The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. [Psalm 19:7-8 (NLT)]
If I read a novel simply by searching through it for a few choice sentences, I’d miss the whole plot! I could quote Scarlett’s last words “After all, tomorrow is another day,” but I wouldn’t know why she said it nor would I know why Rhett said he didn’t give a damn! If I picked out just a few sentences in A Tale of Two Cities, I’d never know why Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or even the names of the two cities! While I might be able to quote Santiago’s belief that, ”A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” I wouldn’t know if that proved true without finishing The Old Man and the Sea. Reading only bits and pieces, I’d never know that it was an escaped convict, not Miss Havisham, who was Pip’s benefactor in Great Expectations, that Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester had a lunatic wife in the attic, or the identity of the killer in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
Since we don’t read novels haphazardly, I wonder why we tend to do that with the Bible. Rather than a work of fiction, it’s the Word of God! Moreover, we can get in trouble by reading out of context and basing our faith and lives on a few select verses. The story is told of a man, plagued by guilt, who sought spiritual guidance in his Bible. Opening it randomly to Matthew 27, he closed his eyes and placed his finger on the page. It came to rest on verse 5 in which the remorseful Judas went out and hung himself. Wanting clarification and further guidance, the man flipped to another page and randomly selected a new verse. It was Luke 10:37 when, following the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” For that man, reading the Bible as a random series of verses and instructions had tragic consequences. We must be cautious of thinking of Scripture as a faith-based version of a Magic 8-ball. Opening it randomly and putting a finger on a verse to select our course of action is not its purpose.
In spite of its 66 books, 1,189 chapters, and 31,173 verses, the Bible is not a series of unconnected short stories or unrelated verses—it is the continuous story of God’s relationship to man and deserves to be read that way. Individual verses aren’t meant to be read alone; they need to be read in context. The chapter and verse numbers are there solely to make it easier for us to locate passages and are no more part of the Bible than are its page numbers. If we’re not going to read at an entire chapter at a sitting, we’d be wise to follow the advice found in the Talmud: “He that reads in the Torah may not read less than three verses.” [m. Meg. 4.4]
The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. [A.W. Tozer]