On Personalising Scripture
It is all too common for all of us – Christians included – to find fault in others, but to see only sweetness and light in ourselves. Happens all the time of course. It is a regular feature of living in a fallen world. And it has been going on since the beginning.
Adam blamed Eve (‘It’s the woman you gave me’) and Eve blamed the serpent (‘The serpent deceived me’). So the blame game has been going on ever since sin entered the world. It is always easier to find fault in others than to identify it in our own lives.
It is so easy not to find shortcomings in ourselves. We all have blind spots and we need others to help us see ourselves more accurately, and to point out areas that we need to work on. Certainly for the Christian this should be normal practice: having a small group of committed brothers and sisters speaking into our lives on a regular basis.
Another way to help us in all this is to keep in mind the need to personalise Scripture. What do I mean by that? When we hear a sermon or read a passage of Scripture, our usual tendency is to think something like this: “Gee, the guy in the next pew sure needs to hear this”. Or “my husband ought to read this”. Or “I need to send this article to so and so”.
We tend to think these things apply to everyone else but ourselves. We can see so clearly how others might need this warning or rebuke or word or advice. But we tend to overlook our own needs and shortcomings. Thus we need to personalise scripture.
As an example, consider a familiar passage such as I Corinthians 13: the love chapter. One good way to get a handle on this passage, and to make it fully relevant to ourselves, is to read it in the first person. That is, instead of reading this: “love is kind, love is long-suffering…” try reading it like this: “I am kind, I am longsuffering…”
That should help to drive the point home a bit better. Instead of a vague, theoretical reading of this text, we have owned it, made it our own. We are holding ourselves up to the spotlight of Scripture. ‘This is what love is all about; is this what I am all about?’
What can just be a theological or abstract concept becomes a very personal, individual truth. ‘Hmmm, love is patient – Bill is not so patient. I need to work on this. I can really improve here.’ That is how we can personalise Scripture.
Or what about a passage like Genesis 6:5-6?: “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
What do we think of when we read a passage like this? Are we thinking, “Yeah, those horrible pagans,” or “those miserable communists”, or “those lousy child abusers”, or those wretched racists”, or “those no-good Collingwood supporters”?
What we should be thinking is something more like this: God is that how you feel about me? Do I do things or say things that make you hurt this bad? Am I bringing grief to your heart? Do I displease you in what I do or don’t do?
The idea that God is angry or displeased or upset with the other guy is easy enough to contemplate. But the idea that God might actually be displeased or grieving over me, or things that I do, is not so easy to get a handle on. It takes some humility and honesty to start thinking that way.
Another way of putting all this is this: we must stay on our knees, in an attitude of openness, humility and with a soft heart. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. When we read the Word, and ask God to speak personally to us, that is a good place to be in.
Indeed, that is the best place we can be in. It is so easy to become hardened and closed to what God would seek to say to us. It is so easy to peruse the Bible and get nothing personal out of it. The need to stay soft and humble before God, especially as we read and study his Word, is paramount.
Of course even here we must keep things in balance. We need to be careful in how we go about all this. For example, to speak of personalising Scripture is not to suggest that the Bible lacks any objective truth, but is just a subjective, personal writing only to myself.
The Bible contains universal and absolute truths which we must align ourselves with. Thus when reading and seeking to interpret Scripture, we always need to read a text with the author’s original intention in mind. While there tends to be one primary meaning to a text, there may be many secondary applications.
So we must not turn the eternal, objective truths of Scripture into our own little subjective playground to do as we please with. But we must also seek to allow God to be able to minister to our own lives and our own situations.
The twofold study of Scripture then is what is required of each of us: discovering the original intention of a passage, while allowing God to apply the text to ourselves. We need to read the Word carefully with proper study methods, but we also need to remind ourselves that when we read the Word or hear a sermon, God is trying to speak to each one of us.
We too easily think of other people, while overlooking our own needs, shortcomings and weak spots. It is time to ask God to change that unhelpful pattern. Personalising Scripture – properly understood – is one way to help do this.
5 Replies to “On Personalising Scripture”
Funny, I was doing this very thing this morning during my devotion. I read one Psalm and one Proverb daily alongside both OT and NT reading twice daily. It is the Proverbs and James that convicts me regularly wanting to wash me in the Word but how the flesh kicks back ever so fiercely.
Methinks the Lord is speaking very clearly to me today longsuffering though He is may he continue to develop a humble and contrite heart in me.
“Adam blamed Eve (‘It’s the woman you gave me’) ”
Actually Adam blamed God the words “You gave me” are quite significant in this verse
I tend to think on the parable of the unprofitable servant, and also what Paul said about the saints barely being saved.
I was actually having a similar conversation with a fellow church member about how we need to live and we both agreed that we would do as much as possible then when Christ returns, throw ourselves at his feet and beg forgiveness. I really think you can’t do much better than that.
Bill, Your blog post reminds me of the closing prayer of Psalm 139:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Thanks for another reminder that the right reading and contemplation of Scripture is far more personal than a mere academic appraisal of a text by its reader. The division of marrow from joints (Hebrews 4:12) is not a metaphor for a comfortable, anaesthetising encounter with the Word of God.
As if to underline the issue, this truly terrible news: