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LIVING BY THE BOOKThe Art and Science of Reading the Bible
By Howard G. Hendricks William D. Hendricks
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy People Don't Study the Bible
Shortly after I became a Christian, someone wrote in the flyleaf of my Bible these words: "This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book." That was true then, and it's still true today. Dusty Bibles always lead to dirty lives. In fact, you are either in the Word and the Word is conforming you to the image of Jesus Christ, or you are in the world and the world is squeezing you into its mold.
And yet the great tragedy among Christians today is that too many of us are under the Word of God, but not in it for ourselves. For example, I met a man once who had driven his entire family all the way across the country to attend a conference of Bible teaching.
Amazed, I asked him, "Why did you come so far?"
"Because I wanted to get under the Word of God," he said.
On the face of it, that sounds wonderful. But later it hit me: Here was a man willing to drive twelve hundred miles to get under the Word of God; but was he just as willing to walk across his living room floor, pick up a Bible, and get into it for himself?
You see, there's no question that believers need to sit under the teaching of God's Word. But that ought to be a stimulus-not a substitute-for getting into it for ourselves.
Who reads theBible? According to the Barna Group, in 2006 about 47 percent of Americans polled claimed to read the Bible at some point in a week (up from a low of 31 percent in 1995). However, a famous Gallup survey from a number of years ago found that while 82 percent of Americans claimed to believe that the Bible is either the literal or "inspired" Word of God, and more than half said they read the Bible at least monthly, half couldn't name even one of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. And fewer than half knew who delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
Have you ever seen a Bible "parked" in the rear window of someone's car? That's common where I come from. A guy will come out of church, hop into his car, toss his Bible in the back, and leave it there until the next Sunday. That's quite a statement of the value he places on God's Word. In effect, when it comes to Scripture he's functionally illiterate six out of seven days a week.
The Bible is owned, read on occasion, even taken to church-but not studied. Why is it that people do not get into Scripture for themselves, to understand it and see it make a difference in their lives? Let's find out by listening to six Christians describe their experience in this regard.
Ken: 'I need something that works.'
HGH: Ken, you're a business executive with a lot of responsibility. You're well educated. I know you love the Lord. Where does Bible study fit into your life?
Ken: Back when my kids were young, we used to read a verse or two every morning at breakfast, or maybe at dinnertime. But I wouldn't say we ever studied the Bible. And of course it's not the sort of thing you'd do at work.
HGH: Why not?
Ken: Well, work is work. You're there to do a job. When I go to work I'm thinking about our payroll, our customers, the bills we've got to pay, what our competitors are doing. The Bible's about the last thing on my mind.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of these people who acts one way at church and another way at the office. But let's face it-the business world is no Sunday school class. You're up against things that aren't even mentioned in the Bible. So it doesn't exactly apply to your day-to-day situation.
HGH: Ken, you've put your finger on the problem of relevance. And that may be the number-one reason people are not studying God's Word today. They think it's archaic, out of date. It may have had something to say to another generation, but they seriously question whether it has anything to say to ours. Yet, as we'll see, God's revelation is as alive today as it was when it was first delivered.
Wendy: 'I don't know how.'
HGH: Let's move on to Wendy, who is a copywriter for an ad agency. Wendy, you seem to have a lot of energy and initiative, I'd be willing to bet that you'd make an outstanding student of the Bible.
Wendy: Actually, I've tried, but it just didn't work out.
HGH: How so?
Wendy: Well, I went through a phase once where I decided I was really going to study the Bible. I'd heard someone at a seminar say that it's impossible to know God apart from knowing His Word. I knew I wanted to get closer to the Lord, so I made up my mind to really get into Scripture. I bought all these books about the Bible. I came home from work every night and spent about an hour or more reading and trying to understand it.
But I realized that I didn't know Greek or Hebrew. And there were an awful lot of things that people were saying about different passages that made no sense to me. I mean, I'd read what somebody had to say about a text, and then I'd read the text, but I couldn't figure out how they'd come up with it. Finally, it just got so confusing, I quit.
HGH: Oh, so it was a problem of technique. That's common for many people today. They're reluctant to jump in because they know they can't swim. And our culture doesn't help much. We've become saturated with visual images, and frankly, we're losing our ability to read. That's why one of the things we're going to do in the next section is recover the skills of how to read something such as the Bible.
Elliott: 'I'm just a layman.'
HGH: Okay, let's hear from Elliott. Elliott's the man you want if you've got a swimming pool on the fritz. He can show you how to keep that water crystal clear. Furthermore, he brings an incredibly strong work ethic to the job, and I think his faith has a lot to do with that. Elliott, something tells me you pay a lot of attention to your Bible.
Elliott: Well, let me put it this way-I pay attention to what I understand in the Bible. The Ten Commandments. The Golden Rule. "The Lord is my shepherd." That sort of thing. But the rest of it I pretty much leave up to my pastor. I mean, he understands all that stuff, and if I ever have a problem, I can just go to him. He seems to know what it all means. Me, I just try to live it out the best I can.
HGH: That's encouraging. You're trying to practice the truth you do understand. But Elliott, I hear you saying what thousands of Christians are saying today: "I'm just a layperson." Or, "I'm a homemaker. I'm not a professional. You can't expect me, an individual who has no theological training, who maybe never even finished college, to study a book like this."
That's the way I felt when I started out as a new believer. Somebody said to me, "Howie, you need to spend time in the Word."
I thought to myself, How in the world do I go about doing that? I've never been to seminary. I'm not a minister. I can't understand this stuff.
But as we're going to see, you really don't need professional training to understand the Bible. You don't have to know Greek and Hebrew. As long as you can read, you can dig into the Scriptures for yourself. In this book, I want to help you learn how.
And by the way, don't be put off by the word study. I wish we had a better term than "Bible study," because for most of us, "study" is a bad-news item. It has all the appeal of flossing our teeth. We know we're supposed to, but....
In this book, we're going to discover that Bible study can be fascinating beyond words, and even fun. So hold on.
Linda: 'I just don't have time.'
HGH: I mentioned homemakers, and, Linda, I guess that describes you. You're at home full-time with three small children. How do you feel about Bible study?
Linda: Oh, I'd love to study the Bible. I really would. Like you say, I've got three little ones to keep up with, and sometimes I'd do anything to get a break. My husband works day and night so that I can stay home. But that means I've got the kids all day long, and I'm lucky to get even twenty minutes to myself. You can't study the Bible in twenty minutes. Even if I could, I'm usually just trying to catch my breath. I wouldn't have the energy.
HGH: I understand exactly what you're saying. My wife, Jeanne, and I reared four ourselves, and now we have six granddaughters, as well. So we're aware that parenting is an extremely demanding job. For us it has been a priority. I guess that's really the issue you're raising-where does Bible study fit on my list of priorities? Unfortunately, for many of us it's number twenty on a list of twenty-seven things. It's nice, but certainly not necessary. Hold on to that, because in the next chapter we're going to discover that the study of the Word is not an option-it's an essential.
Toni: 'I have my doubts about the Bible.'
HGH: Toni, I'm eager to hear your comments. You're a student on a university campus. Is there still a place for studying Scripture in that setting?
Toni: Yeah, I suppose people ought to read the Bible. There are some very interesting and inspiring passages in it. But I'm not sure about some of the miracles and predictions and stuff. I mean, Jonah and the whale? That sort of thing is really hard to believe. And I know people quote Scripture to say whether something is right or wrong. It seems like you can make the Bible say just about anything you want it to say.
So I think you should read it once in a while, just to kind of know what's in there, or maybe to help you feel better if you're down. But study it? I don't know about that.
HGH: All right, you raise some genuine concerns. Is this Book reliable? Is it authoritative? Can we base our lives on it? Does it have credibility? Or, when we read it, do we have to throw our intelligence out the window and, as one person put it, strain to believe what we know, deep down, is utterly preposterous? We're going to discover that it is completely reliable, and that the more we study it, the more consistent and reasonable it turns out to be.
George: 'I can't seem to make it interesting.'
HGH: Let's take one final comment. George, your interest in the Word has a lot to do with the fact that you teach an adult Sunday school class at your church.
George: Yes, I guess I have more reason than most people to study the Bible. When I read through a passage, I'm always thinking about my class, and how I'm going to teach it to them. But I'll be honest-it's hard to get people interested in the Bible. It seems like they'd rather talk about sports or what's going on at work than the great doctrines of the faith.
I don't expect anybody to become a great theologian. But 2 Timothy 3:16 says that the Bible is profitable for doctrine, and it seems to me that a lot of the problems people complain about could be remedied if they paid a little more attention to what the Bible has to say.
HGH: I think you're discovering what anyone who wants to communicate spiritual truth runs into: It's very difficult to get people excited about one's own insights into the Word. Unless they're making their own discoveries on topics that relate directly to their experience, Bible study will just bore them to tears. They just won't feel motivated to invest time in it. So that's really your challenge as a teacher-to offer them a process by which they can uncover spiritual truths for themselves. And I hope you'll learn some ways to do that through this book.
By the way, one way not to do it is through guilt. Guilt is a poor motivator. It's very powerful, but it's also poisonous to the learning process. It kills the joy that ought to mark firsthand acquaintance with the Word. Guilt drives more people away from the Scriptures than into them.
How About You?
Well, we've seen a number of reasons that people do not study the Bible. Which one(s) applies to you? Do you question the Bible's relevance to real-life issues? Are you locked out of the process by a lack of technique and basic skills? Are you convinced that this Book is just for professionals, not laypeople, that it takes special training to understand it? Is Bible study a low priority (or no priority), especially with so many other demands begging for your time? Do you have doubts about the Bible's reliability, and whether you can ever really determine its meaning? Do you perceive Bible study as dreadfully boring and not worth your attention?
If you identify with any of these reasons, then this book is for you. We're going to address all of these issues and more. Every one of these obstacles can be overcome. But first, having looked at the negative-why people don't study the Bible-let's turn around and ask, Why must we study the Bible? In the next chapter, I'll give you three important reasons why Bible study is not an option-it's an essential.
How About You?
The great tragedy among Christians today is that too many of us are under the Word of God, but not in it for ourselves.
What about you? Do you regularly read and study the Bible on your own? Or are you part of the majority of people who rarely if ever open the Bible for themselves? Here's a simple exercise to help you evaluate your Bible reading habits.
How often do you read the Bible? (circle one)
NEVER ONCE A MONTH ONCE A WEEK TWO OR THREE EVERY TIMES A WEEK DAY
When you read it, how much time do you spend reading?
5 MIN. 15 MIN. 30 MIN. 45 MIN. 1 HR. OR LESS OR MORE
Here are a few reasons that people give for not reading the Bible. Check the ones that express why you don't read the Bible more than you do.
__ The Bible doesn't seem relevant to my life.
__ The Bible seems confusing and hard to understand. I don't know how to make sense out of it.
__ I used to read the Bible, and it made me feel good. But after awhile, it didn't seem to have the same impact, so finally I gave it up.
__ I feel guilty when I read the Bible.
__ The Bible is hopelessly out-of-date. It may have some interesting stories, but it has little significance for life today.
__ I rely on my pastor or minister to explain the Bible to me. If I need to know something, he will tell me about it.
__ I have doubts about the Bible's reliability.
__ I don't have time. I'm just too busy.
__ The Bible seems boring to me.
__ I don't own a Bible.
__ The Bible is full of myths and half-truths. Why study something that lacks credibility?
__ I don't read, period! It's not just the Bible; I don't read anything.
Chapter TwoWhy Study the Bible?
In the last chapter we saw six common reasons that people do not dive into a study of the Scriptures for themselves. Let me add a seventh: Nobody ever told them what they'd gain by it. What are the benefits of Bible study? What's in it for me? If I invest my time in this manner, what's the payoff? What difference will it make in my life?
I want to suggest three benefits you can expect when you invest in a study of God's Word, which are available nowhere else. And frankly, they're not luxuries, but necessities. Let's look at three passages that conspire to build a convincing case for why we must study the Bible. It's not an option-it's an essential.
Bible Study Is Essential To Growth
The first passage is found in 1 Peter 2:2:
Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
Let me give you three words to unpack the truth contained here. Write them in the margin of your Bible, next to this verse. The first one is attitude. Peter is describing the attitude of a newborn baby. Just as the baby grabs for the bottle, so you grab for the Book. The baby has to have milk to sustain its life physically; you have to have the Scriptures to sustain your life spiritually.
Jeanne and I had four children, and when they were babies we learned early on that about every three or four hours a timer goes off inside an infant-and you'd better not ignore it. You'd better get a bottle of milk there fast. As soon as you do, there's a great calm. Peter picks up that expressive figure and says that's to be your attitude toward Scripture.
But he also says a word about your appetite for the Word. You should "long" for it, he says. You're to crave the spiritual milk of God's Word.
Now to be honest, that's a cultivated taste. Every now and then somebody will say to me, "You know, Professor Hendricks, I'm really not getting very much out of the Bible." But that's a greater commentary on the person than it is on the Book.
Excerpted from LIVING BY THE BOOK by Howard G. Hendricks William D. Hendricks Copyright © 2007 by Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks. Excerpted by permission.
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