When we read the Bible, what are we doing? Or, what is it doing to us? To explain, we are once again joined by author and pastor Ray Ortlund, who serves as the senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Ray, what are we doing when we read the Bible?
What is striking to me about the Bible is that it exists at all as a book. I am holding mine in my hand right now. It is this thing external to me, external to my own thoughts and feelings. That is significant. By being external, by being a book outside my head, the Bible provides a unifying rallying point for all Christians so that we can gather around the Lord himself in worship, in community, in mission.
If all we had to go by was our own thoughts and feelings, our own intuitions and needings, we would fragment. I mean, if we think we have a lot of disagreements now, if we think we have a lot of disagreements now with the Bible, imagine what would happen, how we would explode apart if all we had was our own personal subjectivity to define the gospel. So the exteriority of the book pulls us out of ourselves and into something we can all share together.
So I think of the Bible as the scepter of the King among his subjects. It is the practical mechanism by which the will of the King exerts influence among us, pulling us together. It makes the worship of Christ a practical reality among us. I mean, think of all the times the prophets cried out, “Hear the word of the Lord.”
Now that is basically what the Christian life boils down to: listening together. If we are at home alone, we are just sitting there reading and receiving. Or if we are at church, we are sitting there hearing the Bible preached. And what happens? God himself enters into that experience. He blesses us, speaks to us, comforts us, corrects us, motivates us through his word. The word of God and the power of God always go together. First Thessalonians 1:5 says, “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” What else can do that for us?
So what we are doing when we read the Bible is we are opening up — getting out of ourselves — opening up to the power of God and getting into God’s thoughts about God and about everything. And that is when we can come together.
So the posture of humbling ourselves under Scripture is really essential.
Oh, my, yes. We are going to humble ourselves under something. If not the Bible, why something else? How is that alternative qualified? Did that alternative reveal to us the dying love of Jesus for the undeserving? Let’s be careful what we listen to.