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Psalm 119:97 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
97 Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Literally billions of men and women have a Bible. However, while they may own a Bible and even carry the Bible to their church meetings, can they honestly say that they love God’s Word? Is a person’s claim that they love the Word of God true if they are irregular and inconsistent in reading and studying it? Certainly not, the claim would be false based on their actions. On the other hand, there are former atheists, who had absolutely no respect for the Bible, who now read and study it daily now that they have converted to Christianity. They have grown to love God’s Word, and now are very much like the Psalmist, meditating on the Word of God “all the day.” Let us now look at four roadblocks that have gotten in the way for some, so that they have not read and studied their Bible consistently.
IT REQUIRES DISCIPLINE
Today, many associate discipline with punishment that is designed to teach somebody obedience. For Christians they see discipline as church rules: the system of rules used in a Christian denomination in order to keep the church organized, clean, and pure. This is not how the word is being used here. The primary meaning of discipline is training to ensure proper behavior: the practice or methods of teaching and enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior. Someone, who regularly and consistently cleans their house, mows their lawn, makes their doctor’s visits, cooks family meals, holds down a job, is a disciplined person. The same holds true of reading and studying the Bible, as well as preparing for and attending church meetings. If they are failing to do so; then, the Word of God is not their priority. Moreover, by extension, growing close to God is not their priority either because only by growing in knowledge of God can one draw closer to him.
Without seeming too insulting, it really comes down to being lazy. If we fail to carry out regular Bible study, prepare for Sunday’s Christian meeting, and even fail to attend that Sunday, yet we go out shopping later that day, or turn on the football games, where are our priorities? Thus, a lack of discipline has become a problem that we must overcome. If we have the time to do things that we desire to do; then, these things are close to our heart. What do we do during our seven-day week? Do we read newspapers and magazines? Do we surf the internet and regularly post on social media? Do we go shopping? Do we watch sports? Do we have a garden that we care for, a pet that we are taking care of, go out to eat, take in a movie, and so on. Then, we need to ‘buy out’ the time from other activities in order to read and study the Bible regularly. (Eph. 5:16) If we fail to buy out this time; then, our claim that we love God and his Word is simply untrue. We may try to rationalize why we are too busy but that will be irrational thinking. We need to have a genuine love for God and for people that need saving, being willing to make personal sacrifices, if we are going to grow in knowledge, so are to share biblical truths with others, to make disciples. (Matt. 22:37-39; 28:19-20; Phil. 4:13) We must cultivate qualities that make us a better Christian, a better disciple, to draw closer to God, namely discipline.
INEXPERIENCED AND UNSKILLED BIBLE STUDENT
Experience is knowledge or skill gained through being involved in or exposed to something over a period. I am not mechanically inclined. My father died when I was four, I had no older brother to train me, no uncles, and so I grew up without learning how to repair go-carts, mini bikes, cars, or motorcycles. I also never learned how to fix things around the house. All of my friends through life had these skills, which was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I had a friend that would repair things for me. I was always clumsy around tools and had no real self-confidence in this area.
The same is true with Bible study. If we have always been told that the Bible is easy to understand, just interpret it as you read it because it is straightforward, we were extremely misinformed. Here again, is what the apostle Peter said about the apostle Paul’s writings, “also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Pet. 3:16) This is not the apostle Peter that Jesus found on a fishing boat, whom Jesus said ‘be my disciple,’ or the apostle Peter that denied Jesus three times. Rather this is the apostle Peter 35-years later, who was one of the main leaders of the entire church, who had decades of study and teaching under his belt, not to mention being an inspired author himself. This experienced and highly knowledgeable, wise apostle Peter, felt that some things in Paul’s letters were “hard to understand.” We are 2,000 years removed, of a different language, culture, and historical setting, and we are going to be so bold as to say, the Bible is easy to understand. Peter also said the ‘untaught were distorting the Scriptures.’ There is the important correlation if you are untaught; you have no choice but to distort the Scriptures. Sadly, Peter’s last words should be a wake-up call of all of us, ‘distorting the Scriptures, to our own destruction.’ One thing that this book will bring its readers is this; we will acquire the skills on HOW TO STUDY YOUR BIBLE. We will also learn how to use Bible study tools as well.
LACKING REASONS, ENTHUSIASM & MOTIVATION
If we were never disciplined to regularly and consistently take care of the important things in life and we lack the experience and skills to do so, how are we going to have the enthusiasm and the motivation? Reasons are defined as a motive or cause for acting or thinking in a particular way. Enthusiasm is defined as a passionate interest in or eagerness to do something. Motivation is defined as the act of giving somebody a reason or incentive to do something. It is the intention of this author to give the reader many motives, to help form a passionate interest and eagerness, as well as incentives to regularly and consistently read and study their Bible.
A COMPLETE HEART
We cannot be halfhearted or in want of heart, or even double hearted. (Ps 12:2; Pro. 10:13) As a reader of hearts, God can see any insincere or feigned behavior on our part. He is well aware of our actions and thinking, even when we are alone. He knows our heart condition, what we are trying to do with our lives. If our heart is good, and we love God’s Word, he will know. (Josh. 1:8-9; Ps. 1:1-3; 119:97, 101, 105, and 165) A person who is halfhearted is lukewarmly worshiping God. (Ps 119:113; Re. 3:16) a person who is double hearted (literally, with a heart and a heart), is trying to serve two masters, or deceivingly saying one thing while thinking something else completely. (1 Ch. 12:33; Ps 12:2) Jesus clearly condemned such double hearted hypocrisy (Matt 15:7-8) A person being in want of heart is one who lacks good sense.
If we are not buying out the appropriate amount of time for reading and studying God’s word, this is because we lack a complete heart. It is because we are not aware of our spiritual needs. Worse still, we might be aware of our spiritual needs but have chosen to ignore them, which will result in a callused, unfeeling heart. Jesus pointed out that humans have an inborn, essential spiritual need. We long to be fed by God’s Word, which gives meaning to our life. In dealing with the heart, let us look at one of Jesus’ illustrations. The parable of the sower talks about three different types of soil, which can be viewed as three different types of heart conditions.
Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
The Parable of the Sower
3 Then he told them many things by parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow; 4 and as he was sowing, some seeds fell alongside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. 8 Still others fell upon the good soil and they began to yield fruit, this one a hundredfold, that one sixty, the other thirty. 9 The one who has ears, let him hear.”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
13:3–8. The many things Jesus spoke in parables certainly included what was written in 13:3–52. It is possible that there were other parables that Matthew did not record.
The parable of the sower requires little comment, because Jesus himself explained the parable in 13:18–23. Note that the farmer sowed seed or several different kinds of soil. The soil along the path (13:4) would likely have been hard-packed from much traffic. There would be little or no vegetation or loose soil to hide or bury the seeds, so the birds could easily find them. The birds represent the devil, “the evil one” (13:19). Note also the variable quality of even the good soil (13:8); even among that which is conducive to fruit bearing, some soils do better than others.
As is common in storytelling today, Jesus used patterns of threes—three bad soils and three variations on the good soil. Usually the first two examples set a pattern, and the third example departs from that pattern, revealing the central message of the story. In this parable, the first three soils set the pattern of poor response to the seeds, and the fourth soil was the contrasting positive example.
13:9. Jesus repeated the challenge that Matthew first recorded in 11:15, after identifying John the Baptizer with “Elijah, who was to come.” He will repeat the same wording in 13:43, and the challenge is explained thoroughly in the following context (13:10–17).
In fact, the distinction between those who have ears to hear and those who do not is central to understanding all of Matthew 11–13. In chapters 11–12, the conflicts revealed the contrast between those who willfully chose to disbelieve in the face of overwhelming evidence, and those who humbly accepted the evidence and responded in faith and obedience to the Messiah. Those who had ears to hear would not only find understanding about the parable, but would realize that the parable was talking about their willingness to hear. Those who did not have “ears to hear” would go on in denial about the parable’s implications about their own unwillingness to hear.
13:18–19. These verses connect Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower and the soils (13:18–23) with the disciples’ privilege as hearers of the truth. Jesus was saying to them. “Because you have responded to what you have already seen with eyes, ears, and hearts of faith and humble obedience, I will show you even more. You have proven faithful with little, so I will trust you with much.”
Jesus identified the seed as the message about the kingdom—its arrival in Jesus and the way to participate in this kingdom. The “message about the kingdom” is probably identical to the “good news of the kingdom” in 4:23; 9:35. 24:14.
The soils were the issue. Throughout the parable’s explanation, Jesus compared the four kinds of soil with various kinds of people who had been exposed to his teaching. The first soil, that “along the path” (13:4), was packed and hardened by traffic. It represented the person who does not understand the word he had heard. The person represented by the hardened soil is one who chooses not to understand rather than a person who wants to understand but cannot. Such a person may actually understand Jesus’ teaching in a literal sense but refuse to accept its truth. The biblical concept of “understanding” goes beyond the idea of mental comprehension. It sometimes includes volitional acceptance. In 21:45, the chief priests and Pharisees knew the meaning of Jesus’ parable concerning them, but they refused to accept its truth.
The person who refuses to accept the word of God will fall victim to the evil one (Satan, represented by the birds in 13:4), who comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. If given even the slightest opportunity, Satan and his evil forces—archenemies of the kingdom of God—are able to remove or distort the truth, thus making that person even less likely to accept the truth in the future. This is one manifestation of the principle Jesus taught in 12:30: “He who is not with me is against me.” To refuse to accept his word is to move away from him. There can be no objective neutrality.
Many people who were exposed to the words and works of the Messiah (especially the religious leaders) fell into this category. They rejected him without any second thoughts.
13:20–21. The rocky soil (13:5–6) receives extra attention in both the parable and its explanation because this person’s response to the truth follows a two-stage pattern. His initial response is unreserved and emotional—joyful acceptance—but only because the circumstances are favorable. The cost of commitment is not yet obvious. This person’s commitment is not deeply rooted. We might say that the truly committed “pay their dues up front,” but the marginally committed cancel their membership when payment comes due. The cost of commitment to the Messiah comes in the form of trouble (thlipsis, “tribulation”) or persecution (diogmos) that come because of the word. As quickly as this individual had committed, just as quickly he defected, distancing himself from the word or message.
There is debate as to whether such a person is truly saved. This question cannot be answered from Jesus’ words, because it is not related to his purpose in the parable, and he does not make the answer clear. It is doubtful than the person was expressing true faith from the start.
13:22. The soil with thorns (13:7) is also assumed to produce some initial growth, as did the rocky places (13:20). But the influence which draws this person away from a sustained interest is not persecution but competing “gods”—the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Rather than being driven from the truth by hardship, this person is lured away from the truth by promises of something better. Of course, these promises will never be fulfilled, because these competing gods or masters are deceitful.
Is this kind of person saved? The language may lean somewhat toward believing that this person had responded initially with sincere faith, for the seedling is not said to die (as we can presume with the rocky soil, 13:21), but rather to become choked and unfruitful. Still, without perseverance, there is no final evidence of salvation.
We have already seen in Matthew an example of a person who started following Jesus, but then began giving excuses for why he needed to postpone his commitment (8:21–22). But even more prominent in this category would be Judas Iscariot, who sold out Jesus for thirty coins (26:14–16, 20–25, 48–50; 27:1–10).
13:23. All three of the preceding “soils” had heard the word. So also the fourth good soil hears the word, but this one also understands. This person chooses to understand and accept the truth, also accepting the One who is truth (John 14:6). None of the other soils bore any fruit, but this soil yielded much fruit. Jesus did not clarify what caused the variability between the fruitfulness of various faithful followers. One factor may be the degrees of faith. Perhaps another factor has to do with the variety of tasks given to different believers by God. Some may have greater potential for bearing fruit than others (cf. the different number of talents and different levels of return in 25:14–30). Crop represents the tangible results of a life of faith, including godly character (Gal. 5:22–23) and other souls brought into the kingdom (Matt. 9:37–38; cf. John 15:1–17).
In Matthew, where the focus is primarily on Jesus, we are given little opportunity to see examples of the disciples’ responses of faith. The rest of the New Testament, however, is filled with stories about the fruit of faithful hearts. Prominent examples include Peter, John, Philip, Stephen, Paul, and Timothy. Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 192–197.
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