Friday, March 18, 2011


By Pastor Bruce Oyen

There is a great deal of emphasis on Bible reading among Christians, but they need guidance in how to profit from Bible reading. That is what I hope to provide with this article. May the Lord bless it to that end.
1.) WHEN READING THE BIBLE, INTERPRET IT LITERALLY WHENEVER POSSIBLE.When we read the Bible with this in mind, we will discover that it should be interpreted this way quite frequently, unless there is good reason to interpret it non-literally.
Therefore, when we read Genesis 1:1’s statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” there is no reason to think it means other than just what it says. It does not mean God evolved the heavens and the earth. It does not mean they evolved on their own. It means God created the heavens and the earth.
Moreover, when we read the Bible this way, we will take literally the events recorded in the book of Jonah. This is not to be understood as a fable, as C. S. Lewis, in his book, GOD IN THE DOCK, would have us believe. Rather, Jonah was a literal man who was swallowed by a literal great fish that literally vomited him out on dry land, and he literally lived to tell about his time of prayer and repentance in that fish’s belly.
Often, the context of what is being read will indicate if something is to be understood literally or figuratively. The contexts of the preceding examples indicate they are to be understood literally.
But the context of something in 2 Kings 14:8 - 12 indicates that figurative speech is used in verse 8, which says, “The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trode down the thistle.” It is obvious that King Jehoash spoke of himself as the cedar to whom King Amaziah, represented by the thistle, sent a message. Merrill Unger’s commentary on these verses is noteworthy: “In his hearty rebuff Jehoash was both the cedar and the wild beast that trampled down the thistle.”
Remember to interpret the Bible literally as you read it, unless the context indicates it should be interpreted figuratively. You will profit more, if you do so.
2. TO PROFIT MORE FROM BIBLE READING, READ IT COMPLETELY.Size-wise, the Bible is not a very large book, even in giant print. Many novels and biographies are longer than the Bible. Even so, many Christians have not read the Bible completely. Instead, favorite verses, chapters and books are read and re-read. These might include 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18, Romans 8, the book of Psalms, and the Gospel of John.
There is nothing wrong with re-reading favorite parts of the Bible, but we should not neglect the rest of it. If you have not read it from cover-to-cover, you have missed many of its treasures.
Amos R. Wells wrote a poem about this very subject. It is called, “ Read The Bible Through.” Part of it is given here:

I supposed I knew the Bible, reading piece-meal, hit or miss;
Now a bit of John or Matthew, now a snatch of Genesis.
Certain chapters of Isaiah, certain Psalms--the twenty-third!
Twelfth of Romans, first of Proverbs. Yes, I thought I knew the Word!

But I found that thorough reading was a different thing to do,
And the way was unfamiliar when I read the Bible through.
You who like to play at Bible, dip and dabble, here and there,
Just before you kneel a-weary, and yawn through a hurried prayer,

You who treat the Crown of Writings, as you treat no other book,--
Just a paragraph disjointed, just a crude, impatient look.
Try a worthier procedure, try a broad and steady view;
You will kneel in very rapture, when you read the Bible through.
As we think about reading the Bible completely, let me challenge you to try doing so once a year. This can be done by reading four chapters a day. If you read at a consistently-moderate speed without taking time to ponder what is read, it won’t take long to read four chapters a day. Then, go back and think over something that got your attention while reading the chapters.
3. CONSIDER THE IMPORTANCE OF READING THE BIBLE REVERENTLY.Reverent Bible reading is the direct result of believing the Bible to be God’s Word. The Divine authorship of the Scriptures sets them apart from all other books, making them “the holy Scriptures.” In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul said Timothy had known “the holy Scriptures” since he was a child. Romans 1:2 refers to the gospel, which God “had promised afore by his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” Yes, they are "the Holy Scriptures."
Nehemiah 8:5 & 6 illustrates reverence for the Bible by the fact that, when it was read to others they stood at attention. Isaiah 66:2 tells us God said, “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my Word.”
I am not suggesting that we must stand when the Bible is read in church services just because those persons did so. Nor am I suggesting that we must literally tremble in the presence of the Bible. These statements from Scripture simply underscore the importance of heart-felt reverence for the Word of God.
John Burton, Sr. lived from 1773 - 1822. His reverence for the Bible as God’s Word has become known through his poem, “Holy Bible Book Divine.” The first nine words of the poem are, “Holy Bible, Book divine, precious treasure, thou art mine.”
May God help us to read His Word with such reverence as Burton had!
Reverence and humility go together, but are not the same. We should read the Bible humbly because it is God’s Word, not ours. The Thessalonians were commended for having received the Gospel in the manner they did. This is recorded in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, which says, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
We need to read the Bible humbly because, being God’s infallible Word, it contradicts much of our own reasoning. We need to adjust our opinions to it, rather than adjust it to our opinions. As we read Scripture, let us keep in mind Isaiah 55:8 & 9, in which God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Humble readers of God’s Word do a number of things, including the following: They will accept its condemnation of premarital, extramarital and homosexual behavior. They will accept its teaching that the only way to God and salvation is through the Lord Jesus Christ. They will accept its moral absolutes, and reject moral relativism. They will acknowledge that God and His Word are their final authority in life, not human reason.
King Josiah had his faults like the rest of us. But he is an example of one who humbled himself to the Word of God when it was read to him. 2 Kings 22:11 says, “And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.” Having learned how far his people had strayed from the will of God, the king reacted in an extreme way by tearing his clothes. We don’t need to tear our clothes, but we would do well to humble ourselves to the Word of God as he did.
The word “expect” means to “to look forward to as certain or probable.” So, to read Scripture expectantly is to read it with the expectation that it will speak to us in some way.
If an envelope comes in the mail, we open it with the expectation that it will contain a message for us. When we open the Bible, we should do so with the same attitude.
But what should we expect it to say to us? 2 Timothy 3;16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine (teaching) for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” So, we should look for those things when we read the Word of God.
However, we can expect other things from the Scriptures, too. Romans 15:4 refers to “the comfort of the Scriptures.”
It tells us God’s plan for the future in places such as Matthew 24 and 25, 2 Peter 3, and, of course, the Book of Revelation.
Many a Christian man on his deathbed has turned expectantly to Psalm 23 to find consolation from the verse that says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
Many a Christian mother with a wayward child has turned expectantly for strength to Jeremiah 33:3, which says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.”
The prophet Daniel is a good example of one who read the Bible with expectation, and in this case with the expectation that God’s promises would be fulfilled. He and his people had been deported from Israel to Babylon as a punishment for the nation Israel’s sins. This deportation was to last 70 years, according to Jeremiah 25:11. Daniel 9:2 tells us the prophet knew the 70 years were almost up, so he went to God in prayer about it all, expecting God to bring the Jews back to their homeland.
Isaiah 55:11 applies to our subject. It says, “So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Therefore, read the Bible expectantly!
By reading the Bible dependently, I mean we look to others for help in understanding it.
First and foremost, we are dependent on God to help us understand His own Book. The writer of Psalm 119 felt his dependence on God, as his prayers in the following verses reveal. Verse 18: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Verse 34: “Give me understanding and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” Verse 73: “Give me understanding that I may learn thy commandments.”
Though infallible understanding does not come to us in answer to prayer, we surely are helped by it.
Not only can we turn to the Lord for help in understanding His Word. We can seek help from others as well, even though they are not infallible guides. Those who refuse help from others in their study of the Scriptures often end up more confused than anyone else.
All honest persons can relate to what we read in Acts 8 about the conversation between Philip the evangelist and the Ethiopian eunuch. While the Ethiopian read a portion from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, the evangelist asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian answered, “How can I except some man should guide me?” So, the evangelist helped the man understand that the prophet had written about the Lord Jesus Christ, and it would seem he helped the man put his faith in Jesus to be saved.
Where might we turn for help in understanding the Bible, other than directly to God in prayer? To Bible dictionaries and commentaries by reputable Bible scholars. Unger’s Bible Dictionary is well-known. William MacDonald‘s Bible Believer‘s Commentary is a favorite of many readers. The Ryrie Study Bible is valuable. Of course, pastors, friends, and other literature can be helpful.
All these resources combined will help keep us from going too far wrong as we work our way through the Bible.
What should we look for as we read the Bible? Let me say, don’t so much look for a “what” as for a “who,” and that “who” is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible truly is a Christ-centered Book. Most Christians know the New Testament is centered on Him. But so is the Old Testament. Jesus Christ himself taught this, as the following quotes of the Lord’s own words prove. In each case, He was referring to the Old testament writings. In John 5:39 He said, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” In John 5:46 He said, “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me.” In Luke 18:31 He said to the twelve disciples, “All things that are written by prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.” Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he (Jesus) expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” In Luke 24:44 we read, “And he (Jesus) said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms , concerning me.” This last verse refers to the whole Old Testament in the three main divisions by which it was known to the Jews in the Lord’s day: law, prophets, psalms.
So, what learn from these verses is the Lord considered himself to be central to the Old Testament. Let us, then, look for Him as we read the Bible.
Others saw Jesus in the Old Testament, too. In John 1:45 we are told, “Philip findeth Nathaniel and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.”
We previously considered the conversation in Acts 8 between Philip the evangelist and the Ethiopian eunuch, in which Philip helped the Ethiopian understand what he was reading in the Old Testament. In Acts 8;35 we read the following significant statement: “And he (Philip) preached unto him (the Ethiopian) Jesus.” He did this from the Old Testament!
When in college, one of the teachers traveled a lot to preach in Bible conferences. He told us students that it seemed no matter where the conference was held, a certain man, whom some of us students knew, would be present. That is the way it is with the Bible: Jesus Christ will be present, whether we are reading the Old Testament or the New Testament. So, when reading the Bible we should look for Jesus.
8. THE BIBLE SHOULD BE READ OBEDIENTLY.The Bible has a message for both non-Christians and Christians. Its message for non-Christians is found in verse such as Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” It is also found in John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son (Jesus Christ) hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Yes, the Bible has a message for non-Christians. But most of it is directed toward those who are Christians. It is primarily God’s Book for God’s people. It informs us about the future. It comforts us in sorrow. It tells us what we should believe, and it lays great emphasis on how Christians should behave.
Consequently, the Bible should be read with obedient hearts if we are to profit from it. In fact, it seems that the Bible is a closed Book to Christians with closed hearts. While we might open it covers to read it, its message falls flat if we are not intent on following it truths. A. W. Tozer wisely said, “For truth to be understood, it must be lived.” The writer of Psalm 119 understood this principle, for he said in verse 11, “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” He knew it was not good enough to simply store the Word in his memory. It had to be hid in the heart.
King Josiah set a good example of reading the Bible obediently. Note what is said about him in 2 Kings 23:2 & 3: “…he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.”
Let us emulate King Josiah by applying to daily living what we read in the Word of God. If we do so, it will be in great contrast to some the prophet Ezekiel preached to. Ezekiel 33:31 tells us God said of those persons, “And they come unto thee (Ezekiel) as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.”
By reading the Bible logically, I mean reading its 66 individual books and letters as units, chapter-by-chapter. This is superior to reading a few verses here one day, and a few verses there another day. When we read the Bible’s books and letters as units, we get each one’s over-all subject matter fixed in our minds. In other words, we get the big picture. This especially true after repeated readings.
Each book or letter of the Scriptures has its own logical progression, which can only be seen by reading it in its entirety, preferably in a relatively short period of time so we see the big picture sooner.
While it is better to use the hop, skip and jump method of Bible reading than to not read it at all, we will profit much more if we read it in the logical way presented here.
This does not mean we must start with Genesis, the Bible’s first book, and read until we finish with Revelation, the Bible’s last book, like we would read a biography from cover-to cover. It means that we read entire Biblical books and letters, even if we alternate back and forth from the Old Testament to the New Testament. So, one might first read Genesis, and then read Matthew, working eventually all the way through the Bible, and then starting the process all over.
There are some strikingly-significant statements in Psalm 119 about meditating on the Bible. Verse 15 says, “I will meditate in thy precepts.” Verse 23 says, “Thy servant did meditate in the statutes.” Verse 48 says, “I will meditate in thy statutes.” Verse 78 says, “I will meditate in thy precepts.” Verse 97 says, “O how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” Verse 99 says, “thy testimonies are my meditation.” Verse 148 says, “Mine eyes prevent (anticipate) the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.” All these verses emphasize the importance of meditating on the Word of God.
But what does it mean, to meditate on the Bible? Simply put, it is to seriously think over what we read, seeking to understand it and apply it to daily life.
Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, illustrates what it is to meditate on the Word of God. In Luke chapter one we read that after she had given birth to the Lord, the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and said important things to them. One of those statements is found in Luke 1:11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” After the angel’s appearance and announcements, the shepherds found Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, who was lying in a manger. Having found them, the shepherds told Mary and Joseph the message of the angel of the Lord concerning the child Jesus.
What was Mary’s response to such a remarkable announcement about her newborn Son? Verse 19 says, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” That is what meditation on the Word of God is: pondering it in the heart.
If we want to profit from Bible reading, we should do the things we have considered in this message:
1. Interpret it literally whenever possible.
2. Read it completely.
3. Read it reverently.
4. Read it humbly.
5. Read it expectantly.
6. Read it dependently.
7. Read it Christ-centeredly.
8. Read it obediently.
9. Read it logically.
10. Read it meditatively

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