I often find inspiration for writing on Twitter. I came across this tweet by Allie Stuckey, and found that the truth of what she spoke needed greater expounding. There are many ways to read the Bible. Some people read it sarcastically. They seek to disprove or find fault. Some people read it for perspective. They just want to see what it says, for comparative reasons. It almost goes without saying, that people read God’s word in order to fit their own narrative. It’s most often for political or self promoting reasons. And then there are those who read the bible to seek truth and understanding. These people have the best of intentions. However Allie Stuckey correctly points out two schools of thought within this broad category.
One can read the Bible for themselves. What exactly does that look like? Allow me to provide a stereotypical example:
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13 NASB
This verse is taken out of context for self empowerment everywhere. But if asked to explain the context of this verse, how many could fully articulate the verse they flaunt on their Twitter and Instagram bios.
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. in my affliction.
Philippians 4:10-14 NASB
This is a very empowering passage, but the hyper-focus on verse 13 takes away from the previous climax in verse 11. This passage is about being happy in times of suffering, living with joy in all circumstances because of the transforming power of Jesus. This isn’t about your workout grind.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
This is another verse often read with one thinking of themselves and not God. The context of this verse is almost sad. The only thing prevents this from being sad is the fact that the king and his people refused God. The Israelites had fallen and were about to enter into captivity. Yet Jeremiah prophesies a hope for the future which includes the destruction of Babylon. But the context of this verse is God’s wrath.
Taking verses out of context leads to a very superficial understanding of the bible. It is the direct result of reading the bible and misunderstanding its primary subject. The bible isn’t made to be picked apart for motivational quotes. Instead the bible is a much more powerful story about God’s search and rescue for man.
Every Page is About God
I like how a lot of churches are emphasizing the continuous and unified message of the bible. Indeed, the Gospel message is not limited to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus is the story all along the way. He is first prophesied in Eden, and He comes back in Revelation. The book of Ester is perhaps the least theological book of all the bible, yet the masterful plan can still be seen. When Ester learns of Haman’s plot to kill the Jews, out of faith in God’s plan Mordecai points out that God will not let His people be destroyed.
13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
Ester 4:13-14 NASB
We should read the bible in order to find a deeper understanding of God. It is not a contradiction to turn to scripture in order to seek answers to prayers or receive strength in the face of temptation. For in these purposes, the focus is on God and not one’s self. Another word for this would be meditation.
Reactions and Discussion
The Bible is primarily about God. Many Christians often use the Bible to find motivation and encouragement. This isn’t inherently wrong, but only reading the Bible for these purposes is not a close supplement for meditation. Meditating on scripture is how one grows closer to God. In contrast, using the Bible to meditate on one’s self may start out as seeking encouragement but later lead to a mystical, or even gnostic, understanding of God. You may also be susceptible to the Prosperity Gospel which preaches daily about reading the Bible with a self-serving purpose. The Devil is well versed in scripture and without focusing on God in reading scripture, these concerns are real. With these concerns in mind, Allie Stuckey is right to call reading the Bible, thinking it is primarily about us, and not God, dangerous.