When I was a kid, a sure sign something wonderful was around the corner was the Christmas edition of the Sears catalog landing in our mailbox. My brother, sister and I would study those pages filled with pictures of toys and gadgets with great care. We’d circle the things we really wanted and ignored what we didn’t want. It’s a fond memory of that age. But, sadly, it is also how many approach God’s Word.
Marking and underlining verses in our Bibles is not a problem. In fact, I encourage it since it helps to cement those precious words in our lives. The problem is when we search God’s word for what we want instead of opening up our hearts and letting it speak to us.
Scholars and Bible teachers call these different approaches to the Bible exegesis and eisegesis. The later is reading the Bible in a way that is subjective to our wants as we pour the desired meaning into the words. In short, eisegesis is reading into the Word. On the other hand, allowing the Bible to objectively speak for itself is exegesis. The first leads to all kinds of trouble, false-teaching, and heartache. In a way, reading God’s Word subjectively was the original sin as Eve bought into the serpent’s twisting of God’s command.
Reading God’s word exegetically means we let God speak to us through its pages. Paul called this combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:13). Some have rightly said that approaching God’s Word in this way allows the Bible to read us. Our hearts become exposed and changed as we are challenged, corrected, rebuked, encouraged, and made hopeful through God’s Word. As Paul wrote – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB95)
You could say that reading the Bible comes down to the question we’re holding in our minds. Are we asking, “What can I get?” Or “what good thing can God give me?” Or “how does this support my viewpoint?” If those are our questions then we’re looking at the Bible as a book of witchcraft and spells. The question we should hold in our minds is “What is God saying?” What was God saying to those original readers and what is God saying to me today? Context and language and bridging cultural divides and embracing tension all come into play when we read the Bible for what God is saying.
But there is a follow-up question. We can read the Bible with the right focus and still miss the mark. That question is “what do you want me to do with what You are saying to me?” Jesus explained this in the parable of the builders. Jesus began, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24, NASB95) He then told a story of one man that built on the rock and another on the sand. When the storms came the house on the better foundation stood while the other fell. But notice that the rock in this parable is hearing Jesus’ words and acting on them. Read “and” as circled in red, highlighted, italicized, underlined, capitalized, and printed in bold type.
There will be times when a verse leaps out and grabs you. When the Spirit meaningfully shines a spotlight on something. Perhaps it is a promise or a something filled with hope. I have such a scripture tucked in my wallet. It’s a simple card given to me by my mom over forty years ago – “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me Phil 4:13.” But if those are the only kind of verses I let God speak to me then I’m missing the fullness of life in His Kingdom.
Read God’s Word for what it is and not what you want it to be or what you want from it. Don’t abuse it by making it a hammer of judgment or a book of spells. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through its verses, chapters, and books. And when He does move your heart be sure to ask the next question – “what do I do with this?” It may be a moment of repentance, an act of grace to others, a change in attitude, a spark of faith, whatever that is is do it. It’s in the doing that God’s Word becomes real and really speaks to us.