Recently, while helping my 6th grade daughter study for a social studies exam, I noticed she didn’t appear very confident about the answers on a particular section. When I asked her the reason, she admitted to me that she had just guessed the answers on that section because she couldn’t find the answers in her notes.
I almost laughed out loud when she told me (not because it was funny but because she hoped so sincerely that the answers would be right, even if they weren’t). I explained to her that she couldn’t get a good grade on her exam if she wasn’t even sure if her study materials were correct. She agreed with me and went through her information once again to look up the answers. It took extra time and wasn’t very convenient for her, but after she found answers for her questions, we could continue studying for her test.
The Bible Is the Best Guide for Life There Is
For obvious reasons, like my daughter, none of us want to “study” from a study guide that contains questionable information. In order to do well on a test, we want the study guide with correct information.
However, after our conversation, I thought about the reality that we use a “faulty study guide” if we attempt to go through life without reading the Bible. Obviously, our reason for reading the Word isn’t to get a good grade on a test. However, we aren’t going to benefit ourselves by using faulty information to base our decisions upon.
To best benefit from the wisdom within its pages, Paul outlines how we should approach the Word in 1 Thessalonians 2:13: “For this reason we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
What we can learn from Paul about how to approach the Word:
1. We should demonstrate an openness to the Word.
Paul notes that the Thessalonians received the Word of God. In other words, they demonstrated an openness to hearing the Word. Merriam-Webster defines “receive” as meaning “to come into possession of; to act as a receptacle or container for; to permit to enter; or to accept as authoritative, true or accurate.”
All these definitions are great, but I love, in particular the definition “permit to enter.” The Thessalonians permitted the Word to enter. Obviously, Paul wasn’t writing his letter in English, but even in the word use translated from the original we get such a rich meaning of what Paul meant here.
Paul’s use of “receive,” or paralambanó in Greek, is deliberate because his words reveal not only the reaction of the Thessalonians to the Word of God – but what our reaction should be to the Bible. We, too, should receive the Word and approach it with the same attitude of readiness and openness.
2. We should accept the Bible as the very words of God.
Receiving the Bible means more than just listening to it. If we want it to transform us, Paul tells us more about the approach we should have to the Word of God. As Paul clarifies, the Thessalonians accepted it “not as the word of mere men, but what it really is, the word of God.”
He brings up the point that the Word of God isn’t like any other book. The wisdom it contains is above all human knowledge or reason. God divinely inspired individuals to write down what they did to guide Christians in our spiritual walk. In 2 Timothy 3:16, it says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
In his day, just like in our day, there were people who listened to the Word, but believed it was merely a good teaching and not any different than other religious teachings out there. They simply added it to other pagan teachings they believed without giving it the elevation it deserved. Others listened to it and believed what it said but then went about their business and forgot to apply it to their lives. Others ignored it or rejected the words and decided that they were going to do life in their own way.
Because Paul had so many different reactions to his preaching of the Word, we can understand why he was so thankful that the Thessalonian church understand what the Bible really contained. They truly got it! And he tells them the amazing benefit as a result: their lives were changed. As he says, the Word was at work in those that believed. The same is true for us. Our approach to the Word will determine how it affects our lives.
A Few Words of Caution About Reading the Word
A few words of caution at this point! Being receptive to the Word doesn’t mean we should accept everything we hear a pastor or Christian podcaster say. Sometimes people misinterpret the Bible, twist Scriptural truth, and hurt and mislead many people in the process. We have to use discernment when listening to teachers and weigh what they say against biblical truth in our own time of study.
We also have to look into the context of verses and seek to understand the intent of what is written. In our zeal to understand and open ourselves up to it, we can sometimes rigidly apply principles that we don’t fully understand. We can have great intentions but misunderstand verses about female submission or other topics and hurt ourselves and others by insisting on an interpretation of these verses that God never intended.
In addition, there will be times we don’t understand what we read or we may even be offended by some of the truths of the Bible. Being open to the Word doesn’t mean we hide our questions or pretend that we don’t feel confused or even offended by certain truths. It’s OK to have questions about what we read and be honest with God about our struggles to accept certain portions of the Bible.
When we have a question, we can examine verses using study materials (such as a study Bible, online Bible commentary, Bible dictionary, or different translation) and communicate with other knowledgeable believers. Most importantly, we can pray and ask God to help us understand a concept or overcome our unbelief in an area, knowing that we need God’s Spirit to understand what we read (1 Corinthians 2:14). However, our questions should move us toward God, not away from him.
I love the story I read of a man who was struggling to believe Jesus was the Son of God. He wanted to believe it. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around it. So he went into his closet and prayed God would help him believe. When he emerged once again from his room, he announced excitedly to others that he believed Jesus was the Son of God. God had answered his prayer and helped him believe!
God wants to help us understand His Word as well, if we ask Him. While there are some questions that we will only know the answer to on the other side of eternity, God loves to answer us when we call on Him and wants us to seek to know His truths.
We Can Read the Word to Experience Life Change
My daughter skipped home a few days after our study session and delivered the news that she had earned an “A” on the test. All the extra work that she had done to fill her study guide out correctly yielded the fruit of a high grade on her exam.
When we accept the Word of God for what it really is and apply it to our lives, we will see the fruit of our efforts. When we begin to orient our lives around the most accurate “study guide for life” there is, or lives will begin to change.
In John 8:32, Jesus says, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The word “know” in this verse is “ginosko” in the Greek and means to know through first-hand experience. God’s intention for us as Christians isn’t for us to read and only gain a bunch of head knowledge. His intention in giving us the Bible is to teach us how to live so that we can know in a real way what it means to experience the life-changing power of Christ and walk that out in our lives.
If we get a gift but never unwrap it, how can we enjoy its contents? In a similar way, if we never read God’s Word or do not take to heart what we read and let it change us, it’s like leaving a gift in its wrapping. It is of no use to us. If we haven’t been reading the Word lately or haven’t really opened ourselves up to it, we can get on track and begin to receive His Word into our lives.
Related Bible Verses:
Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Psalms 1:1-3: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinner take or sit in the company of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”
James 1:23-24: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
More on Reading God’s Word:
Ever feel distracted when trying to get into a daily routine of reading God’s Word? Ever hear a list of excuses about why you don’t have time for it? Satan knows how powerful the Word of God is. When we know Scripture, we not only learn more about God and His will for us, we also can use it to fight the lies of Satan. And he doesn’t want that! Therefore, Satan uses a variety of strategies to keep us out of the Word. Read about the strategies he uses and find encouragement to make Bible reading a daily habit with the following resource: Why Do We Close Ourselves Off to the Word of God?
In addition, check out this blog post I wrote about my own struggle to open myself up to the voice of God: My Problem in Hearing From God.
*Updated March 9, 2021.