How To: Read the Bible
God wrote a Book. It is the very Word of God, God's perfect message from His own mouth through His servants for His people. By His Word, God unveils the mystery of the universe, unfolds His plans hidden from before time began, prophecies the end from the beginning, secures His everlasting promises, calls His elect from death unto life, equips His Church for the work of service, damns the unrepentant to their doom, and seals the fate of the world.
It is the product of divine inspiration. Every human author — divinely chosen. Every description, every analogy — from the mind of God. Every contrast, every phrase, every word, every shade of meaning — perfect. Apart from His Son, the Word of God is His greatest gift to man.
Herein is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the sustenance for the child of God, the very fount of wisdom, the highest authority in the world, and the only rule of faith and practice. It gives comfort in time of distress, hope amidst trial, strength in time of fear, joy during tribulation. It is the sword of the Spirit of God. By it, souls are saved and saints are sanctified.
As John MacArthur writes in the preface to his study Bible:
This book contains: the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.
Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, and practice it to be holy.
It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's charter. Here heaven is open and the gates of hell are disclosed.
Christ is the grand subject, our good its design and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.
Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, health to the soul, and a river of pleasure. It is given to you here in this life, will be opened at the judgment, and is established forever.
It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its contents. (The MacArthur Study Bible, pg. xxiii)
In light of all these glorious things, is it any wonder that the psalmist cried, "O how I love Your law! / It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97)?
Now, if you're a Christian, you know this. You know that Christians should love the Bible. But, let's be were honest; our lives do not always look like it. When the alarm goes off and the morning sun rises, or when we finally carve out some time out our busy days, our first thought is not, "O how I love Thy law!" It should be, but let's not pretend to be more spiritual than we actually are. Most of us don't stay up late at night enthralled at the prophecies of Ezekiel or rush home from class/work to continue reading through 1 Chronicles. Most of us would rather play than pray, watch than read, laugh than hear. Why is the law of God not our meditation all the day? Because we do not love His Word.
But, the Spirit within wants us to love the Word, and to love it in ever-increasing measure. We want to crave the Word of life, even when we don't. And when we do taste of its riches, our souls are satisfied, and we think, "Why didn't I come to the Word sooner? Why did I ever forsake this great blessing?"
It is yet another manifestation of that fact that we are saints — literally holy ones — and yet trapped in the body of this death. We want what is good, and yet we do not do what is good. It's a fight we'll be battling until we reach Heaven. But, until we get there, we must struggle to do what is right.
One of the primary spiritual disciplines for every believer is the Word of God. In our literate, modern society, where every man, woman, and child has unprecedented access to the Word of God, we ought to expect Christians to spend time reading the Bible. Yet, sadly, we don't. Why? Frankly, because it's hard — hard to love what is true, hard to discipline ourselves for the sake of godliness, hard to persevere in learning, hard to fight our flesh.
Yet we must fight. For all the reasons listed above, but most of all because the Lord of the universe desires that His people hear His voice. The following are some tips on how to read the Bible that I hope will be a source of encouragement and tools for victory. Let us read, brothers and sisters, that we might honor our Lord.
1. Pray for light each time you open the Scriptures (Psalm 119:18)
Open my eyes, that I may behold \ Wonderful things from Your law.
It is impossible for natural man to understand the things of God. Although believers have been regenerated to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), it is presumptuous to think that God is obligated to give us spiritual light just because we open the Bible. Without the Spirit giving us spiritual light, there is no hope of blessing. So, we ought to humbly ask God to see beautiful things in His Word.
2. Humble yourself under the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16)
All Scripture is inspired by God…
True humility is caused by beholding God in His glory. This humility is manifested in taking His Word as the authoritative, divine, perfect instruction for all the affairs of life, a mindset of lowliness in view of one's own unworthiness before God, and a desire to obey the God of all Creation and His will.
Thus, when the Sovereign King of all the world speaks, we ought to kneel, and listen. Now, this doesn't mean that we never inquire. Indeed, if we're reading the Bible correctly, we will find things that are jarring, that will raise difficult questions, that will be offensive to our sensitivities and assumptions. This is, after all, the Word of God and not the words of men.
So, we do not cease to think. Yet, when we probe, and ponder, and ask, we ask God for light, seek the resolution that honors Him, and take the Word of God as true (2 Timothy 3:16), even if we don't fully understand [yet].
3. Worship Jesus Christ (Luke 24:25-27)
Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
The grand subject of the Bible is Jesus Christ. He is the Incarnate Word, the Truth of God, the Final Revelation of God. Thus, all Scripture ought to be read in light of Him.
So, when reading the Old Testament, look for imagery that points to the Savior. Search for prophecy and typology and foreshadowing of the Savior to come. See His crucifixion in the Passover lamb. Lament the corrupt kings of Israel, and pray for the righteous King of kings to reign. When you read about God splitting the Red Sea, think of how the Lord Jesus Christ calmed the Sea of Galilee with a word. When you marvel at the miracles of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha, be reminded of the even more powerful miracles of Christ. When you read the prophets, look at how they pave the way for the Sun of Righteousness to reign. Remember, the Old Testament is the glorious prelude to the incarnate Son of God.
When reading the New Testament, do not constrain Jesus to the gospels. He is the main character from beginning to end. Every book is a exposition of the person of Jesus Christ — His life, perfections, work, death, resurrection, lordship, headship, sovereignty, grace, authority, love, dominion, and faithfulness. Every doctrine, command, and truth flows from Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. Nothing can be divorced from the reality that He is, and is coming again to reign as the King. He saved for Himself a people that ought to be enthralled by Him, so that at every turn, and every page, they ought to see their Savior.
So read the Bible to see Jesus Christ. Delight your soul in Him by the knowledge of His Word.
4. Discipline your life to read the Bible regularly (Psalm 119:147-148)
I rise before dawn and cry for help; \ I wait for Your words.
My eyes anticipate the night watches, \ That I may meditate on Your word.
There are no Bible verses dictating the frequency or the duration that Christians should read their Bibles. However, that does not mean that giving a suggestion is unbiblical. The psalmist chose before sunrise and/or after sunset, as bookends for his day. I would say that's a great idea, not mandatory for all times and ages, but a good idea nonetheless.
Each person must come to his own conviction on how often and how much Scripture to read. In the end, what matters is that you are reading the Scripture and striving to be like the man is Psalm 1 — delighting in the law of the Lord, meditating on the word day and night, stable, firm, in the faith, fruitful in all seasons (Ps 1:2-3).
The question to ask is not, "How much do I need to read to be a good Christian?" but, "In light of the blessing of knowing God's will, how much do I want to know His Word?" Regardless if you choose to read for 15 minutes a day, or an hour twice a day, it should be our aim to know God through His Word, as much as we can. After knowing God through the Incarnate Word, there is no other greater blessing than knowing God through His written Word.
This will be hard. Discipline necessitates that we say, "No!" to many things so that we can say, "Yes!" to the highest thing. But take heart. Those who lash themselves to the Word of God as the thing above all other things have much delight.
5. Read the whole counsel of God systematically (Acts 20:27)
For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
God intended for every single part of the Bible to be part of His Word. And, if God has spoken it, it is surely good to listen. Paul thought it important to declare the whole purpose of God, because all the Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), not just the parts that we like and find easier to read. Thus, if you haven't read through the entire Bible yet, before anything else, make this your first goal.
We give no honor to a man who studied only the sections of medicine that he liked at the expense of a rudimentary knowledge of biology and anatomy. Can the Christian then excuse himself from knowing the prophets, or the law, or the epistles merely because he likes the gospels of Christ better? This is, by actions, to call one part of the Word of God more profitable than the rest . Yet again, Paul says, "all Scripture," not merely parts of it. And thus, he declared the "whole purpose of God."
Practically, the best way to accomplish this is to read through entire books of the Bible. The books of the Bible were composed as standalone units: chronicles of history, letters of compassion, prophecies of woe, epistles to the churches. So read one book, finish it, and then move on to the next book. After all, while God did not inspire the chapter divisions or verse divisions, He did inspire the book divisions. Reading entire books of the Bible as units honors His design.
6. Meditate on the Scripture (Psalm 119:97)
O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Meditating is a combination of sustained thought and mental chewing. It is a turning over, a mumbling to oneself, an intense gazing at one thing for a long period of time. It is going for depth and insight rather than efficiency and breadth. While it's not the same as reading the Bible, we should seamlessly transition from reading to meditation over and over as we have our Bibles open.
Meditating on God's Word can take many forms. Some journal their thoughts and questions on the Scripture. Others, like me, mull over and write about a passage or topic of Scripture. Others, like the evangelist George Whitefield, pray each line and phrase of Scripture, that God would lodge it into their heart. No matter the means, the point is to take the truth of Scripture and have it renew our minds, conforming to the mind of Christ.
We ought to discover new promises to hold onto, sins to repent of, virtues to cultivate, thanksgiving to offer, truths to believe, doctrine to defend, and insights to behold. The point of reading the Bible is not just fact gathering or data loading. The point is to be changed.
7. Fight your flesh (Matthew 26:41)
"…the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Reading the Bible is work. It's much easier to stay in bed, fall asleep, watch a show, play a game, etc. So if you find yourself struggling, fight! Give the best part of your day, when you have the most energy, the most focus, to reading God's Word. Use every legitimate means necessary to fight your flesh.
Find yourself falling asleep? Go dunk your head in cold water like George Müller. Pace like John Piper. Drink coffee like the seminarians. Get off the couch or out of your bed. Read aloud. Chew gum. Exercise. Stand. Whatever it takes to keep the eyes and the Scriptures open.
Find yourself distracted? Turn off the TV, the computer, the phone, the watch, the music. Clear the table of everything but a Bible. Shut the door, put in earplugs. Get up earlier, before everyone else so that they can't distract you. Or stay up later, after everyone else has already gone to sleep, so that they can't demand your attention.
Find your mind too full? Write it down so that you can get to it later. Or, if you can, go out of the home, where chores and needs are constantly crying, and find a quiet place to read for just a moment. Tell yourself that whatever you have to do, it does not take priority over God's Word.
Find yourself lazy? Then repent and ask God for power to change. Choose the same time to read to build a habit. Follow a Bible reading schedule. Make rules for yourself. Didn't wake up in time to read the Word? Then no breakfast; being hungry will remind you of how your soul ought to feel because you have not eaten the Word of God. Didn't find the time to read for your allotted time? Then stay up late and sleep less. Just not feeling like it today? Beat your body and make it your slave to submit to Christ.
Find yourself discouraged? Find a more mature Christian to read with; share what you have learned regularly. Listen to sermons on the wonder of God's Word (here's one by Mark Dever). Read Psalm 119 and write down all of the characteristics of God's Word. Tell yourself why God's Word is marvelous. Have a mature Christian tell you why God's Word is marvelous. Do not yield to the sin of lethargy!
Those are my seven tips to help us read the Bible. If you ever need encouragement, know this: every godly Christian, no matter the time, culture, circumstance, calling, shares this one thing in common. They all say, "O how I love Your law! / It is my meditation all the day." They loved the Word, and never exhausted its goodness. What other fount can bring such great joy?
Picture from http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/sc_bibles.shtml