Sometimes reading the Bible seems like a chore, but it shouldn’t. At times it may seem like a boring read, especially if you read Leviticus, Deuteronomy, or Numbers, or any other part of the Old Testament besides the beautiful poetical Psalms and wise juxtapositions of Proverbs. The Old Testament and even parts of the New Testament may seem like dry reading, but every part of the Bible is vital for us to read. Some of us might think it’s enough to be a Christian and therefore reading the Bible is unnecessary. “After all, I get enough of God’s Word on Sunday mornings during the pastor’s sermon,” we tell ourselves. No, I don’t think Sunday morning sermons are enough exposure to God’s Word. Don’t think of reading the Bible as a chore we’re supposed to do as Christians. Rather, think of it as reading God’s literal words to us. The Bible is where we can read what God has to say to us. That’s why it’s called the Word of God. Besides, reading God’s Word is connected with a promise: “But [Jesus] said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!'” (Luke 11:28). It does, indeed, say hearing the Word, not reading it. However, in the culture at this time, having the skill to read was not a common skill to have. If you needed to get something written up, you would have to go to a scribe who would write it for you. The people at this time did not trust things that were written down; they relied heavily on oral tradition. That’s why Jesus says specifically “hearing” here. In fact, all Scripture at this time, including the epistles of the apostles, were written with the expectation to be read out loud to congregations by the few who could read, rather than read in the privacy of one’s home. But certainly we are blessed when we read God’s Word as well because the purpose of Scripture is to point one to Christ. Whether one hears it or reads it does not matter; both are of equal value.
1. God’s Word is Necessary for Life
As God’s Word itself created life, so it is necessary to dwell in God’s Word to live. Against Satan’s first temptation, Jesus said to him in the wilderness, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3. To understand what Jesus meant by this, we need to examine the context in which God said this to the Israelites. The Israelites’ time in the wilderness for 40 years is when Mosaic Law was first introduced—God’s commands to His people to live civil lives among each other according to His statutes of holiness. All of Deuteronomy 8 is an exhortation to Israel to never forget who their God is. A part of this was, “And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (v. 3). Remember when the Israelites complained about the manna they were eating, desiring more foods such as meat and fish (Numbers 11:1-9)? They did not know this manna came out of God’s Word—God’s will was to feed them with manna. God’s will and God’s Word are synonymous; we know what His will is because of what His Word says. Were it not for His Word, they would not have had any food to eat at all. So, in Deuteronomy Moses gives the Israelites God’s exhortation to remember material things alone do not satisfy; it is only God’s Word that can fully satisfy us.
So what do these words mean for us today? In these exhortations Moses was giving to the Israelites, he was reminding them to trust in God and His Word. When God promises to do something, He does it. Whether that promise comes in blessings or curses, His Word is always fulfilled. We can hardly trust one another when we say, “I give you my word,” but when God gives us His Word, He doesn’t leave us in disappointment. The only time it appears God has disappointed us is when we expect Him to do our will rather than His own. As long as we expect God to do what we want, we will always be disappointed. So, as Moses was reminding the Israelites to trust and rely on God’s Word to sustain them, this still applies to us today. Let’s go back to Matthew 4:4. Why did Jesus specifically choose this Old Testament passage to refute the Devil? Because the Devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). Satan was tempting Jesus to trust in His own will and power rather than the will and power of God. In refuting him, Jesus says His sustenance comes from God because His Word promises it, not through His own will by taking control of the situation and only trusting Himself. Remember what happens when the Devil gives up and leaves? “Angels came and were ministering to Him” (Matthew 4:11). In what way were the angels ministering to Him? It is likely they brought Him food and water. Either way, Jesus was sustained because it was God’s will (i.e. His Word) to do so.
Every day we choose to trust ourselves rather than God and His Word. Whenever we sin, it is because we trust something else other than God’s Word. So why should we read the Bible? To remember God is our sustenance—He is our Provider and we can always trust Him and what His Word says. Perhaps the greatest reminder to trust in Him comes from Matthew 6:25-33:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Jesus is not ignoring the heavy toll anxiety takes on us, but He does say anxiety is powerless when God your Father promises to sustain you. And why not? God takes care of all creation without a sweat, so we whom He created in His image are worth much more to Him. God crushes anxiety and worry because His Word promises to bring the very things we are anxious and worrisome about not happening. “I’m so awkward; everybody hates me.” Not true: God gave you friends and family who love you. “I’m so afraid that this is going to happen.” If you trust God, you have no reason to fear. Even if it does happen, God isn’t going to leave you alone to suffer.
Jesus said here that if we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, all our needs will be given to us. But how do we seek His kingdom and righteousness? In a prophecy, Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us.” God was manifested in the incarnate Jesus Christ and walked among us on the earth, so the song, “What If God was One of Us” is stupid because He was one of us—His name is Jesus! To the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21b). Jesus was talking about Himself—Jesus Christ is the kingdom of God. Paul said, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21-22). So, to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness is to seek Jesus Christ. Therefore, if you have Christ and have put Him on in baptism (Galatians 3:27), as a child of God He promises to sustain you.
This is an amazing thing, isn’t it? So how can we know, believe, and practice this if we don’t read the Bible?
2. It’s How God Communicates to Us
“The Bible” is synonymous to many other words: Scripture, the Good Book, God’s Word…But let’s focus specifically on its raw essence: God’s Word. The Bible is literally the Word of God. Sometimes we forget the huge significance of this. A lot of people ask, “Why doesn’t God reveal Himself to us?” Well, He already has. He’s revealed Himself in creation, in His Word, and ultimately in Jesus Christ Himself. And how do we know about Jesus? By God’s Word. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Here, Scripture—the Bible—is claiming to be the Word of God; and if you put it into practice, you begin to actually see it truly is the Word of God because of the major changes He enacts in your life through it. I really like the image on the right because it illustrates how God chose to communicate to us. We start at the top with God, who came into the world as Jesus, and we know Jesus through the Word (the Bible—also see John 1:1, 14), which this Word was given to mankind, who is able to communicate with God through prayer, who goes to church to know God even more through Word and Sacrament and fellowship, which builds our relationship with God. And Jesus Christ on the cross is the center of all this.
Let’s put some heavy focus on a short phrase in the above verse: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” Other translations say, “All Scripture is inspired.” A literal translation from the Greek is “God-breathed.” So, as Christians, we recognize God’s Word is written by human authors but it is also 100% inspired by God. But how can this be? As we explain it to others, it means the Holy Spirit told the apostles and prophets what to say and what to write. It is an amazing thing that God chose to use human language, experiences, and abilities to speak to us. Although God used human beings as instruments to record His Word, the true author of Scripture—the Bible—is God Himself. To the naturalist, this is extremely difficult to understand and accept. Then again, these things are spiritually discerned (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). However, to help you all understand this more, I put my Greek exegesis skills to some use.
To have a better understanding of this, I opened up my Greek New Testament Bible to 2 Timothy 3:16. The word used for “God-breathed/inspired by God” is θεόπνευστος (theh-OP-neu-stos), which literally means “God-breathed.” I noticed something interesting about this word. It appeared to me that this adjective is a combination of two words: Θέος and πνέω (THEH-os and pn-EH-oh), which respectively mean “God” (a noun) and “to blow or breathe as the wind” (a verb). (I checked my suspicion with my Greek lexicon and it appears my gut was correct in the combination of these two words.) Also, the noun that comes from πνέω is the word πνεύμα (pn-EU-mah), which means “spirit, breath, wind.” So, for something to be “God-breathed,” it is literally the moving of God’s Holy Spirit. So then, God’s Holy Spirit is literally moving in these words because He literally moved in the apostles and prophets, and this is exactly how He communicates with us. Do you see how amazing this is?! Sorry, this just makes me extremely excited—God’s Holy Spirit literally moved within the apostles and prophets, and that same Spirit is moving in the words in our Bibles, and this same Spirit moves within us today (see 1 Corinthians 6:19)! I hope this excites you too.
To use an imperfect analogy to explain this even further, think of God as an architect. An architect knows what he wants to build and exactly how he wishes to frame it and what to use as its foundation. He lays on the instructions, and the workers do his inspired work. Likewise, God knows what He wants to say, the foundation of what He says is Christ, and through the Holy Spirit He gave the apostles and prophets instructions on what to say to lay out His work. Jesus is the interpretive key of the Bible. He is the supreme revelation of God. If you want to know what God is like, He is like Jesus. The only way to know what God—or Jesus—is like is to read His Word. The only way to know what God has to say to us is to read His Word.
3. To Know Freedom
A lot of people say, “I don’t want to follow or believe the Bible because it takes away my freedom!” There’s a lot of irony in this statement. There are growing redefinitions of what the word “freedom” means in today’s society, but we all need boundaries. This statement is ironic because if we don’t have Christ, we actually have no freedom. Paul said, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Romans 6:20). Paul’s audience in this epistle were Christian Romans; that’s why he speaks of being slaves to sin in the past tense. Without Christ, we are slaves of sin and “free in regard to righteousness,” meaning we have no desire to serve God and pay no attention to His will in this slavery, the end of such things being death (vv. 21 & 23a). However, Paul writes to these Christian Romans, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (v. 22). Paul touches more on our slavery to sin in Romans 7:15-20, which Martin Luther calls “The Bondage of the Will.” Who sets us free from such slavery? Jesus Christ does. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
The freedom we desire is really just a declaration of independence from God—the Supreme Ruler—and to continue living in slavery. True freedom comes when God is in control. How can we know of and experience this freedom if we don’t read God’s Word? “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). We don’t read the Bible because the book itself somehow gives us peace and freedom. We read the Bible because it testifies about Jesus Christ—it reveals Jesus to us, who alone gives us peace and freedom. How can we know about this if we don’t read God’s Word? Even more, how can we continually experience this freedom if we don’t read His Word? God’s Word is efficacious, meaning it has the power in and of itself to produce an effect. It is efficacious in that it creates faith in us, and it is efficacious in that the very words of God can help us to continually experience the freedom from sin we have in Christ.
4. To Have a Relationship with Jesus
The whole point of the Bible is to have a growing relationship with Jesus. We cannot seek this relationship apart from Scripture. I recently leased a 2016 Jeep Renegade, and I love it. Let’s suppose when I got it, I picked up the manual, read the whole thing, and loved everything it had to say about how to properly use the vehicle. I could love it so much that I join a club exclusive to Jeep lovers. I’m part Puerto Rican, so let’s suppose I didn’t speak a word of English and wanted to learn English just so I can read the manual in its original language. But that’s not the point of the manual. The point of the manual is simply to know how to use the car. As a future pastor, I’m studying Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and I love learning these ancient languages to read God’s Word in its original language. As Christians, we all hang out with certain Christian friends who agree with the same doctrines and politics we believe. But these aren’t the point of the Bible. Learning the original languages of the Bible is important as a future pastor and has its uses, but that’s not the point of reading Scripture. The whole point of the Bible is to know Jesus. “…but these [particularly the gospel of John] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). The whole point of the Bible is that you may know Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, who gives us life from the Father. In order to know Him, we have to continue a growing relationship with Him. We cannot do this apart from reading God’s Word.
I read the Bible every day not because I feel I have to, but because I love to. Why do I have lunch every day? Because I love food! And I don’t want to miss it! (Also because my body needs it.) Why do I read the Bible every day? Because I love it, and I don’t want to miss what God has to say. (Also because His Word is necessary in my life.)
How to Read God’s Word
Remember, Jesus is the interpretive key to reading the Bible. Always read the Bible in light of Christ, especially when you’re reading the Old Testament because the entire thing points to Him. In other words, read Scripture Christologically (which is one of the principles of interpretation). If something doesn’t make sense or appears to be contradictory, try to think of what it has to do with Christ (also seek a pastor’s counsel). Remember Scripture interprets Scripture, not human reason.
There are multiple ways in which we can read God’s Word, and I’m not here to give you what I think to be the perfect formula or method, because there is none. I’ve read the entire Bible several times, but never from front to back. Personally, I don’t like reading the Bible that way because it’s not in chronological order, but if that works for you, go ahead and start that way. There are multiple ways we can read the Bible. I started out by reading through the entire New Testament, then I read the Pentateuch, the major and minor prophets, and then the remaining books I hadn’t read yet. Currently, starting over, I’m using a different technique. I started at the beginning of Acts and am reading one chapter a day until I finish Jude, the last book before Revelation. Then I’m going to do the same thing with the major and minor prophets, the books of wisdom, and the Pentateuch. As I’m writing, I have with me what I call my “God journal,” where I write down my thoughts and even specific prayers that follow the theme of the chapter I read as my way of personally interacting with the Word. I also have a journaling bible where I can write even more thoughts (click on the link to buy one through Amazon if you’d like one). The image on the left is my personal journaling bible. The method you use is entirely up to you. You can even look at a 2-year plan that’s on the front or back of some bibles. Heck, use Google to your advantage to find some bible reading plans. I’ll supply a 2-year plan at the end of this article.
One thing I’ve found that helps is to not read through the Bible just for the sake of reading it, because then it becomes boring like a chore. Read it and study it at the same time. Use a study Bible if you have to. Find a video online that goes through each book of the Bible, or just particular ones that grab your interest. And as I keep saying, remember Jesus is the interpretive key to reading the Bible. Besides the fact Scripture interprets Scripture, one of the other principles of interpretation is to interpret Scripture in light of the rule of faith, which means to remember the unity (or inerrancy) of Scripture. What Scripture says about God’s people and His salvation defines the rule of faith. If what you’re thinking is not in line with what Scripture says about God’s people and His salvation or who Christ is, then it’s more likely your thinking is wrong rather than there being a contradiction in His Word. After all, we’re the fallible ones, not God and His Word; and we’re also the ones who have a habit of altering God’s Word for our selfish benefits rather than reading it for what it actually says.
Whatever method you decide to use, don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t look at someone and say, “Well geez, they’ve read the Bible more than I have, so they must be a better Christian than I am and my relationship with Christ is hopeless.” Don’t believe such lies. That is the Devil trying to stop you from reading the Bible. He doesn’t want you to read God’s Word, so of course you’re going to be intimidated from reading it. And of course you’re going to procrastinate. Lastly, don’t expect to understand everything, especially if it’s your first time reading it. Even as a prospecting pastor, there are things in Scripture I don’t yet understand. One lifetime—the only lifetime we get—is not long enough to gain a full understanding of God’s Word. There are some things we’ll never understand because there are some things God doesn’t want us to know (e.g. how He’s able to be one Being yet three persons; we know this to be true, but we don’t understand how because He’s decided it’s not our place to understand how). Every time I read God’s Word, I learn something new every time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Romans, for example, but every single time I always learn something new. The Holy Spirit reveals to us what He wants us to know at His timing.
The Bible is God’s words to us. His Word is necessary for our lives. It’s how He’s chosen to communicate with us, it’s how we know we have freedom from sin in Christ and it shows us how to continually experience this freedom, and it helps us to grow in relationship with Christ. The whole point of the Bible is to know Jesus as our Savior and Friend. The only way you can develop a trusting friendship with someone is by spending time with them. In the same way, Scripture is the way in which we can spend time with Jesus and develop a trusting relationship with Christ our Savior. The more you get to know God, the easier it is to trust Him; and the best way to know God is through Jesus, who is revealed in God’s Word.
Below is the Bible reading plan I promised. The numbers are obviously the respective dates. The left column is year one; the right column is year two. Or, if it’s your heart’s desire, you can do a 1-year plan and read the assigned readings for both years.
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