Why We Neglect Our Bibles
We assume every Christian has a Bible that looks like this one — worn down, marked up, and paired with a journal stuffed with multicolored spiritual reflections.
But that’s often not true. Many Christians find it difficult to get into a daily habit of Bible reading. So this week John Piper addressed four common causes of Bible neglect in the Christian life, like: “I don’t read my Bible because . . .
- . . . it seems so irrelevant to my life.”
- . . . I don’t have time.”
- . . . I go to church every Sunday.”
- . . . I find it confusing.”
What follows is a slightly edited (and abridged) transcript of his answers.
Reason 1: “I don’t read my Bible because it seems irrelevant to my life.”
This is a very common hang-up. Many Christians neglect the Bible because it doesn’t seem relevant in an average day of life and work. So why do I need to read my Bible every day? Pastor John’s response.
One thing I know in response to this question, another thing I don’t know. What I know is that the Bible is relevant to this person’s average day where he lives and works. What I don’t know is what are his personal goals in life and work. And the reason that matters is that you can have goals at work or in life which will put you so out of sync with the Bible that you find the Bible to be annoying or condemning or boring, because its teaching runs in a different direction from the direction you are going.
I know the Bible is relevant to this person’s daily life. He says he doesn’t feel like it is. I know it is. The Bible says, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Bible says: “render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:7–8).
So here are ten questions to ask about work.
Question 1: Are you ever tempted to grumble or complain at work? Philippians 2:15–16 is relevant, and shows a glorious way to live without grumbling.
Question 2: Are you ever tempted to be greedy at work and take something that is not yours? The Bible has lots to say about covetousness and greed and stealing and how to be so content in Christ that you are free at work to be generous.
Question 3: Are you ever tempted to be worried or anxious at work? Everyone is. And the Bible talks about this fear almost as much as it does anything. The most common command in the Bible is “fear not.” For anybody who has any fears at work, the Bible is relevant.
Question 4: Are you ever tempted to brag or boast or draw attention to yourself and to your superiority in some area? The Bible is full of wisdom about pride and humility and the effect it has on relationships.
Question 5: Are you ever tempted at work to be angry with anybody? Do you deal with temper issues? Are there strained relationships because you are frustrated with other people? The Bible deals over and over again with the issue of anger and goes a lot deeper in that issue than any psychology can today.
Question 6: Are you ever tempted to cut corners at work, to punch out early, to come in late, to work half-heartedly? The Bible is also relevant to the quality of our work.
Question 7: Are you ever tempted sexually at work by lust? The Bible is full of relevant material on a robust view of sexuality that puts it all in a good perspective and a proper place.
Question 8: Are you ever tempted to feel sorry for yourself at work, to lick your own wounds because someone spoke evil of you, or because you got passed over for a promotion? The Bible is shot through with dynamics of life that help us deal with self-pity.
Question 9: Do you ever struggle with guilt at work, feelings that just come over you that are a vague sense that you are not as good as you should be, or maybe you really failed at something you should have succeeded at by your own standards? Accept the ultimate remedy given in the Bible for guilt.
Question 10: Are there lost people at work that you care about, that you don’t want to go to hell? Where are you going to get help for dealing with them in the hope of giving them life except in the Bible? And where are you going to get strength and courage and boldness and wisdom for how to do it?
The Bible is relevant for the life and work of any man. But really it comes down to this. Does he want to see the greatest treasure in the universe? Does he desire to know Jesus and enjoy Jesus more than anything? Does he love people so much that he grieves over the fact that they don’t know Jesus and will be lost forever without him? That is the question. If Jesus is supreme in this person’s life, if the passion is to know him above all, if the passion is to desire him and enjoy him and treasure him more than anything, if the passion is to bring as many people with you as you can into that experience, then you can’t live without the Bible. It is the most relevant book in the world.
Piper: “You can have goals in life so out of sync with the Bible that you find the Bible boring.”
Reason 2: “I don’t read my Bible because I don’t have time.”
This is another very common struggle Bible readers face, and this question came from a mom with young kids who feels like there’s no time in the day for clear-headed, uninterrupted time in Scripture. In response, Pastor John turned the tables to address the husband’s role in serving his wife, and offered these six bits of counsel.
One, set a tone of discipline and order in the home so that children are not running wild, but are submissive and obedient and self controlled. Partner with her in getting these kids under control with naps and bedtimes and meal times that are ordered times around which days can be built. My impression is that way too many parents today think their children should be allowed to control the atmosphere of the house. That is a big mistake at lots of levels, I think. So, Dad, step up, partner with your wife in establishing routines and expect obedience to her and to your authority.
Two, Dad, establish playtime with the kids every day. It will obviously change with the ages and so on, but give your whole attention to these kids every day at some point during which time your wife is free. For us, for many years, that was right after supper for about an hour.
Three, build retreats into her life so she gets a half-day or a full day every now and then. You figure out how often you can arrange for the children. You take them on Saturday morning all morning. Get periodic extended retreat times alone where she (and then you) can deal with the living God.
Four, lead your wife in the word so that her desire never wavers because of your example of pursuing treasure and sweetness in the word with her.
Five, give her adult conversation about important things including things from Scripture, so that she doesn’t lose perspective what all this time with the kids is for.
Six, pray for her. Husband, pray that your wife will find the motivation and discipline to enjoy God’s word.
Piper: “Husband, pray that your wife will find the motivation and discipline to enjoy God’s word.”
Reason 3: “I don’t read my Bible because I go to church every Sunday.”
A third reason some Christians neglect their Bible is by thinking listening to weekly sermons is sufficient. Isn’t this what pastors get paid to do — to understand the Bible and explain it to me once a week? Here was Pastor John’s response.
I was a pastor and I loved it when people listened to my sermons. But something is wrong here. This is serious. If the word of God is coming with power each week, it doesn’t just satisfy hunger, it also creates hunger. I would have felt like a total failure if my people said, “Because of your preaching, we don’t read our Bibles.”
To someone who says the sermon is all I need, my question back would be this: Is it all you want? Why isn’t the meal on Sunday whetting your taste for more on Monday? Why not? It seems to me like we have two issues here. (1) How much of the Bible do we need? (2) How much of the Bible do we want?
Let’s take the second question. Why would you only want one passage a week from the Bible, from someone else? To me that’s like saying: I am in love, my sweetheart writes me every day, and I would like to just read her letters once a week, and I think I would like somebody else to read them for me and give me a digest of what she said. Are you kidding me? To only want to read one love letter a week when she is writing them every day is a sign that something is wrong.
The Bible is an unparalleled love letter to the people of God. The Psalmist says: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). It just wouldn’t make any sense for the psalmist to say: “I get a spoonful of honey on Sunday and that is plenty. I don’t want any on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday.” Instead he said: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold” (Psalm 19:10). “If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:4–5).
So why would you want only one glimpse a week of this beauty? Only one taste a week of this honey? Only one deposit a week of this silver in your bank? Only one letter from your lover?
I think I can say from experience, from history, and from the Bible: Every Christian needs more spiritual food than one meal a week. That doesn’t work physically; it doesn’t work spiritually. Temptations are too relentless. Doubt is too frequent. Satan is too active. Tribulations are too heavy. Conflicts are too many. Emotions are too volatile. Perplexities are too difficult. Faith, hope, and love are too threatened, to think I can deal with these all week long simply from one word I got on Sunday. I can’t do it. And I don’t think anybody can.
Piper: “The Bible is an unparalleled love letter to the people of God.”
Reason 4: “I don’t read my Bible because I find it confusing.”
Finally, what about readers who simply find the Bible dreadfully hard to understand, not at the fault of the Bible, but because they find every book hard to understand? To this discouraged Bible reader, Pastor John offered some very practical advice.
One, make sure you have a modern translation that is readable, like the ESV or the NIV.
Two, make sure you’re in a church where the pastor explains passages from the Bible every Sunday.
Three, get a good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible. In a good study Bible there are notes at the bottom of the page to help answer a lot of the puzzling questions you will ask.
Four, read carefully and slowly and try writing a passage out. And I don’t mean write out the long stories in the Old Testament. I mean if you are stumbling over a verse or a paragraph in the letters or in the gospels, try writing it out by hand.
Five, join us online for Look at the Book episodes which are going public at the National Conference. In those videos, I will help guide you through texts. My hope is that these videos will instill habits of reading in you to make the Bible more understandable.
Six, pray. Pray for God to give you light. God loves to make his Son known. He sent him into the world at the cost of his life so that he could be known and loved. He is not interested in holding back from you the light that he gave with his Son and gave with his word.
Piper: “You can’t live without the Bible. It is the most relevant book in the world.”
John Piper explained all these principles this week on the Ask Pastor John podcast. You can listen to all four of the episodes here: