How Shall We Read the Bible?
"The Spirit and the Scriptures"
by Richard Rice
Beyond the sacred page I seek thee, Lord. My
spirit pants for thee,
O living word.
What is the relation between the Bible and the Word of God? Years
ago this issue generated a lot of discussion. The neo-orthodox
theologians who dominated Protestant theology for much of this
century argued that the Bible is not per se the word of God, but becomes
the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. More
conservative Christians felt that this undermined the significance
of the Bible, that the Bible deserved to be identified as the
Word of God because God was so intimately involved in its
production. I think we have to say that God's word is not limited
to the Bible, but it receives its definitive expression in the
God's word is the power that created the world and directs his
activities. God's word is the means by which he exercises
sovereignty in human affairs. God's word is the medium which
establishes God's kingdom. And what we all hope for when we
preach, surely, is that God will take our words and use them to
convey a message to his people, so that our poor words, which have
no power in themselves, become the Word of God when enlivened and
ennobled by his Spirit. We hope there is treasure in these earthen
The Bible is our primary source of knowledge about God. But to
gain the essential knowledge from it, for it to make us wise unto
salvation, we need to read it under the guidance and influence of
the Holy Spirit. There are two extremes here. One is to read the
Bible without the Holy Spirit, to rely on human intellectual power
alone. We may learn a lot this way, but we will miss the essential
message of the Bible for us. It will fail to reach into our hearts
and speak to us directly of God's love for us and God's will for
Perhaps in a category by itself is the recent search for messages
in the way the letters of the Bible are arranged. Several years ago
a book entitled 'The Bible Code' created quite a stir because
its authors claimed to find predictions of modern events like the
assassinations of Yitzak Rabin. Their method was to use computer
programs and find patterns in the sequence of the Hebrew letters.
This approach focuses on the form of the biblical material rather
than its content. It turns the Bible into an intellectual puzzle,
even a magical book. But this is contrary to the nature of the
Bible. "It is not the form of the Scriptures or the sequence of
its letters that conveys its truth, but rather the content of the
book." Christianity Today, 7/12/99, p. 60.
The other extreme is to ignore the Bible in a direct appeal to
the Holy Spirit. After all, some people reason, if the Holy Spirit
speaks to people directly, it can speak to us directly, and in that
case, why do we need the Bible at all? Why not simply listen to the
inner voice to tell us the truth?
This is close to the position that Jack Deere takes in his book, Surprised
by the Voice of God: How God speaks today through prophecies,
dreams, and visions (Zondervan, 1996). Deere maintains that God
uses the same forms of direct revelation that we find in biblical
times—visions, dreams, direct divine communication, prophetic
revelations. So, he urges us to avoid being what he calls
"Bible-bound," depending on the Bible exclusively for our
knowledge of God.
To avoid these extremes, we need to go back to a fundamental
principle of the Holy Spirit's operation—its community—building
activity. God does not lead us independently of one another. God
leads us together. The Holy Spirit inspired prophets in order to
communicate to the community. The community preserved the messages
of the prophets. To hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to us, we
need to attend to the Holy Spirit's communication to others, as
well as to us. And we need to bear in mind that Jesus is the
definitive revelation of God's will. Remember, the Holy Spirit is
the Spirit of Christ. As Jesus said to his disciples, the Holy
Spirit will "bear witness to me." Jn 15,26. "He will
glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to
you." Jn 16,14.
In short, we need to do justice to both the Bible and the Holy
Spirit. To paraphrase the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the Bible
without the Holy Spirit is empty, but the Holy Spirit without the
Bible is blind. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life. Without
the Holy Spirit our study of the Bible may be informative, it may be
highly stimulating, but its message will turn into something purely
intellectual, and Bible study will become nothing but a cognitive
exercise. On the other hand, seeking the Holy Spirit apart from the
Bible can be dangerous, like driving a car without a steering wheel.
We need the guidance of the Bible to give the operation of the Holy
How can we be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit today
without losing our vital contact with the Bible? How can we bring
the Bible and the Holy Spirit into harmonious relationship?
The answer is to develop an approach to the Bible that does
justice to all its aspects—to find ways to read the Bible that
involve not only the mind, but the heart, too, and ultimately the
whole of our lives. The Bible is a Holy Spirit filled book. It was
brought into existence under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and
in order to grasp its meaning we must read it under the influence of
the Holy Spirit. Let us explore this issue under two headings:
reading the Bible theologically and reading the Bible personally.
Reading the Bible theologically
I won't spend much time on this topic, because it has received
a vast amount of attention. As a systematic theologian, of course,
this is basically what I've spent my life trying to do—read the
Bible theologically. As a teacher of theology, I have spoken on the
topic dozens of time. A typical lecture takes the following form.
Theology, I tell my students, is essentially an attempt to interpret
the Bible. As such, it is a lot like preparing a sermon. Both seek
to express the meaning of the Bible for people living today. The
first task of both theologian and preacher is to discover the
original meaning of a biblical passage; the second is to apply that
meaning to our modern situation. If we use the famous distinction
Krister Stendahl makes, there is a difference between what the
Bible meant and what the Bible means. Exegesis is the
task of finding out what the Bible meant. Theology is the task of
finding out what the Bible means. Without exegesis you can't do
theology, because you can't figure out what the Bible means unless
you know what it meant.
To do exegesis, to recover the original meaning of a biblical
passage, we need to know the languages it was written in, and
appreciate its historical and literary contexts. Greek and Hebrew
grammars and lexicons, Bible dictionaries and commentaries, along
with some reliable works on ancient Mediterranean cultures and
civilizations, largely equip us for this endeavor. It also helps to
know something about textual criticism and Bible translations.
Thus armed, preacher and theologian, or better,
preacher-theologians, are prepared for exegetical work. In their
study of a passage, they need to keep in mind the following
hermeneutical considerations: the literary type or genre represented
(poetry, parable, allegory, prophecy, etc.), the larger literary
units involved (sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, etc.), and
the immediate and remote historical contexts--all of which have a
bearing on its meaning. In addition to working with individual
passages, good biblical interpreters will compare Scripture with
Scripture, seek to harmonize contrasting biblical statements, and
allow the Bible to serve as its own interpreter.
I ordinarily devote much less time to the second theological
task, that of applying the meaning of the Bible to our modern
situation, and my comments on this topic are usually much more
general in nature. I often do little more than tell my students they
should develop an awareness of the world we live in. As the
effective preacher seeks timely illustrations in order to illuminate
the biblical message for his or her congregation, I suggest, the
responsible theologian will develop a knowledge of the human
This emphasis on exegesis is typical of the way Seventh-day
Adventists approach theology, I believe. It reflects the general
format of my theology courses at the Seminary in the late sixties.
On this model, biblical exegesis is not merely the source of
theology, it is theology. Instead of providing theology with a
"point of departure," the text defines the boundaries of
theology. Consequently, the only thing theology adds to biblical
exegesis is the systematic arrangement of its conclusions around
selected doctrinal themes.
This approach to theology has the important feature of proximity
to the biblical text. This minimizes the risk of losing the biblical
message in an attempt to "translate" it into modern
thought forms. And it has the support of important historical
precedents. The Protestant Reformation, for example, began with
Luther's recovery of the Gospel through a study of the Bible,
notably Psalms and the letters of Paul, and the Great Advent
Movement of the nineteenth century originated in William Miller's
careful analysis of biblical prophecy. So, there is no question that
careful exegesis is essential to any attempt to read the Bible
But the relation between the Bible and theology is more
complicated than this model suggests. For one thing, when we read
the Bible theologically, and not just historically, we do read it
selectively. On a purely practical level, making distinctions within
the Bible is unavoidable. The most cursory examination of its
contents reveals an enormous variety of material. And nobody, not
even the most faithful reader, finds it all equally illuminating or
The same applies to a doctrinal reading of the Bible. To read the
Bible theologically is to read it in light of what is central to
Christian faith. And what is central to Christian faith is what
deals with Christ. In Martin Luther's memorable words, "All the
genuine sacred books agree in this, that all of them preach Christ
and deal with him."
Some object to the attempt to find a center in the Bible for fear
that it forces the Bible to conform to human reason, rather than
yielding to its authority. But to read the Bible theologically is to
read it from a certain perspective. The important thing is to be
sure that this perspective is not arbitrarily imposed on the Bible,
but arises from the Bible. There is selectivity in the Bible itself.
We can see it in the way the New Testament deals with the Old
Testament, emphasizing those parts that relate more directly than
others to the significance of Jesus. And we see it in the decision
of the early Christian church to disregard certain Mosaic
requirements as not binding on Gentile converts.
We also need to be aware that we are often driven to the Bible by
pressing practical concerns. At times, of course, people study the
Bible from a simple desire to know what it teaches. But more often,
people turn to the Bible because they have important questions they
need answered. Robert K. Johnston observes that the church's
interaction with society and the conflict between different
doctrinal ideas exert a major influence on theological development,
and he attributes the current disarray among evangelicals in part to
their failure to appreciate this fact. In response to this problem,
he calls for a "constructive evangelical theology" that
will provide "a dynamic blend of Biblical, traditional, and
When we read the Bible theologically, we also do so as members of
the Christian community. Typically, we do not read the Bible and
then form our doctrinal conclusions. We come to the Bible with a set
of doctrinal beliefs, and read the biblical text under their
influence. This may not fit our stereotype, but it is not
necessarily negative. A doctrinal framework can be immensely helpful
as we study the Bible. At least John Calvin thought so. "It has
been my purpose in this labor [writing the Institutes] to
prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading
of the divine Word." "Although Holy Scripture contains a
perfect doctrine, ... yet a person who has not much practice in it
has good reason for some guidance and direction, to know what he
ought to look for in it, in order not to wander hither and thither,
but to hold to a sure path, that he may always be pressing toward
the end to which the Holy Spirit calls him."
To read the Bible theologically is also to read it in
conversation with other Christians. We can benefit from their
insights and learn from their mistakes. And we can build on their
achievements. To ignore what others have learned from studying the
Bible only obscures the fact that our reading of the Bible is
inevitably affected by church history, and it actually makes us
more, rather than less, susceptible to its influence. To quote
Ritschl again, "Our questions are already shaped by two
thousand years of tradition, even if we are unaware of the details
of this tradition. The less one knows about it the more he is
vulnerable to be influenced unduly by it."
Reading the Bible theologically also means recognizing that it
has new things to say to us. To hear what it has to say, we have to
give the biblical text freedom in several different ways. First, the
Bible must have the freedom to correct any interpretation of it. We
must be willing to place the biblical text over-against any previous
understanding of it. We must refuse to identify its message
exclusively with any theological system. Second, the Bible must be
free to speak to us here and now. To read the Bible theologically is
to listen to its message as if it were addressed to us today for the
first time. As Rudolf Bultmann says, "The word of God never
becomes our property. The test of whether we have heard it aright is
whether we are prepared always to hear it anew...."
The biblical text must also be free to reveal things that have
never been understood before. The Bible has present significance
partly because its contents have never been fully and finally
formulated. It contains food for thought that has never been
digested, or—to change the metaphor#8212;depths that have never been
fully plumbed. To read the Bible theologically is to anticipate that
we will always learn something new from it. For this reason, the
task of reading the Bible is never complete. In Heinz Zahrnt's
picturesque words, "the cathedral which theologians are
building is never finished, nor may it ever be finished if it is
genuinely to be a cathedral in which God is preached and
How is the Holy Spirit involved in all of this? In fulfilling the
promise of Jesus that it would guide us into all truth (Jn 16,13)
and bring to mind all that he said (Jn 14,26). Our quest for
personal meaning in the Bible should never obscure the fact that the
Bible comes to us as the product of the Christian community and that
we approach the Bible within the framework of a community. Whether
we recognize it or not, we look at the Bible through the lens of
centuries of biblical interpretation. Ultimately, then, the
distinction we often make between the Bible and the Holy Spirit is
artificial. The Bible is the means by which the Holy Spirit speaks
to us, and the Holy Spirit is the means by which we grasp the
message of the Bible for us.
Reading the Bible personally
While it is important to find the meaning of the Bible "for
us" as a community of faith and life, it is also important to
read the Bible "for me." The Bible has always been more
than a doctrinal sourcebook, or a compendium of theological beliefs.
People have turned to it time and time again for comfort,
encouragement, guidance and direction. It is a misunderstanding of
the Bible's personal role to regard it as containing some
"hidden" meaning, that only the cognoscenti can discern.
If the Gospel is meant to go to the whole world, then the Gospel
must be intended for everyone.
Whatever our final assessment of the Pentecostal, charismatic and
third wave movements, we should listen carefully to the widespread
need they are expressing. There is a deep longing for the Holy
Spirit of God that has swept across vast portions of Christianity,
and is making inroads in our own community. However we may question
the ways in which this longing is being met, we must acknowledge it
as an important development, and at its root a potentially positive
one. At least, that is what growing numbers of thoughtful Christians
are thinking. Clark Pinnock, for example, "celebrates
Pentecostalism as a mighty twentieth-century outpouring the Spirit.
I think of this, " he says, "as the most important event
in modern Christianity." Flame of Love 18.
How can we know God in a highly personal way? How can we, as it
were, hear his voice speaking to us? Can we be so intimately
connected with God that we live and move in the atmosphere of his
companionship? I think we can. And more important, I don't think
we have to go outside the Bible to do it. The Bible is the primary
means by which God speaks to us personally as well as corporately,
as individuals as well as a community. But there are several things
that make it difficult for us to do this. Let me share with you a
few of the obstacles from my own experience.
One is the uncomfortable feeling that Bible reading is a
"chore." We grow up with the idea that Bible reading
is an important responsibility. We should read a certain amount
or a certain length of time each day, preferably early in the
morning. I set out to read the Bible in a year (3 chs a day and
5 chs on sabbath) when I was ten or so. And three or four years
later I finally finished.
Another is dissatisfaction with the way some people use the
Bible. When I was in college, there was a program that came to
town that encouraged people to "claim the promises."
It seemed contrived and manipulative to me. As if you could use
the Bible to force God to behave a certain way.
A third obstacle to hearing God speak through the Bible in a
personal way was my growing realization that Bible reading is a
demanding occupation. The Bible is a complicated book, and it
takes a good deal of education to read it responsibly. You need
to know all the steps in biblical exegesis we just outlined. You
need a grasp of the original languages, a knowledge of ancient
civilizations, an understanding of church history, and so on.
So, every time I looked at a text, I saw a long series of steps
you had to take to reach a valid conclusion. The idea that you
could open the Bible and read something significant right off
the page struck me as hopelessly na´ve.
But when you step back and think about it, the idea that God should
express his will to us, that he should move on our hearts through
the Holy Spirit, is the most natural conviction that a Christian
could have. If God doesn't guide us in our daily lives, what point
is there is being a Christian? Isn't that essential to Christian
experience—a personal, daily walk with God?
After all, there's a host of hymns that reflect this
conviction. Savior, like a shepherd lead us; All the way my
savior leads me; Lead on, O king eternal; Lead kindly light; He
leadeth me; Holy Spirit, faithful guide; Jesus Saviour, pilot me;
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah; Jesus, still lead on.
Yet to many people, in spite of our musical professions of faith,
the idea that God communicates to people seems bizarre. As
comedienne Lily Tomlin puts it, 'Why is it that when we speak to
God we are said to be praying, but when God speaks to us we are said
to be schizophrenic?'
There are many proposals for establishing a close, personal
communication with God. I think Dallas Willard's suggestions are
particularly helpful, because he accepts the initial premise of many
people in the "word of faith" or "voice of God"
movements that we need a sense of direct communication with God. But
then he moves in a direction significantly different from theirs.
Like people in these movements, Willard argues that there is no
reason why God cannot or should not communicate to people just as
directly, or just as dramatically, today as he did in biblical
times. In fact, he insists that the Christian life depends on a
strong sense of personal connectedness with God—a relationship in
which God guides and directs us in an intimate way. So, in
principle, all the methods God used in biblical times are still at
his disposal—visible phenomena, supernatural messengers, or
angels, dreams and visions, audible voices and human messengers.
There is nothing in the Bible, he argues, to indicate that the
biblical modes of God's guidance to humans are superseded and
abolished by the presence of the church or by the close of the
scriptural canon. 105. But Willard qualifies the expectation that
God communicates through such means in two important ways.
First, he insists that we should always bear in mind the purpose
of such guidance. God's guidance is not something given only for
our purposes, nor primarily for our own prosperity, safety, or
gratification. It is given so we can enter the kingdom of God and
show humanity how to live. 154. We should seek God's guidance, he
says, only as part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving
fellowship with the King and other subjects of the Kingdom of God.
It is intended to develop into an intelligent, freely cooperative
relationship between mature persons who love each other with the
richness of genuine agape love.
Our first goal should not be to find guidance, but to find that
relationship. 21. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to rejoice, not
because they had power over demons, but because their names were
written in the heavens. Lk 10:20. A wise lover regards not so
much the gift of him who loves as the love of him who gives. Thomas
a Kempis. 38. Our union with God, his presence with us, consists
chiefly in a conversational relationship between God and the
individual soul who is consistently and deeply engaged as his friend
and co-laborer in the affairs of the Kingdom of the heavens. 50. In
other words, God's guidance is part of a close, friendly,
conversational relationship between the soul and God. After all,
God's greatest gift to us is not his guidance, but himself.
Willard also qualifies the idea of divine communication by
emphasizing the priority of God's inner influence in our lives.
Although all the dramatic means of communicating are still at
God's disposal, they are not of equal value for our life with him.
The "still small voice" is the highest form of
individualized communication for God's purposes. 91. The 'interior voice' is the usual way God individually addresses
those who walk with him in a mature, personal relationship,
proclaiming and showing forth the reality of the Kingdom of God as
they go. 91. It is best suited to God's redemptive purposes
because it most engages the faculties of free, intelligent beings in
the work of God as his co-laborers and friends. 102.
But where do we hear this voice? How does it address us? We hear
it within us—in our own hearts, our own spirits. The spirit of the
individual is the candle of the Lord, says Willard, in the light of
which we see ourselves and our world as God sees. So we are
addressed by him, spoken to by him, through our own thoughts.
103. The thoughts and attendant feelings in the mind and spirit
surrendered to God make it as if God were walking through the
personality with a candle, directing our attention to one thing and
then another. "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Ps 139,23.
104. Here our own spirit works together with the almighty God,
utilizing our own thoughts and feelings to bring the truth of his
word and his understanding of us to bear on our heart and life and
Willard also supports the theme we expressed earlier that God's
manifestations tend to move from the more dramatic to the less
dramatic. "We notice as we proceed on through Bible history
that the greater the maturity, the greater the cognitive clarity of
the message and the lesser is the role played by dreams, visions,
and other 'strange' phenomena and 'altered states' in the
process of communication." In the NT personalities, including
Jesus, we find a great preponderance of "strictly spiritual
communications between God and humans." When visions, dreams,
angels were the main, as opposed to occasional, means of interaction
between God and man, there was a less developed spiritual life in
the individual and in the church group." 114. The
predominance of the spectacular encounter does, in general, go along
with the less mature levels of the spiritual life. 114. When
the spectacular is sought, this is because of childishness in
the personality. The spectacular may be given by God, even may be
necessary, because of our denseness or hardheartedness. But it is never
to be taken as a mark of spiritual superiority. 115.
So, the tendency of life in Christ is progressively toward the 'inward word' to the receptive heart. The aim is to move
entirely into the hidden realm of spiritual reality, where God
desires to be worshiped. Jn 4:24. 237-38.
To summarize, the various "rivals" to the still small
voice, as Willard calls them, have their place. But once we
earnestly seek God and get beyond the need to have 'big things'
happen to reassure ourselves that somehow we are right and all
right, then we begin to understand and rejoice that the life of the
Kingdom is 'righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit'
(Romans 14:17). 118. One of the highest forms of communication (even
on the human level) is silence—no overt word needed or wanted.
In the progress of God's redemptive work, communication
advances into communion and communion into union (the union beyond
communion). Think of the marvelous biblical texts that describe a
life that is completely open and perfectly united to God.
Not I but Christ liveth in me. Gal 2,20.
For me to live is Christ. Phil 1,21.
The redeemed have the mind of Christ. 1Cor 2,16.
Have the mind of Christ in you. Phil 2,5.
How can we cultivate this kind of relationship with God? How can we
come to hear the still small voice, speaking to us in the recesses
of our soul, giving us reassurance and guidance? The answer is to
develop a certain way of reading the Bible. Contact with the word of
God is the best way to hear God's word to us.
But how do we read the Bible this way? How can we approach the
Bible in our own experience, so we really do hear God's voice in
God's word? Here, as we so often find, we should take Jesus as our
example. Jesus' response to the first temptation provides a clue
to his entire life. 'Man does not live by bread alone,' he said,
'but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.' Jesus
lived by the word of God, and he found the word of God in the words
of Scripture. What role did the Bible play in Jesus' life? What
uses did he make of the words of Scripture?
Jesus made the Bible the object of careful reflection. The
Bible provided the source of Jesus' teachings. The Sermon on
the Mount is a good illustration of this. Jesus developed his
discourse on the kingdom in dialogue with various elements in
the OT. He saw his message as an application and extension of
the law and the prophets.
Jesus also made the Bible the object of serious discussion.
Jesus addressed questions about the law on numerous occasions
and discussed its meaning with people at great length. He told
the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer's
inquiry about the commandments. (He showed that the command,
Love your neighbor, is not fulfilled in finding the right
person, but in being the right person.)
While he obviously made the Bible an object of serious, searching
reflection, Jesus also read the Bible in intensely personal ways.
He applied it to his own experience with dramatic results.
For one thing, Jesus found in the Bible a template, a pattern
for his life. As Jesus read and studied the Bible, he discovered
his own identity in its message. He repeatedly appealed to
Scripture as a precedent for things that were happening to him.
On one occasion, he dramatically applied Isa 61 to himself and
his mission. Preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4), he
announced to this hearers that the words of the prophet he read
to them were fulfilled before their very eyes in him. The Holy
Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to preach good news. Jesus
also found a mandate for cleansing the temple in the words of
Scripture (Isaiah 56:7, Jer 7:11). In fact, Jesus not only read
the Bible, he read his life through the Bible. This sets
an important precedent for us. It is important for us to read
the Bible. It is more important for the Bible to read us.
Jesus' relation to the Bible was even more intimate than
this important role. Jesus drew spiritual strength from the
Bible. He relied on the words of Scripture to face his own
spiritual struggles. His use of the Bible in responding to his
great temptations show that he drew strength and guidance
directly from the words of scripture. He opened his heart to the
Bible and allowed its ideas and sentiment to shape his thought
and motives. He was spiritually sensitive and spiritually strong
because he placed his life under the influence of the word.
Finally, and most significant of all, Jesus used the words of
the Bible to express his innermost feelings, his deepest hopes,
his darkest fears, his most painful emotions. His cry from the
cross, 'My God, why have you forsaken me?' is a direct
quotation from Ps 22. And there is an ancient tradition that
says that Jesus went recited the entire psalm before he died. If
you read Ps 22 you will see how accurately and eloquently it
articulates what he was going through. At crucial moments in his
life, then, Jesus found in the words of the Bible the means of
giving voice to his experience. Biblical thoughts and words were
so familiar to him that they provided him the natural means for
If we follow Jesus' example we will cultivate an intimate
knowledge of the Bible. We will read the Bible not only for
information and understanding. We will read it for its application
to our lives. To a significant degree, we become what we read. The
books that mean the most to us shape our perspective—our values
and attitudes, our sentiments and emotions. The motion picture based
on Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451 ends with a striking scene.
In a futuristic society all the books have been burned in order to
eradicate their contents from the human race, but they are not lost.
One by one individuals have memorized the great books. They can
recite them word by word. And so we see these figures moving slowly
on a bleak landscape, quoting at length the classics of literature.
And each person is identified by the title of his or her book. It
may seem strange to draw a precedent from such a source for the
Christian life, but there's an application. We should read the
Bible as if we drew from it the very substance of life, as if we
were just as dependent on it for our survival as we are on what we
eat and drink. Because the truth is, we are. We live by words.
"The words that I say to you," said Jesus, "they are
spirit and they are life." Jn 6,63.
Words have enormous power in our experience. Just think of some
of the things that words can do.
- Words give meaning to our lives.
Words can hurt. Unkind nicknames and racial epithets are
sources of deep pain for many people.
Words can encourage. We have all profited from words spoken to
us precisely when we need it the most.
Words can transform. The words of a marriage ceremony are
designed to transform private feelings to lasting public
Words can heal. A friend of mine who lost a son has been
helped by another friend who sustained a similar loss.
How can the words of the Bible come to have that kind of impact on
our lives? How can we incorporate them into our lives so they
nourish and strengthen us, so they actually become part of us, just
like the things we eat and drink?
1. One suggestions is to stay with a passage of the Bible until
it becomes your own, until it gives expression to your own ideas,
feelings, convictions and shapes the ideas, feelings and
convictions. Psalm 63 is a passage that has particular meaning for
2. Another suggestion is to read the Bible through the
Bible. Notice how certain themes and expressions point to other
passages. John 13:1, for example, ends with a phrase that summarizes
the entire story of Jesus' passion 'love to the end.'
3. It also helps to look for promises in the Bible and learn to
apply them in a personal way.
My attraction to the promises led me to list fifty of them in no
time at all. God's promises are not guarantees that God will
perform according to our dictates, desires or preferences. Instead,
they are expressions of God's will and patterns designed to shape
the contours of our hopes and aspirations. The promises are
assurances that give substance to our hope. They are "words to
live by," "patterns for life." The important thing
about the promises is not that each stipulates a specific benefit
that becomes ours on demand, but their power to inform, inspire, and
shape our religious perspective. Promises fuel hope, which is
"faith in a future key." We look to the arrival of God's
kingdom in a future that will fulfill all his promises. All God's
promises have their "yes" in Christ.
Instead of claiming the promises, our goal for the promises to
claim us. We should let the words of scripture fill our hearts,
occupy our minds, define our goals, shape our attitudes, stimulate
our thinking, arouse our emotions, guide our actions. This is the
comprehensive, life-encompassing, effect that God's words are to
have on us (Deut 6). It is also helpful to remember that we can read
the entire Bible in a promissory way. It is all one big, grand
promise. Nothing that it talks about is fully realized in the
present. There is future momentum, a future perspective, to it all.
Our lives are based on promises.
Rom 8,15-17 Adoption gives us a new identity
Heb 11,16 Adoption gives God a new identity
Exploring a Bible promise. We can read the Bible in a
"promissory" way by asking questions like these:
What does the text promise? What does God offer us in this
passage of the Bible? (It may be stated or implied?)
Does the promise deal with something you feel a need for
- What would your life be like if this promise became a reality
- Are there any conditions attached to the promise?
Does the promise offer something you can have right now,
something you acquire gradually, or something you have to wait
- Do you have any personal memories that may connect with this
Does this promise contain any "words to live
by"—specific expressions that you want to remember,
savor, return to?
Does God communicate with people directly today? Of course he does.
Does God use dramatic, sensational means of communication—visions,
dreams, angelic messengers, audible voices, and the like? He may,
but he prefers not to. How then does he communicate? Through the
Holy Spirit and the word. How can we commune with him? By finding in
his Word the words we live by. By taking his word into our lives and
opening our minds and hearts to the silent, powerful influence of
his Holy Spirit.
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