One survey discovered that during a typical week: 13% of those surveyed reported to read their Bible daily; 32% read it three times a week; and nearly half (43%) of all Christians do not read their Bible at all. (Barna Research Group, 1992)
Though we might blame that on our busyness, I believe that the primary reason we neglect praying and reading the Bible, is because we doubt that it is worth the time and effort we might put into it. Why pray if you don’t believe God will answer? Why read the Bible if it doesn’t make sense? Yet before we push prayer and the Bible to the side, let’s take a moment and consider what Psalm 119 teaches us that they have to offer:
9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
24 Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors.
28 My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.
50 This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.
104 Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.
165 Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
Many of those who neglect the Bible do not necessarily reject it. They neglect it because much of it does not make sense to them. It’s hard and difficult for them to understand and often times it seems like it’s talking about something a million miles away. The writer of Psalm 119 knew that there was a great difference in reading the Bible and living within its pages. Therefore he prayed –
27 Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works.
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
34 Give me understanding , and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
“Teach me LORD. Help me to understand. Show me how to apply it to my life.” Unless the Lord causes the Bible to come alive in our hearts, it will seem like little more than an ancient book. Fortunately, God is willing to teach us His Word. He does not want it to remain a mystery. Every child of God has the Spirit of God living within them, and one of the primary purposes for Him being there is to teach and guide us in God’s truth. Second only to our salvation in importance, is the Spirit’s work of illuminating the Word of God so that we might apply it to our lives.
There are three words that we have used to help us better understand the Holy Spirit’s relationship with the Bible:
1) Revelation: The revealing of spiritual truths not previously known
2) Inspiration: The recording of these spiritual truths
3) Illumination: The receiving of these spiritual truths
The Spirit revealed to men of old, the spiritual truths we find in the Bible. He then guided them to carefully record them. But that’s not all. The Spirit also comes along side of us in order to help us to understand and to apply these truths to our lives. We read from 1 Corinthians 2:11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
Many refer to the Spirit’s guidance as Illumination. Though that word is not found in the Bible, the concept is. To illuminate means to shed light upon something. When we step into a dark room and switch on the light, we illuminate that room so that we can see. Without the Spirit’s illumination, much of the Bible seems like a dark book. But as we carefully and prayerfully read the Bible, the Spirit comes along side of us in order to help us see and understand. This is not a one time experience. The Spirit does not reveal everything that is in the Bible all at one time. Instead He does so one verse at a time. As Isaiah the prophet wrote – “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” (Is 28:10) Every time I study the Bible, I learn something new. That’s what keeps me coming back.
How does the Spirit shed light upon God’s Word?
I. Through Diligent Study
2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
A. A Desire to Learn
The word ‘study’ means to make haste in giving great effort. Though this verse was originally written to a young pastor, it is applicable to every believer who wants to learn God’s Word. Notice what Solomon said to his son –
Proverbs 2:1 My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; 2 So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; 3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; 4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; 5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
Like most things in life, we will get from the Bible what we put into it. The Spirit is willing to take us as deep as we want to go.
Example – A man in Kansas City was severely injured in an explosion. The victim’s face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He was just a new Christian, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he heard about a lady in England who read Braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in Braille. Much to his dismay, however, he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been destroyed by the explosion. One day, as he brought one of the Braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, I can read the Bible using my tongue. At the time Robert Sumner wrote his book, the man had “read” through the entire Bible four times. The Wonders of the Word of God, by Robert L. Sumner.
B. Resource Tools to Help us to Learn
The Bible can be a deep book. Paul refers to it as the ‘deep things of God.’ The writer of Hebrews refers to it as strong meat for those who are mature believers. We start out on the sincere milk of the Word, but we should grow so that we can digest strong meat. There are several ways of doing this.Tony offers a great series of lessons he calls Bible 101, where he teaches you how to use various resource tools that will help better understand the Bible.
There are a lot of great resource tools, but I believe that for myself, the number one thing God has used in my life has been other translations. I remember once reading Warren Wiersbe as saying that often times, another translation can say more in one sentence than he can in pages. As you well know, I preach out of the King James Version and don’t anticipate ever changing. Yet with almost every passage of scripture I study, I read it from other translations. One of my favorites has been the New Living Translation.
In addition, the Lord has greatly used what we call ‘Study Bibles’ to help many to understand His Word. I suppose that one of the first and most popular was the Scofield Study Bible. For me personally, the Lord has greatly used a Thompson Chain Reference Bible. In the back of a Thompson Chain Reference Bible, there are over 4,000 subjects grouped together for study. Many people use a Life Application Bible which contains a lot of study notes and references.
The Lord has also used various Bible Commentaries to help me better understand. Many years ago I bought a paperback version of a commentary on the book of Revelation. Though I didn’t understand 1/1oth of it, it whetted my appetite for more.
There is another great resource the Spirit uses to help us to study and understand God’s Word. Consider what Paul says in Ephesians 4 –
Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
Long before there were commentaries and Bible dictionaries, there were pastors and teachers whose primary responsibility was to break down the Word of God and teach it in such a way so that God’s people might apply it to their lives.
Acts 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 7 And the word of God increased ; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
The Holy Spirit uses church services, SS, TFC, Awana and other teaching opportunities to help us understand the Word of God. That’s why we need to always be present when possible; we need to bring our Bibles and read along with the one teaching; and we need to take notes. Often times I won’t remember something until I write it down.
II.Through Prayerful Meditation
The lessons we learn from the Word of God don’t end when we walk out the church doors. Actually that when they begin. One of the ways the Spirit sheds light upon God’s spiritual truths is through our prayerful meditation. Consider what David says in Psalm 1 –
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
A. What is Mediation?
The Hebrew word here for meditate means to: moan, to groan, to imagine. It is associated with another word which means to whisper. To meditate is to take these spiritual truths that the Spirit reveals and to speak them to ourselves in our deepest part of our being. This is one time when it’s good to talk to yourself!
B. Meditation Produces Discernment
1 Corinthians 2:9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Note – 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The word ‘discerned’ means to examine and to judge. Paul is not suggesting that we have the right to judge God’s Word to determine whether or not we will believe it and accept it. What he is referring to is the involvement of our mind that enables us to process these truths for application. In other words – “weigh it out and see how it applies.” The Spirit is our teacher who compares ‘spiritual things with spiritual.’ I was taught in Bible college that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. Through His illumination and teaching, the Spirit is able to help us develop godly discernment. What is godly discernment? Godly discernment is the ability to take the issues of life and lay them up against scripture, and then to make wise decisions based upon God’s eternal truths.
III. Through Humble Submission
Through His illumination of spiritual truth, the Spirit is able to cause us to develop a Christ-like mind. Yet this Christ-like mind does not come automatically. There must be a willingness on our part to submit to the truths the Spirit reveals.
A. God’s Word Exposes Our Weakness
James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The Spirit uses God’s Word like a mirror to reveal our sins and weaknesses. The writer of Hebrews explains it like this –
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
B. God’s Word Empowers Our Walk
The writer of Psalm 119 says – “9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
James tells us that we are to ‘receive with meekness the engrafted word. The Holman Christian Standard Version says – ‘humbly receive the implanted word.‘ Remember I said that the Spirit doesn’t reveal the deep things of God simply for information. He wants application. James tells us –
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
In closing, consider these opening words from Peter’s second epistle –
1 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, 3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s Spirit is ready and eager to teach us everything that we need for godly living and for spiritual fruitfulness. The question is – are we as ready and eager to learn?