Read and Understand the Bible

by Dale M. Bittinger, Pastor United Methodist Church, Rogersville, Tennessee
1968 Chairman, Good News Board of Directors

One cannot live the Christian life apart from the Scriptures any more than one can become a Christian apart from the Scriptures. This makes it utterly imperative that people learn to read and understand the Bible. Failure to do so accounts for the waning fervor of many who once were white hot for Jesus Christ. Our churches are filled with luke-warm nominal “up-and-down” religious people, many of whom once had an experience of Christ. But now the Bible has little or no place in their lives, even though they still insist that the Bible is the Word of God and they demand Bible-centered preaching. Such people may do a lot of things commanded in the Bible; even church school teachers and pastors are included in this group. But because the Bible is a dead book—a strange book—to them, they teach its truths only from the head and not the heart. They focus on what others say about the Bible instead of on personal insights gained from living in the Bible and feeding on the Word.

Let’s look at some principles which will help us to escape this Bible-starved condition, and assimilate God’s Word into our lives. If we follow these guidelines, we will avoid the spiritual disaster common to those who neglect God’s Word.

I. Learn to feed yourself on the Word. Many Christians have not learned to do this. For new Christians this is not fatal, but if this inability to grow in Bible understanding continues, spiritual disaster usually results.

Physically, the newborn child has to learn to feed himself. The process of learning may seem awkward and frustrating. But eventually , if he is normal, he will master the art of feeding himself.

This is also true in the spiritual life. The person who makes normal spiritual growth must soon learn to feed himself on the Word. Failure to do so indicates spiritual immaturity, spiritual sickness, and/or spiritual death.

Some Bible-less people manage to eke out a spiritual existence because they attend a church where the pulpit and classroom are true to the Bible. Others scrounge bits of Biblical nourishment from commentaries and quarterlies.

Tragically, some professed evangelicals blame their spiritual undernourishment on the lack of Biblical preaching and the paucity of Biblically-sound curriculum materials. The real reason, however, is their failure to personally digest the Bible.

Every church needs Biblical preaching and teaching—but not as substitute for personal fellowship in the Word! One must remember that Paul sternly prodded the sermon-tasters and bottle babies at Corinth, urging them to move on to eating spiritual meat (I Cor. 3:1).

One such person remarked to me (after several sermons as visiting preacher) “This is the first real spiritual food I have had in a long time.” This was either a case of spiritual immaturity or rank pharisaism.

For the person who daily feeds on God’s Word, Sunday and Wednesday services are more than frantic times of gulping down spiritual food to stay alive. They are times of fellowship in the Word and of becoming a power base for God to use in influencing others. The pastor or teacher shares insights in the Word in order to guide, strengthen, convict and whet the spiritual appetite. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

The more skillful a Christian becomes in feeding himself or herself on the Word the more helpful and meaningful the worship services become. Also, the possibility of his or her being used as an instrument of God’s purpose is continually enhanced.

II. Get alone with the Word. Many who profess to be intrigued by, and desirous of, a deep spiritual life are frightened, even terrified, at getting alone with the Bible. They allow almost anything to prevent this. By neglecting and avoiding regular, private encounter with the Word, these Christians fall victim to satan who seeks by hook or crook to prevent us from intimate association with the Scriptures.

The Christian who avoids being alone with the Word is something like the elderly spinster who lectured on the world’s great love stories. One day she confided, “I wouldn’t mind falling in love if I didn’t have to be alone with a man.”

All Christians desperately need an intimate daily exposure to God’s Word. As it becomes less and less strange, this daily confrontation will be sought like a precious jewel. A growing sense of at-homeness will be achieved as the thoughts and words of the Bible are discerned regularly.

“All right,” you say, “I agree. I need to get alone with the Word of God. But what do I do when I am isolated from the world in the presence of the Word? I am ashamed to admit it, but I am a fumbling idiot when it comes to doing what some call ‘living in the Word.’ ”

First of all, Pray. Prayer alone can remove the barriers to fellowship in the Word. Prayer alone can open the soul to the Word. The Psalmist prayed, “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy Law” (Psalm 119:18). He also prayed, “Give me understanding that I may learn Thy Commandments” (Psalm 119:73).

In the preliminary moments of being secluded with the Word, one should invite the Holy Spirit to help in glimpsing the truths of God (I Cor. 2:14). John quotes Jesus as saying that when the Spirit is come He will guide into all truth.

Next, meditate on the Word. This involves a time exposure. Hurried Bible reading has little or no value. Most people who boast of reading the Bible through many times have not stopped long enough to see and enjoy the scenery! Reading the Bible for statistical purposes has little benefit. In sharp contrast, the person who reads meditatively and for the sheer joy of receiving God’s truth, will find his or her life infinitely richer. Exploring the sideroads of Scripture will lead to an understanding of why the Psalmist said that God’s person meditates in God’s Law day and night (Psalm 1). The deliberate Bible reader will also be eager to expose himself to the Word regularly, consistently, continually, carefully and thoughtfully.

The casual reader will miss a hidden valley of beautiful and life-enriching truth in the text and context of Philippians 3:20. The literal translation of this verse,” You are a colony of Heaven,” does not appear in the King James. As one turns off the main highway of the chapter to investigate, he discovers that Paul is seizing on the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony to drive home the truth that the Christian belongs to a colony of heaven and must not, therefore, be overwhelmed by alien forces. He must be an outpost from which the claims of Christ are pressed on the frontiers of life. The wonder of this and other such discoveries will make one eager to expose himself to the Word regularly, consistently, continually, carefully, and thoughtfully.

Wrestling with a passage means wringing from it every bit of meaning. This means that we determine not to let the passage go “till it blesses us.” Also, it means that we search the Scriptures diligently seeking their truths. This involves studying a verse or group of verses till many facets of truth are exposed. The serious seeker will reflect on the Word till it comes alive and leaps out, overwhelming him.

Many have discovered that memorization of special verses aids in meditating on the Word, even in public places.

III. The early Church began in an atmosphere of receptivity to the Word. “They that gladly received the Word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). This attitude of openness to the Word characterizes every genuine Christian.

Consider several reasons why it is so important that God’s people be receptive to His revealed truth.

  • Receptivity to God’s Word rises out of the mutuality of His love and ours. One is always eager to receive a message from one he loves. There is no doubt that God loves us. This is well illustrated by the story of the girl who thought mathematics was boring-till she fell in love with her math teacher! So the degree of our receptivity to the Word is commensurate with the intensity of our love. And to love God is to receive His Word.
  • Receptivity to God’s Word indicates the degree of our trust in Him. To approach the Bible with doubt and suspicion and reluctance is not only to diminish its benefits but also to indicate our lack of trust in God. Trust convinces us that He knows the answers to our deepest needs and has made these answers available in the Scriptures and in Christ, whom the Scriptures reveal.
  • Receptivity to the Word makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to use the Word in transforming our lives. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to impart spiritual life to us. Nine times in Psalm 119 David prays that God will quicken him through His Word. Peter reminds us that we are born again by the Word of God (I Pet. 1:23). Only those who receive the Word know real life; physical life is in the blood but spiritual life is in the Word.

The Holy Spirit uses the Word to liberate us from the power of sin and self. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). “I will walk at liberty for I seek Thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45). “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

The Holy Spirit uses the Word to cleanse our inner life. Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the Word that I have spoken to you.” “Seeing you have purified yourselves in obeying the truth” (I Pet. 1:22).

The Holy Spirit uses the Word as a spiritual weapon. “The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). Jesus used the Word as a defensive weapon in the wilderness of temptation (Mat. 4: 1-11). Someone has remarked, “When dealing with the devil, quote Scripture. Don’t argue.”

The Holy Spirit also uses the Word as an offensive weapon: “they were filled with the Spirit and spake the Word with boldness” (Acts 4:31). “Is not my Word like a fire—like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29).

Let us always remind ourselves of the central and crucial place the Bible must have in the Christian life. You can make sure that the Bible has its rightful place by following these principles: learn to feed yourself on the Word; get alone with the Word; be receptive to the Word. As a result you will be continually happy, fruitful and victorious, used of God. As you admit the truth of the Bible; submit gladly to its teachings; commit it to memory; and transmit it to others.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List!

Click here to sign up to our email lists:

•Perspective Newsletter (weekly)
• Transforming Congregations Newsletter (monthly)
• Renew Newsletter (monthly)

Make a Gift

Global Methodist Church

Is God Calling You For More?


Latest Articles: