Sometimes we hear reports of what others say about us. That happened a few years ago when a friend passed along what a noted ministry leader said about me: “The trouble with Ron is that he always rides the same pony.” What was the pony? “He’s fixated on Bible reading.”
My response? Wow! Please put that on my epitaph! What an honor if that’s what I’m known for, even if it dismisses lots of my other interests. In fact, all my other healthy interests are only derived from my fascination with the God who I meet each day in the Bible.
Why such a positive response? Because I’m standing with God himself in having that fixation. In his case the matter has to do with his identity: he is a God who exists in the eternal triune communion that carries with it eternal communication. God’s own being comes to us as “Word”—with the Son revealing what he hears from the Father, and the Spirit communicating the mind of Christ to our own spirits in words.
And our own creation as relational beings carries with it a divine template of communion and communication as we are made in God’s image as male and female. It takes at least two for a conversation to occur, for love to be expressed, for discoveries to be shared, and for glory to be given. All of this “back and forth” of being truly human only reflects the back and forth of the eternal, divine conversation—the shared glory that Jesus spoke of with the Father in John 17:24.
My thoughts about this were restirred as I prepared a sermon for this weekend on “Relational Bible Reading.” Let me review, in brief, some of the insights that jumped up once again for me in the process.
One was that everything in human history still pivots on the question of Genesis 3. Was God’s word true, or was the serpent’s word true? When Adam was told not to eat the forbidden fruit lest he die on that very day, he initially believed God. Yet when Eve—deceived by the serpent’s claims of potential benefits and the counterclaim “you will surely not die”—invited Adam to turn away from God’s word to embrace the serpent’s word he agreed to do it. And he died. The Spirit who was their bond of life was gone in an instant.
This, then, is certainly the context for what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3: “you must be born again” and “that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
The Spirit-based versus merely flesh-based versions of life set up the great divide of today’s world: there are those who are dead and still believe the serpent’s claim that they are really alive; and those who are now alive, having accepted God’s assertion that they were dead and needed to be born again.
Faith comes from hearing and responding to God’s calling to new life in Christ. Which means there are certainly a number of still-dead Christians—those who still dismiss the claim that we were all once dead in our trespasses and sins until God, by his grace working in us to create faith, resurrected us into a new and eternal life.
I’m repeating myself in much of this post: these are features I keep coming back to in these weekly posts. But why? Because I find many Christians talking about God, about theology, about church growth, social transformation, outreach efforts, discipleship programs, authentic community, iconic symbols, and a host of other things. But in too many cases these same people don’t ever mention their Bible reading as a primary devotion. Nor do they promote it with the passion it deserves. All of which worries me.
Because of what Jesus said in John 5 to some avid theologians and academic students of the Old Testament: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it they that bear witness about me” [v.39]. Their reading was fruitless, Jesus said, because “you do not have the love of God within you.” It is only when we are born of the Spirit and have God’s love poured into our hearts by his new and lively presence that we actually listen to the Bible in any true and effective sense.
And because of what Jesus said in John 8 to some professed believers who were still ready to critique him for what he said about being set free from sin through abiding in his word. Once again it was a matter of a great divide between God and Satan: “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your desire is to do your father’s desires” [v.43]. Jesus also made it clear that there is another trajectory that separates professed believers who don’t really like God’s word and those who do: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” [v.47].
And because of what Jesus prayed in John 17 to the Father about his true followers.
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. [vs.6-8, my emphases]
There are another set of references to the dividing power of God’s word in the rest of this chapter: the disciples are hated by the world because of their affiliation with God’s word [v.14]; and the word is truth and truth reformed—”sanctified”—these, his disciples.
So let me offer my conclusion: anyone who really knows God will be avid about his word. And everyone who loves God will be hungry for anything and everything he says. And all of us who share this passion can join in having the insider’s knowledge that we’re in a unique fellowship with God and with each other: lovers of the Word!
For those, on the other hand, who although professing to be Christians, still can’t find time to read the Bible (but who have lots of time for entertainments and temporal ambitions); or who find it too hard to read; or who are more interested in high theology than in the humble literature of the Bible, here’s an invitation: ask God to give you his wonderful new life and give up your old life. And then take up your Bibles and start reading.
Once again, the words of Jesus: “If you abide in my word then you are truly my disciples” [John 8:31]. Amen, and let’s start riding that pony together!