In the Bible we find all the necessary food for our souls (Matthew 4:4). Reading it regularly will lead us into a deeper and more satisfying relationship with the living God, and make us into the people that He intends us to be. For a ‘balanced’ spiritual diet, we should be reading all parts of the Bible – not just the nice bits! “All Scripture is… useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (I Timothy 3:16,17) Doctrine and ethics are interrelated: what we believe determines how we behave. The Bible teaches us what to believe (“teaching”), what not to believe (“correcting”), how to behave (“training”) and how not to behave (“rebuking”). The negative is as important as the positive. Sometimes it uplifts and encourages us: in the stories of God’s interventions in history, the Psalms, and the prophecies of good things to come. In its pages we find many examples of men and women trusting God, being vindicated, and responding with praise and thankfulness. In other places it challenges us, exposes our weaknesses and stings our consciences (Hebrews 4:12); it can reach right into our hearts and convict us of sin.
Scripture can be read entirely in the abstract: as containing a series of intellectual truths to which believers must give assent. But this is to overlook the fact that the Bible presents its teaching to us largely in the form of history and example. We come to know God and understand His character through the experiences of Israel in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 6:7) and of the apostles and churches in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 11:15-17). And then, as we put what we read into practice, we experience the same God at work in our lives, in the same way.
Reading and responding
The person who fills his heart and mind with the Word of God has an unlimited resource from which to draw spiritual vitality. His whole life comes under God’s authority and blessing (Psalm 1:2,3). But this transformation does not happen without some effort and self-application (Joshua 1:8). To experience God’s presence and power in our lives, we must keep God’s Word always at the forefront of our minds, by regular reading, habitual meditation, and consistent application.
The book of Nehemiah tells part of the story of the Israelite community after the Exile. In chapter 8, the people gather in Jerusalem to listen to a public reading of the Scriptures. Ezra the priest reads the Scriptures aloud, and his assistants (the Levites) explain their meaning to the congregation. The people are powerfully affected: at first, convicted of sin, they react with grief; but as their understanding increases, they begin to celebrate God’s goodness. And it does not stop there: as the days and weeks go by, they continue to listen to the Scriptures, and they start to obey the Law that they had previously neglected. Understanding (v 1-8) has evoked a response (v 9-12), which results in changed lives (v 13-18).
God’s Word has powerful effects (Isaiah 55:10,11). It nourishes and transforms us (Jeremiah 23:28,29). It gives our lives a firm foundation (Luke 6:47,48). It is a defence against temptation and doubt (Ephesians 6:17). But these things will not happen automatically; a great deal depends on our own response (Luke 8:4-15). The seed of the Word will flourish only in the soil of obedience – in those who take it to heart, put it into practice, and allow it to transform their lives (James 1:22-25). Bible study without obedience is valueless. It is not enough to hear (or read) the Word, to know it and discuss it; we must do it.