The pendulum swings
I’ve noticed a pendulum in Christian circles. When the pendulum swings one way people get excited about ‘studying’ the Bible – starting (but rarely finishing… or even getting 10% of the way through) Bible-in-a-year programmes and the like. When the pendulum swings the other way people seem to suggest that the proper reaction against dry, academic, legalistic study of the Bible is to not look at the Bible at all – trying to somehow live out our discipleship while ignoring the most direct way God has given us to get to know Him and His purposes for our lives. As with most pendulum swings, I feel that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Knowing that God’s Word is alive and active, I know that it is not meant to be ‘studied’ like a textbook or a chore, but nor is it meant to be ignored. The best times I’ve had with the Bible have been when God has revealed something to me through it – speaking simultaneously through the pages and through the Holy Spirit within me. This doesn’t come about by trying to pull apart the meaning of words, or debating what a particular writer meant by a certain phrase. All of that is good stuff, but the times I’ve most heard God talking through the Bible have been when I’ve simply allowed Him to speak through it and been attentive to what He is saying.
Go and do
Take one of my favourite passages, Isaiah 58:6—9, as an example:
‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.’
You could spend years studying ancient Hebrew to tell me the original meaning of each word. Or you could look into the history of yokes in ancient Israel. Or form a study group to debate exactly who the oppressed are and at what point they could be considered free. Or you could write an essay about the relationship between righteousness and the glory of the Lord.
Or you could just see that God wants us to help the oppressed, the hungry, the poor and the naked… and go and do it. Now, I know that this particular passage is quite straightforward while others can be a bit more difficult to understand. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to understand the background, cultural context, original meaning and so on. These are all great. But we are not meant to just hear without listening, or study without putting it into practice.
The Father’s heart
The person who most inspires me and makes me passionate about getting to know God through His Word and living it out in my life is not someone who could recite a passage off by heart or say it in the original language, or even could tell me the writer’s original intention and how that might apply to us today (as impressive and useful as each of these things are), but is someone who is actually a living example of the Word in action. Someone who knows God’s heart. Who feeds the hungry and break the chains of injustice. Someone who seeks after God.
A love letter
So when we say ‘study’, it’s not like studying an academic book simply to build up knowledge. It’s more like studying a fascinating painting or a beautiful gemstone, or studying a picture of the one you love. Because that’s what it is. It’s not a dry, dusty tome for old professors to debate, but a thing of beauty and life. Something to be cherished and treasured and to be passionate about.
Mark loves the written word, especially God’s Word, and he enjoys being creative, particularly when it comes to writing. He is passionate about small groups being places where people come together to find, experience and share the living God – then go out into the world and shout His name from the rooftops, and be His hands and feet down in the everyday grind of people’s lives.