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Why I Wrote “Before You Open Your Bible”

Our bookshelves bear witness: we live in a time of unprecedented access to biblically rich resources. From inspiring biographies to rigorous theology books to edifying devotional books, it can feel like an embarrassment of riches. No doubt the minds of many in our churches are well furnished as a result.

Books on studying the Bible are a case in point—I can think of several that helpfully teach us how to do so. But can you think of any that focus on how to approach the Bible in the first place? A book that’s a prequel, or a prelude, to those other resources?

I couldn’t, which is why I wrote Before You Open Your Bible.

Approach Is Everything

Our churches are filled with people who, if they’re honest, feel intimidated by the Bible they love. Sometimes they’re put off by its size; other times by what they don’t understand; still other times by what they do understand.

Others of us, meanwhile, wouldn’t say we’re necessarily intimidated by our Bibles. A better word might be bored. We know it well, but we’ve ceased to be stunned by it. Indeed, overfamiliarity can be one of the most dangerous things in the world.

The way we approach things matters deeply; we know this from everyday life. The world of sports, of course, is a prime example. Whether it’s a pitcher on the mound or a runner at the starting line, an athlete’s simple approach can make all the difference.

The same is true when it comes to our Bibles.

Nine Heart Postures

Since many Christians are simply not big readers, I tried my best to make Before You Open Your Bible as conversational and accessible as possible. You can decide if I succeeded; but the chapters are short and the whole thing can be read in about an hour. My hope is that any Christian leader—pastor, Sunday school teacher, small group leader, youth or college minister, parent—would find it a handy discipling tool to give away to, or even read with, those under their care.

The book explores nine heart postures for rightly approaching God’s Word. Here’s a brief snapshot of each.

  1. Prayerfully. We get it—prayer is foundational and important. But can’t we just assume this is true and graduate to the “practical” stuff? Not so fast. The most important things in life should never be glossed over or assumed. In fact, I am convinced that a prayerless approach to God’s Word is a major reason for the low-level dissatisfaction that hums beneath the surface of our lives. And as John Piper has written, in words that should haunt many of us, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
  2. Humbly. The Bible you possess is evidence that God loves you and wants a relationship with you. It’s like an all-access pass into his revealed mind and heart. We should never take for granted that the exalted Creator would stoop to speak to the work of his hands. But that’s precisely what he did. No matter who you are or how many times you’ve spurned his love, he is still moving toward you, still talking to you—still befriending you—through a book.
  3. Desperately. If you read the Bible, you’ll never get the impression that it’s meant to be a mere hobby in your life. It’s meant to be your food. But have you ever ruined your appetite for an epic dinner by snacking all day? You wish you could work up an appetite, but it’s too late. The steak is on the table, and you’re not hungry. This is how we often treat God’s Word. Is it any wonder that nibbling long enough from the table of the world would leave us with little appetite left for God? If we’re snacking on cheese puffs, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t have room for steak.
  4. Studiously. Don’t let anyone ever convince you that theology is impractical, that it distracts, that it impedes worship or hinders mission. Any good thing can be misused, of course, but the purpose of theology has never been to make you feel smarter. It’s certainly not to make you feel superior. The purpose of theology—of approaching your Bible with a learner’s posture—is to stoke your worship, to deepen your love, to fuel your mission, and to sustain your life.
  5. Obediently. Because he wants us to flourish, God restricts us in order to truly free us. He prohibits us to drive us to what is good. He lays boundaries with hands of love. In other words, the Bible is not an arbitrary list of prohibitions; it’s an epic story of a Creator more committed to your joy than you could imagine. Entrusting each aspect of your life to him, therefore, is not something you do instead of enjoying him; it’s the way you enjoy him. Following him is not an alternative to your joy; it’s the secret to it. Despite what our culture tells you, real joy is not found in listening to yourself; it’s found in listening intently to him. Click To Tweet
  6. Joyfully. Joy is not some accessory to the Christian life, a perk for shiny saints who can turn their frowns upside down. Rather, joy is tenacious. It fights. It grips the promises of God and won’t let go. And joy is not a mere good mood; it is ballast in our boats, an anchor in our storms, an immovable rock to stand on when the waves of life threaten to flatten us. Far from a peripheral subtheme in Scripture, joy is the heartbeat of God. And despite what our culture tells you, real joy is not found in listening to yourself; it’s found in listening intently to him.
  7. Expectantly. The Bible defies human expectations. Whether we’re eager optimists or seasoned pessimists, the Word of God doesn’t fit into our neat categories. It has a way of challenging our assumptions and shattering our classifications. No cliché can describe it; no opposition can stop it; no doubt can weaken it. Has life let you down? God’s Word never will. It can bear the weight of your expectations. For since its ultimate author is God, it is a book of unparalleled power. So when you come to your Bible, come with anticipation. For among its pages you’ll discover everything you need, and more than you expect.
  8. Communally. None of us opens God’s Word in a vacuum. We are complex individuals who come to our Bibles with luggage carts of experiences and intuitions, beliefs and biases. It’s imperative, therefore, that we approach Scripture alongside others, in the context of a diverse community—otherwise our experiences will limit us, our preferences will govern us, and our biases will blind us. After all, it’s so easy to impose our pet agendas on God’s Word without realizing it. We desperately need other Christians to help keep us from reading wrongly and help free us to read wisely. 
  1. Christocentrically. If we ever hope to properly handle the stories in the Bible, we must first grasp the story of the Bible. The Author who designed us to worship and enjoy him—and whom we have offended because of our rebellion—stepped into his own story to salvage it. Jesus himself tells us to approach the Scriptures “Christocentrically”—with a view to how the whole of it centers on him. If you’re looking for a collection of morality tales, check out Aesop’s Fables. Otherwise, crack open the greatest story of all time, the only story in which the central character loves us back. But be careful. He might just change your life. Approaching Scripture well, therefore, is nothing less than an act of worship. Click To Tweet

Act of Worship

I sometimes hear people quip that we shouldn’t make too much of the Bible, lest we inadvertently make an idol of it. “We worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” the remark usually goes, “not Father, Son, and Holy Bible.”

I get what they’re saying. I even affirm the point.

But forgive me if I don’t think the danger in our day is taking God’s Word too seriously. If anything, I’m certain we undersell how Scripture speaks of itself.

So while we must indeed avoid “bibliolatry”—treasuring Scripture more than its Author—it is striking to note just how tightly Scripture connects God’s words with God himself. Consider, for example, what the psalmist prays:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise. (Ps. 56:3–4)

What is he praising? The Word of God.

In another place the author has the audacity to write:

I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. (Ps. 119:48)

To what is he lifting his hands? Again, the Word of God.

If I started yawning each time my wife talked, it wouldn’t satisfy her to hear, “Oh sweetie, I don’t care much about your words; I just care about you!” Likewise, the way we treat the words of God reveals what we really think and feel about him. Approaching Scripture well, therefore, is nothing less than an act of worship.

To that end, I hope my little book will help reignite your love for the greatest Book you own.

Matt Smethurst

Matt Smethurst is managing editor of The Gospel Coalition and author of Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word (10Publishing, 2019) and 1–2 Thessalonians: A 12-Week Study (Crossway, 2017). He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, Kentucky. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. You can follow him on Twitter.

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