Last time we saw that one of the essential ingredients for Christian life is the continual practice of meeting together with fellow believers to encourage each other and inspire each other to put our faith into practice.
The early Christian leader Paul wrote to the church in the city of Colossae:
…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9–12)
Another essential ingredient of the Christian life is mentioned twice in these verses: knowledge.
Firstly Paul expresses his desire that God will fill the Colossian Christians with the “knowledge of his will”. Secondly he encourages them to “grow in the knowledge of God”.
This tells us something about our own responsibility. While we can and should ask God to fill us with knowledge (in a recent post we saw James’ letter promise that God will always give wisdom to those who ask for it, see James 1:5-8) there is also a need for us to proactively seek to increase our own knowledge of God.
What does this mean and how can you achieve it?
For some people the thought of increasing one’s knowledge may summon up images of sitting in a library surrounded by books, memorising facts, immersing oneself in academic arguments and theories, perhaps to the point of putting oneself out of the reach of the ordinary Christian.
That is not what Paul has in mind here.
Every human being has a natural way of thinking. Some people think naturally in terms of relationships with other people, others in terms of how things work or fit together, others in terms of logic and mathematics, others art or music, and so on. Perhaps you can think which one most describes you!
Yet there are no human beings who think naturally in the way that God does. God said as much to Isaiah, one of his spokesmen in the Old Testament:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8–9)
The only way humans can grow in our knowledge or understanding of God is to learn from the communications God has given us. The words written down in the Bible and the living example of Jesus are the primary sources from which we can learn the way God thinks.
If you are a Christian, you must read the Bible regularly. There is no substitute for doing so. Even very experienced Christians who have entire sections of the Bible memorised in their heads cannot assume that this makes it unnecessary to keep reading.
Yet you must do more than simply read the Bible text as part of a daily routine and then move on to something else. Suppose that you have just read a chapter of the Bible. Ask yourself what the words you have just read would have meant to the original readers in, for example, Paul’s day or Isaiah’s day. What problems were they experiencing that Paul or Isaiah were trying to address? What did their circumstances look like from God’s point of view?
Is there any way in which similar problems exist in your life or in the world today? Do the words you have just read tell you anything about how your life circumstances might look from God’s point of view? Do his words through, for example, Paul or Isaiah contain any advice or instruction on how you ought to live?
Do the words you have just read contain any rebuke or criticism for the people receiving them? If so, is there any way in which the same correction might apply to your life?
Do the words you have just read make you feel uncomfortable? Are they telling you things about yourself or your life that you don’t want to hear? Are they suggesting that you need to make changes to the way you think or the way you treat other people? Are they suggesting you need to change your priorities in life?
Clearly there are some parts of the Bible text which are more readily applicable to everyday Christian life than others – for example, Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies are considerably more relevant than the lists of family trees in 1 Chronicles – yet every single book in the Bible contains some insight into how God thinks, and that can only increase your knowledge and understanding of him and how he wants you to live.
Learning from Bible reading is a practice which God commends in both the Old and New Testaments:
Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people — men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns — so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:10–13)
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:13–16)
Learning from Bible reading is something that can be done on your own or with others. It’s something that can be taught by older Christians to younger ones. There have been many good books and commentaries written that can help you.
In future posts we’ll look at some tips on good practice for Bible reading, as well as mistakes to avoid.