One Word

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
~ Isaiah 9:8

Terrible advice preachers give

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible every day. With a plan, you could read the entire Bible this year. But the Bible is such a big book. You’re likely to get started and then get discouraged and quit. That won’t do. Everybody is pressed for time. In our parents’ day, the preachers would suggest you read one verse and meditate on that, but we don’t have time in our modern day for such old fashioned advice. We need something much more instant.

What you need is your one word for the year. Find a word and let that be your meditation starter. Some people’s word might be grace, faith, or prayer. Those words might be a little ambitious. My word for the year is “and.” That’s right, “and.” Think about it. The word and is spread throughout the entire Bible. Open to any page and you will find it quickly. It’s versatile but also meaningful. Think about it. The word and is used to join things together, so that means adding. Each day I can be moved thinking about all the things God has added to me and my life. What a powerful word and is!

That’s my word. You need to find your word for the year. It would be counterproductive to have to spend a lot of time on it, so find something short and easy. You don’t want to pick a word you’re not sure how to spell and have to look up in a dictionary to know what it means, like propitiation or something. Pick a good word and the whole Bible is open before you. For instance, this morning I opened randomly to Acts 8:8: “And there was great joy in that city.” There’s my word. I meditated for forty-five seconds on how God is going to add joy to my life. It was rich. You should’ve been there.

Just One Verse

Yes, I’ve been exaggerating, perhaps being facetious, to make a point. I only say this because some of my esteemed colleagues occasionally remind me that many people “don’t get it.” So, let’s seriously address the matter at hand and see if I may warm to my subject.

It is common this time of year for preachers to talk about daily Bible reading, daily devotions, daily quiet time, or some other terms for daily practices. I am glad to add my voice to those encouragements, but I also want to warn you against terrible advice. I regularly hear preachers recommending that you read just one verse every day and then meditate on that verse to see what the Holy Spirit may give you from it. They usually suggest reading just one verse is better than reading by some plan or schedule where you read a few chapters and tick a box. That is just plain bad advice.

First, let’s deal with the obvious. The Bible has no command about the daily reading of the Bible. We are not commanded to read the entire Bible in one year or two years. We are not commanded to read just one verse every day. We are not commanded to read the Bible according to any particular plan. We should be able to agree that any attempt to set some rule about Bible reading that Christians must keep is legalistic. If that’s the case then, why would reading one verse to get something out of it be bad advice?

Let us Reason Together

Now let’s get to reasons reading just one verse is such terrible advice.

1) It consoles and encourages laziness in the Christian life and pursuit of holiness in sanctification. Yeah, I said it. All of the Bible is God’s breathed out word of revelation to us (2 Timothy 3:16), and all of it is profitable for us to bring us to completion for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). We are born again through that word (1 Peter 1:23) and sanctified through that word (John 17:17). Every word is true and faithful (Proverbs 30:5) and every word converts and gives wisdom (Psalm 19:7-11).

The idea of reading just one verse minimalizes the Bible’s self-testimony. If all of it is good, then 0.003% of it is good. That is the percentage of one verse out of the total number of verses in the Bible. If you think you are going to read the entire Bible by reading just one verse a day, then know that it will take you over 85 years to read the whole Bible. I’ve heard every excuse there is. You have 15 minutes. Read your Bible.

2) This advice sets a bad example for the congregation. I fear that many preachers who recommend reading just one verse to get something out of it are actually recommending their own practice of sermon preparation. They read a verse or two and rattle them around in their head to see what comes out. It’s how they come up with sermons and then blame the Holy Spirit for it, as if that is ever conveyed in the Bible. Read the Pastoral Epistles. Nowhere does Paul suggest such a scheme. Every word he gives Timothy and Titus informs them and charges them about the hard work they have to do to preach and teach (1 Timothy 1:3-4, 18-19; 3:1; 4:6-16; 5:17-18; 6:11-16; 2 Timothy 1:6, 13-14; 2:1-7, 14-18, 23-26; 3:14-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:9-14; 2:1, 7-8, 15; 3:8-11).

3) This advice teaches you to misread, misinterpret, and overall mishandle the word of God. The Bible was not written for you to read one verse to get something out of it. The Bible was written as one book that is made up of sixty-six books. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses. The Bible began to be written down over 1,400 years before Jesus was born and was completed around 70 years after he died. It was another twelve centuries before the Bible books were divided into chapters and another three centuries before those chapters were divided into verses. That means the verse divisions have only been around a little longer than the original King James translation, which is a little over 400 years old.

Chapters and verses do provide a good reference and convenience for study, but they have also done much harm. I have to agree with Charles Spurgeon about the trouble with such divisions:

I feel vexed with the fellow who chopped the Bible up into chapters; I forget his name just now, and I am sure it is not worth recollecting. I have heard that he did the most of his carving of the new Testament, between London and Paris, and rough work he made of it. Surely he was chaptering the Gospel of Matthew while he was crossing the Channel, for he has divided it in such queer places.

(From the sermon, “Harvest Men Wanted,” preached August 17, 1873, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.)

When Paul wrote the letter to the Church at Colosse, he never intended them to read one verse and see what they could come up with. He intended the entire letter to be read in that church and other churches as well (Colossians 4:16). The Bible was given in a progressive revelation over time (Hebrews 1:1). That progression means continuity and also movement toward completion, which has come with the first advent of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2). God has given us a complete revelation and he means for us to read it all, but more than this, one cannot interpret the Bible correctly without reading all of it.

For example: how are we to understand Daniel 9:2? There Daniel is praying for understanding of the seventy years prophecy in Jeremiah. Daniel did not read one verse and then meditate on it. He read, considered, studied, and understood the scrolls, which were the extant Old Testament Scriptures. He particularly understood the duration of the promised desolations as seventy years from Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah specifically mentions the seventy years in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and Jeremiah 29:10, but these “verses” are not all that’s being considered. He referred to the “desolations” of Jerusalem, which Jeremiah also spoke of in Jeremiah 7:34; 22:5; 25:9, 11, 18; 44:2, 6, 22; et al.

But that’s not all. Jeremiah did not originate the prophecy of desolation. When Jeremiah wrote of desolations of Israel, he was tapping into a judgment motif that runs through the Scriptures. Over 100 years before, Isaiah wrote of these desolations (Isaiah 49:19; 51:3; 52:9; 58:12; 61:4; 64:11). This motif occurs in other Prophets’ writings and in the Psalms. It actually originates in the covenant curses at Sinai in Leviticus 26:31-33 and is repeated in the covenant rehearsal with the second generation of Israel in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

You can’t just pick up and read Daniel 9:2 and get something out of it, at least not something accurate. Daniel is connected to the books before it and after it. Everyone of those “verses” have an original context that must be understood. It is simply not possible to correctly handle the word of God without handling all of it.

Another Word

Reading one verse to get something out of it is exactly the approach and practice of Bible reading that has us in the mess of biblical illiteracy we are in today. It ought to be obvious in books like Hebrews and Romans that they are filled with Old Testament references and you cannot read just one verse and properly understand the book’s message, but that’s true of the rest of the Bible as well.

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible daily. Don’t take bad advice. Read the whole Bible. You can do it. You won’t regret it.

About Jeff Short