The theme for our massage this quarter is ‘Conforming to the Word.’ Our aim for these massage is to focus our attention on the Bible. Why do we need to do this? It is because reading and studying the Bible is the most basic requirement for a Christian to grow spiritually. However, statistics show that most people who profess faith in Christ today hardly read their Bible or spend time to study it. And sad to say, this is true even in Church. In a church survey that was done last year, we found that 45% of our members do not read their Bible daily, and 61% have not read through the Bible completely. I hope we all realise the problem we have here.
What is the reason for this problem? Some would say that regular Bible reading is hard to maintain. Our busy schedules just don’t allow it. We need to meet important deadlines at work. Others say that they hardly read the Bible because it is boring and irrelevant to them. Why do we not see more of us enjoying the Bible as fully as we may? Perhaps because many of us have not realised how refreshing and profitable it can be to read the Bible, or experienced the profound joy of discovering its precious gems.
I think a lot depends on the approach we take to knowing God’s Word. Using the right approach can make a big difference in our Bible reading. If we approach it as a necessary chore it will become a burdensome ritual. But if we approach it as an enriching activity, it will become a delightful habit. In order to understand the right approach let us turn to Psalm 1 and read the first 3 verses: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
The first word of this psalm actually gives us its main theme: Blessedness. And the word “blessed” here really means “happy.” The idea is a state of well-being. This is something everyone desires. People everywhere want to be happy, not sad. But blessedness is somewhat abstract to describe. Howdo you fully convey the idea of blessedness with words alone? There is a way: By using words to paint a picture of blessedness.
And this is what the writer did in v.3. He paints a picture of a tree planted by rivers of water, which brings forth its fruit in its season. The point that you must not miss about this tree is that it is located in a very favourable location. Why? Because its roots will always enjoy a good supply of water that comes from the river beside it. Fruit trees need a lot of water. As long as the tree remains at the river bank, it will continue to thrive and grow well. The river is its source of life – and it represents the Word of God.
The tree would then represent a person who is constantly receiving nourishment from God’s Word. As v.2 says, “his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” As a result of being fed with the Word of God regularly, the believer’s spiritual life grows and thrives, and this becomes the manifestation of divine blessing in his life. The rest of v.3 tells us more about the characteristics of this blessed life: “that bringeth forth its fruit in his season…”
One of the ways we can tell that a tree is healthy and vibrant is by looking at its fruits. Fruitfulness is usually a sign of good health. I remember the time years ago when my family lived in a house that had a garden. We grew vegetables and tomatoes . We looked forward to the appearing of fruits on the plants which were grown for our own consumption and to give away to friends. In the same way that a person looks forward to seeing his plants bear fruit, our Heavenly Father looks forward to seeing our lives bear much spiritual fruit for Him. He is glorified when we bear much fruit (John 15:8). The fruit refers to things like service, good works, virtues, godly and righteous living. God wants all of us to grow into fruit-bearing Christians. And the truth that is so well illustrated in this psalm is that you will bear much fruit as long as you keep receivingthe good nourishment you need from the Word of God.
Continuing with verse 3, we see the blessing also being described as: “his leaf also shall not wither…”This is another way of telling whether a tree is doing well or not. If the leaves of an evergreen tree start to wither that is a sure sign of weakness or even sickness. But if its leaves always remain fresh and green even during times of severe drought then it is strong and healthy.
And this aptly portrays a believer who remains spiritually strong and healthy even under the most difficult circumstances in life. He is resilient, and able to weather through every storm of life. When circumstances knock him down he bounces back up. Once again, it is the nourishment that he receives from the Word of God that gives him the health and strength he needs to cope with the most trying circumstances of life. Now the last phrase of v.3 says: “whatever he doeth shall prosper.” This aptly describes the blessed life that the believer enjoys from receiving nourishment continually from the Word of God.
The spiritual fruitfulness, health and strength that God’s Word produces in his life enable him to prosper in everything that he does under every kind of circumstance, good or bad. This is real blessedness! I trust that this will motivate all of us here to have the blessed life portrayed in this psalm.
This blessed life can be yours only if you have the right approach to the Bible. The approach you should have is the one described in v.2 “his delight is in the law of the Lord.” Can you honestly say that your delight is in the Word of God? Do you regard the Bible you hold in your hands as the greatest influence in your life? Do you see it as the primary source of all the instructions by which you live your life? If the Bible is not all this to you, then what is? In the first verse of this psalm, we find three alternative influences that dominate the lives of many people – the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners and the seat of the scornful. The more time we spend under these powerful influences, the less our lives will be blessed.
These influences are readily available not only through the people we choose to associate with but also through the media. Much of what is found in the Internet, on TV and radio is unedifying because they are programmed mostly by unbelievers. If you do not exercise good discernment, and allow yourself to come fully under the media’s strong influence, you will end up walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners and sitting in the seat of the scornful as v.1 says. You will be like a tree planted by sewers that are full of garbage and nuclear waste – a tree that is fruitless, leafless and completely withered! This is the reason why so many Christians are living in defeat and spiritual weakness.
Do you want to have a truly blessed life? If you do, you must take heed to the implicit warning given here. Don’t allow these ungodly influences of the world to dominate your life and your values. Don’t take delight in them if you wish to live a truly blessed life. Delight instead in the Word of God. Fall in love with it. Spend more of your time reading and studying the Bible. If you delight in the Word you will want to read it thoroughly. You will study it carefully and treasure its words up in your heart. You will take whatever it says about any area of your life seriously. And you will seek to apply it well and make any changes that are necessary to your life.
About 29 years ago I met an elderly gentleman who was warded in hospital. He had a very large growth in his abdomen and was scheduled to be operated. But he was not worried at all. I wanted to encourage him because of his condition, but instead I ended up being the one encouraged by him. He was a godly man who had an excellent memory of Bible verses which he quoted freely in his conversation with me.
This is what said to me, “Young man, if you want to do well in life, you must know God’s Word thoroughly. Read through the New Testament five times and then read through the Old Testament twice. Then read through the New Testament again.” That encounter left a deep impression on me. I began to take the Word of God more seriously than before and I immersed myself deeply into it. I made every effort to read through the Bible systematically and daily. And it was only then that I experienced more and more the reality of the victorious Christian life, and the life-changing power of God. And I can assure you that this experience will be yours as well, if you make a firm commitment to delight in God’s Word.
Returning to our study of Psalm 1, we have just seen that in order to have a life that is truly blessed with spiritual fruits, spiritual health and strength, we must desire to be constantly nourished by God’s Word. There is one more thing we need to learn from this psalm, and that is, what we should do with God’s Word in order to obtain the greatest nourishment from it.
This is given in the latter part of v.2 which says – “in His law doth he meditate day and night.” What does this mean? To meditate on the Word is to personally reflect on, to ponder, or to think deeply about the Word of God in our minds. One illustration of meditation can be seen in the way that a cow eats grass. First it will bite away as much grass as it can from the ground, mouthful by mouthful and swallow it down. After some time, when its stomach is full, the cow will stop taking in any more grass. Instead it will just stand in the field, and spend hours and hours chewing the cud. It brings up some partly digested grass from its stomach into its mouth. Then the cow will just keeping chewing and chewing it until the grass breaks down. Then it re-swallows the finely chewed grass into another chamber of its stomach for further digestion.
Similarly, whenever you read the scriptures, you are like a cow biting mouthfuls of grass and swallowing it down. But the full nourishment of the scriptures will only be released when you take time to ‘chew’ on what you have read. Take it little by little, chew it well so that it will be easily digested and absorbed it into your soul. Then you will be thoroughly enriched with the full nutritious value contained in the portion of scripture. And when you have been so enriched and satisfied, you will want to have more and more of it, because it is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb! (Psalm 19:10)
Now that we have learned about the blessings of being nourished constantly from God’s Word, let us go on to consider three guidelines on how to approach the Word. The first guideline in approaching the Bible is to:
I. Approach the Bible as a Book.
I am sure all of us have read many books right through, especially if it has a very captivating story. Perhaps there are even some books you may have read several times, because you need to prepare for an important exam. Well, the Bible deserves to be read like this. It is a book to be read. It should be read completely, not in part. It should be read systematically, not haphazardly. Don’t skip any part of it. And it is important to remember this: Although composed of 66 books, the Bible is really one book, withone unifying theme: God’s salvation to sinful man by Jesus Christ. Any part of the Bible should be read with ultimate reference to this grand theme. Otherwise the main point of the writing will be lost.
The Bible is also a library of 66 written works which grew together in the course of the centuries by the guiding hand of God. These 66 books are excellent works of literature, and must be read as such. Some consist of prose writing, such as the historical books. When you are reading prose, you can expect to see plain language recounting the events. Other books of the Bible consist of songs or poems like the Psalms. When you read them you can expect to see much figurative language used to teach the truth. The epistles of the NT have their own literary characteristics. We read them as personal letters revealing the great truths of God and of practical Christian living.
We should also remember that even though the author of each book of the Bible was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he composed his work according to normal writing procedures. He had a main purpose in writing, and subordinate ones as well. He brought together many facts, and produced a book. That is what composition is all about, and you should keep this in mind whenever you read a book of the Bible. Such an attitude will deter us from doing the author an injustice, such as making conclusions before we have read his entire book. How would you like it if you wrote a book and people read only the first chapter and say, I know what the rest is all about?
This will also keep us from looking for secret messages hidden beneath the surface of a book. How would you like it if people read things into a book you wrote, things which you never intended? I don’t think you would like it at all. If you wanted anyone who reads your book to understand it easily you would have written it in plain language. So please remember that the Bible is meant to be read and understood in its plain literal sense, just like any other book.
The format of the Bible is also like any other book. There are chapters (1,189 of them), which are broken down into paragraphs, then sentences (usually the length of a verse); then words (a total of about 31,102). Here are a few interesting features of the Bible:
1. The personalities of the Bible writers are different, so the style and vocabulary used differ from book to book. E.g. John’s writing is simple, yet profound; Paul’s writing is logical; James used a more practical approach. And yet the message is always consistent because they were all inspired by the same Divine author.
2. The general place of writing needs to be recognized, for customs and cultures may explain certain actions and words that are foreign to our part of the world and to our time. E.g. Persian Empire (Daniel and Esther) – a king’s decree cannot be changed even by the king who made it!
3. The perspective of the writer, as to time, is not static. Thus He may skip over long periods of time (as in prophetic ‘gaps’ – e.g. in Isaiah 9:6,7 the first and second advents of Christ are seen together) orhe may backtrack in descriptions of events (as in some historical accounts, e.g. Deuteronomy) in order to derive lessons from the past.
4. A progression in revelation is to be expected from author to author, in view of the long time it took for the Bible to be completed. God did not give a full revelation of truth to the first writer of a book of the Bible. (cf. ‘seed of the woman’ the ‘prophet like unto Moses’ and the ‘suffering servant’ cf. Hebrew 1:1 –“in sundry times and divers manners”)
We come now to the second guideline in approaching the Bible, which is to:
II. Approach the Bible as a Unique Book
Someone has said, “Treat the Bible like any other book and you will find that it is not like any other book.” The world has never seen a book like this one. It is such a book as man could not have written if he would, and would not have written if he could. What is it that makes the Bible such a unique book? There are at least 3 things:
A. It is God’s only written communication to man
It is God’s personal love letter to you. When you open its pages you should read it the same way as you would read a letter from your loved ones. You would read it carefully, savouring every word. He who sees the Bible as a personal love letter from His Creator and Saviour will gain much more from his Bible study. The 2nd thing about the Bible that makes it a unique book is…
B. It is completely trustworthy.
This Book makes great claims and predictions and still it remains trustworthy, because it was written by God Himself. In John 10:35 Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” Irving Jensen puts it this way: The absolute Word of the absolute God is absolute authority for life. The Bible is not a book of‘cunningly devised fables’ as some may claim, but it is a ‘more sure word of prophecy’ using the term that Peter used for it in 2 Peter 1:19. No other book in the world has such a distinction. The 3rd thing about the Bible that makes it such a unique book is…
C. It is inexhaustible.
It is like a mine full of treasures, infinitely deep, always inviting the student to a second chamber, after he has spent time in the first. This was Augustine’s reflection in writing to his son in AD 412 – “Such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would still daily be making progress in discovering their treasures.”
We should never expect to exhaust the full meaning of the Bible, because it speaks of infinite, eternal and mysterious truths, not fully grasped by our finite minds. Dwight L. Moody said, “Men who know the Bible best find it ever new.” Up to this point we have seen two guidelines for approaching the Bible – firstly, we should approach the Bible as a book. Secondly we should approach it as a unique Book. We now proceed to our 3rd and final guideline for approaching the Bible:
III. Approach the Bible with the Right Attitudes
Without these attitudes, Bible study can be very barren and unprofitable. Here are five necessary attitudes:
Remember that the Bible is the Word of God. God has not chosen to record His will permanently in any other writing. How important it is therefore, for us to revere its truths, as it tells us about the God whom we worship. Someone has said, “Access to the inmost sanctuary of the Holy Scriptures is granted only to those who come to worship.” Besides reverence, we need to have an attitude of…
We need to see our need for Bible study, or else we will not have any incentive or inspiration to study the Bible. Wilbur Smith said, “If we could come to an hour in our lives when before God we would say that Bible study must be given a definite, paramount place in our lives, every day, because we realize that we absolutely need it, then, no matter what interruptions are experienced, or might be our immediate reactions to such study, we would keep at it persistently, because we knew we needed it.”
Being convinced of our need to study the Bible, and knowing also our inability to understand it fully without help, we should depend on the Holy Spirit who indwells us (Romans 8:9) and who was given to guide us into all the truth (John 16:13). We must study the Bible under the Holy Spirit’s influence, for, as D.L. Moody once said, “The Bible without the Holy Spirit is like a sun-dial by moonlight.” Now we come to the third attitude we need to have, which is…
It is one thing to know that we need to study the Bible. It is another thing to actually desire to study it. Such a desire is not forced, but should come naturally to the one who knows the Author personally and loves His fellowship. This is what Peter had in mind when he wrote, “Desire the sincere milk of the Word… if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3). A book that first appeared to be dull to a young woman reading it suddenly became a fascinating story at a later reading. Why? It is simply because in the meantime she had fallen in love with its author. And if we desire to study the Bible, we will not shun the toil and labour which fruitful Bible study demands.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote this: “The Bible yields its treasures to honest toil more readily than does any other serious literature. The Bible never yields to indolence.” The next attitude we need in order to approach the Bible correctly is…
Whether we study a large portion of the Bible or a small part of it, we should always strive to be as accurate as possible in handling it. Since the original autographs were infallible, and since our present Bible text has been carefully preserved, we ought to study the Bible with as much care as can be humanly mustered. Having this attitude in Bible study honours God and produces lasting benefits. And now we come to the fifth and last attitude we need, which is…
This is the attitude of submission and moldability. We approach the Bible not to do something to it, but to let it do something to us. We must be prepared to understand the Scriptures with an open heart and a receptive mind (cf. Luke 24:45). Then it will be like the seed which is planted in fertile soil – it will take take root and grow up into a thriving fruitful tree.
I trust that from now onward you will approach the Word of God in the right manner, by approaching it as a Book, as a unique Book and by having these five attitudes towards it – Reverence, Dependence, Desire, Accuracy, and Receptivity. Then you will become just like the blessed man who is described in the first Psalm – “…whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
It is my hope that we can all develop a good Bible reading habit. Set aside a regular time to read it by yourself, or together with your family. Read it in your iPhone or iPad if you want to. Study it, memorise it, and meditate on it. May the Lord bless us all as we give His infallible and inerrant Word the proper place that it deserves in our lives
Also read this.