Reading the Bible
I had a brief discussion on Twitter this morning about reading the Bible. Someone I follow posted a quote by John Piper saying, “If you are having trouble reading your Bible with deep and affecting meaning, imagine that you will die in about eight hours.” I found this to be a rather odd statement. If I knew I was going home in eight hours, reading the Bible would be the last thing on my mind.
Now please remember, I’m as committed to God’s revealed word as they come. I absolutely believe that children of God should be reading the Bible and reading it often. But I fear that many do so for the wrong reasons.
It is not my purpose at the moment to convince you to read Bible. I’m betting that most of my readers already know they should be reading it. Rather, I’m going to try to show the intended purpose for reading the Bible.
Inspired and Profitable
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17, HCSB)
More often than not, we use these verses simply to emphasize the inspiration of the Scriptures. That is, we affirm that they are “breathed out by God” (ESV), and they are thus reliable as his written word. This is a very important truth—one that is vital to proclaim in this age where the authority of God’s word is being attacked from without and within.
However, I fear that our emphasis of the first part of Paul’s statement has led to a neglect of the second. God’s word is inspired, yes. Therefore, it is profitable. But Paul did not stop with telling us that Scripture is profitable. He proceeded to explain why it is profitable. In other words, right here we have a biblical explanation of why we should read the Bible.
Teaching is pretty much what it sounds like. It is the imparting of information. Scripture is used to teach us about God. Through Scripture, we are shown who God is and what he is like. We are told that God became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ, lived on earth as fully human, died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, is now seated on the right hand of God the Father, and will one day return to restore all things.
But teaching must also be applied. Simply knowing these truths about God will not do us any good. We must actually place our trust and hope in him and choose to live for him.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4–5, NIV)
Rebuking and Correcting
The two Greek words represented here are used nowhere else in the New Testament. They carry similar but nuanced meanings. The first (rebuke or reproof) has to do with fixing that which is wrong. We should thus use Scripture as a test against other teachings, to be sure that they are accurate. Furthermore, we should use Scripture as a test against our own beliefs.
The second word (correction) literally means “straighten up again” or “reform.” It thus means that we should use Scripture to find those areas in which we could still use improvement. Then we are to improve accordingly.
Training in Righteousness
The word translated “training” is translated “discipline” in every other passage where it appears (in most common English translations). We are to use Scripture to discipline ourselves. We are to become more righteous as a result of Scriptural application.
With all of the reasons Paul listed for reading Scripture, we see that the common theme is the need for application. Paul did not say that “Scripture is profitable for studying Scripture.” He did not say, “Scripture is profitable for nailing down your theology.” He certainly didn’t say that we gain some sort of extra merit just for reading through it.
He said that Scripture is profitable, “so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17, HCSB). Scripture must be applied through our actions. If we are not using Scripture to ultimately equip us for good works, then we are using Scripture in an unprofitable manner. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, biblical knowledge is good, but it is utterly useless if never put into practice. We are supposed to change based on what we read.
I think Francis Chan sums it up pretty well with an amusing example about his daughter in this clip from his BASIC series.
What Do You Think?
Why are we so prone to reading the Bible, but not making any changes because of it? Why can it be so hard to apply to our lives? What can we do to reverse this trend?
Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.