God’s Word in the Bible

(Scroll down to read Guidelines for reading the Bible)

Key Idea: The Bible is like a bag of groceries – it holds the Word of God

 

This morning we are thinking about the Bible

–         There are many things we could say about the Bible but I’m not going to try and say everything today

–         This morning I want to focus on just one image of the Bible

–         The Bible is like a bag of groceries

–         Just as a bag of groceries holds food, so too the Bible holds the Word of God – the Word of God is like food for our soul

–         The Bible opens up a whole New World to us

 

In Matthew 4, verse 4, Jesus says: “Human beings don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”

–         Which is another way of saying we don’t just need bread to survive, we also need the Word of God

–         Bread feeds our body and the Word of God feeds our soul

–         Just as food gives us strength and nourishment and comfort – it makes us feel good and keeps us healthy

–         So too the Word of God (found in the Bible) strengthens and comforts our soul, keeping our heart & mind healthy

 

Let me show you what I’ve got here in this bag of groceries

–         Here we have some vegetables – potatoes, carrots and an onion

–         Some fruit – apples, bananas and a lemon

–         As well as some bread & butter, some nuts, baked beans and chocolate

When we eat food we try to get a balance in our diet – it’s the same with reading the Bible, we need a balanced and varied diet of Scripture

–         Just as my bag of groceries contains a variety of different kinds of food, so too the Bible contains a variety of different kinds of words & books

Some of the words in the Bible are really old laws, like the 10 commandments – do not steal, do not lie, do not covet and so on

–         Sometimes reading the law is a bit like eating your vegetables – you know it’s good for you but you would rather be eating ice-cream or bacon

Other parts of the Bible contain poetry and song lyrics, like the psalms or the Song of Solomon

–         Some of the poetry is sweet to read, like eating apples or grapes

–         And other pieces of poetry are bitter or sour, like lemons or onions

–         All these different types of writing add flavour to the Bible

 

Now you can see here that some of the items of food can be eaten as they are, raw and without preparation

–         For example, apples don’t need to be cooked or peeled or anything like that – you can put this apple straight in your mouth and chew

–         But other items of food need to be prepared before you can eat them

–         For example, the potatoes need to be boiled or baked

–         And before you can eat nuts you need to remove the shell

–         Or before you eat a banana you need to peel the skin

–         Or before you eat baked beans you need to open the can & heat the beans

Reading the Bible is bit like that too

–         There are some passages in the Bible which you can simply listen to and understand without removing the skin or cooking them first

–         But there are other passages that need some preparation before they can be understood

–         The book of Revelation needs a lot of preparation before it can be understood – reading Revelation raw, without any knowledge of the rest of the Bible or without any awareness of the context in which it was written, will probably make you sick, like eating raw chicken

–         Some parts of the Bible are a bit like nuts in that you have to crack them open before you can eat them – the meaning isn’t always obvious at first

Whether food needs preparation or not, it always needs chewing before swallowing and once it has been swallowed it needs time to digest

–         It’s similar with reading the Bible – if it doesn’t make sense straight away, don’t panic and don’t give up. Take your time with it…

o   Ask God to help you understand what he is saying,

o   Chew it over in your mind,

o   Think about the context in which it was written and what the original purpose was,

o   Talk about it with other Christians, get another perspective

o   Give it time to digest – the meaning will come

 

The Bible is like a bag of groceries – it holds the Word of God

At a basic level we eat for our health, so that we don’t get sick or starve

–         But we also eat for enjoyment and comfort

–         So when you sit down to read the Bible, don’t think of it like a chore or a duty or a rule that you have to follow to try and keep God happy

–         Think of it as something you do for the well-being of your soul and for pleasure – enjoy it like you would a bowl of macaroni cheese or a piece of chocolate or whatever it is you enjoy eating

 

We’ve talked about the fruit and veges and nuts of the Bible, but the bread & butter of the Bible is stories

–         The Bible is full of stories about people and Jesus and God

–         Stories feed our soul with meaning and purpose

–         A Bible story has the power to help us to make sense of our lives

–         Some of the people in the Bible might be similar to us in some way and so we can identify with them

–         Their story is sort of like our story and so we feel close to them

–         It’s like they have faced the same sort of challenges we are facing and that makes us feel less alone, more brave

 

There’s a young girl named Sadie whose favourite Bible story is the one about David & Goliath [1]

–         Sadie likes David because David is a bit like her – he is young and small and he faced a giant

–         The story of David & Goliath helped her when someone bigger at school was mean to her

–         David gave her courage not to be afraid but to speak up for what is right and to get help from a teacher

–         Because she was like David, and God was with David, Sadie believes that God is by her side also

My question to you this morning is: what is your favourite Bible story and why?

–         What story feeds your soul and comforts you?

–         What story is similar to yours?

–         Who is it that inspires you to be brave?

 

Jesus said “I am the bread of life”

–         Which is another way of saying that Jesus is the Word of God who feeds our soul – we can find strength and comfort in Jesus. Let us pray… 

Father God, we thank you for the Bible. Help us to be nourished and comforted as we feed on your Word

–         Jesus, you are the bread of life

Father God, we pray for those who are hungry or sad. May you satisfy the needs of body & soul

–         Jesus, you are the bread of life

Father God, we pray for those affected by natural disasters in Japan, America, the Philippians and other parts of the world. Lord have mercy.

–         Jesus, you are the bread of life

Father God, we pray for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. May they be aware of your nearness and grace.

–         Jesus, you are the bread of life

Father God, we pray for those who feel scared or alone. May you give courage and friendship

–         Jesus, you are the bread of life

Father God, we pray for those who haven’t read the Bible or don’t know the true story about Jesus. Bring your Word in season

–         Jesus, you are the bread of life

Father God, we are sorry for the times when we have ignored your Word by neglecting justice & mercy. Give us strength to do what is right

–         Jesus, you are the bread of life. Amen.

 

Following are some guidelines for how we might read and understand the Bible, as well as some practical exercises that you can try…

Some guidelines for reading the Bible

Pray

Reading the Bible is part of an on-going conversation with God. Before you start, ask God to help you understand what you are reading so you can discern what is meant for you and what isn’t. Not everything you read will specifically apply to you at the time, but some things might.

 

Jesus

Jesus is the central organising principle and person of the Bible. From a Christian perspective the main point of the Bible is Jesus. He is like the hub which holds the wheel together. The Old Testament points to Jesus and the New Testament reveals Jesus. Jesus Christ is the lens through which we understand the Scriptures. He is the living Word of God, the common thread, woven through the Bible.

 

Context

Context is the key to unlocking meaning. The Bible was written thousands of years ago on the other side of the world (the Ancient Near East). Therefore to understand what a passage of Scripture is saying we need to be mindful of the historical and cultural context in which the text was written. We may approach the Bible with our own 21st Century scientific thinking but that is not necessarily how people in the ancient world thought. The questions we are asking today may not be the same as the questions the Bible seeks to answer. We have to allow the Bible to speak on its own terms.

To get a handle on the context of a particular passage of Scripture, ask yourself the following:

–         What was the situation of the person writing this piece of Scripture?

–         What was the situation of the original intended audience?

–         Is their situation similar to mine or different?

o   If it is similar, then in what way?

o   If it is quite different then perhaps this passage does not have a direct or specific application to my life at this time.

–         What was the purpose of the author in writing?

–         What meaning would the original audience have got from what was written?

You may need a Biblical commentary to answer these sorts of questions

 

Scripture interprets Scripture

This principle is closely related to context. The various books of the Bible are inter-related. The Bible has its own internal integrity. If the meaning of a particular passage or word is unclear we can often (although not always) find clarity by comparing it to another part of the Bible which talks about the same or similar things.  Ask yourself:

–         What are the verses around my chosen text saying? (That is, widen the lens of your focus to read what comes immediately before and after)

–         What do other Bible passages, which deal with a similar idea or theme, say about this?

 

Scripture interprets us

While we may think we are interpreting the Bible, we often discover the Bible is interpreting us. By which I mean, our responses / interpretations of the Bible often reveal more about the way we think, and what we value, than anything else. If we find ourselves reacting strongly against something we read, we need to ask ourselves why that is? Reading the Bible requires some self-awareness.

 

Humility

We need to approach the Bible with humility by recognising there are limits to our understanding. For example, we weren’t there at the beginning when God created the cosmos so we should be careful not to become too entrenched in our views about the age of the earth, etc. Likewise we live within the confines of time so we don’t really have suitable categories for understanding eternity. Therefore we shouldn’t claim to know the temperature of hell or the furniture of heaven.  While there are some things we know to be true and can rely on we don’t see the full picture. Only God knows the whole truth.

 

Read Scripture in conversation with other believers

Talk about your understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Bible with other Christians. Ask those you trust what they think of your interpretation or application and whether you are on the right track or not. We need the perspective that others can bring. We can get this perspective by participating in a Bible study group and/or by reading Biblical commentaries written by reputable scholars.

 

Apply what you can

True understanding comes with experience. To know something in more than an intellectual (head knowledge) sort of way we need to put it into practice. For example, to really understand the release of forgiveness we have to realise our own mistakes and receive forgiveness. We also need to forgive others. Or, to understand what it means to be ‘poor in spirit’ we have to plumb the depths and reach the end of our own resources.

 

Be patient

Give it time. We can’t expect to understand everything all at once. The Word of God is like a seed. It gets under our skin and takes root in our heart & mind, growing while we don’t notice. Jesus tells us that one of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into truth. If we read the Bible in good faith and with an open heart the Spirit will shine light as we need it.

What’s more, there are layers of meaning in Scripture. The same Scripture can mean different things to us at different points in our life, depending on our experiences or circumstances at the time. It truly is a book that goes on giving.          

 

Some practical strategies for a devotional reading of Scripture

Listen to an audio recording of one of the shorter books of the Bible

The majority experience of early Christians was to hear the Scriptures read aloud. Hearing a whole New Testament letter or a whole gospel read out loud, in one sitting, gives a different perspective than just reading one or two chapters silently in our head. If you don’t have access to an audio recording you could read the Bible aloud to yourself or take it turns to read it aloud in a small group.

 

Meditate on a verse or a brief passage about Jesus

Put aside 20-40 minutes when you can be on your own, undisturbed. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Scriptures you are reading. Start reading through one of the gospels. Take your time. When you come to a particular verse or passage that stands out to you or touches you in some way, pause over it. Read it over again slowly and carefully several times. Let it sink in. When you are ready ask yourself…

–         What does this mean?

–         What is God (or Jesus) saying about himself?

–         Why am I drawn to this verse?

–         What experience in my own life does this passage put me in touch with?

–         What might God be saying to me through this verse or passage?

–         Write down your thoughts in a journal

–         After a few days come back to the verse and to what you have written in your journal.

o   Have your thoughts and feelings changed?

o   Do you have anything more to add to your journal?

o   Is there anything further you need to do – like, share this with a trusted friend or take some action?

 

Imagine yourself in the story

Read a Bible story. For example, the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Imagine yourself in that story. That is, imagine yourself as the younger son, then as the older son, then as the father. Ask yourself…

–         How do I feel as the younger son (or daughter) returning home?

–         How do I feel as the older son (or daughter) standing outside the party?

–         How do I feel as the father (or mother) welcoming the younger child?

–         How do I feel as the father (or mother) when the older child speaks to me with such contempt?

–         Have I ever actually been in any of these situations in real life?

–         Who do I identify with most?

–         Where is God / Jesus in this story?

–         What is the Holy Spirit revealing to me about God, or myself, or others, through this story?

 

Compare a range of translations

Choose a psalm or the beatitudes or something similar. Look up the same psalm or passage in four or five different translations. You can do this on line if you don’t have several translations to hand. Compare and contrast the different translations. Ask yourself…

–         How are they different?

–         How are they the same?

–         What different nuances, perspectives or layers of meaning do each of the translations reveal

 

Read a book of the Bible alongside a commentary

Choose a particular book of the Bible to read. For example, the gospel of John or Isaiah. Get yourself a decent commentary on that book. You can order commentaries online. (The Bible Speaks Today series is generally easy to read with solid research behind it.) Read a chapter (give or take) of the Biblical book you have chosen each day and then read what the commentary is saying about that passage. Ask yourself…

–         What difference does this make to my understanding?

–         What do I agree with?

–         What am I struggling with?

–         Does the context of the Bible passage relate to us today in anyway? How?

You could do this exercise on your own or in a small group with one or two others. If you find that an academic commentary is too difficult to understand then Scripture Union provide a range of short Bible study notes designed to support a daily rhythm of Scripture reading.  The Scripture Union notes also offer a varied diet of Scripture over time.

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this sermon?

2.)    In what sense is the Bible like a bag of groceries?

3.)    What are your Bible reading rhythms / habits like?

4.)    How might we get a balanced diet of Scripture?

5.)    What can we do to crack open the meaning of Scripture?

6.)    How might you know whether a particular verse or passage of Scripture is God’s Word for you personally?

–         Have you ever had the experience of God speaking to you directly through the Bible?

–         How did you know it was God? What did God say? How did you respond?

7.)    What is your favourite Bible story (or character) and why?

8.)    Try one of the devotional Bible reading exercises above.

 

[1] https://biblesociety.org.nz/discover-the-bible/the-bible-good-for-life/

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