Thursday, November 6, 2014

Getting Into The Word


In our Wednesday night bible study this week, we briefly discussed how important it is to be constantly refreshing our minds with the Scriptures in order to guard against adopting the thinking of the world.  It prompted me to consider the importance of several different avenues of Bible intake.  Below are my thoughts, most of which will not be news to you, but could perhaps prompt you to reincorporate a discipline that may have fallen by the wayside.
A primary tool that God has granted for the purpose of transforming us into the likeness of Christ is the intake of His Word. One of Jesus’ primary concerns for the disciples on the night before His death was that the Father would use His Word to make them holy. He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Indeed, it is the God-breathed Scriptures that are uniquely and sufficiently able to make us mature in Christ, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Spirit uses His Word to expose our hearts and to transform our minds (Heb 4:12; Rom 12:2).
This means that if a believer is going to grow in godliness, he must make intake of the Word a major discipline of his life. R. Kent Hughes offers this: “You can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know. If you are filled with God’s Word, your life can then be informed and directed by God—your domestic relationships, your child-rearing, your career, your ethical decisions, your interior moral life. The way to a Christian mind is through God’s Word!”[1] The apostle Paul exhorted the Colossians to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them richly (Col 3:16). The only way this can happen is if we are intentionally taking in the Scriptures.
The simplest form of Bible intake is hearing the Word, which would include listening to sermons, participating in Bible studies, and listening to audible recordings of the Scriptures. At the very least, this discipline entails becoming a part of a New Testament church where the Bible is taught on a regular basis.[2] 
One text that demonstrates the importance of hearing the Word is 2 Timothy 4:1-2: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” While most would regard this as an imperative to the preacher, and rightfully so, it also holds an implied imperative to the listener. If it is crucial that the content of the pastor’s preaching be the Word of God, it also must be crucial for the church to hear the Word of God. The necessity of hearing the Word is founded upon the previous passage in which, Paul notes that the Word of God is able to make the believer complete and equipped (2 Tim3:16-17). As God has commanded the preaching of the Word to the people of God, certainly it is intended to be a vital part of the believer’s diet.
A second essential method of intake is Bible reading. With the wide availability of electronic and print copies of the Word, reading is perhaps the most convenient and most readily available method of taking in the Scriptures. The Word itself seems to assume that believers will read the Bible. For example, Jesus frequently questioned people’s knowledge of the Word, beginning with the words, “have you not read…?”, implying that it is to be expected that God’s people would read God’s Word.[3] Given the repeated references in the Bible to the role of Scripture in our sanctification, it is difficult to imagine a person growing in godliness without spending regular time reading the Word.
George Mueller provides an excellent example of the power of consistently reading the Bible:
“It is absolutely needful…we should read regularly through the Scriptures…  For the first four years after my conversion I made no progress, because I neglected the Bible. But when I regularly read on through the whole with reference to my own heart and soul, I directly made progress. Then my peace and joy continued more and more. Now I have been doing this for 47 years. I have read through the whole Bible about 100 times and I always find it fresh when I begin again. Thus my peace and joy have increased more and more.”[4]
Mueller would live to the age of ninety-two, never changing his pursuit of satisfaction in God through the reading of the Scriptures.[5] He noted in his later years, “I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord…I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God.”[6] He view the reading of the Word as the primary means by which he grew in the knowledge of God, which led to his being happy in God.[7] Regular Bible reading is a crucial part of the spiritual diet of a Christian.
Another method of Bible intake championed by the Scriptures is memorization. The Bible notes numerous benefits of memorizing God’s Word, just a few of which will be noted here. First, it supplies spiritual power to deal with temptation. The psalmist proclaimed, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11, cf. Matt 4:1-11). Second, it can strengthen one’s faith. Proverbs 22:17-19 exhorts the reader to internalize God’s Word “that your trust may be in the Lord.” Donald Whitney comments, “Memorizing Scripture strengthens your faith because it repeatedly reinforces the truth, often just when you need to hear it again.”[8]  Third, Scripture memorization can be a means of God’s guidance. Psalm 119:24 reads, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” When the Scriptures are internalized, these counselors become constant companions able to give guidance at any time of day or night. Fourth, memorization facilitates Scripture meditation. Indeed, memorization is the only way to be like the psalmist, meditating on the Word “all the day” (Ps119:97). With verses of Scriptures tucked away in one’s memory, the believer can meditate no matter the time or place. Memorization is a vital method of Bible intake for the Christian.
Meditation, a fourth method of taking in the Word, consists of “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.”[9] The Bible has much to say about the significance of this discipline. It promises success and spiritual fruitfulness to those who meditate on God’s Word (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:1-3). It indicates that Scriptural understanding comes through meditation (Ps 119:27, 99). It also teaches that love for the Word results from meditation on it, which motivates further meditation (Ps 119:14-16, 48, 97).
It is possible that meditation is the most important of all the methods because in it the believer takes what he has heard, read, and memorized and thinks deeply about what it means and how it should be applied to his life. Meditation makes the other methods truly useful, for it is conceivable that one could take in the Word by other methods but without ever pondering them for the purpose of application. For this reason, it is critical that a believer discipline himself to regularly meditate on the Word of God. (For several suggested methods of meditation, see this post.)
So what about you?  Have you made Bible intake a priority lately?  Why not find another brother or sister and challenge one another to get into the Word, hearing it, reading it, memorizing it, and meditating on it?  Let us strive to be people of the Word, understanding that it is food for our souls (Matt 4:4, cf. Deut 8:3).


[1] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Rev. ed.; 10th anniversary ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 77.
[2] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 29.
[3] Ibid., 32.
[4] George Muller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Muller. Written by Himself. (Muskegon, MI: Dust and Ashes, 2003), 2:834.
[5] John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 119.
[6] Muller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Muller. Written by Himself., 1:271–272.
[7] Ibid., 2:740.
[8] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 43.
[9] Ibid., 48.

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