HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
PERSPECTIVES WHEN STUDYING GOD'S WORD
A proper approach to God's Word requires a certain frame of mind. This involves humility, honesty, and fervency--but goes beyond that. Every person is prone to read the Bible through an intellectual filter. For some, it is the particular emphasis of their denomination. For others, it is a private view that reflects personal opinion rather that Divine will. In a sense, God has provided us the templates through which the Word of God is viewed. When read with these realities in mind, the Word of God comes home to our hearts. These templates have been revealed in Scripture, and reveal the thrust of revelation.
Studying the Word with God's "eternal purpose" in mind
God does have a purpose--an "eternal purpose." Remember, those that are "called" by the Gospel, are called "according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). It is "the purpose of God" that will "stand," or be ultimately vindicated, not the will of capricious men (Rom 9:11). When addressing the intention of God, the Spirit speaks succinctly, challenging our hearts and minds. "Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose Who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:11-12). That purpose, or objective, is called an "eternal purpose" (Eph 3:11). By this phrase, we learn that God's "purpose" is not a reaction to human need. It is part of His nature, or character, and existed before the world was made. Paul referred to this aspect of Divine intent when writing to Timothy, a young evangelist. "Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Tim 1:9).
God has a free will
At this point we touch upon God's free will. For many years I have heard men speak about man's "free will," and rightly so. Man does have a free will--that is, he is free to make his own choice. However, the reason man has a free will is because God has one. That will is the Divine imagery in mankind. We are begotten again by God's will, not ours. That is the point of this declaration, "who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:11). Again, it is written, "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures" (James 1:18). God saves no one He does not WANT to save, and He does so in accordance with an "eternal purpose." This purpose is multifaceted, having many sides. We will limit this study to four aspects of that purpose. As you read the Word of God with these perspectives in mind, it transforms the text into food for the soul. It is arresting how the evidence of these realities is woven into the entire fabric of God's Word.
Some elaboration of this perspective is necessary. The Word of God is best comprehended when close to its heart, or when the purpose of God is perceived. Those that are in "fellowship" with God's Son (1 Cor 1:9) are afforded the privilege of seeing things from the vantage point of Divine intent. This is a very concentrated and concise view that does not major on details. It is powerful, providing a means to understand the foundation of Scripture. The next level, which is more broad, is found in the Person of Christ, as revealed in the Gospel. Scripture is thus seen as an introduction to and exposition of the Lamb of God. Prior to His advent, Scripture pointed to His coming. After His return to glory, it pointed to His Person and accomplishments, urging men to believe on Him and prepare for His return. In light of Jesus, God's purpose is broadened, and men are encouraged to become participators rather than mere spectators. Next we enter the realm of reasoning, where holy men show the implications of the truth, and its bearing upon our lives. The more of Jesus that is comprehended, the less reasoning is necessary. The less clear the Son is to the heart, the more reasoning is required. This pattern is seen throughout the Epistles. Where churches had drifted from the Lord, the Apostle reasoned concerning the foolishness of sin and the imperative of righteousness. The final appeal to men is made through instruction and law--the "how to" approach. This is found in Scripture, but never for those close to Christ. Promises are for those that walk in the light, commands are for those wandering on the fringe. Do not balk at this! It makes no allowance for immorality, nor does it encourage waywardness. The further a person is from the Lord, the less Divine purpose can be perceived, and the less precious Jesus appears. To such, regulation becomes imperative, to avoid their destruction. However, at some point, if men want to make heaven their home, they must get to the matter of God's "eternal purpose." That is at the heart of the matter!
To bruise the serpent's head
From one point of view, God determined to thwart the diabolical intentions of the evil one, Satan. He announced this at the very time man fell, and did so to the devil himself. Here is the first Messianic promise of Scripture, spoken to Satan with the whole human race present. "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel" (Gen 3:15). At the expense of personal injury, Jesus would foil the tempter, utterly frustrating his intentions. Although it appeared the devil had triumphed over Divine intent in Eden's Garden, this was not the case! God's purpose had not been overturned, and His will would still prevail! When you read God's Word with this in mind, you will see the Lord triumphing over the devil on ever page. Behold Satan provoke Cain to kill his own brother, apparently dashing the purpose of God to the ground--yet it triumphed! See Satan shut the wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, thinking to thwart the birth of the "Seed." Yet, God triumphs over him, bringing offspring from barren women! Satan brought Israel down in infamy and shame. Surely this would frustrate the objective of the Almighty--but it did not. Satan tempts David to sin, yet the Seed came from his lineage. On and on the accounts go! From this perspective, the Bible is the record of Satan's persistent efforts to overturn the purpose of God, and God's consistent frustration of those evil intentions.
To bless the world through the promised Seed
Divine objectives extended far beyond thwarting Satan's initiative. God did not design to simply overturn evil, but to establish good. He determined to bless the entire world! This purpose was first revealed to Abraham, and later confirmed to Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets. That promise still warms the heart. "And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:2-3). God desired, and determined, to abundantly lavish His favor upon humanity. He could not do it while they were dominated by sin, and thus determined to do it through the Promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ. Later, Peter announced that Jesus had been sent for this precise reason, to bless! "For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways" (Acts 3:26). Reading Scripture with this thought in mind will bless your soul. You will find God unwilling to let Israel go. To a recalcitrant nation the Lord said, "Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me" (Isa 49:16). See David recover from debilitating sin (Psa 51). Witness the weeping of Israel at the recollection of their disobedience (Ezra 10:1). Behold repentant sinners rally around John the Baptist, confessing their sin and glorifying God (Matt 3:6). With unimaginable longsuffering, God endured the covenanted people, as well as the blinded Gentiles. And why did He do so? Because He had determined to bless the world through His Lamb. He therefore "endured with much longsuffering" even "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom 9:22). Were it not for God's determination to bless His offspring, history would have been cut short without Divine satisfaction. Instead, praise the Lord, the work is going to be concluded shortly. As it is written, "For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth"(Rom 9:28, KJV). It is His intention to bless that makes this so. Read His Word with this in mind! It will interpret the response of Pentecost and the house of Cornelius; the conversation of Samaria and the Ethiopian eunuch. Walk through Scripture with the blessing of the Almighty in mind, and you will soon be shouting His praise!
To conform His sons to Christ's image
Another view of Divine objective is found in the eighth chapter of Romans, the sanctuary of Scripture. Here God's aim is declared to be the replication of His Son in "many brothers." Hear the marvelous affirmation. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Rom 8:29,30). While many people draw back from this attestation, it is intended to be a source of great comfort to believers. Salvation is in the hand of the Almighty. It is His enterprise from beginning to end, and those that trust in Him will not be ashamed (Rom 10:11)--THEY WILL NOT!. God's purpose is to make those in Christ like Christ. Any process that is not resulting in this objective is not of God. Read the Bible with this in mind, and you will see new and invigorating things. This is why our sins are remitted (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:43). The reason for the gift of the Holy Spirit is found in this truth (Gal 4:6; 1 Thess 4:8). Our access to God is traced to this reality (Rom 5:2; Eph 3:12). The new covenant is structured, so to speak, around this objective. This is why the law is "put" into our hearts and "written" upon our minds (Heb 8:10: 10:16). God works in us "both to will and to work for His good pleasure" in order to the fulfillment of His "eternal purpose" (Phil 2:13). Read the Bible with this in mind.
To demonstrate His wisdom to heavenly principalities and powers
In a lofty statement, Paul alludes to God's determination as revealed through Jesus Christ. He is engaged in showing His divers wisdom to heavenly personalities. The wisdom of God is great and multifaceted. If it does not impress humanity, it is the subject of inquiry among angelic hosts. We know of their interest in the great salvation designed for the sons of men. "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-- things into which angels long to look" (1 Pet 1:10-12). How refreshing it would be if men were as intrigued with salvation as the angels are. After all, it is a salvation for men, not angels! The interest of angels is not coincidental. It is by design! Salvation is calculated to show angelic personalities aspects of God they have never seen before. "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph 3:9-10). How marvelous the wisdom of the Almighty! Creation itself was established by Divine wisdom. "It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens" (Jer 10:12). However, that wisdom is nothing to compare with the measure of Prudence made known in the rescue of a fallen race! Principalities and powers in heavenly places behold rebels converted to willing servants. They see those that were "dead in trespasses and sins" raised to sit with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 1:6; 2:1,6). The alienated are reconciled (Eph 4:18; Col 1:21), enemies are made "friends" (John 15:14-15) and the blind see (Isa 29:18). The deaf hear, the lame leap (Isa 29:18), and the unwilling are made willing in the day of His power (Psa 110:3)! All of this is accomplished in the devil's environment--where he is "prince." It is also accomplished with "wisdom," no coercion. Salvation is an economy of wisdom, not coercive power. All of this is achieved without God compromising His own character or violating human will. The magnitude of this wisdom is scarcely known in our day. Read the Bible with this in mind. You will see the conduct of the assembly is to be achieved with the angels in mind (1 Cor 10:11). Paul challenged Timothy to consider his words in view of the angels (1 Tim 5:21). Solomon once charged that careless people should consider the angels when speaking loosely (Eccl 5:6). You will find angels prominent throughout God's dealings with humanity. They were present in Eden (Gen 3:24). They delivered Lot from Sodom (Gen 19:10). The law was given by angels at Sinai (Gal 3:19). You can probably think of many occasions in which angels were obvious. The birth of Christ, His temptation, resurrection, and ascension. The deliverance of Peter and Paul, and even the judgement of Herod. In all of these instances, and more, God was showing His wisdom to angelic hosts! The book of Revelation often depicts the angelic hosts responding in praise to the works of God.