One big reason why people don’t really read their Bibles, is because they don’t understand what’s going on.
So we tend to give up, and swap genuine revelation for easier things like liking verses on Instagram. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In Bible school, I learnt four important things to remember when reading the Word of God. I’d like to share them with you, so we can read the Word His way.
It is crucially important that we understand the context of whatever it is we read in the Bible. I’m breaking context down into four further points below.
Segregation: “Splitting up” the Bible by chapters and verses is something that’s actually only 500 years old. Older scripts such as Samuel and Chronicles were divided into two books simply because of how lengthy they were as a whole. So, begin to read the books of the Bible as whole books. After all, the Bible itself is one grand story of redemption.
For example, 1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter familiar to modern readers (the one about love). However, if we read the chapters before and after, we find that chapter 13 is sandwiched between two chapters about spiritual gifts. This completely changes the outlook of 13 because it is essentially no longer speaking about romantic love – but loving the body of Christ.
While there’s nothing wrong in applying it to love in our relationships, reading this way allows for better appreciation of the context in which Paul writes to the Corinthian Church.
Origin, Date and Audience: The Bible was written for us but not to us. It was written to specific audiences at particular points of time in history. So, certain cultural norms or world-views in it may be foreign to us. Ever have difficulty relating to your grandparents? Multiply that feeling by that by a hundred generations.
Language: The Bible was not written in English. There are many words in the Bible which have different meanings from ours today, which explains the many English translations we can choose from. But language is inevitably limited when it comes to putting ourselves in the shoes of the Bible’s writers and readers.
The Timeless God: But God’s word remains supernatural and timeless. He is able to work in readers’ lives beyond the inflexibility of context.
2. HAVE AN OPEN MIND
Because we have reflexive minds, when we read certain portions of scripture – especially popular ones – we hold preconceived theology before even reading a letter. The thing is, much of our theology comes from sermons or teachings we’ve heard from teachers who had their personal revelation from God about that portion of scripture.
So, bringing a know-it-all mindset to reading scripture only limits what God might want to reveal to us. His wisdom and revelation supersede one-track human understanding.
I remember this one lecturer at my Bible school who spent 25 years studying the book of Colossians alone. She probably knows every word of that book by heart. Yet she tells us that every time she reads Colossians, she learns something new – as long as her heart is open to God’s revelation for the season.
3. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU BELIEVE
Reading the Word, we will form conclusions about the nature and character of God. Most of these may be true, but a few will likely be false. We are reading an ancient Jewish manuscript with almost no cultural similarities to Singapore. Therefore, what the Bible’s original readers understood from their reading is likely different from what we would as modern readers.
In fact, what we conclude from scripture actually reflects what we believe from our cultural nurturing and personal values. Both Hitler and Mother Teresa read the same Bible – each concluding vastly different things.
When I did my Biblical Studies in South Africa, my classmates were from over 20 different nations. We studied God’s Word as a culturally diverse group, and I was soon amazed by the many other perspectives of God I hadn’t seen.
Before, my cultural perspective of God had simply told me more about who I was as a Singaporean – rather than providing an accurate view of who He really is. And who’s to say one’s cultural perspective is better than another’s?
4. BE HUMBLE AND TEACHABLE
You feed one of two things when interpreting the Word of God: Your relationship with the Lord or your pride. When we have an entitled and lofty approach to the Bible – we feed our pride. Approach the Word of God with humility, knowing that it is only by grace – an utmost privilege – that one is able to study the Word of God.
The condition of your heart is the very filter the Word of God will pass through. It determines the application and fruit which follow. Strive for humility, utterly prostrating yourself before God to receive His revelation from the Word. Posture yourself like the tax collector before the altar of God (Luke 18:13).
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Pray and ask for God’s transformative presence to meet you as you read His Word. Reading the Bible must necessarily be a supernatural experience for it to be transformative at all.
We often want transformation at our timing. But God knows what we need in every season (Matthew 6:8). We simply have to trust that His ways are way higher than ours (Isaiah 55).
And sure, there will be times in reading when it’s hard to “feel” as though God is present – especially chapters like Leviticus or Deuteronomy. Just remember then: God is working within you whenever you dive deep and soak in His Word.
That’s more than a feeling.