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Accurately Understanding the Bible

John 15:4-5 says….

4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

This is the passage that we started looking at nearly two months ago. By now that might just be a distant memory for you, so I thought I’d better do a little bit of a refresher before we continue on with today’s message.

Back when we started this series, I talked a little bit about how we tend to grow less healthy and less fit over time unless we do something about it. I think that’s true for most people. At least it is for me! My job doesn’t require me to do a lot of physical activity – although this week has perhaps been an exception as we’ve moved and cleaned and setup and done all that stuff…. But generally I spend a lot of time working at my desk or visiting folks around the kitchen table – those aren’t very physically demanding activities.

To compound the problem, the cold of winter tends to encourage me to stay indoors, rather than outdoors. And on top of that, I’ve discovered that there are lot of really delicious things to eat in this world! So for me, it takes intentional effort to stay at least relatively healthy and fit. If I don’t want to get completely out of shape, I need to intentionally develop some healthy habits.

So maybe I need to practice eating a little more healthy. Maybe I need to get into the habit of exercising on a regular basis. Maybe I need to drive a little less and walk a little more.

But the bottom line is, if I want to stay healthy and fit, I need to develop some healthy habits.

And as we’ve been going through this series, we’ve discovered that the same is true spiritually speaking. If we want to stay spiritually healthy and fit – that is, if we want to remain in Christ, staying close and connected to Him so that we produce much fruit like that verse says – then likewise, we need to develop some healthy habits.

Healthy Habits

And that’s what this series has been all about. What are the healthy habits that Christians have been practicing for centuries that can help us develop that deep and meaningful relationship with Christ? What are those Spiritual Disciplines – as they are often known as – that help us stay connected with Jesus so that we can produce much fruit?

Well, actually there are a whole variety of those practices – Bible reading and prayer and worship are some of the more common ones – but there are also some other very valuable practices like fasting or times of silence and solitude that maybe aren’t so common these days, but are still very healthy habits when it comes to cultivating a deep relationship with God.

Now the most recent spiritual discipline or healthy habit that we’ve talked about has been reading and studying the Bible. We’ve spent a couple of weeks talking about the message of the Bible, how we know the Bible is true and that its actually the Word of God as it claims to be. We talked about how God’s Word transforms our lives. It changes the way we think – it shows us God’s eternal perspective – which in turn, complete changes the way we live our lives.

And we ended our last message with a warning from James 1:22 which says

“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”  James 1:22

And that was really a lead into today message – which is how do we read and understand the Bible accurately – so that we can be sure that we actually do what it actually says? If we’re going to obey God’s Word – if God is going to change the way we think and transform our lives through his Word – if we are basing our entire lives and our eternal future on the words in this book, then we need to make sure we’re accurately understanding and applying what the Bible actually says.

It can be very dangerous to misunderstand or mis-interpret what the Bible says. And people have done that ever since the Scriptures were first recorded. A lot of the cults that exist today grew out of mis-understanding and inaccurately interpreting certain passages in the Bible. The twisting of the Scriptures is nothing new. But we need to make sure that we don’t do that.

We’ve already talked about how the Bible is true – but that doesn’t prevent us from misunderstanding or mis-interpreting it so that we end up believing a lie. It’s like the game of telephone – where you whisper the a message to the person beside you and then they whisper it to the person beside them and by the time that it gets to the end, you end up with a message that has been completely distorted. The original statement was the truth, but when we misunderstand or misinterpret what was said, the truth gets twisted into a lie.

I don’t want to believe a lie. I don’t want to believe in something that is half true – or even 3/4 true. I want to believe the truth. So I need to know how to read and understand the Bible accurately.

When Paul talks about the armour of God, He refers to the Word of God as a sword. He says in Ephesians 6:17…

17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17

Now just for some visual aid, I’ve asked to borrow Kurtis’ sword today. A real sword!

Can you imagine going to battle with this?  This is a serious weapon!

Now this one is a little sharp, and but I watched a youtube video that explained how super sharp some of these swords were – and the guy illustrating the sharpness of the sword held a piece of paper in one hand a sliced right through it with his sword! Out of curiosity, I went and got my sharpest kitchen knife and tried to the same thing, but my paper cut in just a bit, and then tore the paper after that. It wasn’t sharp enough to slice cleanly through it. But that sword had a razor’s edge on it!

Now I ask you: is that the kind of weapon you would give to some without teaching them how to use it? You can imagine how dangerous someone would be wielding a sword like this, if they have no idea what they’re doing with it! If they are not trained and skilled with a blade like this – they are going to be a serious a danger to themselves and anyone around them.

If you’re going to give a sword to someone to take into battle, they need to learn how to use it correctly. That requires a thorough understanding of swordsmanship. That requires training. That requires practice and lots of it!

And the same is true for the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. We need to learn to handle the Word of God correctly – or else we will be a danger to ourselves and the people around us.

One of the major themes in Paul’s writings to Timothy is to accurately teach the Word of God. False teachers were a major problem then (like they are today) and so much of Paul’s instructions to Timothy revolve around accurately teaching the Word of God. He says in 2 Timothy 2:15

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  2 Timothy 2:15

Now what’s interesting here, if you were to read this verse as it was written in Greek, what we translate as “one who correctly handles” – in Greek, it means who cuts straight! In essence, Paul’s telling Timothy present himself as one who can cut straight with the sword of the Spirit. He needs to correctly handle the Word of Truth like a skillful swordsman!

Those instructions apply to us too. We need to correctly handle the word of truth. We need to become skilled swordsman so that we can cut straight – or handle correctly the Word of God.

And that requires some effort. It requires a thorough understanding of “Bible” swordsmanship. It requires knowing how to read and understand the Bible accurately and how to apply it in real life. And like learning any skill, it requires a lifetime of practice.

When I was growing up in my church we had these things called “sword drills” – which were little competitions to see who could look up a certain chapter and verse in the Bible the quickest. But the idea behind it all was that we needed to practice using our Bibles. This was a drill to help us become familiar with and knowledgeable of our Bibles. That’s why we had these sword drills. And maybe some of you had those when you were younger – maybe at camp or Awana or something like that.

But I sure hope you didn’t stop there. I mean, that’s great for beginner Christians – but if you’ve been following God for many years now, I hope your Bible skills don’t end at knowing how to find chapter and verse. I hope you’ve moved on to more advanced ‘sword drills’. I hope that you’ve been learning how to accurately understand and apply the Bible for yourself and for others. We want to present ourselves to God as one who correctly handles the Word of God – as one who is skilled in understanding and applying the truths of Scripture.

So today to help us all with that, I want to give you just a quick crash course on how to accurately read and understand the Bible. And this really will be a quick crash course. I am just skimming the surface – just touching on the basics, there is so much more that can and should be learned. But if this whets your appetite, (and I hope it does) I’ve got two really good books that I’d love to let you read. One is “Life with God – Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation” by Richard Foster. Actually much of what I’ve said about the Bible so far in this series has been drawn from this book. Or I also have another book – my Bible school textbook on this topic called “How to Apply the Bible” by Dave Veerman. Both have some really helpful information on how to correctly handle the Word of God. So if you’re interested, I’m happy to loan those to you!

But for now – let me give you just a few quick pointers and hopefully this will turn into the beginning of a lifetime habit of learning the skill of “Bible” Swordsmanship!

Pointer #1. Read the Bible as a whole book.

If I were to pick up a novel and just flip it open to some random page and chapter, and then begin reading right in the middle of the novel – I would have a really hard time following the story, wouldn’t I? I would be super confused as to who the characters are, what the setting is, and what the story is all about in the first place. Nobody would do that!

But yet lots of people do that with the Bible! They just flip it open, start reading somewhere and try to figure out what it’s saying. No wonder they get so confused and frustrated.

Remember: even though the Bible is composed of 66 individual books and was written by about 40 people over a period of 1500 years…. It has one Author and one story! God is the author and  the Bible is His Story. The whole Bible is the story about of how God loves his Creation – mankind – so much that, even though they continually reject and rebel against Him, God has relentlessly pursued them with a love so great, that He was willing to die for them so that God and mankind could be reconciled!

The whole Bible is that story and so we need to read the Bible as one whole book! Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to read it sequentially cover to cover – starting in Genesis and going right through to Revelation. (Although that’s probably helpful! If you’ve never done that, I’d certainly encourage you to make that a goal sometime in the near future.) But what I mean by reading it as a whole book is that we need to understand the writings of one part of the Bible by looking at all the rest of the parts of the Bible.

Let me give you an example: Let’s say you’re reading in John chapter 1 and you get to verse 29.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Now if you didn’t know anything about all the other stuff in the Bible, this would be a really weird verse. It’s like me saying “Hey look, it’s Bob – the giraffe of God who brings justice to the earth! That’s just a weird statement to make!

But when you read that verse as part of the whole story of the Bible – it makes a lot more sense.

    • When you’ve already read in Exodus about how the Israelites were saved from the angel of death in Egypt by painting the blood of a lamb on their doorposts
    • And when you’ve already read in Leviticus about how God told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb to atone for their sins
    • And when you’ve already read in Isaiah about how the coming Messiah would be led like a lamb to the slaughter and would die so that we could be saved
    • And when you’ve already read in Hebrews how there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood
    • And when you’ve already read in Revelation the 30+ references to the Lamb who was slain and how He sits on the throne of God and is worshipped as God.

If you read this verse in light of all these other passages, it suddenly makes a whole lot more sense!

All the different parts of the Bible – the stories, the prophecies, the personal letters, the songs – all of those different parts all contribute to the whole story and help give us a better understanding of everything that we read.

And so that’s one of the reasons why I’d really encourage you to read through the entire Bible. Don’t just read from a few select favourite books or passages – Get the whole story! Read the whole thing! See how it all fits together!

Several weeks ago Brian showed me this really cool youtube channel called the Bible Project. And these Bible Project guys have created a short little video for every book of the Bible that briefly explains what the book is all about, it points out some of the main points in the book, and it shows how the book fits in with the overall message of the Bible. I’m actually going to use these video as a the starting point for our youth Sunday School lessons because they do a really good job of showing how the whole Bible fits together.

I can’t do justice to it by explaining, so I just want to show you an example this morning. 

[ Bible Project Video – Genesis 1-11 ]

That’s pretty good, eh? Isn’t that video helpful for you to understand what’s going on in Genesis? A lot of the themes what we see in Genesis continue on and are further developed in the rest of the Bible. I’ve watched most of the Old Testament videos now, and it’s really helped me get a new perspective on the over all message of the Bible. They’re really well done and I’d sure encourage you guys to look them up and watch them for yourselves.

But the bottom line is – if you want to correctly understand any particular passage of the Bible, you have to read it in the light of whole Bible! Don’t just draw the meaning out of one verse. You’ve got to look at the whole of Scripture!

And that leads us into Pointer #2. Just as we are to read the Bible in the context of the whole book – we also have to read the Bible in the context of each individual book.

You’ve probably noticed that reading through Proverbs is very different than reading through Esther. Reading through Leviticus is very different from reading through John.

The Bible is such an incredible book! Even though there was one Author and the whole Bible is His story – it’s still made up of 66 different books written by 40 different people in 3 languages on three continents over 1500 years! These books were written for different purposes and in different genres.

We have books of history, a collection of songs, sermons, journals of personal experiences, prophecies, there are even fictitious stories, a collection of wise sayings, blueprints for building different things, there are recipes in the Bible! There are lists of laws and punishments for those who break them, there are family trees or genealogies, there are love songs and poetry – there is just so much variety in the Bible!

And if we are going to understand and interpret the Bible accurately – if we are going to correctly handle the Word of Truth – the sword of the Spirit – then we need to recognize and be aware of those different genres and know how to interpret each one.

For example, when you read Proverbs 16:31

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life.

Proverbs 16:31

You have to recognize that this is a proverb – a wise saying. It’s not to be interrupted literally. It’s not saying that if you have grey hair, you must have lived a godly life! We should not apply this verse by saying that “Gray hair will be the determining factor for being on the church board – because that’s how we know you’re godly! If you’ve got grey hair – you must have lived a godly life.” That is not correctly handling the Word of Truth.

What this proverb is saying, is that generally speaking, those who live ungodly lives tend to die before they grow old! That’s just a general principle of life. I looked up the life expectancy of gang members these days and it’s currently at 20 years, 5 months. So you can see where the writer of this proverb is coming from: Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life – Not by living in defiance to the character and principles of God.

So instead of using gray hair as the measure of godly life, you would be much better to apply this verse by saying, “If I want to live a long and happy life, I’ve got a much better chance of that if I live according to the principles that God has laid out in his Word.” Now again, it’s not a rule. It’s not a guarantee. As a proverb, this is just a general observation of life.

Now to contrast that with something like Romans 10:9 where Paul is explaining the message of the Gospel to the church in Rome. He writes:

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Now that is something that you can take literally. That is a guarantee. This isn’t a proverb. It’s a fact. Paul is writing this as an explanation of the Gospel. He’s saying “Here are the facts.” If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. That’s precisely how we gain our salvation!

So it’s really important that we understand the genre of whatever we’re reading. We need to try to figure out who wrote this book, why was written, who was it written for, what did the writer want his original readers know and understand? Those are all key questions to keep in mind as you work at understanding each passage of Scripture.

Now does that all take work? Absolutely! If you really want to understand a certain passage, you might need to read up on some history to figure out what’s going on at that time – why did Peter write this certain thing to these people at this time?

You might have to do some cultural research. The culture of the Israelites 2000 years ago over in the Middle east is way different from the culture we live in right now in Canada. So it might require taking the time to study their culture back then to understand the significance and meaning of some of the passages in the Bible.

You might have to do some research to understand the original language. This stuff was all written in greek or hebrew or aramaic. And for the most part, the translators have done a fantastic job, but sometimes we lose some of the meaning when we translate it.

I mentioned earlier how it it was helpful for me to do that for this verse in 2 Timothy that we’ve been focusing on. Looking up that greek word me see that connection between God’s Word being a sword and how we need to handle it correctly.

When Paul wrote that greek word that meant ‘to cut straight’ in that verse, Timothy would have gotten that, but I totally missed that in our english translation!

So it certainly takes time and effort and work. Correctly understanding God’s Word isn’t always easy, but it so important that we do so that we don’t end up believing or even teaching lies. We need to “Do our best to present ourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

We read in Hebrews 4:12 a few weeks ago:

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Hebrews 4:12

I don’t know about you, but I sure want to handle that correctly! If God has given us such a powerful tool, I don’t want to be stumbling around with it. I want to be able to handle it correctly. To cut straight with it. To use it skillfully so that God can transform my life and the lives of others.

So to end on a practical note, I’d really encourage you to practice your Bible swordsmanship. Make use of the tools that you have at your disposal. Don’t just read the Bible, do what it takes to understand it accurately.

  • Maybe that means reading a couple books on how to understand and apply the Bible.
  • Maybe that means getting a commentary or looking up stuff online as you read your Bible.
  • Maybe that means being part of a ladies Bible study so that you can study together.
  • Maybe that means coming to Sunday school before our Sunday morning service so that you can learn from someone who’s already spent a whole pile of time studying the passage so they can explain it fully.
  • Maybe that means take an online course.
  • Maybe that means asking a friend to study a book or a passage with you.

But do what ever it takes “to correctly handle the word of truth.”

As you begin to do that, as you begin to correctly understand and apply the Scriptures to your life, God’s Word (which is alive and powerful) will work in you to change the way you think and will change the way you live. And that’s not a proverb! That’s a literal fact!

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