Learn, Live and Love the Bible

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The Bible is boring, I concluded. I was about 10 years old, had some reverence for the Bible and decided I should read it—from Genesis to the maps at the back. I didn't get very far.

I was proud of my progress until I almost crashed in chapter 5, a boring genealogical record. However, being a sequential person who hadn't learned when to skim or skip while reading, I struggled my way through, verse by verse. But then in chapter 10 I hit another genealogical record! At that point I gave up on the Old Testament.

At least I'll read the New Testament, I thought. Surely it would be more interesting. But the New Testament begins with a genealogical record! Though somewhat ashamed of my lack of spirituality and commitment, I gave up on reading the Bible. Based on my unfair sampling, I decided it was not very user-friendly.

Then when I was 12, one of my younger brothers died. I began to think much more seriously about the meaning of life and about life after death. Looking back on it, I see how God gradually used that painful memory to begin to turn my life around.

The real turning point

But I didn't read the Bible until I was forced to. A required one-semester university course for engineering students was "Survey of the Bible." We were assigned to read a wide variety of selections throughout the Bible. That opened my eyes. I was fascinated and amazed at much of what I read!

I learned many impressive things about the Bible, including how it ranks right at the top among mankind's greatest works of literature. Even in secular writing, the Bible is quoted, knowingly and unknowingly, far more than any other book.

Also I came to appreciate the meaning of the Judeo-Christian heritage— the profound influence the Bible has had on Western civilization. Today one can buy whole books of quotes from many of America 's founding fathers stating their strong beliefs in the Bible.

That class was the great turning point of my life. I soon began requesting publications (like those offered free in The Good News ) that gave clear and wonderful explanations of virtually every subject and section of the Bible. A whole new world had opened up to me. I was discovering how valid and valuable the Scriptures are—how reliable and relevant they prove to everyday life. My perspective on everything changed— and changed for the better.

Above all, I was not only learning about God, I was coming to know God in a real and personal way. From then on when I read the Bible, it was God talking to me!

At the same time, I was studying a lot of science and math. It became clear to me that every detail in the universe is the result of perfect planning, engineering and construction—it could not have happened by accident! I figured that if the Bible is from God, it too must be absolutely perfect—and I set out to prove whether this is so.

Indeed, God has revealed Himself in two ways—His words (the Bible) and His works (the creation we see around us) (compare Psalms 19:1-4 Psalms 19:1-4 [1] The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. [2] Day to day utters speech, and night to night shows knowledge. [3] There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. [4] Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun,
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; Romans 1:20 Romans 1:20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
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The Maker's instruction manual

Of all the earth's creatures, it's obvious that human beings are unique. We have magnificent minds with amazing intellectual capacities. Human minds also have spiritual potential and a hunger for spirituality. This is not surprising once we learn that "God created man in His own image"—in the image of God Himself—to have an intimate relationship with Him! (Genesis 1:27 Genesis 1:27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
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All physical life-forms are governed mainly by instinct, except for human beings. We need a roadmap—a guidebook for life—or else our intellectual and spiritual interests will go in all the wrong directions.

It makes no sense that God would create His masterpiece and then leave us in the dark as to why we are here. God indeed did give us His revelation of what we need to know but could not learn on our own. It is a handbook for life that we call the Bible.

The English word "Bible" is derived from the Greek word biblion— meaning "books." The Bible is a collection of 66 books—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. These were composed by about 40 writers with different writing styles, living in 10 countries, over about 1,500 years!

However, miracle of miracles—in spite of the Bible's great diversity, there is astounding unity. It is consistent and coherent all the way through.

How could that be? It is because God inspired and directed every writer. Thus the real Author behind the scenes was always God (2 Timothy 3:16 2 Timothy 3:16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
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So the Bible is also one book. It is the Book—the Book of books. Many religions claim to have a sacred book. But the Holy Bible is exactly that— God's Book. It is divine revelation to man and therefore the literal and actual "Word of God." It is complete, and God warns in the Old and New Testaments not to add to it or take away from it (Deuteronomy 12:32 Deuteronomy 12:32What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
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; Revelation 22:18-19 Revelation 22:18-19 [18] For I testify to every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book: [19] And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
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In fact, the Bible even gives us myriad first-person quotes from God that are introduced by such words as "Thus says the Lord . . ."

One Bible in two parts

Ironically, many Christians ignore the Old Testament as being irrelevant, while most Jews reject the New Testament. Both views are wrong. Together the two testaments constitute the written Word of God. The New Testament cannot be properly understood without a foundational knowledge of the Old, and the Old Testament must be understood in the light of the New. They complement and complete each other.

Jesus Christ and the writers of the New Testament repeatedly quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament. For many years they were the only Scriptures the early Christian Church had. These Scriptures, as amplified by Jesus' own statements, were the basis for Christian teachings and practices. Later, by the time the apostle Peter wrote his second epistle, some parts of what became the New Testament were also being accepted as "Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16 2 Peter 3:16As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.
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Many people erroneously believe that during His ministry Jesus Christ criticized the Pharisees and other Jews for teaching and living by the Old Testament. Not so. Jesus scolded them for not living by the Scriptures! It was as if they had not even read the Scriptures, because Jesus repeatedly asked, "Have you not read . . . ?" Jesus also said, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition" (Mark 7:9 Mark 7:9And he said to them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
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; see verses 5-13).

Today, Judaism is much the same. Plus, most of Christianity favors human religious traditions over the Bible, and many of those traditions are in conflict with the Bible.

What comes from God is perfect. The original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts of the Bible were infallible (although no human translation of those texts is perfect). The Bible is true and it is truth—the ultimate truth (John 17:17 John 17:17Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
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The Bible should serve as the foundation for all areas of knowledge. Harmony with the Bible is the ultimate filter or test of truth. If an idea or theory is in conflict with the Bible, it cannot be correct. The Bible is especially necessary for understanding the absolutes of life, such as what is good and what is evil.

New Testament Church vs. today's skepticism

Notice this emphatic statement by the apostle Paul: "But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets" (Acts 24:14 Acts 24:14But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
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). True Christianity was called "the Way"—for it is a way of life, not just a belief.

And "the Law and the Prophets" here is a reference to what we call the Old Testament. So Paul said he believed all things in the Old Testament! Many "Christians" today don't believe everything in the New Testament, much less the Old Testament!

In today's world, the tragic trend is toward disbelief in and apathy toward the Bible. "Christianity" is increasingly disconnected from the Bible. Most professing Christians don't even read the Bible, and even fewer obey its teachings. Many of the beliefs and practices that they assume come from the Bible in fact do not.

Many people avoid reading the Bible—and some even hate it—because they know or suspect that it will correct them for sins and other habits they are not willing to give up.

We are also increasingly bombarded with skepticism and attacks against Christianity and especially Bible-based beliefs. Some claim only the "uneducated" would hold such beliefs. As Jude 18 notes, there will be "mockers" as the end of this age of man draws near.

All of this can be quite confusing and intimidating.

This is where you need courage. Be much more concerned about what God thinks than what any man thinks. Don't rely on someone else to tell you what the Bible says. Read it for yourself! Swim upstream. Be among the few who choose the "narrow gate" that leads to life, not the many who choose the easy "broad gate" that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 [13] Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: [14] Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
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Keep this in mind. Noah preached the truth all the time he was building the ark, but only eight people believed and were saved from the Flood (2 Peter 2:5 2 Peter 2:5And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;
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). Jesus Christ preached to multitudes for more than three years, but His Church began with only 120 disciples (Acts 1:15 Acts 1:15And in those days Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
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). Be among the few who listen well. Then go do the right thing!

The Bible is "good news"!

The message of Jesus and the apostles was called "the gospel." The word gospel comes from the Old English godspel, meaning "good news." But good news of what? Most Christians could not tell you exactly.

It was "the gospel of the kingdom of God " (Mark 1:14 Mark 1:14Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
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). So Christ preached the good news about His future return to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, and how human beings can become a part of that eternal Kingdom and family of God! It truly is a message of hope for all mankind (Romans 15:4 Romans 15:4For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
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We may think of the gospel as being in the New Testament, yet this message is also found throughout the Old. Indeed, all of the Bible is interrelated, so in one sense the gospel is the entire Bible. Scripture has a great deal of bad news about "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4 Galatians 1:4Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
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), but the long-range news is wonderful—a soon-coming new world under the reign of Jesus Christ!

Keys to understanding the Bible

How can you get the most out of reading and studying the Bible? Following are some important keys.

Take time— make time—out of your busy life to devote to daily Bible reading. Make it a high priority. Many great and successful men and women have been dedicated daily Bible readers. Even some U.S. presidents followed this practice while occupying that enormously important office. If they made time for daily Bible reading, if they could
fit that in, why can't you?

Reflect and think deeply about what you read, and consider how you will apply the lessons in your life. You cannot make a better investment of your time.

For understanding, pray for God's help. "Ask, and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7 Matthew 7:7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:
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). Prayer and Bible study go hand in hand (you may want to review the first article in this series, "The Privilege and Power of Prayer," in the last issue of The Good News).

Be sure to take advantage of human and technical resources. When an Ethiopian official was reading the book of Isaiah, Philip asked him, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The man responded, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" (Acts 8:26-31 Acts 8:26-31 [26] And the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert. [27] And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, [28] Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. [29] Then the Spirit said to Philip, Go near, and join yourself to this chariot. [30] And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understand you what you read? [31] And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
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). It helps tremendously to have Bible teachers show you where to look for answers to life's important questions. So we invite you to ask for help from United Church of God as well. We offer many free resources that are crucial for gaining a foundation of biblical understanding (see "How to Read, Study and Understand the Bible").

Note that the Bible can be understood on many levels. A person with no interest in God can read through the Bible and gain much understanding of history (His story!), human relationships and many other subjects. Scripture is full of great wisdom.

But to understand the Bible on a deeply spiritual level requires the reader to meet some important conditions. One key is a humble, teachable attitude— being receptive and responsive to God's instructions!

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalms 111:10 Psalms 111:10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endures for ever.
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). To really comprehend God's Word requires an attitude of deep reverence for Him and submission to His authority. God blesses readers with understanding when they are willing to apply and obey what they learn.

Consider the significance of what Jesus said in Luke 4:4 Luke 4:4And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
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: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God."

It should first be observed that the purpose of God's Word is for us to live by it.

Second, this is what strengthens and sustains us spiritually as bread does physically.

Third, we should have an enquiring mind hungering for God's Word.

Fourth, Jesus included every word of God, not just some of the words of God.

Fifth, how can we live by the words of God if we have not read them?

Sixth, "you are what you eat." Ingesting the words of God can make us increasingly godly.

Even children can gain a remarkable understanding of the Bible, partly because they tend to have humble, teachable attitudes. Especially if you have children or grandchildren at home, be sure to read the article "Teach Your Children With Family Bible Study".

Also remember that God's thoughts are infinitely higher than our human thoughts (Isaiah 55:9-11 Isaiah 55:9-11 [9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. [10] For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: [11] So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
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). God's Spirit is essential to an ever-deepening understanding of spiritual truth and the power to live by that truth. Future articles in this series will cover the wonderful process for obtaining the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the meantime, for more understanding of this vital subject, request our free booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.

The Bible? Priceless!

God's revelation of how He will bring human beings into the Kingdom of God is a "treasure"—the "pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:44-46 Matthew 13:44-46 [44] Again, the kingdom of heaven is like to treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. [45] Again, the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: [46] Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
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; see also Proverbs 3:13-18 Proverbs 3:13-18 [13] Happy is the man that finds wisdom, and the man that gets understanding. [14] For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. [15] She is more precious than rubies: and all the things you can desire are not to be compared to her. [16] Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honor. [17] Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. [18] She is a tree of life to them that lay hold on her: and happy is every one that retains her.
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). It is worth every sacrifice. God wants us to dig and seek and search with our whole hearts to enter His Kingdom.

One definition of "disciple" is "student," so God would have us all become students of Jesus Christ. Blow the dust off your Bible then. Open your Bible and open your heart to listen to what God has to tell you.

Bible reading is "profitable" for many reasons (2 Timothy 3:16-17 2 Timothy 3:16-17 [16] All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: [17] That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.
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). The Berean believers were called "noble" because they "searched the scriptures daily," making sure that what was being preached to them conformed to its teachings (Acts 17:11 Acts 17:11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
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, King James Version).

Bible study is a serious matter. The only reliable security we can have in this life is God. If we don't hear today, we can be gone tomorrow. What really matters is life after death. For that, we must become disciples and "doers of the word" (James 1:21-25 James 1:21-25 [21] Why lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. [22] But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. [23] For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like to a man beholding his natural face in a glass: [24] For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. [25] But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
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). And any sacrifices we make in this life are tiny compared to the glorious everlasting life God is offering us (Romans 8:18 Romans 8:18For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
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The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119. How fitting that it is an extensive love song praising God for His Word and His laws! The writer said, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (verse 105). May His Word light your path!

Be enthusiastic and passionate for God's Word. Immerse yourself in it! With increasing understanding comes increasing satisfaction and enjoyment. Try it—you'll like it! And it will transform your life!

The following verse from Revelation 1:3 Revelation 1:3Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
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applies directly to the book of Revelation, but it is true of the entire Bible: "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear [understand] the words of this prophecy, and keep [obey] those things which are written in it; for the time is near." GN