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Text: Acts 8:26-31; Job 23:12

The Scripture passage we read is about the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch by Philip the Evangelist. It shows us what can happen when a person takes time to read the Scriptures. This high-ranking government official from Ethiopia had come all the way to Jerusalem to worship God. There he had apparently acquired a personal copy of the OT Scriptures, and he was so excited about having the Word of God, that he started reading it aloud on the way back to Ethiopia in his chariot. But he could not fully grasp what he was reading from the book of Isaiah. Then God met his need in a marvellous way – He sent Philip the evangelist to help him understand what he was reading. And when he understood the words of Isaiah (which providentially happened to be from chapter 53 on Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ’s death for sinners), the official responded immediately to God’s Word by believing in Jesus Christ and being baptized by Phlip.

Here we see what awesome results can be produced when the Word of God is read! In this man’s case, we see that it even moved God to bring his servant, Philip, all the way from a gospel campaign in Samaria just to give the Ethiopian understanding of what he read. He was then able to absorb every word and it immediately produced faith in him and obedience to the Word of God. There is a tradition that on his return the official converted the Queen of Ethiopia, and that he became the apostle of Christianity in that whole region.

Dearly beloved, the Bible is meant to be read and absorbed. Great things happen when people take time to do this. Sinners are converted! Saints are revived! Churches are purified! When St Augustine was at the lowest point of his life he heard a child a play next door, chanting ‘tolle, lege’ (take up and read), and after he opened the Bible and read it, his life was changed completely. The Protestant Reformation really began when Martin Luther found a Latin Bible in the library of an Augustinian monastery and began to read it.

That is why the Bible must be read. An unread Bible is just like good food that is left unconsumed – all its nutritive value is not released. All its power remains locked up inside. It cannot produce any of the effects it was meant to produce in our lives. We should therefore not allow our Bibles to remain unread. In fact, reading the Bible every day should be just as important to us as eating our three meals each day.

This truth is mentioned in Job 23:12 – "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food."According to Job, the Word of God is the most basic necessity in life, and even more important than his food. Some people may object to this and say,

"That cannot be right. If we don’t have food to eat we would not even be well enough to give any attention to the Scriptures. It is easy for a person who is rich and healthy to make such a statement, but surely it cannot apply to those who do not have any food to eat. When a person’s stomach is empty, how can he be bothered to think about God’s Word? God’s Word cannot fill his empty stomach." 

To answer this, one only has to look at Job’s circumstances when he said, "I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food." At that time, Job had become a very poor, destitute man. All his wealth, his family and even his health had been taken away from him. He was hungry with nothing left at all. And yet, even in his struggle to survive, he considered the Word of God as being his greatest necessity. Why is this so? Let us consider four reasons…

I. Why It is Necessary to Absorb the Word

A. The Word Sustains Our Souls

Let us do a little comparison here. All that the food we eat does to us is to sustain our physical bodies. What happens to that body at the end of our short life on earth? It dies and returns to the earth. But the Scriptures are our spiritual food, which sustains not our bodies, but our souls. And our souls never die. They continue to live for ever after our bodies have turned into dust. Isn’t it more important for us then, to sustain our souls rather than our bodies, with the life-giving words of Scripture? And that is not all that they do for our souls:

B. The Word Satisfies Our Souls

It brings a deep and lasting joy to the soul that feeds upon it. Have you ever enjoyed a meal that was so good that you went back for a second helping and even for a third helping? I am sure you have. But all that the good food does is to satisfy your taste-buds and fill your stomach for a while. God’s Word makes an even better meal for you. It brings far greater satisfaction. For it satisfies your mind with the knowledge of God, and it fills your soul with the joy of the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah testified of this: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart…" (Jeremiah 15:16) Besides sustaining the soul and satisfying the soul,

C. The Word Strengthens Our Souls

One thing that makes people want to eat good food, is the desire to become strong and healthy. Certain kinds of food are known to strengthen one’s immunity and give additional strength for some important difficult task. Many of us may remember how our mothers used to boil herbs like ginseng, and make us drink essence of chicken when we had to sit for exams. Well God’s Word strengthens us in a far better way than all this special food can. It is the best tonic to take, especially when your soul is weak and weary. Listen to what the psalmist said in Psalm 119:28, "My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen Thou me according unto thy word." There is one more thing that the Word does for us:

D. The Word Develops Our Souls

We all know that food is very essential for the body’s normal growth and development. We know the saying, "You are what you eat." That is why we parents keep telling our children to eat their meals, and we become very anxious when they don’t eat well. But all that this food can do is to make them grow taller, and after some time, when they have reached their full stature, they cannot grow anymore except sideways. But when we feed on the Scriptures, we will grow, and we can keep on growing into the image of Christ. If you have not been feeding on the Scriptures, please build up a good appetite for it. Commit yourself now to make Bible reading a vital part of your life. In order to do this you may want to consider:

II. Some Practical Suggestions for Absorbing the Word

A. The Time to Do It

Perhaps you may ask: How can you find the time to read the Bible? Free time is so scarce for most Christians that it is never found. So we must deliberately set aside time for Bible reading, scheduling it at a regular time of day, if possible. This is not an unreasonable demand, seeing how easily we can always find time to eat our meals each day. The time of day you choose for Bible reading should be the time when your body and mind are fresh and not weary, without any pressures or distractions from without. There is no substitute for being alone with God and His Word. Having determined the time we will spend to do this, the next thing we need to decide is…

B. The Passage to Read

The length of the passage you read will vary from time to time. One chapter is an average length. But sometimes, especially in the deeper doctrinal portions of the Bible, you should read no more than a paragraph or even a verse. Some have chosen to read through the Bible in a year, which involves reading 3 to 4 chapters a day (there are 1,189 chapters in the Bible). A more practical plan is to read through the Bible in three years (at a rate of one chapter a day).

In determining the length of the passage to be read, remember that you want to read that which can be read thoroughly. The important thing is not how many times you have gone through the Bible, but whether the Bible has gone through you. George Muller’s rule as to the length of the passage read each time was this –

"I read until I come to a verse upon which I can lean my whole weight then stop." 

When you have resolved to read the Bible regularly, you then need to know:

III. What Absorbing the Word Involves

Have you ever read an entire page in a book unaware of what you were reading? If so, then you know that it is possible to read the Bible without gaining anything from it! The eye-activity, basic as it is to reading, is not enough to absorb the Word. More activities are involved. The first of these is to…

A. Reading

1. Read Prayerfully. In the same way that you say grace before eating, you should pray that the Lord will bless your Bible reading. Use the prayer of Psalm 119:18 – "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Ask God to direct your thoughts, reflections and ponderings deeper and deeper into the fullness and sweetness of His truth. The second activity that can help you to absorb the Word is to…

2. Read Aloud.Reading aloud to oneself was a universal practice in the ancient world. This was how the Ethiopian official in our passage read the Scriptures. In March this year, a non-stop Bible reading marathon was organised at a place in England called Bath. This was done to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the KJV. It took 96 hours for 400 volunteers to complete reading the entire Bible aloud. Reading the Bible aloud is quite a different experience from reading it silently. It will amaze you how new vistas are opened as you hear your own voice speaking words and sentences you may never have voiced before.

When you read a Bible passage aloud, read it interpretatively, with meaning and feeling. For a start, you can try reading the Psalms aloud. The blessed effects of reading aloud from the Psalms are described by William Law, in his classic work, "A serious call to the devout and holy life": "You are to consider this [reading aloud] of a psalm as a necessary beginning of your devotions, as something that is to awaken all that is good and holy within you, that is to call your spirits to their proper duty, to set you in your best posture towards heaven, and tune all the powers of your soul to worship and adoration. For there is nothing that so clears a way for your prayers, nothing that so disperses dullness of heart, nothing that so purifies the soul from poor and careless passions, nothing that so opens heaven, or carries your heart so near to it, as these songs of praise." We go on now to the third activity that can help you to absorb the Word, which is to…

3. Read Carefully. Don’t read a passage too quickly or mechanically. There is a place in Bible study for quick reading (as in doing a broad survey), but in devotional reading you must read slowly as well as carefully, weighing each word that you read, and even the punctuation. Each word in the Bible has a function. Always seek to find out what that function is. This may be slow going, but it is necessary for absorbing the Word.

Here is an analogy: When you go for a vacation overseas, a conducted tour may take you through a country so fast that you do not really see the land. You will gain a lot more by having a ‘free and easy’ tour, where you can journey slowly at your own pace to absorb not only the sights but also the sounds and the aromas. Study the Bible as a traveler who is not pushed by any impulse to dart off to the next stop. Be patient. Take time to gaze across its fields of truths. Take time to climb its mountains of vision, and to cross its valleys of trial. Cool yourself in its streams of inspiration. That is the way to absorb the Word! Take in all that you can take as the Holy Spirit guides you through its many halls of instruction. Train your eyes to read each passage of Scripture carefully, and then you will discover precious truths which you had never seen before. Now we proceed to the fourth activity that can help you to absorb the Word, which is to…

4. Read Repeatedly. Return often to the beginning of the passage. Irving Jensen says, "One thrust of the spade does not unearth all the gems of the Bible’s mine." Don’t ever think that you have exhausted the meaning of a verse when it becomes familiar to you. John Bunyan said that "Old truths are always new to us if they come to us with the smell of Heaven upon them." We now come to the fifth activity that helps you to absorb the Word, which is to…

5. Read Peripherally. Peripheral vision is seeing the surroundings while the eye is focused straight ahead. Good car drivers must have excellent peripheral vision. So in Bible study you should keep your eyes open to the surrounding context of the words you are reading. This can be one of the best single study aids in understanding the passage. The sixth and last activity that can help you to absorb the Word is to…

6. Read Imaginatively. Do you best to imagine what the writer or his original audience was going through. If the passage is a narrative, try to visualize the setting. Take this verse as an example: "[Jesus] ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, gave thanks to God, broke them and gave them to His disciples to distribute to the crowd; and the disciples did so" (Mark 8:6). As you read this, try to imagine yourself as one of the persons in the crowd of 4,000 people, or as one of the disciples. What would your thoughts and feelings be as you realise that a miracle is taking place – that 7 loaves of bread can be sufficient to feed such a huge crowd? Imaginative reading will give birth to many blessed insights. You will begin to see how rich God’s Word really is!

And so we have seen how reading the Word ought to be done aloud, prayerfully, carefully, repeatedly, peripherally, and imaginatively. But if you really want to absorb the Word fully, you must do more than just read it. You should do some writing. Why?

B. Writing

Unless you are blessed with a photographic memory, it is impossible for you to retain all the things you discover in your study of the Word for very long. This is because the Bible contains so much, and because the Holy Spirit keeps pouring more and more illumination into your mind from each verse as you meditate on the Word.

What can you do to retain all that you see? Write them down! Write them down on a piece of paper or in the margins of your Bible. This becomes a permanent record of the insights you have gained. Underline the words and write your observations as you see them, and your mind will then be released to look for more. Not only does writing provide a permanent record of what has been observed in Bible study. Writing also initiates other lines of inquiry. Asking the right questions can help you to extract the elements from each passage of Scripture. Rudyard Kipling once wrote: "I have six faithful men who taught me all I know, Their names are What and Where and When, and How and Why and Who." Here are some suggested questions you can ask:

1. What is the main point of the passage? Determining the main point is basic to understanding the various smaller parts of the passage. In this connection also identify a verse in the passage that strikes you as being its key verse. Every passage will have such a verse; some passages may yield more than one. Another question is…

2. What do other portions of the Bible say that relates to some of these truths? A Bible which provides cross references in the margins will be of help here; your acquaintance with the Bible in general will also help. Another question is…

3. What in the passage is difficult to understand; and what problems, if any, appear? Note them down for further study later on. Further reading may provide the answers. Reference to commentaries and other outside helps will aid you in a more complete analytical study. Another question that you should ask is…

4. How does the truth in this passage apply to your own life? What difference should it make in your life? Your Bible study is incomplete until you anwer this question, because it is right here that your study of the Word becomes profitable! Write down the application using the personal pronouns I, me or my. E.g. "I need to trust in the Lord much more."

We have seen that absorbing the Word involves reading and writing. There is one more thing you need to do to fully absorb the Word.

C. Memorising

There are many benefits of the Word that can only be enjoyed when it is committed to memory. Let us look at Psalm 119:11 – "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee." Look also at Psalm 37:31 – "The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide." These verses tell us that when we face temptations to sin, the verses that we have memorised will help us to remain firm and stable, to overcome temptation. Jesus Himself demonstrated this (Matthew 4). When he was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days He used memorised scripture verses to withstand each attack of Satan.

Another valuable benefit of memorising scripture is given in Psalm 40:8 – "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart." Throughout our life there will be many choices for us to make. Some choices are very difficult to make, but if we have faithfully stored God’s Word in our hearts, The Holy Spirit will use it to guide and instruct us to make the right choices and decisions in daily life, which are in accordance with the will of God.

There is one more benefit of memorising scripture. It is found in Colossians 3:16 – "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…." Memorising Scripture equips us to teach and admonish other Christians. Memorised verses become immediate remedies that are always available to us when we need to help, counsel, comfort, advise, and even correct the lives of friends, colleagues and loved ones. If we store them up in our minds, the Holy Spirit will direct us to use the verses that are most appropriate for each situation.

Perhaps you may want to know how to memorise portions of Scripture. First of all you should make sure that you understand what you are memorising. If there are any difficult words, find their meaning and if there are unfamiliar words, learn how to pronounce them. When you have read through all the verses and understood them, then go to the next step: Divide the passage into smaller units which are meaningful but easy to master. When you have divided the passage into ‘bite-sized’ portions, you can then memorise each unit, one at a time.

This takes us to the third step: Read the unit aloud, and then recite it three or four times without looking. Repetition is the key to good memorisation. After you are confident in that unit, go to the next and repeat the process. After that, try to recite all the units you have memorised without stopping, before going on to the next.

After you have memorised the whole passage, the fourth step is to take a short break without thinking at all about the passage. Then recite the passage again from memory. If you get stuck at certain points, look at the passage again, and take note of those problem points.

And with that, we end our message on ‘Absorbing the Word’. May the Lord help all of us to absorb His Word well through the practical skills that we have learned today, of reading, writing and memorizing. I would urge you to start applying them – this is your homework assignment for this week. Commit yourself to do these things, and then you will be able to say, like Job, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food." 

When you read a Bible passage aloud, read it interpretatively, with meaning and feeling. For a start, you can try reading the Psalms aloud. The blessed effects of reading aloud from the Psalms are described by William Law, in his classic work, "A serious call to the devout and holy life": "You are to consider this [reading aloud] of a psalm as a necessary beginning of your devotions, as something that is to awaken all that is good and holy within you, that is to call your spirits to their proper duty, to set you in your best posture towards heaven, and tune all the powers of your soul to worship and adoration. For there is nothing that so clears a way for your prayers, nothing that so disperses dullness of heart, nothing that so purifies the soul from poor and careless passions, nothing that so opens heaven, or carries your heart so near to it, as these songs of praise." We go on now to the third activity that can help you to absorb the Word, which is to…

3. Read Carefully. Don’t read a passage too quickly or mechanically. There is a place in Bible study for quick reading (as in doing a broad survey), but in devotional reading you must read slowly as well as carefully, weighing each word that you read, and even the punctuation. Each word in the Bible has a function. Always seek to find out what that function is. This may be slow going, but it is necessary for absorbing the Word.

Here is an analogy: When you go for a vacation overseas, a conducted tour may take you through a country so fast that you do not really see the land. You will gain a lot more by having a ‘free and easy’ tour, where you can journey slowly at your own pace to absorb not only the sights but also the sounds and the aromas. Study the Bible as a traveler who is not pushed by any impulse to dart off to the next stop. Be patient. Take time to gaze across its fields of truths. Take time to climb its mountains of vision, and to cross its valleys of trial. Cool yourself in its streams of inspiration. That is the way to absorb the Word! Take in all that you can take as the Holy Spirit guides you through its many halls of instruction. Train your eyes to read each passage of Scripture carefully, and then you will discover precious truths which you had never seen before. Now we proceed to the fourth activity that can help you to absorb the Word, which is to…

4. Read Repeatedly. Return often to the beginning of the passage. Irving Jensen says, "One thrust of the spade does not unearth all the gems of the Bible’s mine." Don’t ever think that you have exhausted the meaning of a verse when it becomes familiar to you. John Bunyan said that "Old truths are always new to us if they come to us with the smell of Heaven upon them." We now come to the fifth activity that helps you to absorb the Word, which is to…

5. Read Peripherally. Peripheral vision is seeing the surroundings while the eye is focused straight ahead. Good car drivers must have excellent peripheral vision. So in Bible study you should keep your eyes open to the surrounding context of the words you are reading. This can be one of the best single study aids in understanding the passage. The sixth and last activity that can help you to absorb the Word is to…

6. Read Imaginatively. Do you best to imagine what the writer or his original audience was going through. If the passage is a narrative, try to visualize the setting. Take this verse as an example: "[Jesus] ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, gave thanks to God, broke them and gave them to His disciples to distribute to the crowd; and the disciples did so" (Mark 8:6). As you read this, try to imagine yourself as one of the persons in the crowd of 4,000 people, or as one of the disciples. What would your thoughts and feelings be as you realise that a miracle is taking place – that 7 loaves of bread can be sufficient to feed such a huge crowd? Imaginative reading will give birth to many blessed insights. You will begin to see how rich God’s Word really is!

And so we have seen how reading the Word ought to be done aloud, prayerfully, carefully, repeatedly, peripherally, and imaginatively. But if you really want to absorb the Word fully, you must do more than just read it. You should do some writing. Why?

B. Writing

Unless you are blessed with a photographic memory, it is impossible for you to retain all the things you discover in your study of the Word for very long. This is because the Bible contains so much, and because the Holy Spirit keeps pouring more and more illumination into your mind from each verse as you meditate on the Word.

What can you do to retain all that you see? Write them down! Write them down on a piece of paper or in the margins of your Bible. This becomes a permanent record of the insights you have gained. Underline the words and write your observations as you see them, and your mind will then be released to look for more. Not only does writing provide a permanent record of what has been observed in Bible study. Writing also initiates other lines of inquiry. Asking the right questions can help you to extract the elements from each passage of Scripture. Rudyard Kipling once wrote: "I have six faithful men who taught me all I know, Their names are What and Where and When, and How and Why and Who." Here are some suggested questions you can ask:

1. What is the main point of the passage? Determining the main point is basic to understanding the various smaller parts of the passage. In this connection also identify a verse in the passage that strikes you as being its key verse. Every passage will have such a verse; some passages may yield more than one. Another question is…

2. What do other portions of the Bible say that relates to some of these truths? A Bible which provides cross references in the margins will be of help here; your acquaintance with the Bible in general will also help. Another question is…

3. What in the passage is difficult to understand; and what problems, if any, appear? Note them down for further study later on. Further reading may provide the answers. Reference to commentaries and other outside helps will aid you in a more complete analytical study. Another question that you should ask is…

4. How does the truth in this passage apply to your own life? What difference should it make in your life? Your Bible study is incomplete until you anwer this question, because it is right here that your study of the Word becomes profitable! Write down the application using the personal pronouns I, me or my. E.g. "I need to trust in the Lord much more."

We have seen that absorbing the Word involves reading and writing. There is one more thing you need to do to fully absorbkthe Word.

C. Memorising

There are many benefits of the Word that can only be enjoyed when it is committed to memory. Let us look at Psalm 119:11 – "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee." Look also at Psalm 37:31 – "The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide." These verses tell us that when we face temptations to sin, the verses that we have memorised will help us to remain firm and stable, to overcome temptation. Jesus Himself demonstrated this (Matthew 4). When he was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days He used memorised scripture verses to withstand each attack of Satan.

Another valuable benefit of memorising scripture is given in Psalm 40:8 – "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my he!rt." Throughout our life there will be many choices for us to make. Some choices are very difficult to make, but if we have faithfully stored God’s Word in our hearts, The Holy Spirit will use it to guide and instruct us to make the right choices and decisions in daily life, which are in accordance with the will of God.

There is one more benefit of memorising scripture. It is found in Colossians 3:16 – "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…." Memorising Scripturekequips us to teach and admonish other Christians. Memorised verses become immediate remedies that are always available to us when we need to help, counsel, comfort, advise, and even correct the lives of friends, colleagues and loved ones. If we store them up in our minds, the Holy Spirit will direct us to use the verses that are most appropriate for each situation.

Perhaps you may want to know how to memorise portions of Scripture. First of all you should make sure that you understand what you are memorising. If there are any difficult words, find their meaning and if there are unfamiliar words, learn how to pronounce them. When you have read through all the verses and understood them, then go to the next step: Divide the passage into smaller units which are meaningful but easy 4o master. When you have divided the passage into ‘bite-sized’ portions, you can then memorise each unit, one at a time.

This takes us to the third step: Read the unit aloud, and then recite it three or four times without looking. Repetition is the key to good memorisation. After you are confident in that unit, go to the next and repeat the process. After that, try to recite all the units you have memorised without stopping, before going on to the next.

After you have memorised the whole passage, the fourth step is to take a short break without thinking at all about the passage. Then recite the passage again from memory. If you get stuck at certain points, look at the passage again, and take note of those problem points. 

And with that, we end our message on ‘Absorbing the Word’. May the Lord help all of us to absorb His Word well through the practical skills that we have learned today, of reading, writing and memorizing. I would urge you to start applying them – this is your homework assignment for this week. Commit yourself to do these things, and then you will be able to say, like Job, 

"I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food."

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25