What is the Bible? What is it about this book that has made it the number one best selling book of all time?
In my opinion, the bible is not just another book full of interesting stories and rules for living. No, it is much, much more than that.
The bible is the Book of Life. It contains the words of God given to man for the purpose of teaching man how to live in accordance with God's will. It provides teachings, examples, methods and instruction that if followed will lead us to life, both a better life now and a future everlasting life.
No other book written by man can do this or has the power to do this and the reason why is that every other book on earth is written by man. But the bible is written by God. It is the inspired words of God written down and recorded by faithful and just men for the purpose of bringing man back into communion with God.
How Should We Use It?
Let us look at this scripture under study today. It says,
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. – (Romans 15:4)
The first thing we see is that the words contained in the scriptures were written down for our instruction.
We are to be instructed by the words of the bible. To be instructed means we need to learn what the words are that are written in the bible. We need to study the words and meditate on them. We need to immerse ourselves in the words of the bible so that as situations arise, the wisdom contained in the words of the bible will come to us to lead and guide us in what is right.
Some time ago I found some sad and worrying statistics. These statistics come from an extensive survey of Bible by the Barna Group on behalf of the American Bible Society entitled: “The State of The Bible 2013” (Click link to see full report)
In this report it was discovered that 88% of households in the USA own bibles. But the lack of readership of those bibles is staggeringly low. The report shows readership as follows:
One-fourth of adults (26%) say they never read the Bible, 12% read it less than once a year, and 10% read it only once or twice a year, not including times when they are at a church service or church event. These segments combined represent non-Bible readers.
Thirteen percent say they read the Bible daily. Another 13% spend time in scripture several times per week, 8% read it once a week, 7% read the Bible once a month, and 9% read it three to four times a year. Therefore, the total proportion of Bible readers (read the Bible at least three to four times a year) is 50% of adults. (The State of The Bible 2013, Barna Group Report for the American Bible Society, p15)
If we tally up some of those numbers we see that only 34% of people in the USA read the bible once a week or more frequently despite the fact that 88% of households own a bible, and when you look at the detail most households have more than one bible (the median ownership rate for all households was 3.5 bibles).
At the other end of the scale we see that of those who DO read the bible (I.e. Ignoring the 26% who never read the bible), 12% read it less than once a year and 10% read it no more than once or twice per year. Add to this the 9% who read the bible 3-4 times a year and a further 7% who read it about once a month and we see that the infrequent readership of the bible represents 38% of people in the USA.
I should add also that I do not believe the situation is much different anywhere else in the western world, and in some places I would expect it to be even worse.
That is a staggering statistic when we understand just what the bible is. It is the words of God that give us hope, peace and life. It is the guiding light that leads us through the troubled waters of this world.
How can anyone receive the instruction of the bible as we are told in Romans 15:4 if they are not reading the bible in the first place? You cannot learn if you do not seek! The first thing all Christians must do is begin seeking. Open those bibles and start reading them. Pray about what you read. Ask the Lord for insight and to guide you to teachers who rightly hold fast to the truth.
The second thing we see in the Romans 15:4 scripture is that there is a need for endurance.
When we study the scriptures we need to endure and work through the teachings as we learn to apply them in our lives. Nothing worth having comes without work and especially the life offered us in Jesus Christ. It will require endurance because we are going against the grain. This world is controlled by forces that oppose God and they will oppose all who seek to do His will.
But as the third part of this scripture shows us, the scriptures encourage us when we study and absorb and immerse ourselves in them.
Even in times of great dread and terror, as we see in the world today, there is encouragement in the scriptures.
All of the acts of terror that are going on today, even the beheadings that some Christians have had to suffer, give me encouragement because all of these things were foretold in the scriptures several thousand years ago. We know they must happen and are going to happen and that proves to me that God is in control because He showed us these things before they took place.
Thus there is reason to be comforted and encouraged in the scriptures because they show us what is happening as well as how to deal with these things.
But to gain that encouragement and comfort from the scriptures, you have to first read them and learn them so that as situations arise you are prepared.
The Ten Virgins
There is an interesting parable in the bible that seems to speak to these statistics quite well. It is the parable of the ten virgins.
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise answered, saying, 'Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.' 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. – Matthew 25:1-13
There are several teachings in this parable, but the simplest one I want to point out here is that the five virgins who did not take enough oil for their lamps were not prepared for the coming of the Lord. Note firstly that they were invited to the marriage feast, so they were not outsiders. To put it into proper perspective, all of these “virgins” were Christians. And you will note that of those virgins invited to the marriage feast, only five or 50% were prepared and had enough of the oil to keep their lamps alight.
In other places oil is often used as a metaphor for knowledge and insight. People often even talk about “getting the good oil” when seeking information on some subject. So using this analogy we see that the five virgins who were unprepared did not have sufficient knowledge or insight to allow them to gain entry into the marriage feast, that is, into the kingdom of God. They were simply not ready and unprepared.
Now if we go back to the statistics from the Barna Group survey, we see that 26% of people never read the bible. Linking that back to the ten virgins, these people would not even be invited to the marriage feast as they would include atheists, agnostics and the devotees of eastern religions, paganism and the who do not accept God let alone Jesus Christ.
So that leaves 74% who do read the bible at some time. Of those who do read the bible, 34% read it once a week or more frequently and that is roughly half of the 74% who might be described under the parable of the virgins as being invited to the wedding feast. These might be the ones who are prepared whereas the other half or so who read the bible infrequently may be those who are the five virgins that ran out of oil and were told to go and seek more.
I must add here also that readership of the bible will not guarantee entry into the kingdom of God. There are many atheists and agnostics who read the bible, and then mock it! And there are people who read the bible regularly but do not live the life described therein. As James put it, they may say they have faith but their actions and deeds do not show their faith.
But…I will definitely say that if we want to grow in our faith and have a better chance of coming into God's kingdom, we need to be prepared. We need to learn how to worship God and what pleases Him. We need to come to God on His terms not on ours. We need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and be obedient to His will.
How can we do any of this if we don't know what His will and His ways are like? And the only place to find out is in the bible.
The final aspect of Romans 15:4 is that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.
There is tremendous hope in the scriptures both in this life and in the hope of salvation for eternal life with Christ.
When we see the events unfolding around us as they were prophesied and described in the bible we have hope because we know that the words of God as written in the bible are true and are being fulfilled.
We have hope because we see that when we learn the pathways of life as described in the bible and apply them in our day to day lives, our life becomes easier, less stressful and more joyful. We find hope in all that the bible teaches us because we grow stronger in faith and in the knowledge that the Lord God our Father and the Saviour Jesus Christ care for us and have us under their protection.
Even those who suffer for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ do not suffer unnecessarily. The Lord has promised that suffering is only temporary and He will restore, establish and strengthen us after we have suffered a little while as it says in 1 Peter 5:6-11.
And even if we take it to the extreme and some suffer to the death as we have seen some in recent times who were beheaded for their faith in Jesus Christ, we know that this death is not final. And if we die now we go to be with the Lord and that is better than the stresses, strains, anguish, problems and worries of this life.
No. There is great hope to be had in the words of the bible, if we will spend the time to seek them out and to absorb what it tells us. These are the words of life and they are to be found nowhere else for they are the words of the one true God who is Father of us all, and His Son, our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
So study the words and be encouraged and strengthened in them. Seek out the knowledge and wisdom of God that is contained in the bible. And when you have doubts or do not understand the words, pray and ask God for the insights and He WILL answer. He wants His people to know what He is doing and what He has in store for those who seek His ways. So come to Jesus Christ and learn all that He has to give you and be blessed in the hope of His salvation through the words of the bible.
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