Text: I Peter 1:23-2:3
Part Three of How to Interpret the Bible
We’re talking about interpreting the Bible for yourself. And we’ve already looked at the six basic principles of interpretation. And today I want us to simply look at the study of the Bible…reading the Bible and what the Bible means to us and how we ought to read it.
In 1 Peter 1, beginning with verse 23 through chapter 2:3…
“For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is through the living and abiding Word of God. For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall off, but the Word of the Lord abides forever. And this is the Word which was preached to you. Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes long for the pure milk of the Word that by it you may grow in respect to salvation if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
To me, the greatest evidence that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is the fact that it simply does what it professes to do…the effect it has when it is preached, when it is read, when it is heard. The Word of God promises and gives to us the way of salvation and when the Word of God is preached and shared people are saved. And when you preach the Word of God, people are brought under conviction and they are converted and their lives are changed. That doesn’t happen when you read Shakespeare. It happens when you read the Word of God.
So, one of the greatest evidences as far as I’m concerned…the greatest evidence…of the inspiration of the Word of God is that it simply does what it professes to do. It converts the soul. It changes lives. And here, Peter is saying it does that because…he pictures the Word of God as a seed…and he says, “You and I have been born again not of a corruptible seed, but of an incorruptible seed, which is the Word of God. When the Word of God is planted in the hearts of men and women, it brings about a new birth in the lives of those people.
Now, the interesting thing that I want to share with you today is that the same seed that gives us life is also the milk that gives us growth. You notice the first chapter, verses 23 and following, he talks about the Word of God as the seed which has given us a new birth, and following that expression of a new birth, he says in the second chapter, verse 1, “Therefore,” – and always you look at the “therefore” and you know that he is about to make a practical application of the truth that he has just enunciated. The truth is this: the Word of God is the incorruptible seed that brings life… “Therefore,” – if this is so, and it is – then you and I need to lay aside all malice, and all guile, and all hypocrisy and all envy and all slander and like newborn babes, we are to long – desire – crave for the sincere or the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby.
So, the seed that gives us life is also the milk that gives us growth. Now, I want you to notice how he adds in verse 3… “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord…” The Berkley Translation does a great job here. It says, “presuming you have tasted the goodness of the Lord.” Now, what Peter is saying is this…that if you have been born again, you ought to have an appetite to grow. You ought to have an appetite for the pure milk of the Word. You don’t have to teach a baby to eat. You don’t have to try to cause a craving in the baby for milk. That comes with life. That comes with birth. And so, he says if you have been born again of that seed, then like a newborn babe, you will crave the sincere milk of the Word if you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
The implication is that if you have no appetite for the Word of God, you must not have ever tasted the goodness of the Lord. Now, we were talking, Kaye and I were talking the other day, and we were saying that we talk a lot about food. Have you ever noticed that? We talk an awful lot about food. Her mother came down and visited us for a week and any time the three of us sat down – the ladies did this…I didn’t do this of course – but everything on their plate…they would say, “Well, I know I ought not to eat this,” and then they eat it, you know…always talking about food. We go on diets and such as this… Now, I’m not a very good dieter. I can fast pretty good. I really can…I can fast pretty good. If I don’t eat anything, I can go without eating anything, and I can make it pretty good, but I want to tell you something, when I take a bite of food, I mean it’s Katy bar the door…I mean, I’m sunk, you know. If I just won’t taste it, I’ll be alright. But, once you taste it, you’re done for.
Now, Peter says, “If you have tasted of the goodness of the Lord, then you’re going to have an appetite to have more and more and more of it.” And so, when you and I get a taste of the Word of God and when we get a taste of the goodness of the Lord, there is created within us this desire, this longing, to drink and to nourish the sincere milk of the Word.
What I want to talk to you about is how we are to read the Word of God…how it is to be applied into our lives. And I want to just this…that there is…before we get started…there a moral qualification for reading the Bible. There is an intellectual qualification, of course, I mean, you have to be able to read or you have to understand when it’s preached, you have to have an intellectual belief that it is the Word of God. There is an intellectual qualification and most of the time the emphasis is placed on that. But do you realize that the Bible really never places the emphasis on that? It always places it on the moral qualification for reading the Word.
Notice what he says…if you and I are to long for the Word…there are some things that must be laid aside. 1 Peter 1:2:
Therefore, putting aside – he uses a word that was used for casting aside old clothes, clothes that were no longer wearable…you laid them aside – like old dirty clothes – so he says like old dirty garments you need to lay aside and he gives us three categories and each one of them prefaced that word “all” – lay aside all malice, all guile, which included hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
Before you can desire the sincere milk of the Word, before you can have that appetite and have that appetite intensified, there’s a moral qualification for reading the Word of God. There are certain things in your life that you have to lay aside, and most of these indicate our relationship with other people. You can’t read the Word of God and benefit from it if there’s malice in your heart…if there’s slander in you heart…if there’s hypocrisy, if there is envy…when you come to the Word, my dear friend, you have to come clean. There is a moral qualification.
I said a moment ago that you don’t get converted by reading Shakespeare. I also say that whether or not you’re living in sin doesn’t affect your reading of Shakespeare at all. I mean, you can sit down and read Shakespeare and get just as much out of Shakespeare no matter what kind of moral situation you’re in. But, you cannot do that with the Word of God. When you and I come to the Word of God, there is a moral qualification and if the Word of God is going to bless me at all, first of all I need to make certain that my sins are confessed up to date and as far as I can tell everything is right between myself and God, if God is going to speak to me out of His Word.
So, with that I’d like to share with you about six or seven on how to read the Bible.
You need to read the Bible regularly.
Now, you’re going to say that some of these things are old hat, but we need to emphasize them anyway. What I mean by reading the Bible regularly is we need to sit down at the table of the Word and read it and eat it every day…every day…every day!
You and I ought to look upon reading the Bible, studying the Bible, letting the Bible study us just as necessary as taking in physical food and physical drink. You know what I’m hoping for? I wish that one of these days I could get to the place spiritually that I would miss a meal of the Word of God as much as I miss a meal of spaghetti and meatballs. If I go without a meal or two I want you to know that I’m ravenous. I mean…if you get hungry you’ll eat bread out of a garbage can. Have you ever been that hungry for the Word of God? Reading the Bible regularly!
Now, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you read it. It doesn’t matter where you read it. You just make certain that every day there’s going to be a systematic reading of the Word of God. First of all, we need to read the Word of God regularly.
We need to read the Bible alertly.
Now, a fresh mind is essential. Don’t give God the drowsy dregs of your day. Read the Bible when you are alert. Now, I may have made reference to this the other night…I think I did. A lot of people think you need to get up about 5:30 and have your quiet time, and for those who can do that, that’s wonderful. But, I’m going to tell you something. I need to read the Bible alertly. And I’m not an early morning person. I’m not! Through the years, doing what I do…preaching…you’re in meetings like we are this week…you get out about 9:00 or 9:30, you go out and eat…and by the time you get home it’s midnight and then you can’t sleep because your mind is still revved up from the service, or revved up from what you’ve eaten and I hardly ever get to sleep before 2:00 in the morning and then I wake up about every hour on the hour, you know, and I’ll just be frank with you, folks, I’m just not a morning person. I think getting up is a terrible way to start the day. Of course, I do this because I’m humble. Only proud people get up at 5:00 a.m. I mean, don’t they brag about it? Ohhh, I want you to know I’ve been up since dawn. Man, I’ve been up…I mean, they are so filled with arrogance and pride and haughtiness. You never hear anybody brag about getting up late, do you? Man, I got up at the break of noon today. Oh, no…see, I’m humble…that’s the way I am. Find the time when you are most alert.
I’ll be honest with you…when I first get up in the morning, that’s my most alert time and if I try to do my study then and my reading then, my quiet time…if I get that quiet that early I’m going to go back to sleep. Actually, I’m more alert at midnight. And I do my best reading late at night. So, you read the Bible alertly…however it fits into your lifestyle. Read the Bible alertly.
Read the Bible systematically.
Now, I’m happy that they have changed the way they do this…to a certain extent. But growing up in church we were given our daily Bible readings. Remember those? They were in the Sunday School quarterly and they were the daily Bible readings and here’s the way they would be…for Wednesday, read Leviticus 17:8; Matthew 7:15; Revelation 10:3-8. And I couldn’t understand a thing that I was reading. I mean it was all a jumble and I never did enjoy it so I never did it much.
Why do we read the Bible like we read no other book? If you go down to the bookstore and buy a novel and you open it to page 150 and start reading and after awhile say, “Well, I don’t understand a thing I’m reading.” Well, of course not! You start at the first…chapter 1, page 1, paragraph 1, word 1. Read the Bible systematically. Take a book of the Bible and read it from beginning to end and you read it like Philippians or Colossians or Genesis…start at verse 1, chapter 1, paragraph 1, word 1. Read the Bible systematically. I am highly in favor of these ideas whereby we read the Bible once every year and those plans are very good. You start at the beginning.
Now, I know when you get to those “begats” it’s going to be a little much of a drag, but you can sort of keep on reading until God “begats” something in your own life. Eventually you’ll come to some good stuff. So, read the Bible systematically.
Read the Bible with variety.
What do I mean by that? I mean we need to use different translations. Now, there are some places I go and this may be one of them, I don’t know, where there’s always somebody in the church that if I get up and read from anything but the King James Version I’m confined to the outer limits of hell. Now, I grew up on the King James Version of the Bible. And I still preach from it a great deal. But let’s be honest, folks. They used to burn men at the stake who tried to translate the Bible hundreds of years ago to put it into the language of the people. The Catholic church in those days wanted to keep it in the language that only the priests could read. The common person, the average person didn’t have a copy of the Bible and if he did, he couldn’t read it, because it was not in the language that he spoke. And there were men like Tyndale and some of the others, Jerome, and they paid their lives because they translated the Bible into the language that the average man could understand. That’s always been God’s plan.
The New Testament is written in Greek. There’s a little Aramaic in it, but it’s primarily written in Greek. And it’s written in what they call Koine Greek, which is vulgar Greek, which means everyday Greek…marketplace Greek. There is classical Greek and then there is everyday, marketplace Greek. And when God sat down to inspire the Word of God, He didn’t use the classical Greek that only the intellectuals could understand. He used the marketplace that every normal, common, average person could understand. I want to tell you something…we must always have the Bible in the language that you and I can understand.
And language changes. The meanings of words change. For instance, in the King James, it says in 1 Thessalonians, talking about the resurrection and the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming… “those who are alive shall not prevent those who are asleep.” Now, the word “prevent” today means “to hinder.” The word meant they will not precede them…I mean, those of us who are alive will not precede those who are dead…they will be raised first. They’re going to come first and then we’re going to be caught up in the air.
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul talks about the Holy Spirit and the man of sin coming and he says, “he that letteth will let until he be taken out of the way…” Now, in the King James time, “let” meant “to hinder.” It doesn’t mean that today. It means “to permit” you see. And so, the language changes and if you and I are to read the Bible with understanding we must use various translations that keep the language that you and I understand.
Now, the King James Version is a very excellent translation. It actually is. A lot of people knock it today, but it is a very good translation. The main thing that’s wrong with it for us today is that it’s written in that old style English that we don’t use and that we don’t feel familiar with and sometimes that keeps us from reading the Bible as regularly as we would if it were written in more modern English. So, I think there are always places for different translations. And I carry about six translations with me. I got three with me this morning and I carry about six with me, because I found out something…I found out that one translation may read in a certain way and another translation – just as accurate in its translations of the Greek words – may read a slightly different way and all of a sudden it throws light on it that I didn’t see before, you see.
For instance, if you have a King James Version, I want you to turn to Colossians 1 and I want you to read that verse 23…no, it’s Colossians 2, verse 23:
“Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship,
and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to
the satisfying of the flesh.”
Would somebody like to stand up and explain that to me? Folks, that’s a jawbreaker, isn’t it? Alright…now listen to it in the NIV.
“Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom with
their self-imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh
treatment of the body but they lack any value in restraining
Now, let me ask you a question. Which one do you understand? You’re really supposed to say the NIV! That is just one example of why we need to read the Bible with variety. Use different translations. The Greek language is so rich that sometimes one Greek word can be translated two or three different ways and each way has a different shade of meaning and it throws different light on it. So, read the Bible with variety.
I have here the New International Version. Now, personally…this is just my humble and accurate opinion…personally, I don’t believe the NIV is the best translation around. It’s the most popular right now and it’s a good translation, but I don’t think it’s the best translation around but I use it and preach from it a lot. I think the best translation today is the New American Standard Version. That is the most accurate translation. Actually the most accurate translation is the old American Standard Version, but you can’t find that anywhere much. But the New American Standard Version is the most accurate translation that we have.
The New English Bible…the Revised English Bible is a good translation. The New Revised Version is a good translation. I read a lot from the Williams Translation…Charles B. Williams Translation…it’s the only New Testament ever translated by a Baptist, by the way, and I made reference to it the other night…it is an excellent translation. It’s published by Holman and you can get copies of it. It brings out the nuances and the shades of meaning of the Greek text, and when you read that translation it throws so much more light onto it than other translations.
The Amplified Bible is a very good translation and it does exactly what it says it does…it amplifies the meanings of the words. Some people read the Living Bible, which is not a translation, but more of a paraphrase. Now, the Living Bible is the most readable but not the most reliable. I read the Living Bible just for the pleasure of reading, but when I get down to study I don’t use that because it’s not a translation, it’s a paraphrase.
There is the New King James Version, which is a very good translation. The only thing I don’t like about it is where Jesus said, “Verily, verily,” they translated “Most assuredly” and I don’t like that. I don’t know why. It sounds like kind of stuffy. Do you ever say that? Do you say “Most assuredly”? You don’t say that, do you? But anyway, it’s a good translation. My wife says she does. You do? She does. You know what she said? She said, “I don’t say verily, verily, either.” (Laughter) Behave yourself!
So, you read the Bible with variety.
Read the Bible prayerfully.
Approach this Book as you would approach no other book. It is a living Word. And when you open this Bible you need to open it prayerfully…praying like this perhaps… “Father, give me something today to live by out of this Word.” When I start to read my Bible just casually that’s always a prayer on my heart… “Lord, as I read this, give me something to live today.”
And as you come to the Bible prayerfully the Spirit of God who inspired the Bible will illuminate your minds so that can understand it. Over in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says that the natural man, the unsaved man does not receive the things of the Spirit “…for they are spiritually discerned…” A lost person, an un-regenerated person cannot understand the Word of God. Now, he has a certain intellectual and scholarly understanding of the Word of God, but he doesn’t understand the message of the word of God and he cannot read the Bible with the faith that you and I can read it from.
Do you realize that most of the liberalism and modernism, they don’t call it modernism anymore, it’s all liberalism now…but did you know that most of the liberalism that we have in our schools and seminaries over here came from Germany and France? Do you know why it came from there? Because in Europe, especially in Germany, you take up theology just like you might take up medicine…as a profession. Some of the highly respected theologians probably have never been saved! Because they took up a “profession.” Clarence Darrow, the famous lawyer…his dad became a preacher simply so that he would have time to read a lot…he like to read a lot. He wasn’t even a Christian. He was a Unitarian. But he became a preacher simply because he liked to have a lot of time to read.
And some of these theologians that came in the early years from Germany and some of the other European countries chose theology just like you might choose law or insurance or anything else. They weren’t even converted! That’s why they can’t handle the miracles, you see. They read the Bible only as an ancient document.
Now, the Bible is an ancient document and you need to keep that in mind. I need to keep that in mind. And it is good for us to come to the Bible with scholarship, don’t get the idea that I’m against scholarship or education. No sir! I believe that a preacher ought to know the Bible as well as a doctor knows the human body. I think that if I am committing my life to preach this Book I ought to know it as best as I can…I ought to be able to understand as much as I know how to understand of this Word.
I think some preachers, if they were doctors, they’d get sued for malpractice…because they don’t really know the Word. You have to have that! But, these men who simply are theologians as profession, they view the Bible only as ancient document. And so, they say Isaiah had to be written by two different people…because the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are written in a certain style and the next are written in a different style, you see…because in the first section it deals with judgment and the second section it deals with comfort and salvation and these men cannot believe that one man can have two messages.
For instance, some deny that the epistle of James is inspired because there’s no personal references in it. And some of them don’t believe that Peter wrote 1 Peter because there are too many personal references in it. Does that make sense to anybody? There are those who don’t believe that the Red Sea parted and drowned the Egyptian army…they say it was the Reed Sea which was just about knee deep, maybe, and the wind would blow over there constantly and so what really happened is the wind was blowing so hard that it just blew that few feet of water and the people were able to cross. Now, the first time I heard somebody say that, I said, “Praise God it’s a greater miracle than I thought! A whole army drowned in knee deep water!”
And that’s why there are some who can read the Bible and study the Bible and it never changes their lives. And they can’t handle the miracles. They can’t handle the resurrection. They can’t handle the blood covenant. They cannot handle the second coming. Read the Bible prayerfully.
Read the Bible expectantly.
A good way to read your Bible is to read it aloud, and sort of make it your prayer. If you’re sitting in a chair reading the Bible, does your mind ever wander? I find out sometimes that I’ve read ten verses and don’t have the slightest idea what I’ve read, because my mind has wandered…and I’ll go back and read it again and my mind wanders again. But, I’ve discovered something. I’ve discovered that if I will read the Bible, moving my lips while I read it…reading it out loud or just reading it moving my lips, it holds my attention and I’m concentrating and if I read it with a pencil and paper in my hand and as I read it and come across something good, I make a note of that. All of this, of course, is keeping my attention staid on the Word of God.
A third thing that I do in reading the Bible that helps me more than anything else is I pray it. For instance, the January Bible study for next year is going to be The Sermon on the Mount. And if you really want to have God do a work in your heart, I suggest you take The Sermon on the Mount and pray through it. I mean, make it your prayer. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” and you say, “Dear Lord, am I poor in spirit? What does this mean? Lord, help me to be poor in spirit.” And Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful…” and you say, “Dear Lord, I want to be merciful and I see areas in which I’m not merciful.” And as you read through the Bible and pray through it, turning it into prayer it does something. Not only does it keep your attention, but it does something. It works in your heart! It works in your life!
You come to the Bible expectantly. I expect God to speak to me through the Word of God. I expect God to say something to me every time I read this Word. And you know, while I’m thinking about, let me just mention this. I have observed a peculiar thing. The colder my heart gets, the less anxious I am to read the Word. Have you noticed that? But, every time that God does a new work in my heart, revives me, puts a new spark in my life…do you know what my first thought is? I want to get into the Word…I want to read the Word, because I know it’s going to say something and I know it’s going to do something for me.
Read the Bible obediently.
This is probably the most important. Now, what I mean by that, of course, is that we ought to obey whatever the Bible says to us. Unless the Bible is obeyed it becomes a closed book to us. If I come to this Bible and I don’t have any intention of letting it change my life, suddenly the book becomes closed to me. Because you see it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to understand what we’re reading. He illuminates the Scripture. And by that, He simply gives to us divine enablement so that what we read speaks to our hearts and makes sense to us.
But, if I’m reading and suddenly it condemns me, convicts me, says something to me and I don’t do anything about it, this grieves the Holy Spirit and the illumination is gone. It’s like reading the Bible in a dark room. When I’m sitting under the lights, I can read it and it’s easy to read because I’m right there in the light. But the moment I don’t obey something that the Bible says to me the light goes off and I can no longer see. There’s no longer any illumination.
So, when you come to the Bible you come with this attitude… “Lord, whatever You’re going to say to me in this Word, I commit myself to obey even before I know what it is.”
Now I stress obedience because the condition, or the prerequisite for additional revelation is obedience to present revelation. Now, Bill has mentioned this a couple a times this week. And we always laugh about it, because you know, we already know more than we’re living up to. And that’s true. And sometimes we wonder why it is that God is not saying something to us. It’s because we’re not doing anything about what He told us the last time He spoke to us. It’s useless for me to say, “God, bless me more if I haven’t lived up to the blessings that God had given me.” It’s useless for me to say, “God, give me more light when I haven’t even walked in the light that He has already given me.”
But, here is the way I fine it in my own life. Maybe you find it differently, but here is the way I find it in my own life. God just gives me enough light to see my next step, folks, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t have the slightest idea what God is going to do with me in the next few weeks or the next year. You know, sometime you say, “Lord, if You’ll just give me the ‘month in review’ ahead of me and kind of let me see what’s coming…” I usually have just enough light to see the next step. I take that step and the light moves out just another step farther. I take that next step and it moves out just another step farther. That’s the way God works. If you want additional revelation, the condition is obedience to present revelation, which is important to understand…because I believe this is how God deals with the heathen who have never heard the Gospel of Christ.
I remember a person arguing about this and saying, “I believe that if a man or woman does the best that they can…does the best that they know…follows their conscience…even though they never heard the Gospel, then I believe they’ll be saved. I always say, “Show me that heathen. Show me any person who has ever lived up to the light of his conscience. Show me anybody who has never violated their conscience.” Have you ever done anything against your conscience? Of course, you have. So, if you say, “Well, a man can be saved without hearing the Gospel…if he just lives up to the light of his conscience…” – he’s still condemned! Because no person ever lives up to all the light of their conscience.
Well, how does God deal with the heathen? If a man won’t live up to the little light that he has, he’s not going to live up to the big light. But, if a man lives up to the light that he has, God gives him more light. And if he walks in that light, God gives him more light and sooner or later, if that man has walked in the light and has lived up to the light that God has given him, then God works in his heart and brings about the work of salvation…somebody comes along and preaches the Gospel to him, but you see, the Bible says in Romans 1 that no one is without excuse…because even the pagans know God because God has made Himself known to them. But, if a person, even a pagan, rejects the knowledge of God that he already has, then he’s certainly going to reject the knowledge of Jesus that he sees.
That’s just the way God works with people. Obedience is the condition for additional revelation. This is why Jesus said, “It would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for Capernaum.” Do you know why He said that? He goes on to say, “…for if the things done here in your presence had been done in Sodom and Gomorrah they would have repented a long time ago.” God does not judge us on how much sin we commit. God judges us on how much light we reject and disobey.
So you read the Bible obediently. And as we obey it, God extends that light just a little further. Read it and reap! The more you read the Word of God, the more you will reap the things of God in your heart and in your life.
Let’s pray together:
Father, today, we are grateful that You have given us Your Word. And I guess one of our greatest sins is the way we neglect it…and the way we disobey it. Father, give us a hunger and a thirst for Your Word. I pray that it would become to us like milk to newborn babes that we would have an unquenchable thirst for Your Word. Thank You for giving it to us. Thank You most of all for the Living Word…the Lord Jesus Christ, who is with us today even more than is this Book with us. And we thank You in His name. Amen
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005