Some of his [Paul’s] comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. [2 Peter 3:16 (NLT)]
“You have to drill through mud and water to get oil; you have to sift through sand and silt to get gold; you have to chop and hack through stone to get diamonds. So why do so many people feel that the treasure of ideas should come to them with little or no effort?” asked Sydney J. Harris. Even though he wasn’t referring to the Bible, the journalist’s words made me think of the way we often approach Scripture; complaining that it’s too hard to understand, we simply don’t study it!
If we’ll put forth effort to perfect our golf or tennis swing, train for a marathon, master chess or bridge, plant a garden, or become a gourmet cook, I wonder why we think understanding Scripture should be effortless. It’s only natural that words penned by 40 (or more) people, between 1400 BC to 90 AD, in a wide variety of genres, in another language, and shaped by different cultures and traditions, require some work to comprehend. Scripture’s words were God breathed by the One who created words and thoughts! He is greater than any novelist or journalist so we should expect His words and ideas to be more difficult to understand than theirs! But, because of the effort required to understand them, many of us don’t bother and stick to a few favorite stories, verses and Psalms.
During this sheltering in place, our church conducted an online Bible study and, after thirteen weeks of video lectures given by Biblical scholar N. T. Wright, we finally completed our study of Philippians. In some sessions, Professor Wright walked us through as few as five verses, but the way he shed light on Paul’s circumstances, the Philippians’ society and environment, the political situation of the time, the original Greek meaning of many of the words, the way Paul’s words in Philippians related to his other letters, and what the Apostle’s words meant to us, was immensely rewarding. It was like taking a beautiful old piece of heavily tarnished silver and polishing it. Before this study, I appreciated Philippians the way I might the tarnished silver piece. After studying the epistle in depth, however, the profoundness of Paul’s words were uncovered the same way silver’s true beauty is revealed when it’s polished! Polishing silver, however, takes “elbow grease” and comprehending Scripture takes effort, as well.
Admittedly, understanding Bible passages and spiritual concepts can be challenging but that shouldn’t discourage or surprise us. Even the Apostle Peter admitted the difficulty of comprehending Paul’s words! Nevertheless, the Apostle knew the importance of trying to understand Scripture to avoid being misled. Peter was concerned about teachers who claimed that Christ’s followers could still live immoral lives. Today’s false teachers may be spouting other nonsense but, without our making the effort to study Scripture, we won’t recognize their errors.
Since each Bible study on Philippians lasted about 45 minutes, we spent around 585 minutes on four chapters. That sounds like a lot of time until we consider the 52 billion-plus minutes of The Office that were streamed by Netflix users in 2018 or the 437 billion minutes spent watching NFL and college football’s regular seasons that same year.
For the last several years, I’ve devoted a part of every day to studying Scripture. I still can’t quote chapter and verse, but my life is fuller and more purposeful because of its words. It’s worth the effort because, like mining for diamonds, each time I dig deep into God’s word, another beautiful gem appears.
The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. [Harper Lee]