What I began to see was that the Bible is not essentially, as I had always more or less supposed, a book of ethical principles, of moral exhortations, of cautionary tales about exemplary people, of uplifting thoughts – in fact, not really a religious book at all in the sense that most of the books you would be apt to find in a minister’s study or reviewed in a special religion issue of the New York Times book section are religious. I saw it instead as a great, tattered compendium of writings, the underlying and unifying purpose of all of which is to show how God works through the Jacobs and Jabboks of history to make himself known to the world and to draw the world back to himself.
Frederick Buechner, “Now and Then.”
Why should we read and hear the Bible?
Is it for moralistic reasons – reading and hearing the Bible as an example to imitate?
Is it for intellectual stimulus – reading and hearing the Bible as something to know?
Is it for therapeutic grounds – reading and hearing the Bible to feel better about ourselves?
Is it for theological acumen – reading and hearing the Bible to develop religious beliefs systematically?
Is it for guidance – reading and hearing the Bible to get direction for our lives?
While many people read and hear the Bible for these and many other reasons, the fundamental purpose of Bible reading and hearing is to let the Bible have its way with us.
The Bible is the Book of books because it’s one of a kind – without equal. It’s without equal because it’s alive (Hebrews 4:12). Because it’s alive, the Bible wants to have its way with us.
Bible readers and hearers, beware!
The Bible “will have a man’s or woman’s heart and soul, and if not, it will work despair … whoever you are, if you do not repent and believe the testimony laid down in this book concerning God and his Christ, it will … render your reading of it, your interpretation of it, your preaching on it a comic spectacle to the world to which you believed you had to adjust it,” warns Lutheran theologian Roy Harrisville.
The single word encapsulating what it means for the Bible to have its way with us is “transformation.” For transformation to occur, “encounter” and “interaction” are required. Encounter and interaction are best facilitated through relationships.
If the Bible will have its way with us, we must have a relationship with the Author. To have a
relationship with the Author, we must connect with and live in obedience to the One the Bible speaks of – Jesus Christ.
If the Bible will have its way with us, we must have a relationship with the Author.
If the purpose of Bible reading and hearing is to let the Bible have its way with us, i.e., transform us through encounter and interaction with Jesus Christ, then Bible reading and hearing is about interaction with the Word in ways that reveal God, expose sin, and cause us to worship Him. For this to happen, we need “Jesus engagement.”
So, what is Jesus engagement? It’s connecting with the One who is the Word so His Spirit can reveal, renew and revive us, in and through the Word, to love and live for Him in accordance with His Word. In short, it’s a dynamic, life-changing connection with the risen, reigning Jesus Himself.
If we love the Word more than we love the One who is the Word, we’ve missed the mark. Bible reading and hearing, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily lead to us loving and living for Jesus.
God’s given us His Word to lead us to Christ – to know Jesus and make Him known. We can be “Bible-believing,” but if we’re not “Christ-centred,” we’re not letting the Bible control us. It’s only when we embrace Christ as the unity and unfolding message of the whole of Scripture that the Bible gets to have its way with us.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law are an example of ardent Bible readers and hearers who got it wrong. Their hearts were captivated by the Word but not taken captive by the God of the Word. This resulted in legalism and a love for their traditions. Jesus called them out for this, saying:
“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6)
And “thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition” Mark 7:13.
That is, their Bible reading or hearing perpetuated religious rituals and stifled spiritual life,
nothing more. That’s not to say that reading and hearing the Bible isn’t a required spiritual discipline; it most definitely is. But it is to say that our reasons for reading and hearing the Bible have to centre on a vital, ongoing, life-altering relationship with Christ. As Stott reminds us, “Only as we continue to appropriate by faith the riches of Christ which are disclosed to us in Scripture shall we grow into spiritual maturity, and become men and women of God who are thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Why we read and hear the Bible
Let’s be clear about why we read and hear the Bible. If Bible reading and hearing is emphasized simply for the sake of Bible reading and hearing, it falls short of God’s intent for His Word. The primary purpose of Bible reading and hearing is to engage with Jesus – to discover how our stories should embrace and live out His Story. So, let’s “get beyond propositions and Bible verses to Christ. I do not mean ‘get around’ Bible verses, but ‘through’ Bible verses to Christ, to the person, the living person, to know Him, cherish Him, treasure Him, enjoy Him, trust Him, be at home with Him,” explains preacher and author John Piper.
The primary purpose of Bible reading/hearing is to engage with Jesus – to discover how our stories should embrace and live out His Story.
This is a chapter from Dr. Lawson Murray’s best-selling book, Bible Engagement Basics. From the chapter on “Purpose”
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