God’s Word is a gift to be cherished, heeded, and heralded by God’s people. When we hold the Bible, we hold the word of God. This should be taken seriously.
In the summer of 2017, I was sent to Germany to join a missionary couple supported by my church. From June until August I had the honor to come under their mentorship and join with a local organization designed to reach refugees with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the course of those two months, I learned and experienced many things that will forever shape the way I do ministry. But one of the most eye-opening moments had to do specifically with God’s Word and a young woman I met named Rae*.
I met Rae only a few days into inviting refugees from the nearby camp to come to our organization’s facility. After connecting with her more personally, a brother in Christ and I met with Rae and her father to deepen our relationship and answer some questions they had about Christianity. A couple of hours into our time together, we wandered from the park into a mall and sat in the food court while Rae’s father went into the shops.
In the middle of that busy food court on a hot day in June, Rae had her first interaction with a Bible. Though she was young, her English was impeccable and she loved to read and listen to our language. My ministry partner and I rejoiced that the Holy Spirit guided the conversation to a place where we were not only able, but also asked, to show her the Scriptures.
As my friend held out his Bible to her, she took it eagerly and began to open it—only to immediately pause and hold the Bible back towards us. With a bit of fear in her voice, she asked, “Do I need to do anything?” We both immediately recalled what we had read from Nabeel Qureshi’s book No God but One about the way Muslims view the Qur’an, and we realized Rae was asking whether she needed to do anything to become ritually pure before handling the Bible. My friend responded with the simple and profound answer of, “No—it’s ok, Rae. Just as we do not need to cleanse ourselves before opening the Bible, we also do not need to clean ourselves up before we come to God. God comes to us in the midst of our uncleanliness and makes us clean.” What a wonderful window of opportunity to share the Gospel.
Though we do not need to embrace false ideas of the Bible being God or fall into the trap of believing the “Trinity is the Father, the Scripture and the Son”, I learned from watching Rae’s reverence. In fact, there was much to gather about reverence of God from those who had converted from Islam to Christianity and handled their Bibles with care. Have you ever heard the sound of someone tossing their Bible on the ground or chair before sitting down? Watched them carelessly sit on top of it? Seen them spill food or drink on it? I’ve been guilty of things like this before. But, until that summer, I hadn’t thought too much about it.
When I got back to my flat after our afternoon with Rae, I held my ESV journaling Bible in my hands. As I brushed through the pages, I saw notes scribbled in the margins and felt some of the crinkled edges on my fingertips. As the Bible I had taken overseas multiple times and used frequently in daily life, the spine had become detached from the leather wrap that served as its binding. It was well-loved.
Let me be clear: this is not wrong. Theologian Charles Spurgeon is famously quoted as saying, “a Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” Even in light of this sentiment, questions flooded my mind: Did I understand the weight of what is in my hands? Did I understand the power of the Author who gave me this gift of being able to understand and know Him through His Word? Did I understand the value of having God’s Word translated into my own native tongue?
I imagine that an unopened, pristine Bible used as a coffee table (or bookshelf) decoration grieves the heart of the Lord far more than someone accidentally setting a Bible down a bit too hard. But it is still good to acknowledge that context may shift the way we should communicate our care for the decrees of God; which are “more desirable than gold--than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10 CSB).
While worn and written words on Bible pages may communicate intimacy and value to one group of people, it could easily be misinterpreted as flippancy or disrespect by another. As we seek to share the Gospel, we should keep the perception of such things in mind. Regardless of that perception, though, our heart posture towards the Word should be one of care and desperation. Whether our physical Bible is coming apart or not, we should store up the word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), knowing that when all else fades, “the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Followers of Christ died and still die today trying to deliver this enduring word to others. There is a temptation for many of us who live in America (and especially in the Bible Belt where I am from) to take for granted the value of having access to any of the Scripture—let alone all of it. So many of us who have tasted of cultural Christianity have experienced the way verses have been either grossly taken out of context or pushed aside altogether to be replaced by pithy little pieces of human advice or experience. As Biblical illiteracy continues to grow, even those who sit in the pews weekly hold Bibles only open on Sundays. There are full churches crammed into suburbs where the people’s own houses are devoid of the Word. Some study and conform their lives to Twitter or Instagram more than they do to the word of the Lord.
This blasé attitude is not the one we see demonstrated by the faithful saints in the Bible, martyrs who have been killed for spreading the Scriptures, and certainly not by the Psalmist in Psalm 119 (which, if you would like to cultivate a heart posture towards Scripture that helps you develop a pattern of praise in your reading of the Word, you should take time to study).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must join the saints who have gone before us in combatting this complacency with which the Word of God is handled inside of the Church so we may more effectively reach those outside of the Church with the Gospel. Though it is primarily the responsibility of the pastor leading his flock to make sure that those under his care can study the Scriptures well, we can encourage him in that aim by studying the Scriptures well and helping others to do the same. No matter where in the world you are, I urge you to intentionally seek out men and women to disciple and train them in how to value, study, and share God’s Word.
*Refugee’s name has been changed for her protection.