Yesterday I finished reading the Bible. Each morning I track at a normal reading pace for thirty to forty minutes. Reading, not studying. All of Genesis to Revelation takes about four months.
Why this lifelong habit? Some call it a spiritual discipline. But it’s not. Efforts on my exercise bike are a discipline … because peddling to nowhere is no joy. Bible reading, on the other hand, is a devotion of heart. I do it because the Bible shares God’s heart as spiritual food for hungry souls.
Sunday sermons might even get in the way. Three-point sermons that end with duties to live by remind me of my doctor telling me to exercise more. Peddle harder, faster! It seems to miss the point of having a new heart from, and for, Christ.
Let’s ask, instead, how the Bible offers God’s love. The Bible offers both a promise and a presence. The promise is a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus. And his story is wider and deeper than we realize. It starts with the “let us make man in our image” and ends with, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.” It’s what Jesus, after his resurrection, told his followers: “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” [Luke 24:44]. So, the entire Bible is tied to him; and the Bible is an ultimate puzzle, with the full image of Jesus, representing God the Father, forming for readers.
The presence is God’s Spirit. The entire Bible was “breathed out” by the Spirit and he accompanies his words in a readers’ heart with clearer insights over time. Paul, for instance, told the Galatians—in 3:8—that God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 was “the gospel.” Paul disclosed that promise by drawing on a group of Old Testament texts from Deuteronomy, Habakkuk, Leviticus, Isaiah, and more.
The Spirit’s presence in Bible reading also offers spiritual corrective lenses. “So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” [1 Cor. 2:11-13]. Bible readers need to start with a humble request for help.
The crucial issue in reading is our love—our heart desires or “affections.” These either awaken us or block us. Jesus, for instance, called on a premier Bible scholar of his day, Nicodemus, to be “born again”—to receive the Spirit—to gain eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16]. In saying this Jesus offered his love. And it exposed a relational problem. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” [3:19]. Nicodemus, for the time being, walked away from love.
God’s “light” is a barrier because it’s not what people want. Spiritual blindness isn’t a defect of mind or will. It’s a disaffection. People only see what they want to see. Jesus offered God’s love but it didn’t draw Nicodemus to him. Paul wrote of this in 2 Timothy 3:2-5. “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…”
Let’s be clear, then. The Bible isn’t a romantic accumulation of love texts. Instead, it exposes naive love in anyone who seeks wealth, wisdom, power, prestige, or pleasure as life aims. The “good life.” And who miss seeing that such love is for the creation rather than the Creator.
The promise of Christ’s love, then, isn’t about sugar and spice, and everything nice. Instead, it’s an invitation to share in God’s loving communion, as in John 17. And that love is poured out in our hearts by the Spirit in the moment we receive Jesus in place of being “lovers of self.” It starts with the cross—in being crucified, with Jesus, to what this world offers. And then we live upside-down. By counting others more important than ourselves. Asking, “What can I give?” and not, “What do I get?”
Now back to reading the entire Bible. Once we catch the music of God’s love in Christ, we start to hear that love as we read it. It’s not what we expected before we met him. It’s what comes next. We see that the word “love” is an inevitable keystone in stories and lessons. As in the greatest commandment. In the triad of “faith, hope, and love.” In the salvation verse, John 3:16.
God loved Israel but first he made them slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. Joseph was made a slave in the process, and “God meant it for good.” We also read about Elijah being fed by ravens. Daniel got to live with lions. Paul was imprisoned. So, God’s love has lots of lively surprises, but it all works to make us “holy and blameless” for the finale of the Bible love story.
I read the finale yesterday, in Revelation 21:1-3. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”