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THE BIBLE – WHAT IT IS AND HOW TO READ IT
by Dr. C. L. Cagan
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
The Bible is the written Word of God. The Greek word translated “given by inspiration” in our text is theopneustos, which means “God-breathed.” Every word of the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek was breathed out by God, given through the prophets and Apostles. The book of Second Peter tells us that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21). The Greek word translated “moved” comes from the verb pherō. The same word is used in Acts 27:15 to describe how the wind moved a sailing ship. God moved the prophets and Apostles to write exactly the words He wanted them to write.
The Bible is not a book of the opinions of men. In secular colleges unbelieving professors will teach that the writers put down whatever they thought. But the Bible says, “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21). The Bible was not written “by the will of man.” As C. H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, said, “This volume is the writing of the living God; each letter was penned with an Almighty finger; each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips; each sentence was dictated by the Holy Spirit” (New Park Street Pulpit, Sermon 15, preached March 18, 1855).
Because the Bible is God’s Word, it is absolutely true. It is truth without error on every subject on which it speaks. Jesus said to God the Father, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Again, Christ said, “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). The Bible was not written to be a textbook of history, but when it speaks of history it is truth without error. The Bible was not written to be a textbook of science, but when it speaks on science it is truth without error. Fifteen hundred years before Christ, the Book of Job said that God “hangeth the earth upon nothing” (Job 26:7). When people thought the earth floated in water, or rested on the back of a turtle, God knew that our planet floated in space. Seven hundred years before Christ, the Bible said that God “sitteth upon the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22). When people thought the earth was flat, God knew that it was round. Yes, the Bible is truth without error everywhere it speaks.
Because the Bible is God’s Word, truth without error, it is our one and only reliable source of knowledge about spiritual things. The Apostle Peter called the Bible “a more sure word of prophecy...a light that shineth in a dark place” (II Peter 1:19). We could never know about God without His own revelation, the Bible. Yes, we could look out at the stars and know that there must be a creator. But who is He, and does He care for us? As Dr. W. A. Criswell (1909-2002), the long-time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, said,
We can study the stars and the universe and come to a basic and sound conclusion that whoever created this vast, vast universe must have been someone of illimitable, omnipotent power. But, who is He? And what is His name? And what is He like? We could study the stars forever and never know.
That is the necessity for the self-revelation of God. If He does not disclose Himself, we could never ever know Him. And that is the message of the Bible. God speaks to us in language, in words. God does His deeds, laid before us, written on the sacred page. And we can think His thoughts, we can see Him move, we can feel His message in our hearts, and we can respond with our souls. That’s why the Bible is given to the self-disclosure, the self-revelation of God. God presents Himself, makes known Himself, in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. (W. A. Criswell, Ph.D., “The Self-Revelation of God,” preached October 19, 1980).
“Thy word [the Bible] is truth.” The Bible is our perfect source of knowledge about God and spiritual truth. That’s why the Psalmist wrote, “I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:128). The prophet Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony [the Bible]: if they speak not according to this word [the Bible], it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). Any book that contradicts the Bible is wrong. Any professor who speaks against the Bible is a false teacher. Any preacher who speaks against the Bible is a false prophet! Don’t listen to them. Read God’s Word, the Bible, and follow it!
Because the Bible is the Word of God, truth without error, it will do you good to read it. Read it for you are called to live by it. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). There are many benefits from reading the Bible. Let me give you a few of them.
Reading the Bible – especially if you memorize verses from it and think about them – will keep you from sin. As the Psalmist wrote, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). Again we read, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). Young people, if you’ll spend more time reading the Bible and less time fooling around on the Internet and playing video games, you’ll be a better person! The evangelist D. L. Moody wrote these words in his Bible, “This book will keep me from sin, and sin will keep me from this Book.” And I agree with him!
Reading the Bible will show you how to live. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). God said to Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). Our text says that the Scripture is “profitable [useful]...for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect [mature, complete], throughly furnished unto all good works [ready and able to do good].” That’s what the Bible will do for you. It will make you a mature Christian! Read the Bible and do what it says! This godless society says, “Do what you feel.” But as our pastor has preached, “Do what the Bible says, not what you feel.” If you do what the Bible says, you’ll never go wrong!
There are many other benefits to reading the Bible – but let me just give you one more. The Bible will tell you about salvation in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote of “the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). The Bible tells you that you are a sinner, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And the Bible tells you that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3). The Bible tells you that “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7) and that you can be pardoned of your sin by trusting Him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). The Bible points you to Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross to pay for your sin, and shed His Blood to wash your sin away, and rose from the dead to give you life. I pray that you will trust Christ soon!
Reading the Bible will help you in many ways. The people in our church read the Bible every day. We follow a devotional chart of readings. Every Saturday we give you the readings for the coming week. Usually we read one chapter in the New Testament and three chapters in the Old Testament each day. Following that plan, we read the whole Bible through every year! Not many people have read the Bible through. It may seem like a big, even impossible thing to do. But it isn’t. It takes only about 15 minutes a day to do the readings. A few days ago, on New Year’s Day, we started to read through the Bible again. If you haven’t kept up, there’s still time to catch up, since we haven’t read very far – just a few chapters in Matthew and less than half of Genesis. At the end of the year you will have done something that few people have done – you’ll have read the Bible through. It will be an accomplishment – and it will do you good!
Of course, you can’t read the Bible if you don’t have one. If you don’t have a Bible, go to our bookstore and buy yourself a Bible tomorrow. The King James Bible is the best and the only reliable translation in English – and that’s what we sell. Be sure to get yourself a Scofield Study Bible. That’s the Bible we use in our church. The page numbers in all the Scofield Bibles are the same. It will be easy for you to find the verses we preach from in church. You won’t have to go looking through the Bible, since we give the page number in the Scofield Bible as well as the book, chapter and verse.
Try to make a regular time each day to read the Bible (and to pray). For most people it is helpful to do that at the beginning of the day. It will start you off right and bless you for the rest of the day. I know people have different schedules of school and work, and you can’t always do this in the morning. Some of you can do it on your lunch hour at school or work. If you have time at school between classes or after class, you can go to a quiet place alone for your Bible and prayer time. Don’t read the Bible or pray during a class at school, or during work time! It’s not appropriate and it may get you in trouble. Some of you may have to wait until the evening, at least on some days. But try not to wait until right before you go to bed. You may fall asleep – and even if you don’t, you’ll go through the whole day without a special time alone with God.
It should take you about 15 minutes, 20 at the most, to do the Bible readings. If you’ve been coming to our church for a short time, a few weeks or months, and you find this a lot to do, just do the New Testament reading. That will take only a few minutes. Next year you can read both the Old and New Testaments.
Begin your Bible reading with a short prayer. The Psalmist prayed, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18). Ask God to show you something in His Word that day. Perhaps you will want to pray in the exact words I quoted from the Psalm.
After you have finished, try to think about what you have read. You may also want to do this later in the day. The Psalmist wrote, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). This refers to meditating on the Bible, which is a subject for a sermon of its own. I will simply say that this means thinking over or “chewing on” something you saw in God’s Word so that it “gets into” you and stays with you. The Bible says, “The entrance [into the heart] of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
What if you get behind? Don’t give up! Don’t get angry with yourself. If you’re not very far behind, take some time to catch up. You’ll feel better when you do. If you fall way behind and it would take a long time to catch up, just rejoin the schedule at the place where it is. Next year you can be more diligent and do all of the readings.
What if you find it hard to read part of the Bible? There may be words or names that you can’t understand, or maybe can’t pronounce. Sometimes you will read a list of names or places, or a genealogy of who was the father of who. Read the passage anyway. If there are words you can’t pronounce or understand, read them anyway and go on. If you find a passage hard to read, read the words anyway. Every part of the Bible is the Word of God, breathed out by God, truth without error, just as much as John 3:16. As you become a more experienced Christian, you will understand it better – and you’ll receive blessings from parts of the Bible that you don’t understand right now.
What if you don’t understand what something means? Don’t give up! Don’t be upset with yourself. Read it even if you don’t understand it. Do not stop to research it in a book or on the Internet. That will interrupt your reading, take a lot of time, and you may still not find the right understanding. You may get frustrated and feel like giving up. Don’t do that. Just read through the passage. As you grow in Christ and spend more time in the church, you will learn more. The next time you read through the Bible, you’ll understand more of it, and understand it better.
You may think you don’t have time to read the Bible every day. A man once made this excuse to D. L. Moody. He answered, “My friend, if you are too busy to read the Bible every day you are busier than Almighty God ever intended any human being should be, and you had better let some things go and take time to read the Bible.” Amen to that! Everyone has a few minutes to read the Bible. Make the time. Push other things away and read God’s Word. Many people are careless and disorganized with their time. Setting aside the time to read the Bible will – in itself – make you stronger and more disciplined. And the truth of God’s Word will help you and bless you.
Finally, remember that the main theme of the Bible is Jesus Christ. The whole Bible is built around Christ and what He did for you. The Old Testament looks forward to Christ. The four Gospels speak of Jesus’ time on earth, and especially His death and resurrection. The rest of the New Testament looks back to Christ and tells us more about Him. The Book of Revelation tells how He will come again to judge the world and make all things new. The purpose of the Bible is to point you to salvation by trusting Christ and being pardoned by His Blood. I pray that you will trust Jesus soon. Amen.
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