Reprinted with permission from BJU Press, by Stewart Custer
Many people use Scripture for their own purposes. I am referring to sincere Christians who use the Scriptures to reinforce their own private interpretations of the Bible and of life. Many of these people are very godly individuals. I know of preachers whose personal dedication to the Lord is unquestioned, but who have certain doctrines for which they are notorious. They plug these things as though they were the great truths of revelation, when they happen to be of private interpretation.
The Bible tells us certain things that we need to do to learn the Bible itself, and it’s a wonderful thing that it gives us such instructions. In John 5:39 the Lord Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures.” That word “search” means to examine very thoroughly, investigate, trace out; it implies a good deal of diligence and effort in finding the truth that is there. In the audience that was there, there were Jews who were no doubt proud of their knowledge of Scripture. They had indeed searched the Scriptures, but they had astigmatism, spiritually speaking. They were selective in what they were seeing there. They were seeing certain things and were refusing to see other things. Christ reminded them that the Scriptures testified of Him. They had shut off that part of Scripture. It was not penetrating them at all. They didn’t come to Scripture to learn what was there; they came to confirm what they wished to see there.
The Lord Jesus, in this context, urged them to start with Moses and to search the Scriptures. That’s a big order. Go through the whole Bible. Look for it. Have an open mind. Be teachable. Let the Spirit of God tell you what is there. Don’t come with your mind made up and say, “I’m looking for this.” That’s imposing your interpretation upon what Scripture is saying.
If I were to ask you what is the most important book in your possession, the great majority of you would say, “the Bible.” If I were to ask you what is the second most important book in your library, a lot of you would sit down and really worry over that one. What is the second most important book? For me, it is the concordance. The book that I have used more often than any other book in my library, other than the Bible itself, is the concordance. The reason for that is because it helps me to find out what is in the Bible. It’s a way of searching Scripture. Harold K. Moulton, a third-generation student of the Scriptures, wrote a book called The Challenge of the Concordance. His thesis is that Christians do not use the concordance properly. When they reach for a concordance, almost always they are trying to find a verse that will say what they want to say–they’re hunting for a text on which to hang what they’ve already determined to say. That’s not using it correctly. His argument is that the concordance is valuable because you can learn from it what a biblical doctrine, a biblical teaching, really is. For example, consider the word “holiness.” There are approximately 600 references to that word in the Bible. Go through those 600 references, and you find out what the Bible really teaches about holiness–being set apart for God–and all the ramifications of that doctrine. All of a sudden, you have found something; it’s what Scripture says, not just what you want to say about that doctrine. That’s why the concordance is valuable. Of course, I don’t mean the concordance in the back of your Bible. That doesn’t give you 600 references for the word “holiness.” You’ll need an exhaustive concordance like Strong’s or Young’s.
When you realize that what you are doing in studying Scripture is finding out, examining, and tracing out what the Scripture really says on a subject, you have gained a tremendous organizational principle in your use of Scripture. In I Corinthians 2:13, Paul says, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Compare what is in Scripture. Too many times a preacher or a teacher will have a certain doctrine in his mind, which is formulated by two or three proof texts, and he has certain verses that to him epitomize that doctrine. But the doctrine itself (going back to holiness) may have 600 parts to it, and he’s looking at only three or four and saying, “Now, this is the truth.” Whereas in reality, he is giving a small fragment of what is in Scripture on that point. We should compare one passage with another and compare all those different verses to find out what the doctrine really holds.
This is what it means to have balance. It means that you are aware of what Scripture is teaching on these points, and you are not pulling isolated verses out and saying, “Now hear this, from the top of Mount Sinai! This is it–the revelation of the Lord!” But rather, it’s learning what the Scripture really says on these points so that when you speak of these things, you come with a background that is aware of all the different facets of these doctrines. All of life can be controlled by what Scripture says if we have the grace and the dedication to seek the answers in Scripture. God’s will is revealed in Scripture and encompasses all aspects of life. You can find His will in the Book, but it means you have to look for it. You are aware that what is in the Bible is not there just to give you historical background or theological precision; it’s there to make you what you should be and to mold your understanding of Scripture, so that it may mold your character and transform you into the kind of person that God wants you to be.
In Joshua 1:8-9 the Lord commands Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage….” We need to think about Scripture. When you meditate on something, you turn it over in your mind. You examine it carefully. You let your mind dwell upon what is there. You examine how the phrases and the relationships extend to the problems of life and what you are trying to wrestle with at the moment. Meditation draws the marrow from the bones. It gives the strength to the life. Nowadays, meditation is so rare that people have to turn to transcendental meditation and eastern mysticism to think about meditating on things. Meditation used to be one of the great virtues of Christians everywhere. They thought about Scripture.
Culture has changed. People don’t think anymore. They turn the TV on. Their home is filled with racket and the clamoring of the world. How can you think about something–anything–while all that racket is going on? Wherever you go, there is racket. When you go into stores, there is music yammering at you. There are commercials yammering at you on TV. Everywhere, all this hullabaloo is going on all the time to keep you from thinking. It’s not an accident. It is very deliberate. But in past generations, people had time to think. They didn’t have all this media surrounding them. They could meditate on Scripture. Think about it! When was the last time you sat down with any doctrine in Scripture and thought about what it means and let your mind dwell upon how that doctrine should change you now? Most people don’t have time to think that way. They’ve got something to do, and they’re in a hurry. They’ve got to grab something out of the Scriptures and run.
I think of the old Puritans who used to prepare their hearts for the Sunday services. I don’t know of anybody who does this nowadays. For example, the old Puritans–and I’m talking about businessmen, not preachers–would record in their diaries that they spent Saturday night reading such-and-such a passage of Scripture and praying that they might prepare their hearts for the sermons the next day. We have lost something tremendous in this modern life. We’ve gained a lot of electronic marvels, a lot of entertainment, and a lot of busyness; but a great deal of what makes life worth living has been subtracted from our lives. The thinking of Scripture–letting the mind meditate upon the richness that is there, the marrow in the bones, the rich fatness of what is there, permeating our being, to make us what we should be–is what is lacking. This makes for shallow Christians. Oh, everybody is busy; everybody is doing this, doing that, doing the other–yes, I know that. It’s still shallow. The balance that comes from Scripture is not just intellectual, academic balance. It is heart balance–the balance of putting God in the place in the life that He should be and putting yourself in a lesser position. It is thinking about what the Bible says for me, how I can improve, and how I can become better through what this Book says. When you start to think in that manner, there are many things you can think of that need improvement, but who’s thinking about it? We’re busy. We’ve got things to do. We’ve got to hurry. Friends, we need balance. We need to be thinking of Scripture, not just because we have to stand in front of a class and say something about it, but because it needs to control us, to transform us, and to make us closer to God than we have been, with a deeper understanding of what His will is, because it’s revealed in Scripture, and in our hearts we are drawn to that.
Remember that all of us can study the Bible. The point is not how long we have studied it, but rather have we believed it? Have we taken the truth that is there, applied it to our hearts, made it our own, and let it change us? This is absolutely important. It is not important how many times you’ve read through the Bible. What’s important is how much of that Book has gotten a hold of your heart and how much of the searching, comparing, and meditating has made a difference in how you live today.
In John 15:14 the Lord Jesus says, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” How gracious! He doesn’t call us slaves; he calls us friends. “And you are my friends,” he says, “if you do whatever I say.” That means a heart submission for whatever this Book says. If it teaches this, I do it. If it says this about my life, I do it. You’re a real friend, then, because you value what He wants. He wants us better than what we are. He wants us better in our prayer life, better in our knowledge of Scripture, better in our soulwinning zeal, and better in our service for Him. The Bible tells us from beginning to end how we can do this. We need to take what is there, make it our own, and let it control our lives. The most important thing about Christians is not how much money they’ve got, how many material possessions they have, or even who their friends are. The most important thing about any Christian is how much God has of him, how much God controls his life, and how much this Book dominates his thinking, living, praying, and service. Balance is being what Scripture teaches, letting the message control our lives and prioritize what we are doing. Balance means that we value what this Book says so much that we will take what it says, run down every last reference to it, consider how many such words are in the Bible, and consider how many such things are woven together to make us what we need to be. We can study the Bible all our days and still not know it all and still not have it all down; but, oh, what joy to find out what is there and then submit to it and let it rule us.
It is the zeal of some of God’s great saints that challenges us. Think of Apollos, who was mighty in the Scriptures. That doesn’t just mean that he had some fine proof texts that he used. It means that he had gone through the Book. In the ancient culture they didn’t say a man was mighty in a book unless he had memorized it. In the Western world, we don’t think that way. Apollos was one of those fellows–mention a text in Leviticus, and he could start quoting it. We don’t value it that way, but he did. Paul could say in his message to the Ephesian elders that he had declared to them “the whole counsel of God.” He had not held back anything. He had poured out the riches before them. No wonder people like Eutychus–working men–sitting in the window while Paul preached, just stayed around all night long, hanging on Paul’s every word. What were they hearing? Oh, to think of an apostle unfolding the treasures that are there, the whole counsel of God and all that God had revealed. What a breathtaking experience that must have been! We need that. The Book is still here. It’s still available for us. We can fill our souls with it. It should thrill us. We should hang upon its every word. This is the Word of God. This is a holy Book. This is the Book that can transform us. That zeal and that enthusiasm for it should be there, along with the balance of letting it say whatever it says.
May God give you a burning hunger and thirst for this blessed Book. May it be such a consuming fire in your bones, that you will study it and read it all your days. I was converted reading the Bible with no one witnessing to me. I was called to preach from the Scriptures. I was brought to Bob Jones University through the Scriptures. My whole life has been centered in this Book. This is the most important single thing that I have. Friends, remember how great the gift is that God has given. He has written you a love letter, and it’s here for you to read of how much God loves you and how you can manifest your love for Him. That is worth everything.