It’s fall again. You survived the record heat of the summer, navigated the difficult relationships within your extended family on your July vacation, and the kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews are finally going back to school. The women’s ministry at your church announces the topic of study for the fall: Ephesians. Immediately you think, “But I’ve already studied that! I just did it a few years ago!”
Before you decide you’re out for the semester and schedule your weekly chiropractic appointment during Bible study hour, pause and consider. Maybe there is a good reason to study the same book again. Maybe your time could be well spent diving into some content you’ve already covered. Why?
This Author and His Story are Different
Think about other literature you may have reread in the past. Do you have a favorite story or novel you come back to? Maybe you miss certain characters and enjoy meeting them again for the first time, knowing the adventure that lies ahead of them. In the play “Shadowlands,” C.S. Lewis’s character says, “We read to know we are not alone.” It’s no wonder we come back to the stories we love. But what about the ultimate story?
The author of the Bible is different. Unlike the authors of other books who write lovely tales and walk away, this author is involved with His readers. He not only knows all of the people we read about in His word, He also knows us. And He has mysteriously tied us to the truths we are reading. His story is our story. The accounts of Israel in the Old Testament are our history. The early men and women of the church are our spiritual mothers and fathers.
The words of the Bible are also different. Unlike words in other books, those in the Bible are alive, dynamic, and active. The author speaks through these words by His Spirit to yours in order to commune with you. As Charles Hodge writes in his systematic theology, “The Spirit not only thus reveals divine truth, having guided infallibly holy men of old in recording it, but He everywhere attends it by his power.” 1
You Keep Changing
Maybe you’ve studied Ephesians before. But the person who will study this fall is not the same person who studied five years ago. As a believer, God has changed and grown you over time. You come to the word of God differently now than you did last time, with eyes that see different things and a heart that is drawn to different concepts. Have you ever heard someone discussing a certain text exclaim, “I can’t believe I’ve never seen that before!” Of course, the concept has always been present in the word. But our eyes notice different things depending on our season, circumstances, and level of maturity.
For example, when studying Ephesians as a 20-year-old, you may encounter Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Perhaps you’re struggling with a roommate and your first real adult conflict, trying to figure out how to live with someone who repeatedly hurts your feelings and has no commitment to you. This verse will tug on your heart as you meditate on Christ forgiving you for your own selfishness in the relationship.
Now think about reading the same verse ten years later as a 30-year-old. You’ve had some practice forgiving, and more practice in seeing your own sin and knowing how much God in Christ has forgiven you. Instead of a roommate, perhaps now the one you struggle to forgive is your boss or your spouse. You’ve aged and grown, matured, and seen more of God’s wide mercy. As the Holy Spirit speaks through the same verse, being kind to one another and forgiving will look different and require different sacrifice.
As we read God’s word two dynamic entities converge and interact. A changing, growing human indwelt by the Spirit relates to a living word that actively works in that human. The synergy that happens in that partnership has an endless number of outcomes. Each time we sit down with the word attended by the Spirit, He speaks something new to our developing hearts.
The words of Ephesians may not be new to you. The ideas and truths may be some you’ve learned or memorized multiple times. But the God who breathed all of scripture into existence has new things to say to your soul. Invite Him to speak to you, and read that book again, with expectation.
1 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 532.
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