Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Develop~Chapter 2

Develop ~

God’s Voice in His Word

Sovereign Grace believes we should commit to develop in love for God’s voice in his Word.

Do you struggle with how to read the Bible? Have you ever wondered about how to understand certain verses in the Bible? Have you ever read verses you thought were confusing, seemed contradictory, pointed to a conclusion that seemed to impugn the character of God, or verses that you have no idea how to apply? There are several texts in the Bible, which have been the center of confusion of controversy for Christians. The following are some examples:

Texts we argue over application for today:

  • Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Exodus 20:8
  • So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 1 Cor. 14:39
  • I don’t permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man… 1 Tim 2:12

Texts we aren’t sure why they are even in the Bible:

  • Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. Ex. 23:19
  • You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. Lev. 19:28
  • When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. Ex. 21:28

Texts that use imagery we don’t often understand:

  • Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Song of Solomon 4:4
  • This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. Rev. 13:18

Texts that seem to present a moral problem:

  • Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! Psalm 137:9
  • For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:17-18
  • So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded. Joshua 10:40

Texts that seem to make God look wrong or fearful:

  • “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17
  • Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” Genesis 3:22

These and other texts cause many people to doubt the Bible, or to be confused about how to read it, or to conclude they don’t understand the Bible well enough to read it. Our major problem is the way in which we read the Bible. We do not have a bird’s eye view by which we look at the whole story. We often have more of a microscopic view where we come in close and dissect the parts without looking at the whole. When we approach the Bible incorrectly we often pervert the message. There are several ways in which we currently pervert the Bible.

    1. We read it like an encyclopedia with stand-alone articles arranged by topic.
    2. We read it legalistically like a rule-book.
    3. We read it like a fortune cookie that provides pithy statements.
    4. We read it like theological term paper rather than paying attention to types of literature.
    5. We read it like a book of magical incantations, which can be repeated for spiritual power.
    6. We read it like a source of authority about truth, rather than the source.
    7. We read it like a book of hero stories, rather than a book about God.
    8. We read it like a religious relic used to oppress people, rather than a document of faith meant to bring freedom.
    9. We read it like a letter from a buddy or friend, rather than the weighty word of the Holy God.
    10. We read it like a kind of spiritual medical cure, almost with the idea that “a verse a day keeps the Devil away.”
    11. We read it as a therapeutic, self-help book, rather than a book that tells us there is no help for us apart from the free gift of God’s grace.
    12. We read it like a cut and paste guide to spirituality, rather than as a book that tells us a whole story about God and his work.

The point is that we often misread the Bible because we don’t know the whole story. Because we don’t know the whole story, we often don’t understand a verse like 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

How can some of the verses I just mentioned be profitable for training in righteousness? How is “don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk,” profitable for training in righteousness? The answer to that question is found in the answer to the question, “How do these verses help us understand the whole story of the Bible?” We must understand the whole Bible if we are going to understand its parts. When we understand how each part of the story fits within the context of the whole, we will understand how, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” So, the most fundamental principle in reading the Bible properly is to understand that we must read the Bible in light what the Bible is, what its theme is, and the purposes for which it was written.

What is the Bible and it’s Theme?

If we are going to understand how to read the Bible we must know what it is and what the theme of the Bible is. The Bible is God’s Word given to us in 66 different books, by multiple different human writers, in 3 different languages, with one primary or central message about God and his work. We have 39 books, which comprise what we call the Old Testament, and 27 books which make up the New Testament.

The Old Testament, written primarily in Hebrew with some Aramaic sections, is grouped in 3 sections:

1. History (Genesis-Esther)

2. Poetry (Job-Song of Songs)

3. Prophecy (Isaiah-Malachi)

The New Testament, written in Greek, is grouped in 4 sections:

1. Gospels (Matthew-John)

2. Acts

3. Epistles (Romans-Jude)

4. Revelation

We can summarize the Old Testament with one word, “Promise.” The Old Testament’s primary purpose is to show us God’s promise of sending our Savior-King, Jesus. The New Testament can be summarized with the word, “Fulfillment.” In the New Testament we read of how God kept his promise to send our Savior-King, and how his Name is Jesus. Did you notice something in my summaries? The whole of the Bible is about our Savior-King Jesus! It is about how God wanted to send his Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins and bring us back into his kingdom to worship him as king---and how he accomplished it!

We often hear that the theme of the Bible is the kingdom of God. John the Baptist preached, “repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Jesus preached “repent, for the…kingdom of God is at hand.” Paul preached “about the kingdom of God.” They all preach about the kingdom of God because it is the theme of the Bible. But, didn’t I just say the whole Bible is about our Savior-King Jesus, and him saving us? Yes! Because saying the Bible is about our Savior-King Jesus and it is about the Kingdom of God is essentially to say the same thing. Graeme Goldsworthy has said that when we talk about the kingdom of God we are talking about,

“God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing.”

The story of the Bible is that we were God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing, but that we sinned and were no longer God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing. So, God promised to send, and fulfilled his promise to send, our Savior-King Jesus to save us back into his place under his rule and blessing. Thus, when we say the Bible is about God’s Kingdom we are saying the Bible is about God’s Savior-King Jesus---coming to save us and bring us back into his kingdom! This changes the whole way we read the Bible and see the Christian life. We realize that the whole book is primarily about our Savior-King, Jesus. It is about his glory and exaltation. When we understand this bigger picture we will see how the smaller parts fit together.

2 Purposes of the Bible

One of the best ways to understand a book is to understand its purpose for being written. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:14-15 to continue trusting the Bible which “made him wise unto salvation.” Paul knew that the primary purpose of the Bible is to make you wise for salvation. How does the Bible make you wise for salvation? The Bible is where we learn the good news of the Gospel---and the Gospel is the power of God for salvation! God has chosen to save us through our Savior-King Jesus by telling the story about him and his work in the Bible.

This is why the Bible is so important to us. Apart from the Word of God we cannot be saved. Apart from God revealing the truth to us in Scripture we would remain condemned in our sins, separated from God, and facing eternal damnation. But God condescended to speak his Word through men for the benefit of saving a people for himself. We can say that the Bible is what leads us into the kingdom of the Savior-King.

As we read our Bibles, we must understand that they are first about the person and work of Jesus. We must read the Bible in a Christ-centered manner. We must see the Bible primarily as a book about how God is working to graciously save us through Jesus and not primarily as a book of laws God is giving to us to keep. The whole Bible is about the story of Jesus. If we understand this we will be turned away from our constant focus on ourselves, and stop using our Bibles as some kind of self-help book. Instead, we will see that it is about our great Savior-King, and through it we can know him, live with him, and worship Him.

The secondary purpose for the Bible is to help us live for the glory of the King in his kingdom. If we have been saved into the kingdom of our glorious Savior-King how do we live well in it? How do we live for the glory of Christ? How do we live in a way that he is honored and exalted? As a believer you are currently a citizen of God’s kingdom and you also live in this world’s kingdom. Eventually you will live in God’s kingdom alone, but between now and the time we are freed from this world’s kingdom we will struggle with living in a way that honors our king.

We live well in God’s kingdom in the same way we were led into God’s Kingdom---through the Word of God. The Word of God is what makes us wise unto salvation, and the Word of God is how we are equipped to serve our King well. This is what Paul meant when he told Timothy, “all Scripture…is profitable for teaching…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The question is how is everything in the Bible profitable to equip me for every good work? If we understand that every verse is part of a larger story, then we will find out the context of each verse, see its use or function in that story, and then how that story applies to us---which will be beneficial or profitable. Every verse in the Bible is for you but not every verse is to you. They are not all written to direct your behavior. They are all written to broaden your understanding of your God, how he works, and what he is doing among us. As you understand him and his work you will know how to live in a manner that reflects his character and glory.

But how can the Bible be enough to equip me for every good work? There are many topics never addressed in the Bible that are very real to our lives. For example the Bible never addresses any of the following issues:

  • How to raise teenagers (the average person in the Bible was married and working in their teens).
  • How to deal with Attention Deficit Disorder. Is it okay to give drugs to your children to help them?
  • What does God think about watching television? How much is too much?
  • Who should I vote for or what political party should I register for?
  • What kind of car should I buy?
  • Should I join the military or not?

I could go on and on with examples of issues we deal with that are not definitively dealt with or even spoken of at all in the Bible. So, how is the Bible sufficient to equip me to serve Christ when it does not address so many issues that are relevant to me and when it addresses so many issues that don’t seem relevant to me?

We must understand the Bible is not primarily a book trying to provide you with all the principles you need to live by (although there are many helpful principles for addressing these issues in the Bible). It is primarily a book that is introducing you to a Person. The Bible is teaching you about Jesus and his work. John Piper said the following about how the Bible could be sufficient to equip us to deal with the many issues we face,

"That is a remarkable phrase: ‘every good work’! Everything good that God expects us to do, the Scriptures equip us to do. That is an amazing claim. How does it work? How does the Bible equip us for ‘every good work’? It's not by supplying specific lists that cover all possible situations. Thinking that way would be a mistake in two ways. It would be a mistake because there are hundreds of specific situations we are in that the Bible does not specifically address. There were no TVs, computers, cars, phones, birth control pills, Prozac, genetic engineering, respirators, bullets, bombs in Jesus' day. The Bible does not equip us for every good deed by telling us the specific choice to make for every new situation…So here's my answer to how the Scripture equips us for ‘every good work.’ The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day."

How should I approach reading the Bible?

We obviously cannot benefit from a book we are not familiar with. Further, it is difficult to start reading a book like the Bible when we have no experience with the types of literature used, no basic understanding of the cultural and historic concepts discussed, and no overall sense of how the Bible story develops. Therefore, I want to provide 7 simple principles for reading the Bible and some suggestions for how to start reading the Word.

7 Principles for Reading the Bible

    1. Remember the Bible is about God, his work in saving us through Jesus, and what he requires of us. Do not read the Bible without this lens on.
    2. Remember to pay attention to the kind of literature you are reading. Read a story as a story, poetry as poetry, direct teaching as direct teaching, a letter as a letter, and picturesque prophecy as prophecy. To be literal is to read the Bible according to its type of literature!
    3. Remember to pay attention to the context of what you are reading. What came before the verse you are reading? What comes after? What are the grammatical clues (i.e. is the word “because,” “therefore,” “for” starting your verse? If so, what is it referring to)? How has this same book you are reading used the same concepts and terms in other verses in the book? What is the overall flow of the argument?
    4. Remember that Scripture interprets Scripture. If your understanding of a verse causes you to think the verse contradicts another passage of Scripture then you are wrong about your understanding of one of the two passages, or both.
    5. Remember to pray God gives you understanding of the passage.
    6. Remember to use tools God has provided through his gift of teachers to the church.
    7. Remember to take your time and not get frustrated. Read, Read, Read.

Some Suggestions on How to Start Reading

1. Consider starting by reading the Gospels and then proceed to Acts.

2. Buy a good study Bible and read the introductory material for a book before you begin reading the book. I recommend the ESV Study Bible.

3. Buy the Jesus Storybook Bible and the Big Picture Story Bible and read them. They are for children but they are excellent at helping you understand the overall story.

4. Buy D.A. Carson’s “For the Love of God” books and read his short commentary on each passage as you read through the Bible.

5. Find a good Bible preacher and start listening to his sermons daily through various books of the Bible. I recommend Alistair Begg, John Piper, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, and Sinclair Ferguson.

Recommended Reading:

God’s Big Picture, by Vaughn Roberts

Knowing Scripture, by RC Sproul

Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, by Graeme Goldsworthy

1 comment:

dave said...

I'm not surprised that there are no comments, yet.

Nice study.