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by Jacob Ninan

The word of God mentions that in the last days there will be a famine for hearing the word of God (Am.8:11). This is true, even though there is so much spreading of the word of God through study aids, TV, radio, tapes, books, and computer networks. There is also a great spurt in Bible studies at the level of individuals, house/school/college/business and other groups, and churches. How is it that with all these fervent activities there is still a famine for the word of God? The famine is not for the word itself (in its written or spoken form) but for the word coming from the Lord Himself, as He speaks to His people, according to the need of the hour.

Many preachers seek their own (Php.2:21), try to impress the audience with their knowledge or oratorical ability, gather more supporters for their own kingdom, or gain money from the sheep, instead of feeding them. As a result, people are like sheep without a shepherd, wandering here and there, looking for something that can meet their spiritual need (Am.8:12).

But there are others who try to study the word of God and meditate on it, with a sincere desire to know God, and to be equipped to do His will. But due to a lack of understanding of certain practical considerations, many go astray, and do not reach their goal. It is to help such people that this article has been written.

The Bible is the word of God, written by holy men inspired by the Holy Spirit (2Ti.3:16,17). Its purpose is to prepare us spiritually to do everything in a godly way, and to correct us when we go astray. At the same time, it is meant to lead us to God Himself who wrote it, and not meant to stand on its own apart from contact with God. In other words, the word becomes alive, only when we get into contact with God who wrote it, through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts (He.4:12).

The Bible addresses our hearts (spirit), and not our head. It is not written in the form of a book of science. The human authors of the books of the Bible were certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down words that would bring forth spiritual truths. But the Holy Spirit also allowed them to use their own styles, and the common phrases of the day. A science book will tell us, for example, that water is made up of atoms of hydrogen and oxygen. That statement is complete in itself, which means that we can be certain that water does not contain any other types of atoms. But when the Bible makes the statement that the love of money is the root of all evil (1Ti.6:10), it means only that the love of money will lead to all sorts of evil. It does not mean, for example, that a love of pleasure is not a root of all evil. When the Bible says that we cannot serve God and money at the same time (Mt.6:24), it does not mean that we can serve God and self or God and pleasure at the same time (2Ti.3:2-4). In other words, while the words of the Bible are true, each word has to be understood together with all the other words of the Bible.

The Bible is also not written in the style of a legal document. Such documents are written with a view to avoid loopholes, and to handle every possible exception that can happen to a statement. Lawyers will not make statements such as "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31), or "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (lJn.5:1), because these statements, while they are true, are not complete in themselves. Many believers go astray when they take hold of one verse or a set of verses, to the exclusion of other verses. This gives them a distorted view of God and His ways, and distorts their lives too as a result. It shows us also the need to have a comprehensive understanding of the Bible and not merely on some pet passages or verses. These examples show that the Bible was not meant to be studied as we would study subjects in a school. When we read the word of God, or listen to it being preached, we should rather keep our spiritual ears open to hear what the Lord is trying to speak to us through them (Re.2:7). God's secrets are revealed only to those who fear Him (Ps.25:14). It is only those who want to obey what they read who can understand the will of God (Jn.7:17). When we want to understand what God really says about matters that are controversial among believers, we must ask ourselves what we are willing to do when God reveals His ways to us. He is not interested in satisfying our intellectual curiosity, but in setting us free from sin, folly and human ways, and moulding us into His ways.

Someone has said that a lot of problems Christians face are because they do not read the word of God exactly as it is written, do not believe it or follow it exactly. This is true. At the same time, we must understand that there is a vast difference between reading the Bible exactly as if it was a legal document, and reading it as an exact revelation of God and His ways. One is a matter of the letter, and the other of the spirit.

For example, when we read "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Mt.28:19,20), carefully, there are many truths that we can learn.

1. We have to 'go' and 'make' disciples. It takes initiative and effort from our side.

2. We have to make disciples who value Jesus more than all earthly relationships, who are willing to deny themselves and forsake all things for His sake, (See Lk.14:26,27,33), and not merely believers.

3. We note that 'therefore' refers to the previous verse which provides us the boldness and authority to carry out this task.

4. We see that people of all nations can become disciples and that there is no respect of persons with God.

5. We see that baptism is only meant for disciples and not for infants, those who have merely come to a certain age, those who merely agree with a set of doctrines or those who just want to turn over a new leaf.

6. We see that baptism is important enough that Jesus commanded it

7. We see that baptism is to be in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and not in the name of any great man or church.

8. We see that after a person becomes a disciple and is baptised, we have the responsibility to teach him to obey 'all' that Jesus commanded.

At the same time, we note from the context that this commandment, was given to the eleven disciples collectively. No individual can be required to travel all over the world to preach the gospel, and not all can be apostles, teachers or evangelists (1Co.12: 28-30). But this is a collective responsibility of the church where each member has his own part.

The word of God is living, because it brings us into contact with the living God. God may use His word to speak to us individually in our times of need, in a way that gives that particular word a specific meaning relevant to the occasion. But we must be careful not to apply that meaning generally to everyone else, as a matter of doctrine. Another common mistake that people make is that they do not understand their own limited places in the body of Christ, and do not subject themselves to the ministries of others. If evangelists take on the role of teachers just because they have the anointing of God over their lives for evangelism, it will be just like Saul thinking that he could offer sacrifices as a priest just because he was successful as a king.

Above all, the thing that will help us most and preserve us also is to recognise that God's wisdom is so great and wide that we can know only a very minute portion of it ourselves. This helps us to be always willing to learn and be corrected, and also to subject ourselves to other members in the body of Christ (Ep.3:18,19).

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