Have you ever received a love letter? I had quite a few when I was in school and actually kept them for a few years. (for some reason, after I met my soon-to-be wife, they mysteriously vanished). Thinking back, I should probably be grateful they’re not around anymore, because I’m sure they were quite sappy! I kept the letters from my highschool girlfriend in a 3 ring folder, and I can remember the enjoyment of reading them. As corny as those little sweet nothings were, I recall the warmth and feeling of being loved, accepted, and cherished although our whirlwind romance was nothing more than just that. When you’re 17 and stupid, there’s nothing like being told how wonderful you are and how much you have been missed since 1st period.
Love letters are one of life’s sweetest gifts! Of course, the ultimate love letter is the Bible. Lately, I have really been struggling with the way I read the holy scriptures. For me, it’s not so much an issue of reading them as much as "how" I read them. Eugene Peterson, who wrote "The Message", has made a lasting impression on how I view the whole Bible as a revelation of God, not just that last sensational book at the end. If we as disciples will begin to approach scripture as the primary means of God actually revealing who He is, who we are, and who we were meant to be, I believe then we can see actual life changing results! As Peterson claims, the Bible is "used" more than it is "receieved".
He points out that there are 3 primary means of "use". First, many Christians use the Bible for intellectual challenge. This is quite possibly the biggest detriment to the effectiveness of the church. The reason there are so many divided congregations and denominations since the time of Christ, is because too many have obsessively used the scriptures to "prove" their theological correctness in their drive to be right! Secondly, others use the scriptures in their quest for a successful life. Good parenting, financial shrewdness, effective leadership etc. are the worthy goals of everyone and the Bible is the "how-to" in these matters. I guess I can’t wholeheartedly disagree with this premise, but that still doesn’t mean the scriptures were given to us by God for the purpose of our personal success! It can turn your stomach when well intentioned Christians treat the gospel as a product to sell ensuring your all expense paid trip to heaven using the Bible as the travel brochure.
Lastly, the way people use the Bible is for inspiration, which I must admit to doing quite often myself. Of course, It’s hard to fault someone for seeking the comfort that is offered through times of grief, worry, and guilt. However, this manner of using scripture is still a largely self-driven method.
I’m really trying hard not to stand in judgement of these approaches, especially because there is so much benefit we gain from reading the Bible. The reason we should "receive" the scriptures, or "eat this book" as the title of Peterson’s book encourages us to do, is because God at His core is relational and so are we (even hermits like me). While it may be a worthy goal to read the Bible in a year, or take in a daily devotion, we should be aware that a self-gratifying approach to scripture does not require us to be relational to our Creator or to others. It’s not unlike the early civilizations who crafted their own gods to set up on the fireplace mantle. The real "god" in these instances were the humans themselves, because they made for themselves a convenient religion that required no relationship on their part.
When we merely "use" the Bible, we might as well prop up our wobbly tables, or chock the back tires of our RVs with it.
We can read, memorize, and recite "love the Lord God with all your
might" and "love your neighbor as yourself" for the rest of our lives
and still be just as empty and void of God in the end.
We can even successfully debate the existence of God or Calvinism vs. Armenianism, and we can comfort our souls at the start of each day while being succesful and responsible citizens. We can do and be all these things, but it doesn’t mean that we have "received" the word of God. It just means we are consumers. We buy ipods, books, movie tickets, and spiritual comfort without ever "leaving the house".
I use to think it was corny to refer to the Bible as God’s love letter, but it’s true! It would be silly to read a love letter from a girlfriend or boyfriend for the purpose of intellectual challenge.(especially from some of my old girlfriends) "She thinks I’m cute and that’s the truth!! The letter says it’s so if you will just believe it!". It would be equally foolish to use the letter to gain insights on being successful in managing your finances or dealing with people. "Now Mr. Smith, I’ve been thinking about you while our song played on the radio so can we have your business?"
Of course, finding inspiration in a love letter wouldn’t be all that unreasonable, but what kind of needy person reads a love letter every morning so they can get through their day?
God gave us scripture for one supreme purpose! He didn’t preserve the Bible merely to inform us, but more importantly to form us! Of course, there is information in scripture, good information too! There’s also good information in thousands of other books as well. But no other literature shares the profound ability to transform the life of it’s reader like the holy scripture. Granted, no other literature is as God-breathed.
The scriptures are God’s way of revealing Himself and His purpose. Many believers simply want the Bible to educate, inform, and comfort (which it is capable of doing), but tragically, most overlook the most important approach to scripture which is, metaphorically speaking, to eat, savor, and digest it so that it infiltrates our entire being (mind, body, soul).
I hope I’m not misunderstood in this post, because I do wholeheartedly agree with 2 Timothy 3:16, as the scriptures themselves claim to be "useful" (teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness), but before we reduce the Bible to a rulebook, handbook, or training manual, let’s back up to verse 15 of 2 Timothy 3 and read the part that says that the "scriptures make us wise through……." what? " through faith in Christ Jesus!" Faith in Christ is relationship! It’s not believing in information about Him, but being formed by Him!
Paul was right about the scriptures. They are beneficial. They instruct, inform, train, inspire, and educate! But Jesus was also right when he told us to "seek first the Kingdom of God (relationship/rule) and His righteousness, and all these things (those things we spend so much energy trying to acquire: good parenting, being a devoted spouse, good steward, defender of the truth, passion etc..) will be added unto you!"