Sometimes I use this blog as a place to jot down preaching and teaching ideas that occur to me, so I can find them later. (Come to think of it, that’s pretty much all I use this blog for, it’s just that some jotting takes more time than others.) The question I was thinking about recently was this: Why do we read Scripture? What is it that we are trying to achieve as we do? What are the marks of reading it successfully (a horrible word in the context, but you know what I mean)? Here is one wrong answer, and five right ones.
We do not read it to earn. It is so easy to be tricked into thinking like this, but the purpose of reading the Bible is never to present God with a good work that entitles you to a reward. You are no more justified after reading a Bible for an hour than you are after playing Playstation or having breakfast or going for a walk.
Instead, we read it to learn: about God, about his world, about ourselves, and about how they fit together in his purposes. Despite the popularity of phrases like “we need transformation, not information,” careful reading is always going to involve learning things we didn’t know, so that we might be changed by them: “give me understanding to learn your commands!” (Psalm 119:73). A disciple is a learner. Reading Scripture is more than learning, but it is not less.
We read it to discern. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14). Maturity is not just knowing what to think, but how to think; it is not just knowledge, but wisdom. And regular Bible reading (“constant use”) shapes the way we think about everything, whether the subject is directly addressed in its pages or not. Diligence produces discernment.
We read it to turn: to turn from our sin, and to turn to Christ. Reading Scripture shapes our thinking, but it also shapes our behaviour: “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). It aims at repentance. And this happens not just negatively (turning away from sin) but positively (turning towards Jesus and following him once more). For all the emphasis we place on the first time that happens, it is actually a daily habit, as Martin Luther famously pointed out at the start of the 95 theses: “the entire Christian life is one of repentance.”
We read it to burn. When I open Scripture in the morning, I am looking for fire. I want passion to rise within me, for God and his kingdom. I want heat as well as light. I want joy fuel. I want to experience the God about whom I am reading, as if Jesus was personally explaining it to me in the room. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
We read it to yearn. Reading the Bible stirs our hearts with desire for another world. As we read, the seed of the kingdom is awakened in us. We long for the realities of heaven to become the realities of earth. We long for more of God’s presence. We pine for the day when our faith will be sight, and justice will roll down like rivers, and “holy to the LORD” will be inscribed on the bells and the cooking pots (Zechariah 14:20), and death will be swallowed up in victory. Out of that longing comes hope, and out of that hope comes prayer.