James Meehan - How To Actually Read the Bible
- Get involved
I know that there are many of us who are in a posture of wanting to make this the best year yet, trying to figure out what goals can I set? What resolutions can I make? What habits can I put in place to become the person that God has made us to be? I think those are incredible resolutions. And what I know is that for many of you, it involves something about being more engaged with the Bible because for those of us who are followers of Christ one of the most important habits and disciplines we can have is consistently and intentionally spending time in God's word. But one of the things that can be really difficult is how to actually read the Bible, right? Because there are so many of us today who we know that we should read the Bible. And when we try to read the Bible, we end up running into some like speed bumps because we're reading this stuff and we don't always understand what it means or what to do with it. Is it like, do I take that and actually start doing those things that this person did that seems kind of crazy, but they didn't even have the internet back then.
So why should I listen to what they're saying? Why can't just find better answers on Google? All of those different questions, all of those different challenges are things that we run into today. And so what I wanna do with our time is figure out some ways that we can get better at reading the Bible. What's really interesting and honestly, heartbreaking to me is that there are studies, surveys that have gone out asking people who stopped believing in God, who stopped being Christians, why they stopped being Christians? And what blew my mind was the fact that the number one reason people gave, didn't have anything to do with them feeling the tension between science and faith. It wasn't about trying to reconcile a loving God with evil and suffering in the world. It wasn't even about Christian leaders being hypocrites or Christians being judgmental.
The number one reason people gave why they stopped believing in God and stopped being Christians was because they found Christianity uninteresting. Literally 42% of people said that they walked away from Christianity because they found it uninteresting, and this is a faith that has a key part of it. The book, the Bible, that is the number one most widely sold book in history. And it is also the number one most widely stolen book in history, but I think what ends up happening is so few of us understand how to actually read it. And so when we try we just don't even know what to do with it. And so what I wanna do is just walk you through seven questions that if you find the answers to these will help you get the most out of your Bible reading. As I'm gonna walk you through these questions then we're going to apply them to a chapter of the Bible that is one of my personal favorites. It's also one of the most widely misunderstood. And oftentimes one of the most controversial books, oh sorry, chapters in the Bible, it'll be a really, really fun time to look at it through the lens that we're gonna talk about tonight that I believe is gonna help us better understand the Bible so we can get more out of our time studying God's word.
So here are the questions, seven questions to help you get more out of the Bible. Question number one, if you are taking notes, if you're not taking notes, you need to 'cause we're gonna cover a lot of stuff. And this is the kind of message where you wanna take notes so that you can come back to it. So question number one, what is the Bible? Like super basic, what is the Bible? And this is so important for us to answer because if you don't know what a thing is then you're not gonna know what to do with it, right. I remember one time in my life I got asked it was whenever I was an intern at the church, I got asked to like cut some stuff and I couldn't find like a real knife. So I used this weird dull half knife thing and it was just the most difficult process ever. And it took me way longer to do what I was supposed to do because I didn't know what the tool I was using was. And I just tried to use it in a way that it was not meant to be used. And unfortunately, because so many of us don't actually know what the Bible is. We end up using it in ways it wasn't meant to be used.
So the first question we're gonna talk about is what is the Bible? Question number two, how does this part of the Bible, so this is when we're reading a book of the Bible a passage or verse, how does this part of the Bible fit into the overarching story? Because context is everything, right? Like when we are reading a book almost every other book on the planet, we're reading it. And we're not just gonna like find one sentence in the middle of that book and just read that and never actually look around what's happening. We're going to look at the context. We're gonna ask the questions. Okay, what happened before? That's what happened after this. And that's what's gonna help us actually understand what that part of the story means.
Third question, who is the author? So if you were to get a text message that had the exact same words from your mom and from your best friend even if the text message says the same words because it's from different people you're going to interpret those words in a different way. And we've gotta understand is that the Bible is a collection of writings from dozens of authors over thousands of years. And each of those authors approaches their specific book of the Bible or their passage that they're writing from a different angle and knowing who the author is, will help us better understand what it is that they're trying to tell us.
The next question, question number four, who is the audience? Right, so similar idea to what we just talked about. We gotta know the author, but we've also gotta know the audience the original audience that this passage or book of the Bible was written to, because yes the Bible is absolutely God's word for us but it wasn't originally written to us. And when we can begin to understand who the original audience was, it will help us understand how to interpret it, right? Another example would be, say you've got a friend who is going through a really hard time, right? The advice you give them is going to be based on whatever it is that they're struggling with, right? You're not gonna give the same advice to a friend who is struggling because their parents are going through a divorce that you are to a friend who is just really upset because their boyfriend broke up with them, right? It's gonna be different advice depending on the person you're giving it to. So that was who is the audience?
The fifth question, what is the historical and cultural context for when this took place? I'm gonna say it again. Context is everything, right? And the thing about the Bible that makes it both so beautiful and also so challenging is that, like I said already, it was written by dozens of authors, over the course of thousands of years, to people who lived in a different place, spoke a different language, and lived in a different culture than us. And when we can begin to understand more of the specific context, the things that were happening in their world, it will help us better understand how to apply those truths to our world today.
The next question, what point is the author trying to make? What point is the author trying to make? Knowing why something was written helps us interpret what it's meant to mean, right? If you know why somebody is saying something or asking something, it makes it so much easier to understand what all that they're doing.
And then finally, the last question is this how does this portion of scripture help us become the kind of person who can love others the same way that Jesus has loved us? I will argue all day long that everything in the Bible is meant to help us be transformed into the kind of person that can love others the same way that God has loved us because in the New Testament, in John's gospel chapter 13, verses 34 and 35 there's this moment where Jesus is at the last supper with his disciples before He goes to the cross to be killed. And he tells them, hey, I'm starting a new covenant, a new relationship with you and with humanity and this new covenant is gonna be defined by a new commandment. That commandment is this, to love one another the same way that I have loved you. And I will argue all day long like I said, that all of the Bible is trying to transform us into those kind of people. The kinds of people can love others the same way that God has loved us. So those are the questions, I'm gonna run through them real quick again. And then we're gonna jump into a chapter of the Bible. We're gonna read through the whole thing. And then we're gonna go back through that chapter with these questions to help us get a better idea of what the author was actually trying to say, so that we can figure how to live it out in our lives today.
So the first question, what is the Bible? Then, how does this part of the Bible fit into the overarching story? Who is the author? Who is the audience? What is the historical and cultural context for when this took place? What point is the author trying to make? And finally, how does this portion of scripture help us become the kind of person who can love others the same way that Jesus has loved us? So let's get ready to dive in to the first chapter of the entire Bible, Genesis chapter one, now real quick, because I know that there are gonna be some of you who as soon as I start reading this, you're gonna have all of your preconceived notions of what this chapter is trying to say. Put those on pause. Just allow yourself to read along with me, to hear these words, and start asking the questions that we just walked through, instead of focusing on what is commonly the debate about Genesis one, which most people, when they read this they're just asking the question, okay, is it supposed to be literally seven days that God made all of the creation? Or is that like figuratively? And we'll get to that in a minute, but first put that on pause, read these words with me, follow along with me.
And then we'll walk through step by step to help us better understand the beauty that's found in these words, so that we can understand how to live it out in our world today. So starting in Genesis chapter one, verse one, here's what we read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day and the darkness He called night. And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. And then God said, 'Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.' So God made the vault and he separated the water under the volt from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault sky. And then there was evening and there was morning".
That was the second day. Then in verse nine, "God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.' And it was so. God called the dry ground land, and the gathered waters He called seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation, seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so. The land, it produced vegetation. There were plants bearing seed, according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day".
Then in verse 14, "God said, 'Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.' And it was so. God made two great lights, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night. and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And then God said, 'Let the water teem with living creatures, let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.' So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water and the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.' And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And then God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds, the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, the wild animals each according to its kind.' And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock, according to their kinds and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good".
Then in verse 26, "God says, 'Let us us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them. And He said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it, rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.' And then God said, 'I give you every seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground, everything that has the breath of life in it. I give every green plant for food.' And it was so. God saw all that He had made and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus, the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. And by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day, He rested from all of His work. Then God blessed the seventh day, He made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done".
So, what is the Bible? I think that when we begin to understand what the Bible is it will help us hear and read these words and put them in their proper context. Because until we can understand what something meant back then we'll never understand what it's supposed to mean now. So what is the Bible? I'll tell you what it's not. The Bible is not meant to be a textbook with the answers to all of our questions. It's not a rule book with all the rules to life, that if you break them, God will punish you. It's not a book of inspiring quotes it's supposed to make you feel good when you're feeling bad. The Bible isn't a lab report that gives us the scientific answers to all of our questions about nature. The Bible includes a little bit of all of those things but it is so much more than any of those things. The Bible is a story that imparts wisdom and leads us to Jesus. It's the story of God's redemptive plan to rescue humanity and restore creation, right?
It is a story, written by dozens of authors across thousands of years. That is all telling the same story, the story of God and the story of us. And that entire story is meant to bring us to the person of Jesus. And hopefully along the way we will develop the wisdom to live in our day as He has called us to live. What is the Bible? It is the story of how God has been moving in history. So then the second question becomes, how does this part of the Bible fit into that overarching story? So if we look at Genesis one through the lens of this being the introduction to God's story, because ultimately if this is the first chapter of the Bible what this is doing, is it's sort of setting the stage for the story that God is telling, right? It's an introduction to the biblical narrative. And this very first chapter kind of acts like a preface to a book. It's kind of like giving you the main characters. And I think when we see that idea that then helps us when we get later to the the point the author is trying to make, we'll get there in a minute, but first we've gotta talk about, all right, what is the Bible? It's a story that imparts wisdom and leads us to Jesus.
Then how does this part of the Bible Genesis one fit into that overarching story? It's the introduction to the biblical narrative. It's setting the stage for where God is gonna take us from here. The third question, who is the author? So the author of Genesis and the first five books of the Bible, those are attributed to Moses. Who's one of the greatest prophets in the Jewish tradition. And what you've gotta understand about Moses is that Moses was born as a slave. He was raised as a Prince and he is remembered as a prophet because he is delivering these words to the people of Israel at a very key time in their history that we'll talk about in just a moment. So Moses is the one that is attributed with these words from Genesis. Then in question number four, we're asking the question, who is the audience?
Right, so if Moses is the author the audience are the Hebrew people. These are the descendants of Abraham. And there are a group of people that God had chosen to become a nation that He would use to bless all the nations. So what's the historical and cultural context for when this took place? And this is so important for our understanding of Genesis because Moses is delivering these words to the Hebrew people right after they had been freed from slavery in Egypt by God. So for the last 400 years these people were living in Egypt. A different place that worshiped different gods. And for about 200 of those 400 years, the Hebrew people were slaves to the Egyptians. And so all of a sudden God shows up, He frees them from slavery, calls them to be His people. That story is told in the book of Exodus but these people are basically wandering through the wilderness, following this God who just freed them after having spent the last 200 years as slaves.
Can you imagine what it would be like for the first time ever to have tasted freedom? And the freedom came from a God that you don't really know anything about. And so that helps us understand the answer to question number five, oh, sorry, question number six. What point is the author trying to make? I think the point that Moses is trying to make, the thing he's trying to teach the Hebrew people, he's trying to teach them who God is. He's trying to help them understand what it really means to be human. He's trying to show them how we as human beings are meant to relate to God because what's so beautiful about this chapter of the Bible is that the biblical story of creation begins with a loving creator. And it's incredible when you compare Genesis one to the other creation stories from ancient near Eastern cultures, because there are parts that are actually really, really similar, but there are other parts that are incredibly different. And it's in those differences where Moses is helping the Hebrew people understand that this God who freed them from slavery is a very different God, who has called them to be a very different people because Genesis one presents God as a loving creator.
And then later on in Genesis one what we read is this idea that God made human beings in His image. That to be human means to be made in the image of God. That means that on page one of the Bible what Moses is teaching the Hebrew people what God wants us to know, that on the first page of our story, that our lives are infused with purpose, with value, and with dignity. And if you can imagine how these words would have sounded to a group of people who had spent hundreds of years as slaves, where basically their value was based on how many bricks they could make. All of a sudden what they're being told is that their value, that your value doesn't come from what you do, but from the God who made you, that you were created in the image of a loving creator, that means inside of you is the capacity for love and creativity.
You are more than a slave, which takes us to the third thing that Moses was teaching them. Who is God? What does it mean to be human? And how do we relate to this God? Because this God didn't create humanity to be slaves of Him. God created us to partner with Him. He literally gave human beings, the job, of ruling over creation to partner with Him in stewarding all that He had created. Can you imagine in a moment they went from slaves in Egypt to partners with God. Now, all of a sudden the question about, okay, but like how old is the earth? We start to realize that that's not at all what Moses was trying to talk about, is the answer in there somewhere, maybe, but that's not the main purpose of what Genesis one is about. And when we can let go of that question and start understanding that the Bible is a story that imparts wisdom and leads us to Jesus. Then instead of getting hung up on 21st century arguments, we can start to understand what these ancient people were walking through, the truth that was being presented to them and how that applies to our lives today, that your God is a loving creator, that you have been made in His image. And that you've been called to partner with Him.
So the last question, how does this portion of scripture help us become the kind of person who can love others the same way that Jesus has loved us? Well, I think it changes everything because I think that far too many of us have lost sight of the reality that in the beginning, God created everything as an act of love and He called His creation good. And that you, as a human being were made in His image to partner with Him. When we get that into our minds that the foundation of creation is a loving creator. That changes how we see everything. When we recognize that every single person we interact with is not just Adams bumping against Adams but they're a walking, talking, living, breathing image of God, that changes how we see them. And when we begin to understand that from the very beginning we were created by God, to partner with Him. All of a sudden the gospel becomes so much more than a get out of jail free card. It becomes an invitation to get our old jobs back, the job of partnering with the God of creation.
So what is the Bible? It's this beautiful, incredible story that imparts wisdom and leads us to Jesus. And when we, as followers of Christ can understand how to actually read the Bible. I'm telling you, what's gonna happen is that God will use those words that were written hundreds and thousands of years ago to transform you into the kind of person that can love others the same way that He has loved us. To transform you into the kind of person that can partner with Him in ruling creation, the kind of person that can bring heaven to earth. So I hope that as we kick off this new year that you are being intentional about becoming that kind of person, taking the time, creating the habits, putting in the work, to read, to understand, and to live God's word, because that changes everything. Let's pray:
Heavenly Father. I thank you so much for the fact that you have provided this truth to us today. This truth that was written hundreds and thousands of years ago, but it's still relevant to our lives today. God, I pray that every single one of us would put in the work to try to answer these questions to understand what it is that you want us to know from these words that were written. And God what I know is that there are some of our students that are here right now that are hearing this message. They're listening to it. And they realize that, man, I wanna understand the Bible better. I wanna make reading the Bible a habit.
If that's you lift your hand wherever you are type it in the chat, say, "Yes, that's me". And I just wanna simply pray for you that God would give you discipline. He would give you wisdom. As you embark on this journey.
Heavenly Father I pray for those students, that God you would give them eyes to see the truth that is found all throughout the biblical story. That God you would give them the discipline to make this an important, consistent part of their day. God, I pray that through the wisdom found in your word that they would be transformed into the kinds of people that can love others the same way that you have loved us.
Still in an attitude of prayer. What I know is that there are others of you who as you're hearing the story of God and the story of us, which you realize is that the story that you've been living is one that isn't good. It's one that probably is leading you in directions that you don't want to be going. And you feel like today is the day that you finally do something different. What I need you to understand is that the story that God is writing is a story that we're all invited to be a part of. You see, from the very beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created human beings and He said it was good. And then He said, it was very good.
But the problem is that as human beings there was a moment where we rebelled against God. We turned our backs on Him. We did things to hurt ourselves and others and sin entered the picture. And that sin separated us from God. We turned our backs on Him, but from the beginning God has been pursuing you. And wherever you are in this moment God is longing to be in a relationship with you. He's just waiting for you to turn to Him and God so passionate about this that 2000 years ago, He entered history. The story that he's been writing from the beginning in the person of Jesus and as the perSon Jesus, God lived a perfect life. He died a brutal death, but He did not stay dead. He Rose from the grave so that anybody who puts their trust in Him would be saved. They'd be forgiven. They would be made new. Their sins would be washed away. They would be reunited with God, restored to their role of partnering with Him.
And that's exactly why you're here today. You are done with the shame, with the bitterness, with the pain, and with the regret that you've been living with. You're ready to turn from that and to turn to God. If that's you, wherever you are, lift your hand right now type it in the chat, click on the link, letting us know that you're making that decision. Saying Jesus, today. I give you my life. I'm turning my back on my old ways. And I am turning towards you wherever you are. As you're making that decision. I need you to know that there is no better choice that you could ever make, because in that moment everything changed, in that moment, you were no longer defined by your sin but defined by God's love for you. And now as a church, all across the world as we are gathering together, we're gonna pray with you. All of us together, repeating after me:
Dear Jesus, forgive me. I'm turning from my sin. I'm turning towards you. I need your love. I need your grace. I need your mercy. Today, I give you my life. In Jesus name. Amen. Amen. And amen.