According to Eugene Peterson, “Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives.”
Wonderful sentiment but how do we involve ourselves in Scripture? Are there any good methods?
Years ago I took a class in seminary called “Inductive Bible Study.” Our professor would assign us a chapter in the Bible to read but we weren’t allowed to read it once. We had to scan and pour over the text repeatedly. While doing so, we also jotted down our observations so we could share them in class.
I’d assumed that since we were all reading the same passage, our insights would match. But they didn’t. You’d be amazed at the various and creative perspectives people have toward Scripture!
In the method we were practicing, we would float various questions. Who are the main characters in this account? Is anyone missing? What words does the writer repeat? What’s the point of the passage? What’s happening? When did these events take place? How would I behave were I in the story? Do any twists or turns catch me off-guard?
Our professor didn’t want us to jump around from passage to passage in the Bible; she restricted us to our designated selections. In this way, she forced us to concentrate on what was right before us.
As a result of that class, I’ve learned to respect God’s Word by paying attention to what it says. I don’t have to manipulate the Bible to fit my preconceived notions; instead, I take it at face value and let it speak to me.
But sometimes it’s not so easy.
For our family devotions a few weeks ago, we were working our way through 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It was my turn to read, and as I listened to myself vocalizing the words of 1 Thessalonians 2, I found myself quibbling with the chapter.
First, I noticed that Paul mentions God a lot! 14 times in 20 verses, in fact!
- Verse 2 – “boldness in our God”
- Verse 2 – “the gospel of God”
- Verse 4 – “approved by God”
- Verse 4 – “please God”
- Verse 5 – “God is witness”
- Verse 8 – “the gospel of God”
- Verse 9 – “the gospel of God”
- Verse 10 – “You are witnesses, and God also”
- Verse 12 – “a manner worthy of God”
- Verse 13 – “we also thank God constantly”
- Verse 13 – “the word of God”
- Verse 13 – “the word of God”
- Verse 14 – “the churches of God”
- Verse 15 – “displease God”
Second, my inner editor wanted to vary the vocabulary. Repeating words gets dull, so let’s introduce other terms for God, like Lord, Father, Most High, etc. And what about the Holy Spirit? He should get mentioned, too!
Third, I worried that Paul neglected Jesus, particularly in those verses that discussed the gospel.
After all, isn’t the gospel the good news of Jesus Christ? He’s the heart of the message. So why did Paul write “gospel of God” in verses 2, 8, and 9 rather than “gospel of Jesus Christ?”
I don’t believe he made a mistake. By mentioning God over and over, the apostle sought to reassure his readers and us of a crucial fact.
The gospel is God’s idea.
Consider the context. In delivering the message of Christ to Thessalonica, Paul had suffered rejection and persecution. Things got so bad that the church sent him out of the city for his safety. You can read about the situation in Acts 17:1-10.
But recall that inductive Bible study principle of confining yourself to a specific book or passage. You don’t need to consult Acts 17; just review verses 2 and 14-18 of chapter 2. Paul suffered, his companions suffered, and the Thessalonian Christians suffered.
Paul describes the Jews as those who opposed the gospel and persecuted its adherents. What motivated them?
They believed that the gospel contradicted what God had given Israel. The Jewish people identified themselves as the children of Abraham, God’s people delivered by Moses from Egyptian slavery, and servants of the Lord through His prescribed laws and sacrifices. From their perspective, the gospel of Jesus devalued Israel and repudiated God’s will for His people.
So although Jesus may have been a decent teacher, He wasn’t the Messiah. The Jews concluded that the gospel was wrong, it wasn’t good news, and it wasn’t God’s message.
Paul keeps referring to God to reassure the Thessalonians that they made the right decision. The gospel is God’s idea. He foretold it in the Old Testament, fulfilled it in His Son, and calls now for believers to spread this word all over the world.
Paul encourages the beleaguered churches but not with apologetics or arguments. They need the reminder that God is with them and that the gospel is His idea.
What struggles do you face in your journey with Jesus? How does the world’s understanding of God clash with the work of the gospel in your life? Are doubts corroding the confidence you have in the message of Christ?
Whatever you’re wrestling with, take heart that the gospel is God’s idea. It’s His plan, His story, and His adventure for you. Don’t let criticism or affliction undermine your commitment to the Savior.
You made the right choice.