The Bible; How To Use It ~ 20200406 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/06 Foundations: The Bible; How to Use It; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200406_the-bible3.mp3
The Bible (Part 3); Hermeneutics and Exegesis
This is Foundations, a study on the basics of Christian belief
So far, we’ve looked at what the Bible is, that it claims to be God breathed, God’s very word. We looked at how the Bible came to us, and how we know we can trust it.
Tonight we are going tot get very practical and look at how we use our Bibles. If this is indeed God’s word, then what do we do with it? How do we use it?
The word of God is the primary means God uses to feed us, nourish us, and cause us to flourish. Meditating on God’s word is sinking your roots down deep to get the nutrients you need to be fruitful in your Christian life.
Here’s some other things God’s word does: it creates faith:
It gives spiritual life:
It gives us the spiritual nutrition we need to grow up:
It sanctifies, or makes us holy:
It exposes our heart and convicts us of sin:
It sets us free:
Psalm 19 tells us that it revives our souls, makes us wise, rejoices our hearts, and enlightens our eyes, and it is sweet to our taste:
If all these benefits come through God’s word, I want to handle it well.
Rightly Handle God’s Word
There is a right way to handle God’s word, literally to cut it straight; which implies that there is a wrong way to handle it as well. The verses on either side of this one point to some ways of mishandling it.
The proper handling of God’s word does good, builds up the hearers. It ought to lead us to godliness. Peter talks about Paul’s letters:
We are warned not to twist the Scriptures, because doing so leads to destruction. We may have to work hard to understand, but it is well worth the effort.
So how do we rightly handle God’s word? How do we read it, cut it straight in such a way that it leads to life and godliness and not twist it to our own death and destruction?
Humility and Teachability
I believe the first and biggest question is how do I approach the bible? Am I coming as a critic, to form an opinion? Am I coming with an agenda that I want to promote? Or am I coming as a follower, eager to listen and obey? Am I pre-disposed to obey? Or to object?
The story is told of a visitor to the Louvre museum in France, who went in to see the Mona Lisa. After standing and looking at da Vinci’s famous painting for a few minutes, he announced ‘I don’t like it.’ To which the guard stationed there replied ‘Sir, these paintings are no longer being judged. The viewers are.’
Do I come to the Scriptures critically, seeing if they line up with what I believe, or do I come humbly, ready to be corrected and instructed by them?
Centrality of Jesus
If we want to understand the Scriptures rightly, we need to understand what they are about. Jesus accused the Bible experts of his day of missing the whole point:
Jesus claimed that the Scriptures rightly understood are pointing to himself. While Jesus was was talking with some of his disciples on the road who were despairing after his death, and rumors of his resurrection were beginning to circulate, (they didn’t yet recognize who he was):
Believing the Old Testament, all that the prophets had spoken, sees that they point to the suffering and glory of the Messiah. He rightly interpreted to them that Moses and the Prophets, the entire Old Testament was all about him, pointing to him.
Later in Luke 24, appearing to a larger group of his disciples, Jesus:
Notice, Jesus says that the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms, the three divisions of the Jewish Scriptures, were written about him. The suffering and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed to the nations; this is the focus of the entire Bible. If we don’t keep Jesus central, if we miss the good news of forgiveness of sins in Jesus, we are missing the point.
Notice something else in these verses: Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. We read in 2 Corinthians 4 that
Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the good news about Jesus. Jesus opens blind minds to ‘give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2Cor.4:6). We need the Lord to open our minds to see what is really there, to see that it is really all about Jesus. We need the work of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see Jesus in his word.
John gave us the purpose of his gospel in John 20;
He wrote what he wrote so that we would believe the gospel, believe in Jesus. Remember Romans 10:17? Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. The Bible is pointing us to believe in Jesus and have life in relationship with him. If we miss this, we miss the whole point.
Clarity of Revelation
Remember, the Bible is revelation, God revealing himself to us. The goal is that we know him, enter in to a right relationship with him. He wants to be known. He gave us his word so that we would know him. He’s not being tricky or cryptic. He is not using some secret code that we need a special decoder ring to figure it out. Yes, as Peter said, there are some things that are hard to understand. But on the whole, the main message of the Bible is clear. So beware of someone claiming to have finally unlocked or decoded the Bible. Often these lead away from Jesus and not toward him.
God wants to be known, and he says he loves to give his Spirit to all who ask (Lk.11:13). So come to his word, asking him to open your eyes and heart so that you can see Jesus.
Here’s another guiding principle that will keep us from going off the tracks. This might seem overly obvious, but in any writing, what the author meant to communicate is the meaning of the text. C.S. Lewis wrote an allegory called the Chronicles of Narnia. In it, the lion Aslan was intended to be a picture of Jesus. Lewis’s friend Tolkien said he despised allegory. He wrote his Lord of the Rings trilogy, and many have tried to find allegorical meaning there, but that’s not what Tolkien intended.
When we read our Bibles, we should be asking, what did the author mean to communicate? And remember, we are talking about ancient documents that are literally thousands of years old. So that adds a layer of difficulty. It is helpful to understand whatever we can about who the author was, who he was writing to, what the circumstances or situation was, why it was written. We know that in a sense, the whole Bible ‘was written for our instruction’ (Rom.15:4); but in another sense, we need to remember that the Bible was not written to us. It doesn’t speak to us directly, to our situation directly.
One way people misuse the Bible is to look for direct instructions for their present circumstances. Some seeking wisdom take the Bible and close their eyes and let it fall open and point to a verse, and that is God’s instruction to them. If you are struggling and your Bible falls open to Matthew 27 and your finger lands on verse 5 and you read ‘And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself,’ you may try again. This time you land on Luke 10:37 ‘...Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”’ That is clearly misusing God’s word.
Narrative is Not Normative
That brings us to another principle; narrative is not normative. Much of the Bible is historical narrative. It records what happened. It records many sinful acts of messed up people. That doesn’t mean that we should follow their bad examples just because they are recorded in the Bible. Judas committed suicide, David adultery and murder, Solomon polygamy. Now when we look at what the Bible teaches, all those things are forbidden. Where the Bible teaches how we should live, it condemns those actions, and even the narratives often are there to demonstrate how following these foolish paths lead to pain and suffering and destruction and death.
Literary Genre and Language
There are different types of literature contained in the Bible. Historical narrative is different than clear teaching or instruction. Psalms is poetry. You don’t take every metaphor in a poem literally.
The Bible is God’s revealing of himself to man. In that, he wrote to a particular people at a particular point in history in a particular language (none of it English, by the way) and in a particular culture (not our Western culture). In doing that, he came down to our level.
God asks Moses ‘is the Lord’s hand shortened?’ (Num.11:23). Are we to take this to mean that God has a body with hands? Jesus clearly teaches in John 4 that ‘God is Spirit’. We understand that this is a rhetorical question asking if Moses thinks God incapable of accomplishing what he said he would do. It is not meant to teach us God’s physical structure. To draw that conclusion is to look at it in reverse. Psalm 94 says
God made people with eyes and ears so that we would be able to understanding what it means when God claims to hear all and see all and know all.
God used human language to communicate, so we should understand how language works. It is helpful to identify subject and verb and direct object and modifying participles in a sentence. Words mean things, and sentence structure matters.
What about the difficult passages? Remember, Peter commented on Paul’s writing that ‘There are some things in them that are hard to understand’ (2Pet.3:16). Here’s another helpful principle to remember. God is true, and God is coherent. He will not contradict himself. So if there is a difficult passage and you are wrestling with what it means, whatever it means cannot contradict the rest of the clear teaching of Scripture. It has been said that the Scripture is its own best commentary. So see what else God’s word has to say about the particular issue, and make sure that whatever conclusions you draw do not contradict what God says somewhere else. Remember, God is a good communicator, and he has made himself abundantly clear over and over again on the central issues. He may not have answered all our curiosities, but he has given us clarity on everything we need to know to know him.
How to Read
So read widely, become familiar with the whole Bible, the big story line. And read deeply; take time to meditate on just one verse. Dig in, write down your thoughts, maybe even diagram the sentence. Look up the words. We have unprecedented access to software tools that give us access to the original languages that are behind our translations; so use them. Engage your brain. Study. Read prayerfully, asking God to reveal himself to you. Come to listen to what God wants to say to you. Read humbly, ready to submit to what God says, eager to obey. Read in order to see Jesus and know him better. Read to gain a deeper appreciation of the good news that he died to make us new.
And make sure that all your reading, all your studying leads you into deeper affection for Jesus, a wholehearted worship of the triune God who loves to hide things from the wise and understanding and reveal them to little children (Lk.10:21). Come trusting, with open hands expecting him to fill you up and meet you in his word. Worship a God who knows you intimately, and wants to be known by you.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org