READING THE PERIPHERALS OF THE BIBLE
BUT MISSING THE CENTER
From the above examples we can see that a person who comes to the Word can find words of comfort for times of trial, words that build up human virtues, words on the secrets to human living, and words on religious zeal. However it is not easy for a person to find the central matters concerning God coming into man to become man’s life. Man must be in God before he can have true joy, before God’s peace can truly guard his heart and mind, before he can have the secret to human living, and before he can do all things and experience Him as his strength in all things. The words in Him are central and are related to God becoming life to man in the Son. This is God’s central goal.
Regrettably, man’s concepts are occupied with finding solutions to sufferings, building up virtues, solving the problems of the human life, and having religious zeal. Therefore, when he comes to the Bible, he cares to receive something only from these four categories of things—comfort in trials, building up human virtues, the secrets of human living, and religious zealousness. It has not occurred to him that God wants to enter into him to be his life. God wants to be everything to him. He grasps only the superficial things in the Bible; he cannot understand the central things. Brothers and sisters, there is comfort from God in our trials according to His promises. He is able to build up our virtues and teach us the secrets to human living. He even wants us to be faithful to Him and zealous for Him, but these items are peripheral. They are skin and feathers, branches and leaves. God primarily wants to enter into us to be our life. He wants to be our food and satisfaction. When we are satisfied, He becomes our inner strength that guides us through all our trials and difficulties. When we are satisfied, He becomes our inner wisdom and our secret to human living; we will spontaneously live out His virtues. When we are satisfied, we will be on fire for the Lord, and we will be faithful to Him. The Bible is focused on the central matter. If we have the central matter, we will spontaneously have the peripheral branches and leaves.
However, when reading the Bible, we select items mainly from the four peripheral categories—comfort and deliverance in trials, building up virtues, secrets to human living, and religious zeal. Many of us were probably touched by words related to comfort and promises in trials this morning. One brother may say, “My son is far away, and I miss him very much. This morning I read a verse which says, ‘In nothing be anxious,’ and I prayed, ‘Amen, Lord, I am now casting my anxieties on You.’” Another sister may testify, “I have been very worried about my husband’s illness. While I was reading the Bible this morning, I came across the words: ‘Surely He has borne our sicknesses, and carried our sorrows,’ and ‘by His stripes we have been healed.’ I was greatly comforted.” There may be many such testimonies among us. Many of us were probably touched by words related to the building up of human virtues such as humility, patience, love, submission to husbands, and love toward wives. Not all of us may have been touched by words related to secrets to human living, but I believe a few were touched this morning. Many of us may also have been touched by words on religious zeal and fervor. Some may have been encouraged by the words, “I exhort you therefore, brothers, through the compassions of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Others may have been touched by the words, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all the creation” (Mark 16:15). Still others may be led to confession by the words, “Not abandoning our own assembling together, as the custom with some is” (Heb. 10:25). They may have even asked the Lord to forgive them for not attending the meetings for over half a year. Many of us may have had our religious sentiments invoked in our reading. However, it may be that only a few of us were touched by God coming to us as life in His Son.
We need to remember that promises, comfort, deliverance in trials, the building up of human virtues, the secrets to human living, and religious zeal for serving God are all superficial and peripheral matters. They are the branches and the leaves. They are the skin of the chicken. Only the meat of the chicken is central. Words such as, “It pleased God…to reveal His Son in me” (Gal. 1:15-16), “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (2:20), “in Christ” (3:26), and “abide in Me and I in you” (John 15:4) are central words. This is the fifth category of words in the Bible. It is regrettable that although there are many such words in the Bible, we do not realize that they are there. Instead, we see the peripheral items and miss the central words concerning God coming to us as life in the Son.
PRACTICING TO MOVE FROM PERIPHERAL MATTERS
TO CENTRAL MATTERS IN OUR BIBLE READING
We should not be discouraged. Even if we do not find the central things in our reading, we should continue reading. We need to read the Bible. We can still be fed even if we only find words of comfort. Words such as, “In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6), “casting all your anxiety on Him because it matters to Him concerning you” (1 Pet. 5:7), or “a bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Matt. 12:20) are not bad. It is better to eat something than to have nothing to eat. Some sisters may be touched by Ephesians 5:22-23 concerning recognizing their husbands as their heads. Some brothers may be touched by verse 25 to love their wives and care for them because they are the weaker vessels. A brother who has not been meeting for half a year may repent and be recovered to the meetings after reading Hebrews 10:25. The skin is not useless, because it has helped him. A brother may be brought to repentance after reading Philippians 2:3-4. These saints may then testify concerning what they have read, and the meetings will be living and full of the Lord’s presence. When we cannot get the meat, it is not bad to get a few bites of skin. We should never stop reading. If we stop, we will go hungry.
Nevertheless, we should all gradually move from the peripheral things to the central matters. Soon we will recognize what is meat. May we never be discouraged in our reading, and may we never be satisfied with our reading. We must discern between the center and the circumference, the meat and the skin. We must realize that the Bible contains central words and peripheral words. The central words are God’s goal, and the peripheral words meet our needs. If we stand only with our needs, feelings, and psychological cravings, we can receive only the superficial things from the Bible. However, if we are delivered to stand on the side of God’s goal and His heart, we will find the central things. Until then we should continue with the peripheral matters so that we can maintain a proper life before the Lord to contact, absorb, and digest Him a little every day. We should not consider the central matters to be unattainable. We should never become discouraged to the point of giving up reading the Bible. We should never take this attitude. Instead, we should do our best to continue reading, even if we cannot find the central things now. We should still learn to read with our spirit, to deny our own thoughts, and to turn all the words that touch us into prayer. We should learn to receive nutrition, even from the superficial things. Then we will gain some help. If we are faithful, God will open our eyes, and we will gradually discover the central things. May the Lord be gracious to us so that we become clearer, sharper, and more skillful in our reading of the Word, and may we be able to get into the deeper things.