Reading with Rejoicing by Nathan Colestock

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If you consistently read here, you know that I got to write for SpokeFolk just a couple of days ago. If you didn’t read it, here’s the quick summary. The goal of the Christian life is being happy in God. Notice that we’re to be happy in God, not in the gifts of God. We must love the giver of the gifts more than we love the gifts themselves. Just like we must like our spouses more than the ring that they give us. We say to the many gifts that God gives us, “Not this, but the maker of this is the desire of my soul.” We count the cost of discipleship (Lk. 14) and we see God is so delightful we sell everything for him (Matt. 13).

Specifically today I want to focus on how we increase joy in God in Bible reading. Most people never get any training on how to read their Bible, and I think that’s tragic. There are storehouses of joy available for us here that God offers, hoping that we will take him up on it. Here’s some of how we can do that. I think that we need to remember these six things:

1. The Bible Rules

The Bible decides what we do. The Bible decides what we think. The Bible decides what God is like and what He says. We do not. So when we approach the Bible is is not our place to impose what we want it to say on the words that are written. It’s our job to open it up without making pre-judgements on what it says and enjoy the revelation from God about how He is and how His world works. We can’t presume to put our own opinion above the words of God.

2. There is One Interpretation

As I write this sentence I mean to communicate something to you. What I am communicating is in my mind and I am trying to give it words so that you can think the same thought that I am right now. I’m thinking something and trying to get it to you. That’s what is happening when you open the Bible. You’re struggling to think the same thoughts as the author. That means that there’s one correct interpretation, because the author was trying to say one thing. That doesn’t mean you’re automatically right, it means that the passage doesn’t say two contradictory things, it says one thing and your job is to do your best to figure out which one is right.

3. Context is King

What was written wasn’t written to you. Romans was written to first century Christian in Rome. You are neither 1,900 years old, nor do you live in Rome. That means that we need to understand what the authors meant when they said it to the people that they did. It also means that we need to read more than just one verse at a time. There are whole arguments that the authors are making that we need to understand too!

4. Make God Centered Principles

The fact that the Bible was written to certain people in a certain time in a certain place doesn’t mean that it doesn’t speak to us today. It just means we have to do a little more work. We need to make a principle out of the verse that means something or all people at all times. For instance, Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” God is saying this to Judah as they are going into exile to Babylon. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t give us hope. Our God is the kind of God that makes plans for us and wants to prosper us. We should not take hope in these words because they were spoken to us, but because we serve the God who spoke them.

5. Push into Reality

The Bible is the revelation of what is really real. That means that we want to push past words into the reality of the words. This is part of why making a principle helps us. Not only does it make sure that we don’t take a passage out of context, but it also gets us closer to the reality of the words. When we read that Jesus was born into the world in Luke 2 we can’t just be happy with knowing that Jesus was born in a manger to Mary and there were some angels. We need to push into the reality that the second person of God loves us so much that he clothed himself in human flesh.

6. Feel the Truth

When we push into the reality we need to stay there until we feel it. We can’t leave our Bible feeling nothing. Direct revelation from God is not something we ought to be apathetic about. Instead, we need to force our cold hard hearts to linger in the reality that we have pushed into until we feel it fully. Feel the pain, the joy, the sorrow, everything that the passage calls for. Remember, treasuring God above everything is what makes a Christian a Christian! So this needs to be the goal of our Bible reading.

An Example

I know that all of this is really abstract and probably hard to see how it would really fit into real Bible reading. So maybe an example will help:

Revelation 3:15-16

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

I choose this verse because it is often used out of context. In this section Jesus is giving John messages for different churches. This is one part of the message to the church in Laodicea. So, let’s walk through those six things and try to see how they work in real Bible reading.

First, we remember that the Bible rules. So let’s take a second and pray that God would give us hearts receptive to what it is he said. Then we remember that there is only one interpretation, John is the author recording the words of Jesus and he is trying to say something to the audience. Let’s try to get the basic gist of what is being said.

Jesus is saying that he knows the works of the Laodiceans and that they aren’t “cold or hot.” And he wishes that they were, but instead they’re lukewarm, so he is going to “spit them out of his mouth.” Jesus uses two metaphors here, hot and cold and spitting them out of his mouth. We need to know what they mean. Does hot and cold refer to feelings? That they are neither really passionate towards God nor hating him but they just kind of care? Does it make sense that Jesus either wants to love God or hate him and dislikes the in-between?

Let’s remember that the audience is the church is Laodicea, this is important for this passage. So, if you have a study Bible the notes might be helpful, otherwise use google and find out what you can about Laodicea. You’ll find that there was really bad water in Laodicea. The water was gross and “lukewarm.” But to the north and south were two cities that had hot and cold water. The hot springs of one city made it a healing and relaxing place, and cool water of the other city made it refreshing and revitalizing. Now this figure of speech make much more sense!

Jesus is saying that he doesn’t like that the actions of the Laodiceans were neither healing nor refreshing, but were instead like their water: lukewarm. So Jesus was going to do to them just what people did with their water: spit it out of his mouth. He’s not saying he either wants people to love God or hate him, he’s saying that we wants our actions to not be revolting to people.

This is pretty easy to make a principle out of. Jesus wants us to be the same way. So we should turn this inward. Am I someone whose actions are “lukewarm”? Do I turn others away rather than heal or revitalize them?

And let’s push into the reality here. We serve a God who has empowered us by the Holy Spirit to be healers and refreshers even though we are sinful by nature. God has changed us by grace so that we don’t have to be lukewarm any more.

Finally, meditate on that for a while. Let your heart sink with the realization that your actions have been lukewarm. Let your heart be amazed and encouraged that God cares enough for you to live inside you and work with you to change your heart from being lukewarm.

I really hope that this helps. One of my greatest passions is to see Christians reading and enjoying the Bible for the reality that it reveals and the joy that it sows in our hearts. Don’t settle for just a skimming of your Bible reading. Don’t settle for understanding vaguely what it says. Don’t settle for only understanding what it meant to the people it was written to. Don’t even settle for just figuring out what it means for you. Don’t stop until you have stamped the passage across your heart and feel the reality behind the words written.

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