MEMBERS: How Not to Read Your Bible (Transcript)

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Justin Perdue: Welcome to the members podcast. We always liked to begin this time by giving a very heartfelt and sincere thank you to all of you who have partnered with Theocast in this way. We want to continue spreading this great news of Jesus Christ and his sufficiency in the place of sinners, as well as his work in our place that really does offer us rest and peace and assurance. We would not be able to do what we’re doing without your partnership and without your help. Thank you very much for the ways that you enable this message to go to more and more people. Continue to partner with us and pray alongside us that we can continue to herald this message.

Our brother Jimmy Buehler said this: personal Bible reading is not necessarily the litmus test for being a mature and faithful Christian. Thoughts?

Jimmy Buehler: This is where I want to go with this. As I was trained in ministry in my younger years, the undercurrent understanding was that it was my job as a pastor to get people to mature in their faith – and that’s not a bad thing. However, the litmus test or the unspoken barometer of whether or not people were mature in their faith was how I can get people to systematically and individually read their Bibles consistently. It was almost as if my job as a pastor was to set the temperature in such a way that it’s my role, my job, and my aim to get people into these systematic, individualized reading plans like that was somehow the end in and of itself.

Again, let me be clear: I think it’s a good thing, under a proper understanding through a proper lens in a corporate sense, for people to read their Bibles. It is a gift. But if that is the end all be all, what sort of danger does that bring with it?

Jon Moffitt: Let’s put it this way: if one guy is doing 30 minutes, is it better for me to do an hour? If one guy is doing an hour, is better for me to do two hours?

At what point do you finally find that a Christian is mature? Let’s say they consistently have done their devotions without fail, even when they’re sick, for 30 years. Is that a mature Christian? I know people who have read their Bibles their entire life and they can’t seem to apply the second command.

Jimmy Buehler: Love your neighbor. Greatest command.

Unfortunately, I know of some individuals, and I’m sure everybody listening does, who religiously read their Bibles each and every day but are some of the most intolerable church people – mean, cunning, divisive. Clearly something is amiss and I don’t think it’s the Bible.

Jon Moffitt: I’ll be a little bit more pointed here. This is where I would say your Bible reading is of no value.

Jimmy Buehler: That’s exactly what we mean – to what end? If somebody came to me and said, “I read my Bible because it is for the benefit of me trusting in Christ, seeing how Christ has worked on my behalf, and because I feel like I have things to offer for the benefit of the greater body of Christ.” Praise the Lord. By all means.

Jon Moffitt: If it makes you more loving, patient, kind, and gracious, praise God because that’s the point.

Jimmy Buehler: To me, that would be the barometer. Who is the faithful and mature Christian? It is the person within the corporate body of the church who is loving, who is kind, who is gracious, who seeks to serve those around them, who in their daily vocation and callings in life quietly work and serve to the glory of God and the good of their neighbor.

Justin Perdue: In addition to what you guys are saying in terms of reading the Bible to benefit your brothers and sisters, I think it’s entirely good and right for people to read their Bible in the context in which we’ve already described. I’m thinking I want to read the Bible, and as I’m learning these frameworks, I want to understand Scripture better so that I can then help others be encouraged in Christ. I can help others see the utter faithfulness of God revealed in this grand story of redemption so that I can extol the mercy and the grace and the power of Jesus better. I think that’s a great thing. Not so that I can seem smart or insightful, or not so I can brow beat people with my Bible IQ, or not so that I can guilt and shame others because they don’t know as much as me or they’re not as fateful or diligent as me, but because I can legitimately aim to fan the flame of their faith and trust in Christ as I am learning to have a better handle on what God is doing and has done in redemption.

Another way to highlight the fact that we associate personal Bible reading with faithfulness is when somebody uses the word “discipleship” or “discipling”. If not the first thing, one of the top two things that anybody would think of when someone says “I’m serious about discipleship” is personal devotional time and serious accountability. That’s usually what people mean. “We need to be about discipleship in this church,” meaning we need to be serious about our personal devotional lives and we need to set up systems of accountability. It’s indicative of a larger systemic issue that we equate being mature, faithful, godly, and all those things with your personal disciplines and regiments. Not to say that disciplines and regiments are bad, but it’s not a one-to-one correlation.

How do you define what a godly and mature Christian is? Disciplines are not going to be at the top of the list. They’re going to be people who are loving their neighbor, they’re trusting Christ, they’re all kinds of good for others, they’re gracious, they’re hospitable, they’re compassionate, and they’re pointing people to Christ. We could go on and on. They’re faithful employees in that they show up to work every day and they do their job. They love their spouses and their kids.

Jon Moffitt: Not one of us here opposes the idea when we are commanded in Scripture to discipline ourselves for the sake of godliness. All three of us do this. All three of us have to discipline ourselves because the flesh is constantly battling us and wanting us to go towards temptation. There are moments where we have to do things to suppress that and we use the corporate body. Normally when people hear discipline for the sake of godliness, what they’re hearing is that my discipline makes me godly. No, it’s the exact opposite. For the sake of godliness, because you are secure in Christ and are declared righteous, therefore fight against the flesh. You’re not earning godliness because God sees you as godly – now discipline yourself as a response to that.

Justin Perdue: It’s not a merit badge.

Jon Moffitt: I would say to obey patience and kindness and mercy towards others – that’s going to require discipline.

Jimmy Buehler: Something that I like to say to our church constantly and consistently is God calls us to live out who He has already declared us to be in Christ. God calls us to live holy lives. When we say holy, we mean not to chase after things that are going to destroy you. Don’t chase after your neighbor’s wife. Why? Because that’s going to destroy your family and it’s going to destroy his family. Most likely it’s going to spread like gangrene in your church. You discipline yourself to say, “I want to have eyes only for my wife. She is the standard of beauty that I am I am disciplining myself for.” It’s for the betterment of the body. It’s for the betterment of your neighbors around you.

Jon Moffitt: You should not use discipline as a means to determine whether you’re a good Christian or not. What you’re then doing is saying that your self-righteousness is what is acceptable before God. No. Because you’re acceptable before God, it frees you to now work and discipline. Don’t ever assume God is pleased with you because you are more disciplined than the person next to you. That is a dangerous road to go down.

Jimmy Buehler: Nobody will ever be perfectly self-disciplined.

Jon Moffitt: How much discipline is enough?

Justin Perdue: When you’re perfect is the answer, I guess. Nobody can ever define that.

On the whole quantifying and always measuring stuff, we just need to stop it because you cannot measure these kinds of things like you do a child’s height against the wall. Whenever we aim to quantify disciplines or we aim to quantify sanctification in any way, I would argue that nothing good comes of it.

The identity thing matters, too. When we’re told in the New Testament that we are a people holy to the Lord, what does that really mean? It means that we have been set apart, we’ve been marked out as the people of God, now we’re in Christ, and that’s our identity now.

The posture of the apostles is that we are set apart to the Lord, we are the redeemed, and now here’s how the redeemed lives. Let’s go about making these things the things that we pursue; let’s go about running from these other things because they’ll wreck our lives. It’s actually quite simple: if God says it’s good, let’s pursue it; if God says it’ll wreck our lives, let’s run from it. Let’s trust Christ as we do that.

Jimmy Buehler: Going back to what I said in the regular portion about the whole idea of practical application: as much as we want to make the Bible practical, the imperative commands that we see in the epistles are actually far more practical than we want them to be. When Paul is going, “Husbands, brothers, come here. Love your wife. Serve her.” I don’t know how much more practical you want me to be. I don’t need to give you some like long exegetical argument – that’s already in Ephesians 1-3 and a bit of 4. Now I get to Ephesians 5 and it’s telling husbands to love their wives and be patient with them. As Peter says, live with your wife in an understanding way? I don’t need to do a five-part marriage series. I can just say, “Guys, love your wife. Don’t be a knucklehead.”

Justin Perdue: Don’t be a jerk and try to understand her. Think about how you would want somebody to treat you. It’s all very simple and very practical. It’s very boots on the ground.

Jon Moffitt: On the flip side, sometimes people in the past have listened to Theocast and they assume and there’s no discipline needed. It’s almost antinomian – you guys live however you want, you don’t need to discipline your life – and that is not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is that your standing and favor before God are not determinative by your discipline. That would mean that we are on a merit-based system. We are not saying that discipline is of no value – it’s just different for this reason. Most people think I need to be disciplined so that I’m a good Christian and that God is pleased with me and I can grow spiritually. Whereas Paul says your discipline is for the benefits of others. You suppressing the flesh builds up the body and it encourages them, it strengthens them, and it keeps division out of the church.

What I get frustrated with is that people are so proud of how well they’ve been doing with their disciplines at home but they can’t seem to make it to church. Their finances are all disarray and they can’t seem to give to church. Discipline your life so that it benefits the body. So you can actually be involved. You can show up – you have time. You’re so proud of the fact that you’ve been so disciplined at home in your personal devotional life, but yet you can’t serve the church. That does not equate to me of what the New Testament is saying.

Justin Perdue: The purpose of disciplines in that regard would be the other things that were exhorted to in the New Testament, namely love and good works for the building of the church.

Jimmy Buehler: We tend to over spiritualize that which is very practical and we tend to make very practical that which is actually very spiritual.

Dads, don’t exacerbate your kids. Wives, show respect to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal from your employer.

Justin Perdue: Don’t avenge yourselves. Get a job so that you can provide for your family and you can actually give to others who are in need. It’s just so incredibly simple.

We take something that’s meant to be telling us the story of redemption, of how God is at work to save us, and then we turn them into principles – here are the 19 things that we can take away from the life of Elijah, etc. Maybe at a secondary or tertiary level, we can apply some of that. But there are a lot more going on there that we need to be concerned with about how God is saving a people – and we’re a part of that.

Jimmy Buehler: If you’re going to read yourself into the Bible, read yourself into the person that you don’t want to read yourself into: the cowering Israelites, the wandering Israelites, the grumbling Israel – that’s who you are. If you want to read yourself into that, that’s who you are. You’re not Moses or David or Aaron or any of the heroes – and I use the word “heroes” loosely. It’s better to read yourself as the villain who gets redeemed.

Jon Moffitt: We do this by nature. You just have to watch the news with everything that’s going on. We’ll take someone who has this one moment of heroism and we think this person’s great. Then you look into their lives and he’s been beating his wife, he hasn’t been paying child support, etc.

I look at that in the Old Testament and we do this with Abraham. With Abraham and Isaac, we say we need to have the faith of Abraham. Did you mean that moment when he lied about his wife twice? Or when he went and had a baby with his servant because he didn’t believe God was going to fulfill it through his wife? Is that the kind of faith we’re talking about? He does one great thing and we forget about all the dumb things he has done.

Justin Perdue: His faith was imperfect but the thing about Abraham is that God made a promise to him and God counted faith to him as righteousness.

Jon Moffitt: As little as it was.

Justin Perdue: “You’re trusting in the promise seed. You’re trusting in the promises I’m making to you. I am counting you righteous.” Then God commences to fulfill those promises and save His people. Abraham is upheld as a pattern for us in those ways. We should actually be comforted by Abraham’s weakness and see that we, just like him, are dependent upon the One who justifies the ungodly.

To put a bow on this conversation, our encouragements to you is to join a local church where the word of God is rightly preached, where you can experience the ordinary means of grace, and where you can experience the fellowship of the saints – then approach your Bibles in that context. As you go to your Bible, look for the faithfulness of God, look for the sufficiency of Christ, and continue to aim to pour yourself out in love and good works for the upbuilding of the church.

That’s our general exhortation to you, our members. We love you. We thank you for listening in on this conversation. We hope that it was helpful to you in some ways. Thank you again for your partnership with us. You mean a lot to us and we couldn’t do what we’re doing without you. We will talk with you again next week.

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