because of identity and action that flows out of identity is at the heart of these three verses.
All three passages are written to God’s people. The original audiences were varied, being separated by time and space. Their IDENTITY as God’s people was the common thread uniting them all. They were his children, and by implication, He was and is their Father.
So the command to know scripture, to let it penetrate your heart through constant exposure and deliberate study is a constant theme throughout the whole of scripture. You are supposed to know your faith so well, the cold press of a gun barrel fails to silence its message—that imperative command is built upon the foundation of Identity in and with God.
Reading the Bible for duty’s sake misses the point of all three passages. It is a reason, but lacks sustaining power. When times are hard, duty will be a burden you long to put down. It may even break your back. You need more than an “I told you to” when the going is rough.
Our call to be students of the Word is built on the Christian’s identity as an adopted son or daughter of God. Family tradition demand we know scripture like Jesus did. If you are a Christian, an authentic life requires regular reading and study of the scriptures as much as being human requires sleep, oxygen and vitamins.
Why Read the Bible? Authenticity
Authenticity demands you be true to your identity and reading the bible is authentic to the Christian identity.
Christians should read the Bible because knowing His Word is required to know ourselves and our heritage. This is where it all connects with the scriptures being God breathed (2 Timothy 3:14-17). God is our Father and we should be about the family business. To do this we must know who he says he is and what he says about us. The Bible is your best repository of such things.
If this is true, how should we go about reading the Bible? Is there a proper way or will any way do as well as another? How do you maximize your Bible reading?
These questions and more will occupy the next installment of this series.
NOTE: This is the first post of a series on reading the Bible.