Living by the Book
August 18, 1996
Scripture: 2 Kings 22
There is no spiritual discipline more important than the intake of God’s Word. There can be no healthy Christian life apart from a steady diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. This life-giving food is the message of God to us about Himself, the immense need of our sin-fallen nature, God’s profound mercy to us through His Son Jesus Christ, and the assurance of life eternal through personal faith in Him and what He accomplished in our behalf. Scripture shows us the requirements of God’s Law, how far short we have fallen, and yet how we can still meet its requirements through what God did for us that we could not do for ourselves. It helps us to apply this eternal truth to our lives so that we may increasingly and willingly come under its holy influence. The Bible is the Christian’s “Blue Jacket’s Manual.”
How far we ere when we forget the Book of Life and the truth it holds to intimately touch our own lives and the lives of others. Where is your Bible? Is it close at hand in your home, at your work, in your church, and in your life? I have books at home that are from past phases of my life that I occasionally take out to look something up. The first thing I do is blow the dust off the top. Someone once remarked that the worst dust storm in history would happen if all the church members who were neglecting their Bibles dusted them off simultaneously. Dust, just like hardening of the arteries accumulates from inactivity, time, and perhaps even the wrong diet or genetic predisposition. We must exercise our Bible through hearing, reading and studying God’s Word. It will do our hearts good.
It is difficult to take time out of busy schedules to put God in. But just like Christ said, without me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), but with me you can do everything (Phil. 4:13). How frustrating our days can be when we try and try to spin our way out of our rut when we could have started out with a firm foundation. A rut is nothing but a grave with both ends kicked out. But Christ said He has come that we might have life and have it to the full (Jn. 10:10). It begins with salvation but growth in our salvation takes place beginning with the daily intake of what he has to tell us through the conviction, enablement, obedience, and joy of His Word. It is the most important of the spiritual disciplines, but perhaps also because it is the most broad. It is the spiritual discipline that stimulates the other spiritual disciplines. It certainly is the most convicting.
I. Hearing the Book: Dust off your ears.
A. The easiest discipline related to God’s Word is to discipline ourselves to hear it regularly. We must become a regular part of a New Testament church, not a church hopper, but a committed and accountable member whom God can teach on a continuum of truth, training us to become able to teach others. We learn from each other as God teaches us. Church hopping carries no steady accountability when we tell ourselves that we can just pull up stakes whenever we feel uncomfortable or convicted.
B. Hearing (really listening) leads to obedience in the development of Christlikeness. Jesus placed a primary importance upon his own word of testimony. After all, he is the Word. Hearing the Word of God is hearing Christ. Obeying the Word of God is obeying Christ.
Lu 11:28 He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
C. Hearing stimulates faith as the vehicle to obedience in becoming like Christ. It is faith that pleases God (Heb. 11:6). How many of us have been moved not only by the power of God’s Word but by the power of its testimony as it is worked out in someone’s life? Gifts of faith are given to those who discipline themselves to listen to God’s Word. We hear it preached in the pulpit, but also on radio, TV, tapes and videos. God so often brings us a word of truth just in time (Ray Rising and Voice of America when he heard a word of faith from his wife).
Ro 10:17 Consequently, faith (believing the message) comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
D. Hearing is to be in concert with other believers as we are stimulated not only in our common need but in our common calling, to worship Almighty God. To purposefully act independent of one another is to play precariously with a spirit of independence from God. We may be able to worship God alone in nature, but Christ said (Mt. 18:20) he would bless two or three coming together in his Name. We cannot separate the ongoing worship of God from the spoken Word of God. This brings us to a challenge to prepare ourselves to hear the Word of God. We must have a spirit of reverence in seeking Him (Koreans).
1Ti 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
E. Hearing the Word of God with reverence is the continuation of our part in becoming God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10) to do good works which he prepared in advance for us to do. It is not passive, but active listening, with a heart ready to receive it as truth and not as many liberal scholars from a standpoint of disbelief in which God must prove himself to us. One can soon tell the works of such men because there is no conviction in them - just questioning God. But if we receive it for what it is, the very Word of God Himself, it will do its work of transforming our lives.
1Th 2:13 ¶ And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
II. Reading the Book: Dust off your eyes.
A. Only a small % of Americans (11%) read their Bible every day. Not much better, only 18% of evangelical Christians read their Bible every day. And 23% say they never read it. 1Tim. 4:7 sounds like a command for the man of God. If each day has enough trouble of its own (Mt. 6:34) then we must supply each day with enough strength of its own (Mt. 6:33) by first seeking his righteousness to meet the trouble. How can we hope to make it through any day with the sin and trouble that will “blind-side” us without the sustaining strength of the Word of God?
1Ti 4:7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly (discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness).
B. Jesus assumed that people would be familiar with God’s Word by asking, “have you not read?” He himself was familiar with it as he refuted Satan in the wilderness. He equated God’s Word with life itself. But then he called himself the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:48). He is the Word (Jn. 1:1-4). His lesson to us is to be familiar with every word, which would seem to mean familiarity with all of Christ.
Mt 4:4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
C. Again, we are told that God’s Word is useful, even imperative, to all things godly, “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We are talking about the “whole counsel of God,” which we cannot know unless we hear it and read it.
2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
D. And in so doing we are promised blessing when we take it to heart. And how can the one who loves God not read what he has to say to us and not take it to heart? But we must discipline ourselves to do it and we will encounter the transforming grace of God.
Re 1:3 ¶ Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
E. The most influential factor in shaping a person’s moral and social behavior is daily Bible reading.
1. But there is a danger even in that when we just go through the motions.
Mt 13:14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
2. And we must stress “daily” because just like the manna in the wilderness, we cannot gather more than we need (Ex. 16:17-19). Whether it is little or much we must come to God every day. We cannot eat ahead, nor can we breath ahead. God has a boundless store (Phil. 4:19) of grace and riches for us each day in his Word as we need it.
F. Three practical factors:
1. Find the time.
a. Don’t be discouraged at the length of the Bible. You can listen to an entire tape recording of its reading in 71 hours.
b. With 15 minutes a day, you can read through the entire Bible in a year. Five min./day takes three years. But most will never read through the whole Bible in their lifetime.
c. This comes back to the matter of discipline to make time every day. First thing in the morning is best while you are fresh. You must encounter Christ in the Scriptures while it can still have an impact upon your day. It makes a difference in my day.
2. Find a Bible reading plan.
a. Many good plans are available. One key element of failure is to stop when you get too far behind because you can’t seem to catch up. If that happens, just start where you are supposed to be and let the rest go. The idea is to keep going and not lament failure.
b. Three chapters a day and five on Sunday will take you through in a year. Three O.T. and three N.T. chapters every day will get once through the O.T. and four times through the N.T. in a year.
c. I recommend the Chapter A Day Chronological Whole Bible Reading Program by David and Lawrence Stilwell. You will find copies for your use just outside the sanctuary. With the beginning of Sept. you can start either the Pentateuch or the Decline of Israel: Solomon to Isaiah.
3. Meditate on what you find.
a. Without meditation, waiting upon God with an open heart to reveal a truth in your life, we may close our Bible without ever remembering anything we have read.
b. We must take one thing we have read, think deeply about it, ask questions about it, pray about it, perhaps write down key thoughts and applications about our lives, and then carry out the application. I find it imperative to pray before I read for God to give me insight.
III. Studying the Book: Dust off your mind.
A. “If reading gives us breadth, studying gives us depth,” according to author Jerry Bridges. We need an unhurried look at the amazing clarity, integrity and detail of God’s Word which is missed by the casual observer. Before we can teach the Word of God to the people of God, we must practice or observe what we learned about it. And learning comes from study which cannot bear fruit unless we are devoted to it. Ezra disciplined himself in the study of God’s Word.
Ezr 7:10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
B. Our examination of the Scriptures is equated with noble character. This is a desire to be taught the truth and to hold each other accountable for it (Nurture Group).
Ac 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
C. Paul himself in his last letter in his last days placed primary importance upon the Scriptures. He asks for only two things, a cloak to keep his body warm and the Scriptures to warm his soul as he continued to seek Christ until the day of his death by martyrdom. It was God who sustained him by His wonderful Word. Without the study of God’s Word, our lives become vulnerable to deception in times of testing.
2Ti 4:13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
D. We fail in our study of God’s Word not so much because it is so difficult to understand, according to Spurgeon, but because it is work. We may be lazy, but we may also be insecure about how to proceed. Some good methods are to use a good study Bible, look up cross references, look up key words in a concordance, outline chapters, restate thoughts by paraphrasing them in your own words, read background studies, do word studies, character studies, topical studies and book studies. Scripture is understood in light of Scripture and we shouldn’t settle for just the thoughts of others who have written about the Bible. Even though we can learn much from others there is no substitute for God’s direct communion with our personal lives through our own study. It was written through the work of the H.S. and it the H.S. who will help us to understand and apply it. No one knows us better than God himself.
Our growth in godliness is greatly affected by the quality of our Bible intake. In the words of Geoffrey Thomas, a Welsh pastor, “You must let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these. Often you will feel very, very small, because increasingly the God of the Bible will become to you wonderfully great. So go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture, you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh.”