Real Christians Really Read Their Bibles

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 27, 2012

Reading that led to a Failure to Read

When I was in college I qualified for a financial aid program called Work Study. It was a way of helping pay for school that required me to do jobs on campus. Since I was a history major, I applied for Work Study jobs in the history department.

I ended up working for Dr. Martin. Dr. Martin was this wonderful professor who was legally blind. And so, my job--for a couple hours a day, three days a week—was to take books he was interested in but couldn’t get in an audio format, and read them onto a special tape recorder.

I would come by his office, pick up the recorder and the book he wanted, and then head to these special little rooms in the library that were basically just cinder block walls, a chair, and shelf for a desk. Then, for the next two hours, I would read aloud.

Usually, it wasn’t that bad. Dr. Martin was researching Billy Sunday, a former professional baseball player turned traveling evangelist and prohibition crusader. Sunday was sort of a cross between Billy Graham and Tim Tebow, so reading about him was fun. But sometimes the books Dr. Martin needed me to read were dry, lifeless tomes about the influence prohibition had on the price of barley in the Congo, or some such trivia. And I usually did my reading right after lunch. And it was often warm in those little rooms. And sometimes I’d fall asleep while I was reading.

And that was always bad, because if I fell asleep then I’d have to rewind the tape and figure out where I’d stopped talking. And usually, if I fell asleep once, then that meant I’d be fighting sleep for the rest of the time I was reading.

One time, after a particularly tough stretch where I nodded off multiple times, I remember getting up to stumble to the library bathroom. And I must have still been half asleep because it took me quite awhile to comprehend why there was a small couch in the bathroom. Fortunately, there were no women in the ladies room at the time, and I don’t think anybody noticed when I hurriedly exited and made my way over to the men’s room instead.

An Amazing Privilege
I thought of that story this week as I thought about what an amazing blessing it is that so many of us are able to read and have such easy and ready access to so many books.

You realize, of course, that through most of human history that has not been the case? For most of human history the only way to copy the written word was by hand. If you wrote a book—or a scroll—and you wanted it to be read by a wide number of people, then you would need to enlist a small army of copyists to carefully and laboriously record it by hand.

And, of course, even if you did get multiple copies of your book made, there probably weren’t all that many people who could actually read it. Hard statistics are tough to come by, of course, but given the scarcity of written materials and the demands of farming etc., it is estimated that throughout most of human history only 5 to 10% of the population could actually read. Usually it was just a scholarly class and the exceptionally wealthy elite who had the luxury of learning to read and write.

Now, imagine that. 5% of the population that could read. That means if there are about 250 people in the room right now, we could limit the number of readers to the people in the front two pews. That’s not much.

Things started to change in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg invented the first movable type printing press. It became much more efficient and affordable to reproduce books. But even then, it was another 300 to 400 years before efforts at universal literacy really took hold.

Think about that: if you had been born at any point in history other than the last two centuries—or even if you had been born in some third world countries today—there’s a very good chance that you would not be able to read.

And if, perchance, you were one of the privileged few who could read, access to a Bible would have been hard to come by. For most of the church’s history the only Bibles were handwritten copies kept chained in a corner of the church and written in a language—Latin—that most people couldn’t even speak, let alone read.

How different are things today? Today, nearly every able-minded adult in the United States can read. And access to books? My goodness. We have public libraries that are free to use. We have internet book sellers that can ship to you in less than 24 hours. We have Nooks and Kindles and IPads and tablets and phones that have Bible apps. We have computers that can access the Bible in nearly every translation known to man via the internet. We have audio scriptures available on CDs or as MP3’s or DVDs or BluRay. Our access to the Bible and our ability to read it is nearly unlimited.

The question is: Do we actually read it?

Getting Real
We are in a series I’m calling Real Christians. We’re talking about the Biblical marks of true followers of Christ. The kinds of beliefs and attitudes and behaviors that the Bible says will be present in your life if you belong to Jesus. This is really a sermon series about Basic Christianity.

Already, we’ve seen that Real Christians believe the real gospel. Real Christians are on a real mission. Real Christians really love God. Real Christians really trust God. Real Christians really love people. And, last week, we saw that real Christians really pray.

Last week we saw that real Christians talk to God. They are in a relationship with Him. They bring their concerns to Him as their loving heavenly Father.

Now, this week, we get the other side of that. Not only do Real Christians talk to God, they also listen to Him.

Our communication with God is not one way. It’s not just us talking to Him. He also talks to us. He has things He wants to say to us. And the primary way He speaks to us is through the Bible. His Word.

And so, Real Christians Really Read their Bibles. Real Christians want to hear from God and so they take advantage of the access and ability they have to read what He has said in the Bible.

My Heart’s Delight
Our text this morning comes from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah 15:16. It’s just one verse. Jeremiah 15:16:

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.

This is part of a prayer of Jeremiah. It’s actually one of the darkest prayers in the whole Bible. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet because he was assigned the task of warning Jerusalem about its coming destruction. It broke his heart, because they wouldn’t listen. And in chapter 15 he almost wishes that he had never been born, it’s getting so hard to preach what the Lord has given him to preach.

But this verse is the brightest spot in the prayer. And it’s very bright.

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.

This is why Jeremiah carried on with his preaching in spite of terrible opposition and paltry results. This is why he remains faithful to God. This is why he hangs in there:

Because of God’s Word. Because God’s Word is his joy and his heart’s delight.

Notice a couple of things about this verse. For one thing, Jeremiah is a true believer. He is, if you will, a real Christian—though of course he didn’t know the name Jesus Christ. I say that he was a true believer because of what he says about bearing God’s name. That’s like saying that he has God’s stamp of approval. Just like we bear Jesus’ name when we call ourselves Christians, Jeremiah is bearing the name of the Lord God Almighty.

And also, notice what he says about God’s words. Jeremiah did not have the Bible like we have the Bible. It was still in the process of being written. Jeremiah was writing a part of it himself. So he had to receive the words of God through other sources. He heard God’s words through other prophets, through the law, and through the things God revealed directly to him.

I entitled this sermon “Real Christians Really Read their Bibles” because we live in a time and place where we have such great access and ability to read. But given what I said about literacy rates throughout history, obviously there have been a lot of people who have had to receive God’s words through other means than reading. They heard those words read, they memorized them, they saw them portrayed in art work and stained glass, and so on.

The bigger point is that however your receive God’s Word; your reaction should be similar to that of Jeremiah. It should be like spiritual food to you. It should b your joy and your delight.

In fact, let’s make that our main point this morning. More than just saying that real Christians read their Bibles, I think the burden of this passage is that Real Christians delight in God’s Word. Real Christians love the Words of God.

The metaphor of eating God’s Words is common in the Bible. Jesus said that man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). David, in Psalm 19, says that God’s law is sweeter than honey. (v. 10) There’s even an episode in Ezekiel where Ezekiel had to take bits of scroll on which God’s words were written and chew them down (Ez. 3:3).

I don’t think Jeremiah is talking about literally eating a scroll. But he is saying that he received God’s words hungrily. He took them in avidly, passionately, ardently. Jeremiah devoured God’s words.

And they tasted good to him. They were spiritual food. Even when God asked him to go out and deliver dire warnings and confront evil behavior, he relished God’s words because they were true and powerful and good.

Jeremiah loved God’s words. They were a joy and a delight to him.

Does that describe your feelings about the Bible? Our primary way of receiving God’s words is through what is recorded on the pages of Holy Scripture. There are several ways we can receive those words. We can read them. We can listen to them on audio. We can hear them preached at church. We can attend a Bible Study. We can memorize them and repeat them to ourselves.

But the question is: do we hunger for more of those words? And do we delight in them the way Jeremiah did?

Real Christians delight in God’s Word.

Donald Whitney tells the story of a man in Kansas City who was severely injured in an explosion.

His face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He had just become a Christian when the accident happened, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he heard about a lady in England who read braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in braille. But he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been too badly damaged to distinguish the characters. One day, as he brought one of the braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash, he thought, ‘I can read the Bible using my tongue!’ (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, pg. 31-32)

At the time Whitney wrote the story, the man had read through the Bible four times!! With his tongue!

Is that how you feel about the Bible? Real Christians delight in God’s Word.

Most of us would agree that the Bible is God’s Word, Holy and inspired. It’s one of our key convictions as a church. But do we love it? Are we enamored with the Scriptures?

If you went blind, would you learn Braille just so you could get the Word?

Do we approach the Scriptures like hungry men and women?

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.

Real Christians Delight in God’s Word.

Let me give you three practical applications . Last week there were 9, this week just three.

1. READ THE WORD OF GOD.

God’s Word has come in this book (Old and New Testament), now it’s time to eat it! Read the Word of God.

Like prayer, it probably won’t happen unless you plan for it. You need to set aside some time, make an appointment with God to read His Word. We are privileged and blessed to have such easy access to quality translations of God’s Word, and to have the ability to read. We must take advantage.

Like I’ve said, there are lots of ways to take God’s word in. You can listen to sermons and attend Bible studies and you can watch movies that are faithful to the original text. But we have the ability to read, so why wouldn’t we?

I was looking through Billy Graham’s auto-biography this week. There was a point—right before his first really big crusade, the Los Angeles crusade in 1949 that really drew the nation’s attention—when Graham was getting challenged on whether the Bible was really reliable. There were a lot of things being read and said at the time that questioned whether it could truly be said the words in the Bible were God’s words.

So Rev. Graham is out in the woods outside of Los Angeles, and he’s really wrestling with God over this. He’s even wondering if he should continue preaching, or look for another line of work. Finally, he just went to his knees and prayed this prayer:

“Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be your inspired Word.”

He goes on to write:

When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in mouths. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won. (Just As I Am, p. 139)

Billy Graham committed to make God’s Word his joy and his heart’s delight. He went out and preached God’s Word faithfully. And the rest is history.

So, read the word. I looked online and found a short article by Billy Graham on how to read the Bible. Here is some of his advice:

Come joyfully. Bible reading should not be viewed as a burden, but a privilege and a joy. Don’t approach it as a homework assignment that you have to get through, but as an opportunity to hear from the God of the universe.

Graham talks about reading a love letter from your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s not a burden to read a note from someone who cares about you. Neither should it be a burden to read God’s love letter to us.

Or, again, Graham suggests that we come expectantly. Before reading say a simple prayer like “God, open my eyes to what you want me to see today” and then expect Him to do so. That doesn’t mean that every time you open your Bible you’ll have some earth-shaking insight--God may want to underline truths we already know—but we should expect that we will hear from God.

In addition, come systematically. Graham points out that some people open their Bibles almost at random or repeatedly reread passages they already know. While God can certainly speak to us through any passage, we also need to remember that the Bible wasn’t written to be read as a loose collection of quotes.

There’s a storyline to the Bible, and a storyline to each of its books. And so, we should systematically read through the Bible. That doesn’t mean you have to start at the beginning and go all the way through. But at least read each book from beginning to end. Start with a gospel, like John. Then read a letter, or an Old Testament book. But let the Bible speak to you as it was meant to be read.

And then, come thoughtfully. Be sure to understand what you are reading. Focus on what the passage is really saying. Ask questions: What is happening in this passage? What is its central point or primary teaching? What does it say about God, or about Jesus, or about someone’s response to God? (Billy Graham, Decision Magazine July 1, 2006 http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?ArticleID=697)

Read the Word.

2. HEED THE WORD OF GOD.

Graham says we need to come to the Bible obediently. James says we need to be not just a hearer of the Word, but a doer.

For us to feel the delight and joy of God’s Word, we’ve got to plan to do it. To apply it to our daily life.

If the Word says, “Forgive your enemies,” then we need to forgive.
If the Word says, “Love your neighbor,” then we need to love.
If the Word says, “Hate sin,” then we need to hate sin.
If the Word says, “Eat this book,” then we need to eat the book.

Heed the Word.

In the book of Joshua, right after the death of Moses as Joshua is about to fill these enormous sandals of leadership, God says:

8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Joshua is charged with two things: to know the Word, and to do what it says. If he is “careful to do everything written in it”, then he will be prosperous and successful.

Heed the Word of God.

Is there some area of your life where you are in disobedience to the Word of God? Then you will have struggles and failures. Too often those who claim to be Christians do not allow the Bible to be the standard of their life and choices. As if the Bible doesn’t have anything to say about families, or priorities, or church, or relationships, or work, or education, or whatever.

We need to Heed the Word of God.

And #3. BLEED THE WORD OF GOD.

I’m sure you’re wondering what that means.

John Bunyan is a famous Puritan pastor and author who wrote the book Pilgrim’s Progress. After the Bible, that’s one of the best-selling books of all time.

Here’s something Pastor Charles Spurgeon said about John Bunyan:

Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.

We need to be so full of the Bible that it comes out of us all of the time! Wouldn’t it be great if people said about Hope Church that the people there are “Bibline”? That if someone pricked us, the Word of God would come out of us. That whenever anyone was around us, they would be picking up the truth of God’s Word from us?

Bleed the Word of God! That’s what was happening in Jeremiah’s prayer. He couldn’t help but thank God for the words.

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.

We have an amazing privilege and blessing to have such easy access and ability to read the word of God. Let’s take advantage of that blessing by feasting on the Word of God. Let’s make it our joy and our heart’s delight.

Let’s be Real Christians who really read their Bibles.