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Friday, 29 January 2016

It needs to be read!

Over the past week, or so, I have been with a couple of groups of people that included some who would appear to have very little knowledge of the Bible, although they are, I believe, regular "church-goers".  A number stated, openly, that they do not know it as well as they should and because of that, they do not know the basic message of the Gospel.  To hear, for example, a professed disciple of Jesus accept the possibility of reincarnation tells me that such a person either hasn't read Hebrews 9:27 - "... it is appointed unto man to die once, and then comes judgement." - or has totally failed to understand it! 

Of course, important 'though the reading of the Word of God is, that is not enough if we are to be true servants of the Lord Jesus.  I have been reminded of the story of the man who announced to his pastor that he was planning to visit Israel.  After having shared his planned itinerary, he asked the pastor : "And what do you think I'm most looking forward to doing?"  The pastor thought for a moment before replying.  "Well," he said, "a number of things come to mind.  However, since you want me to name just one, I would think that it would have to be the empty tomb."  "No," responded the other.  "Obviously I do want to see that, but the highlight of the tour will be to climb a mountain. Then, when I reach the summit, to read aloud the entire Sermon on the Mount!"

The pastor knew his flock!  He shook his head, all too aware of the man's spiritual problems - and the reason behind them.  "Brother," he remarked, "why go all of that distance just to read it?  Wouldn't it be better for you to stay at home, and keep it?!"

It is, of course, commended, and commendable, to read the Word of God.  Indeed, it is actively encouraged within its own pages!  So the Psalmist declares: "With my whole heart I seek Thee; let me not wander from Thy commandments!  I have laid up Thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee." (Ps. 119:10-11).  Paul reminds the believers in Rome that "... whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." (Rom 15:4).  The same apostle instructs his "son in the faith", Timothy, to "... attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching." (I Tim 4:13).

However, if all that we do is read, then we are in danger of treating that Word, that is "... living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12), as little, if anything, more than literature. C.S.Lewis writes: "... in most parts of the Bible everything is, implicitly or explicitly, introduced with 'Thus saith the LORD'.  It is if you like to put it that way, not merely a sacred book, but a book so remorselessly, and continuously, sacred that it does not invite, it excludes or repels, the merely aesthetic approach. ... ... It demands, incessantly, to be taken on its own terms: ..." (The Literary Impact of the Authorised Version").

Reading is good, but it is insufficient.  James urges his readers to: "... be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22); while Paul assures the Romans that: "... it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified." (Rom 2:13).

You may be a faithful reader of the Word - but are you a keeper?  Do you, perhaps, just scan its pages superficially; merely perusing it as a spiritual exercise (that can, all too easily, degenerate into some form of "salvation by works"!), or to salve your own conscience?  Or does it move you to effective action?  As the titles of many of the commentaries on the Letter of James make clear, there are two parts to the Gospel - believing it; and behaving it!

Remember that, while it is true that it is "... by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8-9), it is also true that: "... we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works , which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (v.10)! 

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