Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Bible is about...?

     I still remember. It was pouring down rain in Malawi, and with the roads washed out and without power, four young men interested in the ministry sat down with two older pastors with nearly 100 years of experience in the ministry between them to listen to these men's wisdom. I'll never forget the first thing Dr. Gillespe addressed as he talked to us young guys about the ministry.

     His first point was one that the remainder of the afternoon hinged on. He was giving us tips on reading, studying, and exegeting the Bible for the purpose of preaching, and he started off by giving us a very wide concept that was and remains striking to me. That's what I want to talk about here.

     Before I go any further, I just want to ask a simple question. What is the Bible all about? There are a lot of answers for what the Bible is. A revelation of God's will for His creation. A practical manual for living. A wealth of information and wisdom. We could give a lot of answers that have at least an element of truth in them.

     But Dr. Gillespe's statement was clear. "The Bible is a book about God." Short, simple, and clear, but oh what a a world of difference this little concept could make to our evangelical churches, sermons, quiet times, Sunday schools, VBS's, and just home devotions.

      Does the Bible contain knowledge about science, history, and medicine? Does it contain very practical, moral truths for every day life? Does it contain instructional wisdom and information for life? Absolutely! But go to a modern evangelical church today and look at the sermons. "Building better marriages". "Wise spending". "Practical insight for home management".

     But the sad, glaring truth is that I don't need God or the Bible to build a good marriage, manage my money wisely, or use practical common sense in home management; and a step further than that, I don't need God to apply wisdom, even Biblical wisdom to my marriage, my finances, or my home. I am perfectly capable of doing that without the Bible and certainly without God. Muslims, Mormons, cultists, agnostics, and atheists do it all the time.

     The problem with this thinking is that the Bible was never intended to be a practical guide to life. The results of the Bible's teaching can lead us toward good money management, a happy marriage, or a good home life, but that is not the point of the Bible. Reading the Bible as a practical guide to life, while it may lead to a morally upright life, leaves us empty and as good moralistic people, not believers in Jesus Christ. Reading the Bible for practical guidance for life builds legalistic mindsets that focus on our behavior patterns rather than on Jesus Christ.

     If I read the Bible as an instruction book for life, it is about do's and don't's, rules and guidelines, yes and no's. You can find that in the Koran, the Book of Mormon, any number of motivational books, even ancient philosophies. The Bible is not alone in its practical wisdom. It is alone in its unique claims about the character of God. The Bible, though it contains them, is not about practical guidelines. It's about God.

     If I read the Bible as the revelation of God, a book describing God, detailing the character of God, explaining God, revealing God, then the emphasis changes. Rules direct my thinking to me, what I should do, what I should think. Practical guidelines without spiritual or logical grounding lead me to legalism. My starting point in studying the Scriptures must be that the passage I'm reading points me to Christ in some way, shape, or form. In some way, shape, or form, it reveals Him, His character, and His ways, for His ultimate greatness, not mine. In understanding Him more AND falling deeper and deeper into love with Him, I am conformed to his likeness.

     As you read the Bible, keep it constantly in mind that this is a book about God, not about humans. It is a book to reveal His character, His attributes, and His desires for mankind to His greater glory. In studying the central character of the Bible, we realize more and more of the practical and applicable parts of the Bible... but we realize them through the lens of the God I serve rather than the lens of what I need to do to do to please God. It's about the relationship, not the laws. The obedience naturally follows the love; love doesn't necessarily follow the obedience.

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