We live in a time that is marked by our need to hear the Word of God. Actually this time has been ongoing since Genesis 3. Ever since His Word was doubted, God has worked to draw us back into fellowship with Him, but He does so primarily by asking us to trust His Word. The reality of how we relate to God, as well as the kind of God that He is, means that learning to listen to His Word is absolutely crucial.
Many Christians have fallen into the trap of thinking there are two types of Christians, and therefore two ways to handle God’s Word.
On the one hand there are the professionals, the clergy, the preachers, the ones who are trained and are expected to handle the Word with exegetical accuracy, taking into account the guidelines and principles of hermeneutics, pursuing an accurate understanding and appropriate application of the Word.
On the other hand there are the average believers, the untrained, the recipients of the ministry of the clergy. These are expected to handle the Word with a devotional commitment that has several features. Perhaps those features, though unstated, might include a random approach to the Word, a briefer daily engagement, a subjective and often disconnected application for personal blessing.
There are not two kinds of Christian. But there may be two kinds of handling God’s Word. Maybe I’m being simplistic, but I want anyone who preaches to be both exegetical and devotional. I also long to see the people in the pew being both devotional and exegetical. There may be a difference in extent of exegetical skill, but the basic principles apply to both. Yet actually there are two kinds of Bible handlers.
There are those who seek to make sense of what a master communicator has given us and respond to it appropriately, and there are those that don’t. The fruit of each approach is significant:
Those with hearts clear of entangling sin who look to hear from God as they read and study His Word are those who grow in maturity, in spiritual capacity and, often inadvertently, in spiritual blessing to others. Whether it is the preacher or the person in the third pew, their hearing of God’s heart in the Word will help to build the church.
Then there are those who, either through lack of awareness, or due to a cold heart, see the Bible as a set of cold information. Could be a preacher looking for verses to abuse in pursuit of their hobby-horse ideas (eg. the preacher I heard of recently who turned the resurrection account in a gospel into a means by which to extol the virtues of coming to church on time!) Could be the person in the fourth pew who merely wants to tick off boxes in their spirituality checklist.
When the Bible is seen as a set of stale propositions, or as a dull routine item that is as important as the daily aspirin taken to stave off a heart attack (and about as appealing), then you have someone who hasn’t tasted of the delights of really listening to the Word.
As I read the first Narnia chronicle last night to my children, I was struck by the contrast between the creatures of stone captured by the White Witch, and the exuberant life once Aslan breathed on them. Take a group of people with their Bibles – sometimes the difference within the group is as stark as statues and life itself.