Applying God’s Holy Word

This week we wrap up our study of Dr George Guthrie’s Read the Bible for Life (published by LifeWay). Over the pervious eight weeks we looked at the various sections of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Each is unique in the genres and the stories and theology they have to offer us. Even with their differences they all have three unifying traits.

The first trait is Who the main character is–God the Creator and Sustainer.
The second is Why the Bible was written–God reaching out to His people.
The third is What the “Big Picture” is–God’s redemptive story from Creation to Re-Creation.

Now that we have looked into the importance and uniqueness of each major section of God’s Holy Word, we need to ask ourselves: What are we going to do about it?

Dr Guthrie, who I had the privilege to meet back in May 2015, says we need to go from being hearers of the Word to doers of the Word. “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, HCSB). This a common remark from many Bible scholars and professors who are truly walking the talk.

When we hear or read the Word we have two options; we can ignore it or live it out. When we ignore the Bible, esencially we are telling God “Get lost!” But when we live it out we are hand over the reins of our lives to God’s control. I pray we all will go deeper into God’ Holy Word and allow Him to come and teach us to live it out.

Dr Guthrie gives three main areas that we need to apply the Word: personal, family and church.

Scheduling a proper time for personal and family Bible reading is important to learning God’s Word. At home, where “real life” happens, is where our understanding and obedience really get tested. When we have person in the Scriptures we can find it easier to have family time in reading the Bible.

Family is important. Intentional discipling our children is far more effective than assuming it will happen naturally. If we desire for the next generation to believe in Jesus Christ and God, we need to be teaching by example them at home. The church can teach them the stories and theology, but parents or guardians are the ones who walk with their children daily. And daily life is far more effective than weekly.

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, HCSB).

“Encounter the Bible as a part of church.” Church is a time and place for us to receive the Word, participate in community and encourage our fellow Christians.

All there areas of our Christian life are interconnected. Personal Bible reading helps family devotions. Family devotions builds upon church sermons or Sunday school lessons.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to reading the Bible and other aspects of our Christian life. When you begin to regularly read God’s Holy Word, which area (personal, family or church) are you wanting to strengthen? Which area can you use to encourage others in your family, church or community?

God has given us His Word to speak to us. From ancient times His message has always been the same. “God is love” (see 1 John 4), and God is just (see Psalm 45:6). Redemption through Christ Jesus is the ultimate act of justice and love, mercy and grace. How they work together we will find out when we read “God’s Holy Word” and commentaries on the Bible.

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Epistles and Revelation in God’s Holy Word

Over the past two months we looked at the various sections on the Bible. Our general overview touched upon the importance they have within the meta-narrative of God’s story and we looked a little at how to interpret them in light of contexts. Today we are talking about the Pauline epistles (1 Corinthians-Philemon), the general epistles (Hebrews-Jude), and the Book of Revelation.

When you receive a letter, email or text message how do you read it? Do you read it with the sender’s voice in your head, filled with emotional charge? We are all humans and we all tend to read into messages. The same problem can arise when we read the epistles found in the New Testament. We can read meaning into what Paul or the other apostles wrote. We tend to apply it to our lives first before we look at the situational (cultural) context.

When we read our own personal letters we typically know the situation or circumstances behind the author’s words. To understand the epistles we have to apply the same scheme. Researching the historical background from Bible surveys, commentaries or even the Acts of the Apostles can shine a light on the reason behind the letter.

Comprehending the purpose of a passage will aid us greatly in applying it to our daily lives.

One thing that I cannot stress enough, which is in part thanks to Dr George Guthrie and seminary, is context. Keeping all Scripture passages in their proper context is crucial in understanding the Bible as the original audiences would have understood them. (As closely as we can make it, that is.)

This goes for the epistles as well as John’s Revelation.

Also known as the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation has been a mystery for most (if not all) of Church history. Why is this? Symbolism. A good percentage of the imagery that John uses are derived directly from Old Testament passages. (When we come to studying Revelation, chapter by chapter, we will look at this in more detail.) What is important to reading this book? Context.

The original audience would have understood Revelation according to their couture and theology (both Jewish and Christian). While this is true it does not mean that it is totally irrelevant to us today. Many commentators and scholars will attest that this work has three distinct genres interwoven: letter, prophecy and apocalyptic. While it, as well as all the epistles, had special meaning for the first century Church, it also has profound meaning for us today.

We can not ignore Revelation on the sole basis that it is difficult to read and understand.

Next week we are wrapping up our study Read the Bible for Life, by Dr George Guthrie, after which we are diving “In God’s Holy Word”. This will be a chapter by chapter study of the Holy Bible using the New American Commentary series, published by B&H (Broadman & Holman).

Jesus’ Teachings in God’s Holy Word

Once again we look at the Gospels. Last week we saw the importance of the New Testament stories, and this week we are looking at Jesus and His teachings. What importance do they have in the grand story? What do they mean for us today? From my time in Bible college I have noticed that Jesus’ parables are among the most popular biblical passages preacher, ministers and Bible teachers like to talk about.

The messages of His teachings have a login common with the messages found in the Old Testament. Coincidence? Definitely not! The God of the Old Testament in the exact same God as the New Testament.

When we read through the parables and other teachings of Jesus we find one central theme. And that theme is the Kingdom of God. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15, HCSB). This concept is found throughout the Old Testament. If God has a Kingdom then He must be King: “This is what the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but Me.” (Isaiah 44:6).

Jesus is the perfect story teller of all times. He uses various forms to convey the Truth, not as He sees it but for what the Truth really is. Earlier we mentioned parables. These are the most common in Jesus’ teachings to the crowds, the disciples and to the Jewish leaders of His time. Parables use figures of speech to tell the lesson.

How do we understand parables? Context, context, context. In order to properly understand Jesus’ parables we need to look at the cultural context of Ancient Middle East. Below are three questions we need to ask ourselves.

  1. Why do the characters do what they do? See Luke 10:25-37 for example. Why did the religious leaders avoid the injured man?
  2. Why are the actions of a character so controversial? Back in Luke 10, why was the Samaritan’s help countercultural?
  3. What can I take away from this? How do I need to change in my life or my relationship with God?

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is an example of a different method of Jesus’ teachings. Here He speaks with authority: “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…” (Matt 5:21a & 22a).

Another teaching tool Jesus uses is being the example. The best example of Jesus living out His teachings is found in John 13.

Above all, what can we take away from all of Jesus’ teachings we read in the Gospels? What is His “primary goal”? Dr George Guthrie asks this question. His answer is “discipleship”. The entirety of the Holy Scriptures is about discipleship. While God is the main character, He has always made an effort to draw us near to Him. When we listen and obey we become Jesus Christ’s disciples. What else can we do when we say we are followers of the Most High?

New Testament Stories in God’s Holy Word

The New Testament is full of stories, just like the Old Testament. In fact it is 60% stories. While stories are fun to read, those in the Holy Bible are more than mere tales to entertain us. There is a lot more to them then just the words on the pages and the images they describe. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ and the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the Holy Spirit’s movement within the early church.

Several weeks ago we looked at the importance of narratives in the Old Testament. As we read the Old Testament we see that it is not about the human characters nor is it about us. Within the last two weeks a man I know from the men’s (Bible study) group from my church told us his approach to reading any  part of the Scriptures, “What does this passage mean to me?”

While that is not a bad question, it should never be our first question. Who is the Bible really about? We saw that the Old Testament is about God as main protagonist or hero. The New Testament is also about God, in the person of Jesus Christ.

In his video clips on the study Read the Bible for Life Dr. George Guthrie emphasizes four points any Christian can and should use when reading God’s Holy Word. Paraphrasing in my words, they are 1. keeping it in context, 2. the reason why the authors wrote, 3. their main emphases, 4. remembering the Gospels are about Jesus, and 5. the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection.

When we read the stories of the New Testament, primarily the four Gospels, how many of the points above come to mind before what does it mean to me?

When we have a better grasp of the original meaning of the story then we can have a better appreciation of the meaning of the text, even a better understanding of what it means to me. How does one get a grasp of the text? Any Bible scholar or pastor can give you a list of tools they use. The ones I have used in the past and plan to use when we do the “In God’s Holy Word” study are the following:

  1. A good study Bible
  2. Bible dictionary (a lexicon for more advanced study)
  3. Bible backgrounds commentary and Bible atlas
  4. Bible commentaries

Reading the New Testament in our daily devotionals can be helpful. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16-17, HSCB). But when we take the time to dig deeper into God’s Holy Word we can see a lot more and God can use us to teach rather than just being taught. God wants to use His people in the church, all of His people, to teach and train up more people to teach and train the next generation.

A friend’s church as a saying, “Making disciples to become disciple-makers.” Reading the Holy Bible is more than us reading it, it is God communicating with us so we can show others “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).

Psalms of God’s Holy Word

The Book of Psalms: the hymnal of the early church and the Jews. There are many different types of psalms within this genre of poetry or wisdom writing. What theological truths can we gleam from them? We will not be discussing the truths here, but let me say this, there is plenty of theological truths of God and of man throughout the Psalms and other wisdom writings.

Several years ago I met a young man who animately argued against this point. There are many various genres of writing in the Scriptures–stories, laws, prophecies, wisdom poetry, epistles, and apocalyptic. But why do they need to be exclusive? The answer is simple: they are not meant to be stand alone, but are part of the meta-narrative (e.g.: the big picture) of God’s story.

What do the psalms tell us? What truths do they reveal that other parts of the Bible do not? Dr George Guthrie uses the metaphor of a security camera in a store. The camera captures the facts of what happened, but it leaves out the motives and the emotions of the people. The stories of the Old Testament tell what happened from a second or third person point of view. The psalms, on the other hand, use first person perspective and say it as it is.

The psalmists wear their hearts on their sleeves. They petition God (Ps 51) and lament over their lot in life (Ps 10). They aren’t afraid to tell God “Life isn’t fair”. While other psalms praise God for who He is (Ps 48) and they thank Him for what He has done (Ps 9), is doing and will do.

 

Expressing one’s self is generally not a common practice. Poets and song writers do, but why are we not doing this in churches? In praise and worship songs? Many of the psalms are figurative expressions in response to experiences God’s people had over the years. How can we use this in our personal lives and in the church worship?

Reading the Book of Psalms can help us express our thoughts, reflect on experiences and go deeper in our way of thinking about God. The psalmists can relate to our turmoils in life and the joys as well. As you read the Psalms ask yourself: What is this telling me about God? What is it saying about human nature?

The Law & The Prophets in God’s Holy Word

As we are going through Dr George Guthrie’s Read the Bible for Life we see God’s Holy Word is full of stories. Even the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) are full of human characters dealing with the main character, God. But these two parts of the Bible have so much more than just stories. For many people, and this is also true for Christians, these two sections of the Bible are the most difficult to read and understand. Why is this so?

We all have are own reasons. Some people I know don’t like reading for the sake of not wanting to read, and others don’t read because they don’t understand or don’t want to be challenged in any way. I pray these aren’t your reasons when it comes to God’s Word.

The phrase “The Law and the Prophets” is found ten times (in various forms) in the New Testament (according to HCSB). In Jesus’ days this was how the Bible of the Jews was referred to as. In other words, it was the Bible Jesus read and it was the only Scriptures the early church used. One might ask, “What relevance do books written thousands of years ago have for us today?”

The main reason to read the Old Testament Laws and Prophets is what they have in common with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17, HCSB).

For us to understand why Jesus had to come in the first place, we need to read the Old Testament. To understand the significants for His ministry and the Church, we need to read the Old Testament. The idea of covenant has been around since Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 3), and instituted by God through Abraham (Gen. 12) and re-established through Moses in the Book of Exodus.

The whole idea is living in covenant with the One True and Living God. How does this relate to the Gospel message? Here are a couple of passages to consider:

“In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.'” Luke 22:20.

“By saying, a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear.” Hebrews 8:13.

The Word of God is full of covenant talk–living faithfully on our part; love and justice on God’s part.

We need to remember to keep the Bible in context, the people the Law was originally written to live in the distant past. What can we gleam from the Law for ourselves today? Righteous and faithful living! The Law gives blessings and curses as God’s promised responses to His chosen peoples, the Israelites. The Prophets are calling the people of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah to return to the Covenant.

So, how does this all relate to Christians today? As I have already mentioned, Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and the New Covenant is now in effect. Whereas the Law brought the Old Covenant and the Prophets called people back to God in Covenant, Jesus brought the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit is calling people to join the Covenant.

The importance of the Law and the Prophets is the Covenant. To understand Jesus’ ministry and the Gospel more fully we need to understand what He came to fulfill and what living ‘in covenant relationship with God’ means.

Old Testament Stories in God’s Holy Word

The Bible is full of stories of people, their triumphs and their failures. Although they lived thousands of years ago we can still learn from them. But what about those of pre-Christ era? How can the Old Testament be relevant to us today? There are many answers I could give you, but I’ll focus on three main reasons. In my opinion these are the most important ones.

The first one is “who we are” and “who they are”. As mentioned above God’s Word is filled with tales of triumphs and failures of God’s people. We are all humans and so were the folks in the stories. How often do we think before we act? Or try to do something our way instead of God’s way? These are but a few traits we have in common with the ancient Middle Eastern tribes and nations.

The essence of who we and they are is this: we are all human and we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, HCSB). The reason we need to read and study the Old Testament stories is to understand that the problem of sin was just as ramped back then as it is today.

But what is its importance to the Gospel message? Can’t we just learn from the Apostles and the New Testament churches?

That’s possible, aren’t we then missing out on two-thirds of God’s Word?

This brings me to the second reason. If we want to learn from the New Testament churches or be like them (as a new trend in today’s church circles claims) then we need to read the Bible they had. The writers of the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) as well as the Apostle Paul all knew their Scriptures, the Torah, what we call the Old Testament, quite well.

The Old Testament is the backbone of God’s Story. How can one understand the reason for Jesus Christ’s first coming? Or many concepts found throughout the New Testament: temple, sacrifice, glory of God, etc. Many times the gospel writers speak about fulfilment of Scriptures. “But all this has happened so that the prophetic Scriptures would be fulfilled” (Matt 26:56, HCSB). The backbone of the Gospel message is the history of God’s people and His creation.

God. He is the third and most important reason for anyone devout Christian to read and study His Holy Word. Who shows up in every book, in every chapter of the Bible? (Esther and Song of Songs we see God indirectly. These are the only two books where God is never mentioned.)

“In the beginning God…” (Get 1:1a).

God saw the Israelites, and He took notice,” (Ex 2:25).

“What more can David say to You? You know Your servant, Lord God,” (2 Sam 7:20).

The main character is the entire Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is God our Heavenly Father. What more reason do we have to read the stories that the first church would have read? God is the protagonist; the humans are the supporting cast. This reason is this: by reading the Old Testament we can see God’s character being revealed. To know the Bible is to get a better understanding of Who our God is.

So why should we read the stories of the Old Testament? 1. The supporting cast are dealing with sin and struggles just like we are in today’s culture. 2. The early church only had the Old Testament as their religious texts. 3. It’s God’s Story. He is the same throughout and it is part of “God’s Holy Word”.

Keeping the Bible in context while we study each passage is important. And when we understand Who the passage talks about and what  commonalities we have with the secondary characters then we have a better grasp of personal context that we looked at last week.

The reason why we read the Old Testament can vary from person to person. But we need to keep God at the centre of the Bible and allow Him to do likewise in our daily lives.