A man was desperate to have direction from God about his life. He decided to open the Bible at random, close his eyes, put his finger on the page, and heed the verse he pointed to, believing God would speak to him directly from His Word. He opened the Bible, closed his eyes and pointed. The verse said, "So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself." (Matthew 27:5). That couldn't be right. God wouldn't direct him to suicide. So he tried again. This time his finger landed on Luke 10:37b: "Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'" He thought to himself, "No way!" and tried one more time. The verse he pointed to said, "So Jesus told him, 'What you are about to do, do quickly.'” (John 13:27b) Do you see the flaw in this approach to the Bible?
If Scripture is to be our True^North - our navigation point for life - we must be careful to study and understand what it really says and what it means in context before we begin to ask how it applies to us. Too often, we skip from reading the Word of God directly to what we think it means for us. We need navigation tools to unpack the meaning of Scripture in its context so the message from God is truly true for our lives.
How important is this? Slave owners used out-of-context verses from the Bible to justify (in their minds) that slavery was God's will. Abusers sometimes point to Ephesians 5 to tell a wife she must submit to their abuse. We can find verses to justify just about any sin in our lives if we are not paying attention to getting the message right before we apply it.
We are hosting Dr. Dave Smith, Professor of New Testament at Indiana Wesleyan University, this weekend at the church I serve. Dr. Dave is a gifted and insightful teacher. In his True^North seminar on Saturday, he taught us the nuts and bolts of getting the message right through Inductive Bible Study.
Inductive Bible Study is a great tool to help us read and apply Scripture through Observation (What does the text actually say? What do the words mean?), through Interpretation (What does the text mean in its context? What did Matthew or John or Paul or Isaiah mean when they wrote it?), and then through Application (What does this text mean to me? How does its truth apply to my life?)
Dr. Dave quoted something Dr. Dennis Kinlaw once said to him: "David, the parts of your Bible that are not underlined are just as inspired as the parts that are." We underline the verses we like. We underline the verses that inspire us or give us comfort or hope or joy. But the verses that challenge us are no less true. The verses we don't like very much - that call for change or that challenge our worldly values - are no less the Word of God.
Most all of us have been guilty in some area of our lives of misreading Scripture and proof-texting it to justify the way we want to live. It is very tempting and very common to read the Bible through the lens of the world and what we want to be true, instead of reading the world through the lens of the revealed Word of God.
The Bible is my True^North. It is the revealed Word of God. He used faithful authors like Moses, Daniel, Luke, Peter and Paul to give us the truth about who He is, and to point us to the One who is Truth - Jesus. (Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6 NIV) Rightly understood, Scripture is the truth I live by and the GPS that directs my life. That means my study of the Bible needs to be the very best I can do to understand what it says, what it means and how it applies to me and my life.
It's a life-long adventure in learning, and it is best done with others, because "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17 NIV) God gives scholars like Dr. Dave Smith, pastors like me, and ordinary people like you insights into His Word that are meant to be shared with others so the written Word of God becomes living Word in our lives.
That open the Bible, point to a page and do what the verse says thing? That's not the way God hopes we will study and process and apply His Word. Let's do better. Let's bring our best. Let's study together with others. And let's obey the clear teaching of His Word in our everyday lives.