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Words can be tricksy things…

January 18, 2014

Words can be tricksy things. They can be twisted and turned to mean so many different things. I remember the estranged wife of a friend of mine claiming through her divorce lawyer she had been mistreated during their married life together. To justify this claim she told how for many years she had been without a washing machine, even though they were more than rich enough to afford one. What his ex-wife forgot to mention was that they were living in Africa at the time and there was a maid employed to the washing for them!

Words can be tricksy things. Think of the woman who found a lamp, rubbed it and out popped a genie who granted her one wish. The woman thought for a while and realised that she was terribly lonely. She thought some more and wished to be irresistible to men, there was a puff of smoke… and she was turned into a pint of beer.

The Bible is full or words, and as I said, words can be tricksy things. The Bible can seem full of words that are dull and lifeless; words written for long dead people living lives we can hardly imagine. The Bible can seem to be just a dry history or moral text book. The words of the Bible can be tricksy and can trick us into believing that this Book is just like any other. With that in mind I want to read you something:

Nigel, called to be an minister of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To the church of God that is in {insert where you live}, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1.1-3).

I have just read the opening of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, but addressed it to you personally. Did it feel odd to hear it? It felt odd to me as I read it back to myself.

It may feel odd but that is how we should read the Bible. I start with the belief that each passage of the Bible that I read is addressed directly to me. I know that there is a social, and political context to each passage. I know that there is an historical and a religious context to each passage. I also know that these are important to really understanding what each author is trying to say, and what God might be trying to say through that author. But I still say that these are not the places to start.

I still say that the place for me to start with the Bible is to see every passage as written directly to me personally. If I don’t read the words of the Bible as being written for me, those words can become tricksy and lead me away from the Spirit who wants to shine out through them. Word’s can be so tricksy that some people have spent their life studying the Bible, its history, its morality or whatever, without ever really letting themselves believe what they are reading and believing be changed.

So I need to remember to read the Bible as if it was written for me personally. That way it can come to life and the Spirit can make each passage truly life changing. I find that if I start anywhere else the Bible is reduced to a dry academic text. Something to be studied perhaps but hardly vibrant and alive with the Living God. After that I can then look at the context, but first comes the encounter with the Author behind the human being who wrote down the words.

I start by listening to the words – I hear them addressed to me – I listen to what they may be saying to me, here and now. For example, from 1 Corinthians 1.1, I hear Paul say, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” and I am reminded that I Nigel am called to be a minister of Christ Jesus – I am reminded that what I am doing is a “calling” and is by the will of God. So I immediately think of the responsibility that comes with such an honour – very daunting. To balance the weight of that responsibility I find reassurance that it is God who has called me, so presumably He knows what He is doing and will give me all that I need to fulfil His calling. Presumably, the God who has called me will also continue to call me, and guide me on my way.

Then from 1 Corinthians 1.2, I hear Paul say, “To the church of God that is in {insert where you live}, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”. I learn just how special each Church is, big or small, and how special you and I are: you and I are sanctified, made holy, special, different, through being part of Christ Jesus. God calls to you and I in this place, here and now, and He calls us to be saints. God calls us to be one with all of His people.

With an encouraging passage like 1 Corinthians 1 it is easy to read it personally. But what about the more challenging passages; passages like Matthew 23.25, “‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” I recognise that, like those scribes and Pharisees, I am part of a religious elite charged with teaching the wisdom of God entrusted to this generation. I am reminded that I can so easily be a minister and a hypocrite. I can so easily make myself appear good but without the inner change to go with it. With a faulty human being like me there is bound to be some hypocrasy, yet I may still be reasonably OK, but I this personal approach to the Bible forces me to ask hard questions of myself first.

As I said earlier, this personal approach to the Bible is not and should not be the end of my study of the Bible. I do not recommend that to anyone. Considering the Bible as being addressed to me personally may result in me getting praise I don’t deserve or unjustified condemnation. This personal approach to reading the Bible can also be like the man who turned to the Bible to guide him. He opened it at random, placed in his finger, and read Matthew 27:5, “And Judas cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” Not quite the message he wanted so he tried again and his finger landed on Luke 10:37, “Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

Believing that the Bible is only there to instruct me is arrogant in the extreme. Equally, believing that the Bible was only written for people long ago and so cannot speak directly to me, well that is denying the power of the Spirit. So I will try to read the Bible regularly and each time that I do, I will consider it first as being written for me, and my life here and now. I will try to remember to ponder what the Spirit may be saying to me through it. Then, and only then will it be time to think about the wider context and how this adds to what I have read.

So, I will end almost where I began: Nigel, called to be an minister of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To the church of God that is in {insert where you live}, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1.1-3).

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