Enjoy Your Bible
Enjoy your Bible." To almost everybody outside of the Christian church, and to not a few inside it, those words constitute at worst an absurdity and at best a mild contradiction in terms. To many non-Christians, especially to those with no particular religious beliefs, the Bible is no more than an antiquated collection of myths and fables. To others, it seems to be some kind of moral rule-book, dark, forbidding, even sinister. Others will regard it as no more than a jumbled collection of menís religious thoughts, while some might be prepared to concede that, like the proverbial curateís egg, it is good in parts.
To be perfectly realistic, these reactions are totally predictable; we should expect unbelievers to think like that. The greater tragedy is when professing Christians, while presumably approaching the Bible with greater piety, seem to do so with little more pleasure. For many of them, the Bible is something they seem to endure rather than enjoy. They appear to recognize that in some mysterious way the Bible is "Godís book," but feel that a conglomeration of history, morals, and ethics hardly seems likely to make them jump for joy! Then why say ENJOY YOUR BIBLE?
The Bibleís Own People
My first answer to that question would be that that is precisely what certain people in the Bible did! One writer alone says of Godís word, "I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches" (Ps. 119:14), "I delight in Thy law" (Ps. 119:70), and "I rejoice at Thy word, as one who finds great spoil" (Ps. 119:162). Elsewhere, David writes, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8). Even Jeremiah, sometimes called "the weeping prophet" because of the solemn message he was called to deliver, could cry to God, "Thy words were found and I ate them, and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart" (Jer. 15:16). The Christmas message, central to the whole Bible, was said by the angel who brought it, to be "good news of great joy" (Luke 2:10), while Paulís readers at Thessalonica welcomed Godís word "with the joy given by the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6). For all of these people, and for many others, the word of God was a source of great rejoicing; it was something to be enjoyed.
But why did it, and should it, have this kind of impact and produce this kind of response? It is certainly not because the Bible consists of nothing but niceties, a collection of compliments, comforts, and congratulations. While it does contain many matchless words of joy, hope, love, and peace, it also makes costly demands, imposes firm disciplines, and hammers home some truths that hurt a great deal. Take those passages that expose our sin, unbelief, compromise, or pride, for instance. What joy can we possibly get from reading those? What pleasure can there be in having those things applied to oneís life? The answer comes in passages like these: "Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son" (Deut. 8:5); "My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11Ė12). As Christians, we should be grateful that Godís word does not allow our lives to go unchecked, unchallenged, and unchastened, and the more mature we become, the more grateful we shall be for this. God rebukes us in order to restore us, and hurts in order to heal. It is precisely for this reason that one of the Old Testament writers is able to say, "Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal" (Job 5:17Ė18).
The Bibleís Own Purpose
Yet this first answer to the question "Why enjoy your Bible?" is not the most important one. Basically it says that to enjoy your Bible is biblical (because godly people in the Bible did so) and sensible (because even the "hard" parts are written for our benefit). But these replies merely help to drive us back to the best answer of all, which in turn is the answer to another, more important question: "Why was the Bible written in the first place?"
Reduced to its simplest possible terms, the Christian answer to that question can be put in the form of three statements:
Statement No. 1: The living, eternal, sovereign God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is morally and spiritually so far removed from man, that, left to himself, man could never come to know him.
Statement No. 2: If man is to know God, and if God and man are to come together in a living, right relationship, then God must reveal himself to man; he must take the initiative, draw back the curtain, bridge the gap, break the silence, start the conversation. As someone has put it, "Our need of revelation is total." We can know nothing whatever about God unless God chooses to reveal himself to us.
Statement No. 3: God has done precisely that. He has done so generally in creation, so that the visible world around us testifies to the power and majesty of its Creator, and he has done so specially by means of the Bible. The Bible is insistent about this, but for the moment let us just put two of its statements side by side. The first is the apostle Paulís declaration that "All Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). The second is the assertion of the writer of Hebrews that "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways" (Heb. 1:1). Taken together, these two tremendous statements tell us that the God who would otherwise be unknowable has made himself known by word of mouth. God has spoken to us, and done so in a personal, understandable way.
But why? What is his purpose in speaking to us? In his excellent little book God Has Spoken, Dr. J. I. Packer gives this superb reply:
The truly staggering answer which the Bible gives to this question is that Godís purpose in revelation is to make friends with us. It was to this end that he created us rational beings, bearing his image, able to think and hear and speak and love; he wanted there to be genuine personal affection and friendship, two-sided, between himself and usóa relationship not like that between a man and his dog, but like that of a father to his son, or a husband to his wife. Loving friendship between two persons has no ulterior motive; it is an end in itself. And this is Godís end in revelation. He speaks to us simply to fulfill the purpose for which we were made; that is, to bring into being a relationship in which he is a friend to us, and we to him, he finding his joy in giving us gifts and we finding ours in giving him thanks.
Perhaps we should be careful to add here that this is in no way to suggest that God needed human friendship. He did not create man and then communicate with him in order to satisfy his own loneliness; after all, there is eternal fellowship within the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is magnificently and uniquely self-sufficient and independent. Nevertheless, Packerís comment beautifully brings out Godís purpose in revealing himself to man through his written Word.
But that is still not the whole story, because not only is the Christian answer based on the Bible, it is centered in Christ. We can begin to see this, for instance, by completing the last two biblical quotations we have used. The writer to the Hebrews, while making it clear that there were times when God chose to reveal himself through the prophets, adds, "But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son," while Paul also tells Timothy that a man is made wise for salvation "through faith in Christ Jesus." In other words, Godís fullest revelation of himself is not in print nor in precepts, but in person. As John puts it, "The Word [that is, Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Every part of the Bible points to Jesus, and when the picture is complete, we see him not only as the Revealer, but as the Redeemer, not only showing man the way to a right relationship with God, but providing it. As we have already seen, manís great need is the life which comes from knowing God; that need can only be met in Jesus Christ, who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). As the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, points us to the One who provides such a complete answer to our spiritual need, surely we should enjoy it!
The Bibleís Own Pictures
The story is told of an occasion when Queen Victoria was visiting a village somewhere in England. It was customary for church bells to be rung when royalty paid such a visit, but on this occasion none were to be heard. Angry at what he thought to be a slight on the Queen, an official demanded a reason from one of the local dignitaries. "Sir," the man replied, "I can give you ten reasons why the bells were not rung. The first is that we do not have any bells.Ö" "That will do," the official interrupted, "I donít need to know the other nine!" We have been addressing the question "Why enjoy your Bible?" and have concentrated on the major and most important answer, which is that the Bible is Godís Word to man, revealing his own divine nature and character, inviting alienated man back into a living relationship with him, and showing us his own provision of that way back in the person of Jesus Christ. Having discovered that, there is a sense in which we need no further answers to the question. That one marvelous answer covers everything. Yet it might be helpful to round off the chapter by noting some of the pictures the Bible uses to describe itself, because they touch on so many of manís needs, and give us some fascinating insights into the way in which the Bible can be such a positive and powerful influence in our daily lives. Here are nine, chosen at random:
- Left to himself, man is morally and spiritually bankrupt; the Bible is a treasure, "more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold" (Ps. 19:10).
- Without Godís voice, man is woefully ignorant; the Bible is a book of wisdom, so that the psalmist is able to say, "From (Godís) precepts I get understanding" (Ps. 119:104).
- Left to himself, man stumbles in moral and spiritual darkness; the Bible is a searchlight, the same writer declaring, "(Godís) word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105).
- Man lives in an uncertain world; the Bible is a guidebook, David acknowledging that "All the paths of the Lord are loving-kindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies" (Ps. 25:10).
- Man needs to know himself if he is to make stable progress in life; the Bible is a mirror, and man is told that if he "looks intently" into it, and acts wisely on what he sees, "he will be blessed" (James 1:25).
- Man is basically restless and unsettled; the Bible is a great stabilizer, and we are told that "Those who love (Godís) law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble" (Ps. 119:165).
- Man is constantly surrounded by temptation and prone to sin; the Bible is a great purifier, speaking of "washing with water through the word" (Eph. 5:26).
- Man lives in a world of rapidly changing and contrary opinions; the Bible is a fixed point of reference, so that the psalmist is able to say, "Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven" (Ps. 119:89).
- Man is engaged in lifelong battle against sin; the Bible is a powerful weapon, Paul referring to it as "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17).
Yet of all the pictures the Bible uses to describe itself, none is more natural and effective than that of food, both solids and liquids. Now of course food is absolutely essential, not just to a manís success or strength, but to his very survival. Spiritually, the same is true. Jesus made it crystal clear that "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4)óand the Bible is that word, that food. Peter likens it to milk, and says that we should drink it constantly, "so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" (1 Pet. 2:2). Amos likens it to bread, forecasting a time when there would be a famine, "not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). Ezekiel likens it to honey, and says that when the word of God came to him, "it was sweet as honey in my mouth" (Ezek. 3:3).
What an amazing picture has emerged! Here is a book uniquely claiming to be God-breathed, bearing an invitation to eternal life, pointing out the answers to all of manís spiritual needs, and likening itself to an unrationed supply of the most nutritious foods ever discovered! And as if that were not enough, Isaiah flings its pages wide open and shouts, "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Isa. 55:1).
Surely that is an enthusiastic invitation to enjoy your Bible!
The author is an internationally known Christian author, teacher, and conference speaker. This article (slightly edited) is excerpted from his book Enjoy Your Bible (Henry Walter, 1978). He quotes the NASB (OT) and the NIV (NT). Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2003.