Not as Easy as It Looks
From time to time I get a note of gratitude in response to a sermon. Most of the notes center around someone’s appreciation for taking otherwise obscure passages in the Bible and making them easy to understand. These notes are always encouraging and deeply appreciated, but I must admit, the task is not as easy as it looks.
The people of God long to be able to pick up the Bible and be blown away by it every time they turn the page. It is an honest craving (1 Peter 2:2). Yet it is not an honest approach. While there may be times when the Bible speaks quickly, there are others in which the text speaks slowly. It is at these points that it beckons us to listen closely, for long periods of time. It is here that God invites us to dig. The fact that it is sometimes difficult to understand Scripture is an honest admission and one that resonates throughout the text. Peter confessed that for him, Paul was hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). Paul counseled young pastor Timothy that it would take his best work to be able to accurately explain the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). The Word of God is powerful, but it is not easy.
David often applied what I consider to be the marquee tool of Biblical interpretation, meditation. My office is full of language tools, commentaries, and translations. I use them all. But I think the greatest catalyst for good exegesis is simply time. Get the text in your head. Allow it to rattle around for awhile and eventually it will make it to your heart. My sermon preparation starts early. The course of my sermons, and naturally then the course of my study for this year, was determined last July. Almost every morning since January I read something about Abraham. I will not begin preaching about him until May. I am preaching through Acts this year. I read Acts several times last year. I give the text time to breathe in me. About 7 – 10 days before I preach a passage, I employ the critical tools (dictionaries, commentaries, etc.). But by then the text has already revealed much of itself to me, its form, its outline, its theme. I have already given time for God to say to me, “This is what I said and this is what I mean.”
When it comes to understanding the Bible, there is no substitute for serious study. We must give it time and we must use the tools. I think everyone should read the Bible through, cover to cover, without stopping, at least once in their lifetime. I have done so, once! After you read it through once you get a lay of the land; you get a mental map. Now that you have the map, explore the terrain. Take time to dig. Be methodical. Be intentional. Be patient. I am not at all a fan of, “Let’s just open the Bible up and read such and so today.” I don’t think Paul, or Peter, or David were fans of such a casual approach either. These men were explorers. They dug down deep and found the most intricate ways that the veins and crevices of Scripture intersected and fed one another at the subterranean level. Paul’s vast knowledge of the Old Testament served as his inspiration for his great treatise on the Doctrine of Salvation, The Book of Romans. Writing Romans was not easy; neither is understanding it.
Take courage people of God. The Bible is huge. It is deep. It is vast. It is powerful. If it doesn’t come easy to you, don’t get discouraged. Join in with the rest of us who take time to dig. Take time to dig down deep and you will be greatly blessed.