8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
In my own reading recently, I came across a quote from John Newton (1725-1807) warning about reading too much. Yes, it was rather ironic that such a voracious reader as I would come across something like that. Nonetheless, as much as I read, I find that I unconsciously follow his advice. Here’s the gist of what Mr. Newton said:
“Besides the confusion [expansive reading] often brings upon the judgment and memory, it occasions a vast expense of time, indisposes for close thinking, and keeps us poor, in the midst of seeming plenty, by reducing us to live upon a foreign supply, instead of labouring to improve and increase the stock of our own reflections.” (From his letter “A Plan of a Compendious Christian Library”, Works of John Newton, Volume 1, p.236)
Like Mr. Newton, I am not here to disparage reading as a whole. I personally love to read, and I will admit that I read very broadly–non-fiction, novels, short stories, poetry, news articles, web logs (“blogs”), and yes, of course, the Bible. But there is a trend among Christians to read more ABOUT the Bible than to actually read the Bible itself. Despite Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to read and use Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2), here in America we tend to shy away from actually reading and knowing the Bible, and instead most people take it in small chunks via commentaries, self-help books, and generalized studies of passages or topics. It’s not that those books are not useful, but the typical Christian reader consumes multiple such volumes each year, to the end that, as Mr. Newton noted, they are either confused by conflicting interpretations of God’s Word, or they are so scattered in their thinking that they have no solid doctrine nor an opinion of their own.
As Paul warns in several places in his letters, there have been, are, and will be false teachers who twist the Word of God to their own evil ends. There will also be those who attempt to add to or subtract from the Bible. But perhaps the most troublesome authors are those who mean well, but whose work, when mixed with the work of other authors with different ideas, tends to muddy the waters of wisdom rather than clarify it. In short, with so many books about the Bible and about Christ, it seems like it would be very hard to focus on a clear set of ideas that would help us understand and apply God’s Word to our lives.
And yet there is ONE book we can all read and come to simple wisdom. There is ONE book that speaks so clearly and confidently on God and Christ and the Holy Spirit that we need look no further. Indeed, there is ONE book that, even if all the others were thrown away, we would still be able to turn to for understanding, enlightenment, doctrine, instruction and even application to life. Yes, you know which Book I mean.
I will admit, the Bible is hard to read. But that hasn’t stopped a hundred generations of people from reading it over and over again. It’s long, and the language can be difficult, and sometimes the ideas aren’t clear right away. But I can tell you a secret about people like me who write ABOUT the Bible: we actually read the Bible over and over again. We do that to understand it, to remember it, to apply it to our lives. And the books we then read by those authors are often about the authors’ own journeys in exploring the Bible, journeys in coming to understand the Bible in new ways throughout their lives.
But wouldn’t you like to go on your own journey? Wouldn’t you like to find your own personal nugget of truth that applies to your own life? Wouldn’t you rather read a book BY God rather than a book ABOUT God?
I’m not saying we need to give up reading those other books altogether, but we DO need to make the Bible our primary source of wisdom about itself. In reading the Bible over and over, we come to understand more of the whole story, we learn the doctrines and ideas that make our faith what it is. One of the reasons I write about God’s Word is that I found many of those books were bringing in outside philosophies and following human traditions, and I found that when I just looked deeper into the Word itself, I understood much more. I have thus been “increasing the stock” of my own reflections, rather than piling up a muddied mess of others’ reflections.
Now that I’ve said all that, you’ll probably stop reading my messages about the Bible. Honestly, so long as this message prompts you to go back to the Bible and truly read and study it, then I am just fine with that. If you are reading Christ’s words rather than mine, then you are going the right direction and I will never stop you.
Paul’s warning to the Colossians is to “beware.” Beware of earthly philosophies. Beware of people spouting their personal “doctrine”–which is often rooted in vanity and pride and covetousness. Beware of human traditions informing your understanding of God in Christ. Beware of too much that is simply NOT Christ.
Instead, go to the Source, the Bible itself. Go to Moses and Isaiah and Ezekiel and Matthew and Paul and Peter. Go to the Word that is breathed from the mouth of God into the hearts of those men. Go to the words of Jesus Christ Himself, because “in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
So stop reading this and open your Bible!
Holy Father God, thank You for Your Word, that is indeed useful for my instruction and understanding. Teach me, Lord, so that I may hear and recognize Your voice and Your wisdom. Amen.