“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16) NLT
When I was younger, I remember reading this verse and thinking “You have got to be kidding me.” Surely Paul isn’t talking about Numbers. Or the first chapter of Matthew? The one with “Fred begat Steve who begat Marmaduke”? Really? What am I supposed to get out of that? And then much to my surprise a few years ago around Christmas time my pastor actually built an entire sermon series around the first chapter of Matthew. And it was fantastic!! I couldn’t help but think of this verse.
Maybe you’ve had a friend who couldn’t seem to stay out of the ditch in terms of their decision making. One bad decision after another whizzes by. Each time you were able to see from the outside that the outcome of the decision is not going to be a good one. And sure enough the painful consequences arrived, as predicted. Your friend was consistently manufacturing his own pain and suffering, which is incredibly difficult to watch. If you went to this person to try to talk sense into them, odds are your friend was not interested in wise counsel even though that is exactly what they needed. We all need wisdom, good advice, etc. We all want to make good decisions and we certainly want to avoid pain in our lives. Wise counselors are very important and we should all have them, but nothing compares to the wisdom we would find in scripture if we would just leverage it.
Why do we have trouble understanding the Bible and applying it to our lives? Is it because it’s too confusing? There are books of the Bible that can be that way. It may not be the best idea for a brand new Christian to jump into Ezekiel and start reading. 5 minutes later, the white flag would probably go up. And yet there are books that are perfect for new Christians, who should probably focus more on narratives at first. I think either Mark or Luke would be a great book for a new Christian to read from start to finish before moving on to other things (Luke is more detailed). These two books are great for understanding what happened, and John (which I would read next) is great for understanding why. Then I think it’s wise to move on to the letters (or epistles), starting with Romans. At that point it might be good to ask your pastor or someone you trust about recommending a good Bible commentary. Some of Paul’s letters can be a little heady and it’s good sometimes to have someone who can help decipher it. Revelations can definitely wait until later because it’s so complex. Then it would be good to start familiarizing yourself with the Old Testament, starting with Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Proverbs, and Psalms. I’m personally a proponent of reading straight through books as much as you can as a newbie so you can understand context and flow of the books. Otherwise it can become disjointed if you’re not careful. But the important thing is to dig into it. It’s so rich! It’s also important to find a version of the Bible that is easy for you to read (my favorites are New Living Translation and New American Standard). While there are subtle differences between versions, there aren’t enough for you to prioritize minor translation issues over understandability.
Another reason we may have trouble leveraging the wisdom from the Bible is because our goals are a little skewed. I believe there are three goals to reading the Bible. From my perspective, the lowest priority goal is developing a belief system. Many people read the Bible in order to believe all the right things, but that’s not why God gave the Bible to us. The second priority is learning how to live. The Bible is full of wisdom, fascinating stories, warnings, examples of what not to do… In some cases it feels to me like God is standing in the road waving a red flag saying “The bridge is out!!” I understand that to others God may seem to be constricting or overly restrictive. But I would argue that the problem is not God—it’s our perspective. God is trying to protect us, because he sees the danger. He sees where we’re headed and he knows what’s waiting for us. We can choose to do what we want, but there are consequences. Pain and suffering are waiting. God is wise, and we would be wise to take advantage of His wisdom. And, the top priority is to know God and His Son Jesus intimately. How could this not be our number one goal, and yet it seems to be the thing we least want to do. We’re naturally much more interested in justifying our actions, judging those around us, or just getting our way in general. The Bible can become leverage to get what we want rather than a love letter from our God and Savior. Instead, knowing God and deepening that relationship should get top billing as we study the Bible. Our faith will grow, His love will overpower our hearts, and He will change us from the inside out.