The Word of God: How Should I Read It?
Think with me for a moment about when you started learning to read. After you had listened to your parents reading to you for several years, you started learning the letter sounds yourself. Then you started to learn to sound out two- and three-letter words. Then you learned to read those words in a short sentence. And then after a time of doing that, you learned to understand what you were reading. Reading really is amazing. What’s most amazing about it is that God has spoken to us in such a way that we get to read His words. Step by step, as God’s little children, we need to learn how to read the Word, beginning the process from learning letter sounds to understanding what we are reading.
In Deuteronomy 4, the Lord exhorts His dear children to hear, to know, and to do His Word. He exhorts them to “listen to [His] statutes and [His] rules” (v. 1) and not to “add to the word … that you may keep [His] commandments” (v. 2). He exhorts them to remember, “I have taught you statutes and rules” so that they would “do them” (vv. 5, 6). And by doing them the nations would say, “What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous?” (v. 8). The practical benefit of this is “that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so” (v. 10).
To fear the Lord who speaks, you must understand what the Lord is speaking. Consider with me the question, how should I read the Word? To do this, I will be following an outline from the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 157:
The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.
I should read the Word with reverence: “with an high and reverent esteem of them.” Let me put it to you like this: if we love reading our favorite author’s books, how much more so should we have a love of the words of God himself? If we love the letters, the sentences, the prose and poetry of human authors, how much more should we love those words that were inscribed with the finger of God and breathed out of His mouth?
In Deuteronomy 4, the Lord says, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me” (v. 10, emphasis mine). To hear the Word is to hear God Himself. And while we distinguish between the Word of God written and the living Word of God spoken, these two have one thing in common: God. To hear the Word written is to hear the Word spoken by God. Therefore, Thomas Watson once said, “Think every line you read God is speaking to you.” As you read your Bible with reverence, consciously know that you are listening to the voice of God Himself. Because the Word is the Holy Spirit’s love letter to us, we should be humbled to the core and be in awe of the fact that of the billions of people in the world, you—I—have been given the Word.
We should read the Word with persuasiveness: “with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them.” We turn to the Scripture because, as Gregory the Great (AD 540–604) said, we “learn the heart of God in the words of God” (Letter to Theodorus). Since we are persuaded that we are reading God’s words, we should be persuaded that only He can make His words known to us. In the Psalms, we read again and again lines like this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law… . Make me understand the way of your precepts… . Give me understanding that I may learn your commandments” (Ps. 119:18, 27, 73). In theological terms, we call this the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
We believe in the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the Word and also in His illumination. Because inspiration is true, illumination is necessary, regardless of our intellect and ability to read a text. Thomas Ridgeley (AD 1667–1674) said it like this: “If God is not pleased to succeed our endeavours, we shall remain destitute of the experimental knowledge of divine truths, which is absolutely necessary to salvation.” This means that reading the Word is not just understanding with our heads the words on the page, but knowing by the work of the Spirit on our hearts the meaning of those words for me. Like a child needs help understanding a book he is reading and therefore goes to a parent or teacher for that help, so too we need to go to God in prayer and ask Him to help us know what He is saying.
I should read the Word with earnestness: “with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them.” When Moses called the Israelites to assemble to hear the words of the Lord, it was so that they would “do them” (Deut. 4:1).
This is vital for us to meditate upon. It’s so easy for us to read the Word looking for doctrine, looking for the theological argument the Apostles make, and looking for the proofs we need to persuade others to believe in Christ. We so often focus on the word Word when we speak of the “Word of God.” But don’t forget that it is the Word of God. The Word is the means that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. When you sit down to read it, then, you are coming not to an it, but to a Him. This should make us earnest and desirous to read because we are having fellowship with the Lord in the reading and in the doing.
I should read the Word with diligence: “with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them.” You may not like learning English grammar—what’s a subject, what’s an object, what’s a pronoun, or what’s a noun. It can be tedious. Here in Southern California, a regular sight on the beach is a person with headphones waving a metal detector back and forth over the sand. When a person first starts doing this, every little sound makes them think they have found something valuable, so they bend down and dig it up. Over time, though, they learn to listen diligently to the distinct sounds of different kinds of metals. We need to learn how to read the Word with such diligence.
The ancient prophets “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:10–11). We need to read the Word with such diligence and careful inquiry. As Thomas Watson said, “If one go over the scripture cursorily there is little good to be got by it; but if he be serious in reading of it, it is the ‘savour of life.’”
I should read the Word with personalness: “with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.” Moses spoke to a generation of Israelites who were not present at Mount Horeb, yet he said they were to teach their children and grandchildren “how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God” (Deut. 4:10). How could they do that? The point was not that they were actually there, but that as they learned the words of God, they were personally to appropriate and to identify themselves with the Word.
The Word, then, is not some abstract thing “out there.” As Paul says, it is to dwell deeply within us (Col. 3:16). We are to meditate on the Word—that is, to think intently and intensely about it. We are to do this more than we meditate on our fantasy football stats, the latest political polls, or our Christmas shopping list. If reading the Word gets God’s truth into our heads, then meditating on it gets it into our hearts.
By reading the Word in such a way, we will not only be informed, but inflamed. The more we learn about God, the more we should love God. And the more we love God, the more we should become living epistles of His love for the world.
- The Word of God: How Does It Work in My Life?
- The Word of God: How Am I to Love God by Loving It?
- The Word of God: How Should I Read It?