How many times have you thought the Bible said something that it actually does not say? It is fairly interesting to consider how many people think they know something in the Bible that is actually not found in the Bible. Here are some of the sayings that people can think are in the scriptures but are not:
- God helps those who help themselves
- Cleanliness is next to godliness
- Seven deadly sins
- Three wise men
- Be true to yourself
- Money is the root of all evil
- This too shall pass
- The Lord works in mysterious ways
- The apple in the garden of Eden
- Spare the rod, spoil the child
- The lion will lie down with the lamb
Not only this, but there are many times where we read a portion of scriptures, and it is a passage that we have read many times before, but this time you see something in the text that you have never seen before. One of our greatest dangers is that we think we already know what a particular book or passage says.
“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV)
In describing the new covenant, notice that the prophet says that those who belong in a relationship with the Lord know the Lord. We can draw a simple conclusion: those who do not know God do not have a relationship with God. If we do not know who he is, then we are not forgiven of our sins. Jesus said the same thing.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14–15 ESV)
Jesus says that he knows who are his and those who are his know Jesus. Notice the kind of knowledge Jesus’ sheep have. Jesus says that as the Father knows him and he knows the Father, that is how Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep know him. How well did Jesus know the Father? Jesus says that this is the kind of understanding that his sheep have of him. When we read the prophets we see one of the condemnations is that the people did not know God (cf. Jeremiah 4:22). Now think about this: obviously the people knew who God was and were doing various aspects of obedience toward God and his laws. Yet God says that those people did not know him. This is a point that we also see Jesus making as he walked the earth.
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:24–27 ESV)
These were Sadducees who knew the scriptures quite well. Yet Jesus says that they do not know the scriptures nor do they know God and his power. You have read, but you have not read. The teachers had read the text but they did not read the text right. This should be alarming to us. There is a way to read the scriptures but not read the scriptures the right way. There is a way to know about God but not actually know God. There is a depth of knowledge that a Christian is supposed to enjoy as a disciple. Listen to how the apostle Peter described this idea.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2–3 ESV)
An article was recently written from among our brethren that argued that we do not experience God. I could not disagree more vehemently with that conclusion. We better experience God. Peter describes us as tasting and enjoying the goodness of the Lord. In fact, if we do not taste and experience the goodness of the Lord, we will not grow up into salvation. This tasting of God’s goodness is to lead us long and desire more spiritual milk. We do not taste and say that is all we need or that it is enough. We will not be satisfied but will long Jesus and his words like infants long for milk. That longing is one of the reasons infants are so difficult. It seems like they are always crying for milk in those first few weeks. But that is supposed to be us. That is what we are supposed to do because we have tasted how good God is and we want MORE. We have been called to know God. It is a simple and obvious calling yet it can be easily neglected and forgotten. But rather than simply telling you that you need to long for God and seek him more, I want to spend the rest of the lesson talking about how we can truly know God. We do not want to just know about God, but we want to know God. We want to know him, know Jesus, and know their words. We would never want Jesus to say to us that you do not know the scriptures or the power of God.
Getting To Know God
1. Never read a Bible verse.
This might sound really strange but we need to never read a Bible verse. It is so easy to take a verse of the Bible out of its context when we only read one verse. Read the whole paragraph and get the whole context. Verses hurt our study. Read through the numbers when you read. Do not stop just because you have verse numbers or chapter numbers. I cannot tell you how often I have found those verse numbers and chapters numbers to hinder our knowledge because it naturally makes us stop reading. Make sure you have the whole thought and the whole idea. See the connections to the surrounding text. Get the picture. If you have coming here very long you will notice that nearly ever sermon I give is a study of a paragraph of the scriptures.
Topical preaching is dangerous because it is so easy to make a verse prove your point, rather than letting the scriptures make the point. You have likely heard someone do that, taking a verse out of context to make a point, and you rightly thought in your mind, “That is not what that verse was talking about!” Can you imagine jumping around in a novel and pick out sentence here and there that you like without reading the whole novel? Think about how many people are doing this with the scriptures! Can you imagine jumping around in a movie to what you think are all the good parts without watching the movie from start to finish? But again, this is what we can so easily do and it seems that we are encouraged to do by the nature of today’s preaching and teaching. We might think these illustrations are inadequate, but it is the same thing. God gave us books that stand alone. Think about in ancient times that none of these books were collected into one volume but remain separate scrolls for hundreds of years. They are letters to people and churches. The books are songs and poetry books. The books are prophecies. The books are theological narratives. The Bible is not a book of random saying from God. Each book as literary structure and order. I have learned so much in my time preaching because I do not tell you what I know, but we look at each paragraph in a book of the Bible together and learn what God says. I have learned so much because you allow me to go from start to finish in a book rather that getting quick hits from a book or skip around a book. When I preach, I am also trying to model for you how to read God’s word. But some of the next few points I am going to express exactly what we are doing when we read properly.
2. Look for why the text was being written.
Looking for these purpose statements and thesis statement will help you enjoy a book of the Bible so much more. Let me give you one example: The book of 1 John is considered a fairly complicated book. But turn to 1 John 5:13 and notice what it says.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 ESV)
Now we have a lens for reading this book. What John is teaching is to help us know that we have eternal life. So I can read each paragraph asking myself, “How does this help me know that I have eternal life?” Finding and knowing these purpose statements will help us be excited to read each book in God’s word.
Also as you read, ask why the text is there. I have missed this for far too long. There is a reason why this particular teaching or account is being told. For example, Jesus’ ministry lasted about three years. Yet, we do not have everything Jesus said and did. So what is recorded is very valuable. Why is this narrative given? Why is this parable recorded? Think about the 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. Forty years but we only have a few descriptions about what happened. Why is this account recorded instead of another? Why is this teaching recorded instead of the other declarations of the Lord? We need to pay attention to why a text is recorded for us. The Bible was not written to be boring. Nothing is filler is God’s word. Nothing is merely story telling or narrative. Every word has a purpose. We learn this from how John ends his gospel.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
3. Think about what the text just said.
We blow over words and sentences so quickly without thinking about the implications of what was read. I believe this is exactly what Jesus is telling the Pharisees and Sadducees when he asks them, “Have you not read?” Of course they had read it but they had not thought about it in a way to understand what it said. They knew what it said but did not think about the conclusions that should be drawn from it. I think this is why there are so many misunderstandings and disagreements over scriptures and teachings. We often do not carefully read what the scriptures say.
One of the best ways to slow down and think about what the scripture said is to have a wide margin Bible, a journaling Bible, or notebook that you can highlight and note your observations. This helps us stop reading to get done and allows us to start reading with our minds, so that we can contemplate what the text said. One thing that is exciting recently is that every translation now has a journaling Bible or a wide margin Bible. I would advise getting yourself a large print journaling Bible unless you are young because the print can be very small in those editions. But now you can read with colored pencils, highlighters, and pens so that you can really think about what the text said and record your thoughts devotionally toward God.
4. Apply the text.
Get a notebook or journaling Bible and write down what you are thinking and seeing. What does this passage teach you about God? How does this passage change you? How do these words hit your heart? But remember something very important: application to ourselves cannot be done properly unless we understand how the text was applied to the original audience. What did they hear? What did they learn? Now I can grasp what we are to learn.
5. Jump start your reading.
A great way to jumpstart your reading is to buy yourself a new Bible and try a new translation. Buying something new always generates an initial excitement to get you wanting to look at your new purchase. Get yourself a new Bible to start reading today. Also, try a new translation. You will see all new things because things can be worded differently that will give you a better understanding. I am not saying that you need to leave your favorite translation forever. But try reading a new translation and you will enjoy seeing new things. If you have always used a NKJV, trying the ESV, CSB, NET, or NIV. If you have always used a NIV, try using a NASB, NET, ESV, or CSB. If you always used a NASB, try using a CSB, NIV, NET, or ESV. The CSB, ESV, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, and NRSV are reliable, accurate translations that are written in currently English so that we can depend on what we are reading.
6. Read to see the glory and beauty of God.
Finally, read to see God. This is the most important instruction for enjoying reading God’s word. We have been called to know God. Those who are Jesus’ sheep know him. Those who are in the covenant of Jesus know the Lord. This means we must read our copies of God’s word to know the Lord.
But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:14–18 ESV)
We are beholding the glory of the Lord when we look into God’s word. Read in that way. Read to see Jesus. Read to see the glory of the Lord. Read to understand the Lord. Do not read to read. Do not read without this very important lens: what am I going to learn about God? When Jesus spoke to the men on the road to Emmaus, he opened the scriptures and beginning with Moses and the Prophets showed them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (cf. Luke 24:27). Read in the light of the gospel and read to see the glory and the beauty of the Lord. Experience him. Taste and see that the Lord is good.