By: Isaiah Adidjaja
Who is the first President of the United States? If you’re a product of American education system you will know the answer is George Washington. What is the value of x in the following equation: 2x + 10 = 20? Probably all high school students would know that x = 5. Now, for the million dollar question, what is the interpretation of John 3:16? If your answer begins with the phrase ‘I think’, there is a likelihood that you’re not 100 percent sure of the answer.
The Bible says “All scripture is inspired by God and profi table for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If the word of God has this transforming power to change a person’s life, how many of us take time to really study God’s word? All of us, whether we are in school or have fi nished school, young or old, still study about something. If you are in school, you may be studying Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, or English literature. If you have fi nished school, you may be studying how to assemble the cabinet that you just bought from IKEA, how to play the latest video game, or how to cook a certain dish. The fact is we continuously learn new things in our lives. The question remains: is learning to read the Bible, for all it is worth, one of them?
Some of you might say that the Bible is so hard to understand. You might have attended a Bible study where you tried to learn a passage and ended up with people in the group giving different answers. Rather than learning something, you left with confusion and more questions. Bible study is not a study of others’ opinion of the Bible but rather is a study of one true interpretation that God wants His children to know so our lives can be transformed by that knowledge. Bible study will last your entire lifetime. It does not end when you fi nish all 66 books in the Bible. The Bible is so rich in truth because of who the Author is. You will understand its richness when you begin studying.
Interpretation vs. Application
Many times when we study the Bible we are confused between interpretation and application. For example, let’s take Matthew 28:18-20,
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The interpretation of this passage is that Jesus was declaring His authority or Lordship over heaven and earth, the assurance that His disciples needed because their faith had been shaken when Jesus was captured and crucified. There was also fear of the chief priests and the Jews, people of authority who had conspired to kill Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection validated His authority. The disciples could rest assured that Jesus indeed has authority over heaven and earth as Jesus commissioned them for a very dangerous task. The command was to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He has commanded them. The disciples would be persecuted, rejected, even killed because of this command. As One with authority, Jesus gave them a promise that He is always with them, even to the end of the age.
The application of this passage is different for each different individual. As we study our Bible, we should always ask for the Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts to teach us the truth about Himself that He wants us to learn so we can apply it in our lives. Upon reading this passage the Holy Spirit might be speaking to a person to go to China on a mission trip. Another might be a call to full time ministry, or some might be a reminder to start spreading the good news to their friends. The interpretation is one but the applications vary.
But it’s so hard…
Reading the Bible requires effort because God communicates to us through His word in the Bible. Any good communication always requires effort. I have a three year old and a two year old niece. When I communicate to my three year old niece, I have to use her vocabulary for her to understand me and I have to learn her words to understand her. My three year old niece used the word “awi” for pain. I didn’t know what it meant until I saw her hurt her little finger and started yelling “awi.” I cannot use the word “awi” for the word pain to my friends. If I do so, they wouldn’t understand me and think that I’m a lunatic. My two year old niece is the same. She uses musical tunes that she learned to communicate her answer. Every time I ask her what colors found in the rainbow, she would answer by singing a jingle. Because she is still learning to properly pronounce words I couldn’t quite understand what she said but knowing the jingle helps me understand her answer.
Reading the Bible for all it is worth requires our time and effort as we study God’s word so we can understand what He is trying to communicate to us. Studying the Bible is not done once a week at Bible study but it is an everyday lifestyle that you develop by disciplining yourself as you seek to know the marvelous Creator who loves you so much. One study is learning the different literary styles in the Bible. We wouldn’t read a mystery novel in the same light as reading a biography. The same can be said about the Bible. We read the Psalms differently than we would read the two books of Kings. The book of Psalms is poetic compared to the historical narrative in the books of Kings. Understanding the literary style helps us to understand the intent of the book that we are reading. The Bible contains metaphors, similes, fi gures of speech, and other literary forms just as we use metaphors, similes, fi gures of speech, and other literary forms in our communication. Jesus Himself spoke in parables and used different metaphors in His teaching. When Jesus says, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1), we are not to think that He is a grape plant. Rather, He is using a metaphor that His disciples could relate as He is teaching them about the relationship between them and God and by being Jesus’ disciples they ought to bear fruits for God.
Context, context, context
Have you ever been misunderstood because what you said was taken out of context and it created a negative effect on you? If you read a newspaper headline that says, “Isaiah broke the window to take some prestigious trophies from the cabinet.” It would be silly to conclude that I’m a thief without reading the entire story to learn what really went on, unless if you have some grudges toward me. If the story explains that there 55 Agape » Anniversary 2008 was a fi re in an elderly woman’s home and the elderly woman asked me if I could go back and take some of the trophies that belonged to her late husband then I would look like a hero rather than a thief for breaking the window to take the trophies for her. Context is important in any form of communication including reading the Bible. You would not want to start reading a book in the middle or start watching a movie with 35 minutes left. You would want to start from the beginning so you can understand the context of the book or the movie. One of my professors used to remind us to never read a Bible verse. We should memorize Bible verses but knowing a verse by itself without knowing the entire passage that explains the verse will probably not enhance your spiritual growth because you miss out on the true intention that God is trying to communicate through that verse. Here is a good example of a verse that is often taken out of context:
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20)
We probably have heard this verse being used in a worship service, Bible study, or prayer meeting where only a few people showed up and the Pastor used this verse to comfort the few people that came because all it takes is two or three individuals to gather together to have Jesus in their midst. Although, there are other verses that are better suited for this situation, this is not one of them. The context of this verse begins in verse 15 and let’s read the entire context of this verse:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:15-20)
From its context, verse 20 is not talking about two or three people gathered together for a church service. The context is spiritual discipline within the body of Christ. Jesus is appealing to the Old Testament mandate for two or three witnesses to confi rm a testimony (Deut. 19:15). Therefore, the two or three who gather in His name (not for a church service) to rebuke a sinning brother/sister are approved by God (v. 20). It is never easy to bring a sinning member in the church before the entire congregation to excommunicate him/her from the fellowship after failed attempts to rebuke him/her privately. However, God’s promise of His presence ensures that He approves the action taken.
It is important to remember time and time again that as you read and study the Bible to ask the Holy Spirit to illumine your heart so your life can be transformed by the truth that is being revealed to you. Having head knowledge is useless without being able to apply that knowledge in your life. Just knowing the Bible without experiencing the transforming power of God would be meaningless as you deepen your relationship with Him.
If you love God, why wouldn’t you want to spend more time reading God’s word to know more about Him who can transform your life? Why wouldn’t you want to know more about God who loves you and has a plan for you life? If you love somebody, wouldn’t you want to spend time to know more about that person? Do you love God enough to want to know Him more?