We have seen that there are five things we are to do with the Bible if we are to enjoy its full medicinal properties in restoring our soul. The second is that we need to read it.
That may sound obvious: read the Bible! What else can you do with a book? We know that the medicine will do no good if it sits on the shelf. But strangely, with all that we do with our Bibles, one of the things we do the least is to read it. At least, we don’t read it as we normally use the word “read”.
Our modern versions make it hard for us to read the Bible. It’s all broken up into chapters and verses, as Stephen Langton arranged the chapter divisions in the manuscripts of the Latin Bible in the 13th century. So now we read in small fragments, stopping and starting at random spots. Often we just pick out a couple of isolated verses. Sometimes we cross-check the way a word or theme occurs in lots of other places. We open it up at a random place and just read the section where our eye comes to rest. We read the bits we like and avoid the parts we don’t like. With any other kind of written material, this would not be considered “reading”.
Which of us, if we got a letter in the mail, would read just one paragraph a day for 3 weeks - which tends to be how we read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians? Who, if he got a book out of the library on the American Civil War, would open it up and just read about one of the battles without bothering to see how the war ended, as we might do with the story of the battle of Jericho? Or who, in trying to read up on the rights associated with private property would read a paragraph from one piece of legislation without taking time to become familiar with the associated case laws and legal precedents?
In short, in every other context, reading means reading! Reading whole letters. Reading whole books. Following whole arguments; being caught up in the flow of an entire narrative. Starting with “Once upon a time” and ending with “Happily ever after.”
It is amazing how many people there are who would say they are willing to lay down their life for the truth of God’s Word who have never actually read it all! Remember what the instructions on a bottle of antibiotics say: this medicine will only be effective if you complete the whole course of treatment. A few sips now and then won’t help. In fact, with Job you’ll be in trouble if you don’t read the whole book. It is only at the end we are told that most of what came earlier was just hot air: not God’s Word on the subject of suffering, but God’s accurate record of what men apart from God think about suffering. And you swallowed it all without realizing!
For a fuller treatment of these ideas, a couple of audio resources are available on our web site: How to Read the Bible, and How to Study the Bible. See also a free pdf file of a booklet on how to approach the scriptures: The Bible – God’s Life Word.