I still recall those foggy days of my early attempts at preaching. A new college graduate, I was working for two years in a cast iron pipe plant just outside Birmingham while trying to pastor tiny Unity Baptist Church up the highway at Kimberly before heading to seminary in New Orleans. Although a Baptist, I had attended college at a Methodist school, had majored in history and political science, and about the only thing I knew about the Bible were the smidgens of sermon-and-Sunday-School-lesson leftovers from growing up in church. On my lunch hour, I would open the Scriptures and read. Mainly, I was looking for a sermon for the following Sunday, and mostly, I found the Bible to be an intriguing mystery. Intriguing, because I was drawn to its wisdom and stories, and mysterious because I never could seem to crack its code. Since I did not have a clue as to what I was doing, my sermon-chasing consisted of searching for key verses or fascinating stories to jump off the page and grab my attention. My reading was more scanning than studying. Pity those thirty people who sat in my congregation on Sunday. I’m forever grateful to them for letting me learn on them.
That was over forty years ago, and there is still much about the Word I do not understand. But one thing that has remained constant all these years is that I am still drawn to the Scriptures. It still holds a wonder and fascination for me. Like no other book I’ve ever seen, this one seems inexhaustible in its content. Some day soon, I plan to go through my home library and give away a hundred novels I have read and enjoyed through the years, but which I find no reason whatever for returning and rereading. One trip through John Grisham or Ken Follette was fun but enough. But this book, this Bible, the Holy Scriptures, has new insights and continuing surprises to readers who are willing to return to it again and again and sit before it to be taught.
One thing every pastor absolutely must have is a love for the Word of God. With a sufficient love for the Lord’s Word, he will read it and in time will learn enough to be able to adequately expound it. Without a proper love for it, no amount of study and learning will compensate.
Job said, “I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12) Our Lord said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
One of the enticements of the devil is to convince a believer that he knows the Word, that there is nothing new to be found there, and therefore no reason to study it more. It’s one of his greatest lies, with the object of undermining one’s confidence in God’s Word, lessening his reading of it, and thus weakening him spiritually. Thousands of young people have had older Christians write in their new Bibles this living truth: “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.”
Jesus had a wonderful insight on this subject. At the end of a string of parables, each of which carried deep truths, Jesus said, “Therefore, every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:52) Let’s camp out on this verse for a few moments.
A student of Scripture (the KJV calls him “a scribe”) is someone who knows his Bible. When he is “instructed in the kingdom,” we would say he was converted, became a child of God through faith in Jesus. From then on, he possessed a spiritual mind to see things he had not known previously.
Now, Jesus says, that fellow goes back into the familiar Scriptures and finds new things there, treasures he had overlooked all those years because his eyes did not see them.
It’s like a fellow who goes up into his attic and opens his treasure chest. There he finds all his familiar possessions. He counts out jewels, money, deeds–things he finds every time he comes. But, each time he finds new treasures, things he didn’t have before–more jewels, more money, more land, more delights. If he is smart, he will come often!
That is the situation with someone who knows the Scripture and then gets saved. God’s Word becomes an open Book now and an inexhaustible storehouse of treasures to him.
Consider how that worked. In the First Century, a scribe–familiar with the writings and prophecies of the Old Testament–would put faith in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. Now, when he turns to the Scripture he has a surprise in store. Here are all the familiar stories and ancient truths he has known all his life. However he begins finding new things, insights and treasures he had never noticed. Psalm 22, for example, seems to be describing Jesus on the cross, as though the writer were inside His mind, seeing what He saw, expressing His very thoughts. How had the scribe missed this before? Isaiah 53 reads like an eyewitness account of the crucifixion, complete with the piercing, Jesus’ silence, His death with thieves, and His burial in the tomb of a rich man. The last verse even alludes to the resurrection.
There literally is no end to the insights and discoveries one may make in studying God’s word.
I was reading Job one day and saw something that I’d missed. At the end of the story, God rewards Job’s faithfulness by doubling all the possessions He had taken away at the start of the story. In chapter one, Job owned 7,000 sheep; in chapter 42, that number is 14,000. Earlier he owned 3,000 camels, now God gives him 6,000. The 500 yoke of oxen have become 1,000. And so forth. Then something strange occurs.
At the beginning, Job had 7 sons and 3 daughters, all of whom were killed when a storm blew down the house where they were partying. At the end of the story, after doubling Job’s camels and sheep and other possessions, God gives Job 7 more sons and 3 more daughters. Not 14 sons and 6 daughters. The same number he had originally. How are we to understand this?
This is one of those wonderful little insights we find scattered throughout the Old Testament Scriptures that testify to the eternal life which God has for us. The reason God did not give Job double the number of children he had had previously is that he had not lost the first ones. They were still alive, albeit with the Lord. Interestingly, nowhere else in the Bible is this commented on. No prophet or New Testament writer seems to have picked up on it. But there it is, for us to see and savor and learn from.
How much more there is in Scripture just waiting for us to discover. What God is waiting for is a diligent student who comes with a pick and shovel, so to speak, one who is willing to dig and analyze and wait and think about what he has read. One who is not in a hurry, not sermon-chasing. One willing to compare Scripture with other Scriptures, and lie awake at night reflecting. In the words of the first Psalm, “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in that law doth he meditate day and night.”
I grew up on a farm just inside Winston County, Alabama. Our family owned 107 acres and we cultivated the adjoining 300 acres owned by our uncle John Chadwick, a policeman in Birmingham. A mile from our house flowed Bunkum, a tiny creek alongside which lay 10 or 15 acres of the richest farmland anywhere. Long before, Indians had lived here and had left plenty of evidence of their lives. In fact, every time I plowed that field, I found arrowheads. Since the last plowing, the rain had settled the dirt and left these little treasures atop pinnacles of soil an inch or two in height, just waiting to be plucked. In the years we plowed that field, we gathered at least a hundred arrowheads and two tomahawks, both of which lay at this moment in a rock display case in the entranceway of my house.
When I went off to college, no one was around to farm it any more, so Uncle John sold his land. These days, a forest grows in the fertile fields beside Bunkum. There is no doubt in my mind that more treasure lies underneath, just waiting for someone to clear the land and turn the soil.
The Bible is our treasure, always rich, never exhausted, ever rewarding. But only those who take the time to read it again and again, to dig and research and study and reflect, only they get the jewels. God give us an appetite for His Word.