I started a near riot in an African market. At a time when I didn’t know any better, I announced to the crowd that I had a sack of Bibles to give away. The resulting melee left our team with a ripped empty bag and a scene worthy of a black Friday sale run amuck. People wanted those Bibles.
Looked at from one perspective, maybe the enthusiasm was typical of how folks everywhere respond to the offer of free stuff like ball point pens, bookmarks, erasers, and key chains.
But I recall talking to an African man in a remote area. “People will walk ten miles to hear good Bible teaching,” he said.
This made me think again that maybe back in that marketplace we weren’t seeing a simple lust for freebies, but real spiritual appetite.
Ironically, I’ve been in many similar situations on American college campuses. A day of announcing ‘Free Bibles’ was likely to result in dismissive waves and wordless “No thank-you’s” as students split into two columns and flowed around us. After three hot hours in a campus oval, the bag of give-aways would still be almost full. We often didn’t fare much better with offering Bible studies, either. Students were more likely to walk ten miles in the opposite direction of good Bible teaching.
Believe it or not, I sympathize. The western hemisphere is flooded with Christian authors, publishers, blogs, sites, materials, mail-outs, and even guys like me who want to “talk to you a few minutes about your faith.”
Western plates are crowded with ministry sides and desserts, yet our Bible literacy is still poor. That’s because the main course itself is often missing—direct and sustained involvement with the Bible.
I’m going to begin the slow wind-up to a series on the book of Romans. During these next few weeks, I’ll present historical research on daily life in first century Rome, some insights into the person of the apostle Paul, and an introduction to Romans itself.
Then we’ll be off to the races, covering chapters 1-8.
The Romans study won’t be a cherry-picked string of inspirational thoughts. I’m going to attempt a careful exegesis of the verses themselves, and their relevance to us today.
Why do this? What is the purpose behind careful Bible study?
1. To teach, to correct mistakes, to rebuke stubbornness, to equip the godly person for good works (2 Tim. 3:16). When you’re pursuing the flow of the scriptures, you’re entering God’s classroom for a fully-orbed education. Never think you’re not a theologian. Everyone is, to some extent. The question is whether you’re an accurate one.
2. To be exposed to thoughts we would never have come up with on our own. We only have a few traditional reasons for searching the scriptures: we’re suffering, we need direction, or we’re looking for opportunities. Not much interest lies outside these parameters, at least judging from the glut of Christian books crowding our shelves and the typical sermon topics showcased on Sunday morning. But the Bible is packed with critical truth that doesn’t make it onto our cramped little menu of interests.
…For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
3. To bind our Christian lives to the truth of God like a tomato plant to a stake. The Apostle John called it “walking in truth.” That means to see the truth of God and then order your life according to it. When you’re aligned on God’s truth, you don’t make it up as you go along. You enter it. Reality as described in the Bible isn’t according to you; you are supposed to be according to it.
4. To learn what is spiritual and what is not (Heb. 4:12). It takes the precision of God’s word to tell us whether we are living in the Spirit or simply some religious construct we have dreamed up for ourselves. Strange, esoteric feelings don’t define what it is to be spiritual. The Bible cuts through all our excuses and motives and gets to the true heart of what we’re doing and why.
5. To discover the will of God. Some people say what God wants is incomprehensible. You can’t know it. That might sound humble, but dismissing an issue of that magnitude is foolish. Granted, no verses will directly tell you what school to attend, but how about those related to why human beings exist on this planet? What does God want from the church? What does He want to accomplish in the typical Christian life? The Bible lays these things out.
Join me. I’ll be learning, too.
Photo credit: Rachael Traub