Yesterday (Sunday 28 October) was Bible Sunday. Many Christians have a dysfunctional relationship with the Bible so I thought it would be good to put the gist of yesterday's sermon online. I hope it helps!
How can we understand the Bible correctly?
There are all sorts of weird and wonderful interpretations of the Bible out there! Lots of weird beliefs have come about because people focus on a few difficult to understand sentences and then twisted the obvious bits round to fit the strange bits. Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions are a good example. Other people tie themselves in knots when they treat the Bible as if it were a scientific textbook – but is that what God intended?
So how are we going to avoid falling into the same trap? We need a big picture so that the more peculiar bits can be fitted into place. Here are four key things to look for when reading the Bible.
1. God's instruction manual – or, as one preacher calls it, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Our Creator God loves us, knows what's best for us and tells us what works and what to avoid. Both Old and New Testaments contain lots of this material, like the 10 commandments in the OT and the Sermon on the Mount in the NT.
2. A handbook of salvation – the trouble with God's instructions is that the human race finds it so very difficult to keep them! We all let God, ourselves and each other down on a regular basis. The Bible calls our tendency to foul every-thing up "sin." This is a big problem for our relationship with a God, who unlike us is holy and loving all the way through. But because God loves us He still reaches out to us. The Bible tells the story of God's rescue mission, foreshadowed in various ways in the Old Testament but really coming into its own when Jesus arrives. Then it tells us what we have to do to receive Jesus for ourselves.
3. A portrait of Jesus – hang on a minute! I get that the Gospels are about Jesus but what about the Old Testament? But the Gospel writers keep quoting the OT and saying, "actually, this is about Jesus." Jesus Himself did this in today's Gospel Reading from John chapter 5. So think about Jesus being crucified at Passover time, then read the story of Passover from the Old Testament. Or read Isaiah's words about the sufferings of the Messiah in chapter 53 of his great prophecy and compare them with what happened to Jesus. Or look at Psalm 22 and compare it with the Cross…
4. A stimulus to faith – God doesn't want us to read the Bible, think "how interesting," and just walk away. He wants to provoke a reaction! He wants us to listen as He speaks to us personally through the Bible, to learn to trust Him in good times and bad through the stories of other people who have followed Him. He wants us to respond to what His Son did for us by acting on His words, coming to the cross and above all putting our faith in Jesus.
If you stick with these four principles you will get lots out of reading the Bible and you will avoid some of the wackier speculations that are floating around out there. Get yourself a clear easy to follow modern version!