Evangelicals are Christians who, among other things, hold a high view of Scripture. Rightly so. In his popular systematic theology, after addressing the canon of Scripture, Wayne Grudem writes of “the four characteristics of Scripture.” These characteristics are authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency. Often, discussions about Scripture within the Christian community centre of things like inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy. Debates rage around the best translation of the Bible and, indeed, the best translation philosophy. The entire discussion can get very technical and even heated.
Psalm 119 is both the longest of the psalms and the longest chapter in the Bible. It is the lengthiest single treatment of Scripture in the Bible itself. Throughout this text, the psalmist gives his own, inspired view of Scripture. Significantly, his primary thought is not about the authority of Scripture and his submission to it. It is not about the inerrancy of Scripture. His expressed passion, over and over, is his love for Scripture because of his love for God. Consider some of his words.
In v. 16, he commits, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” A few verses later, he confesses, “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (v. 20). Again, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counsellors” (v. 24). He speaks of his “delight” in God’s “commandments, which I love” (v. 47). God’s commands are his “songs in the house of [his] sojourning” (v. 54) and God’s law is “better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72). God’s words are “sweet … to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v. 103). Simply put, he obeys not because of the heavy-handed authority of Scripture, but because God’s word is “wonderful” to him (v. 129). Driving this passion for God’s word is passion for God himself: “I entreat your favour with all my heart” (v. 58). His approach to Scripture is, in a word, relational.
The Bible is authoritative. Certainly, there is room for consideration of its inspiration and preservation. The issues of clarity, sufficiency, and necessity are worth talking about. But all of this means little to those who do not love God’s law because they love God. The Bible is far more than a book of theology and doctrine. It teaches theology. We derive doctrine from it. But it is a book that is designed to help us, above all else, to love the Lord. And it is a book that we, therefore, should love.
Scot McKnight recounts an encounter at an academic conference years ago. As a young professor, McKnight was engaging in conversation with more seasoned professors. Introducing himself to an older professor, he asked “What do you teach?” The wise, older man replied, “I teach students. What do you teach?” His point was made. As McKnight writes, “Teachers are teaching students a particular subject matter. They are not teaching a subject matter to students.” He draws a direct line to our engagement with Scripture. “There is more to the Bible than its subject matter.” The writer of Psalm 119 would wholeheartedly affirm this.
There is a difference between the Bible and the God of the Bible. The Bible is not an end in itself; its design is to draw us to God. Our approach to the Bible, therefore, must be more than academic; it must be relational. To the degree that we love the God of the Bible, we will love the Bible itself, which points us to God.
As you head into a new day, and soon into a well-deserved weekend, commit to the Bible seriously and to be a meaningful member of a church that does the same. But don’t allow the Bible to become an end in itself. Instead, learn to love God’s law because it is God’s primary means to teach you how to love him better.