Wednesday, December 27, 2006

How to Handle the Bible

I found this passage from the devotional The Strength of a Man by David Roper. It is titled "Bible", and can be found on pages 70-71.

Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Most of us are biblically educated beyond our character, perhaps because we confuse the means with the end. We falsely assume that the purpose of Bible study is mere learning, a fallacy particularly characteristic of those of us who take the Bible straight.

But mere orthodoxy is never enough. Even the demons are orthodox (James 2:19). They study the Bible too. They make their own prophetic charts and draw their own theological lines, but the Book doesn't alter their behavior. They're devilish to the end.

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he encouraged his young friend to be an approved workman "who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

The word here translated "who correctly handles" means "one who goes for a goal." Classical Greek writers used the word of road builders who cut their way straight through a forest to a predetermined location. The Septuagint (the first Greek translation of the Old Testament) used the word in the last phrase of Proverbs 3:6. "In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight (direct you to the goal)."

Paul contrasted good Bible study with the flawed methods of those who were "quarreling about words," which he said, "is of no value, and only ruins those who listen" (2:14). Further, "godless chatter" ---mere discussion of the Bible without the goal of godliness---will make one become "more and more ungodly" (2:16). Ironically, God's Word, when misused, can make us less and less like God!

Paul therefore warns Timothy to "flee the evil desires of youth" (2:22), a command that in context has little or nothing to do with youthful sexual desires. Paul rather had in mind the wrong-headed passion of the young and the immature to argue about meaning---"word-fight" is the term he coins. Those who mishandle God's word in this way are workmen who ought to be ashamed.

Instead of arguing about meaning, Timothy was to "pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2:22). In other words, he was to seek God and his goodness through the Book. To do so is to handle the Word correctly---to go straight to the goal.

The purpose of Bible study is clear. It ought to produce worship and make us more and more like our Lord. To the extent that we read the Scriptures for that reason our Bible reading is valid; to the extent that we do not, it's nonproductive. Worse, it's counterproductive, making us less and less like our Lord. Thus the hymnist prayed:

Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord,
My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word.

It's humbling to think about the many times that I have jumped into counterproductive arguments about the Bible. While it is necessary to defend the faith at times, I do not want to walk around with a chip on my shoulder, eager for a "word-fight." It's such an unhealthy and unattractive way to live! Jesus deserves better from me, and I am determined to do better in this area.

No comments: