There’s more to the Bible than verses like John 3:16. Are you missing what God wants to teach because your mind gravitates towards them?
I praise God for the discipline He’s enabled me to have to read through the Bible every year since 2010. Yet I also don’t like an unfortunate habit I’ve noticed in myself [while reading] during each of those years (including 2014) that I wish to share, which by grace I’m trying to change now. Perhaps you can relate to missing a lot of what the Bible has to teach while you’re having face-to-face time with God, simply because your eyes and mind are so easily drawn to what I’ll refer to as buzz verses in this post.
There are so many of them. John 3:16 (the sure #1); Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 23:1,4; Psalm 46:1; Ephesians 2:8-9; and we could go blue in the face rattling off a thousand more.
I want to bring attention to this subject because, a) you probably don’t think about it much (as I don’t), b) as a result of a, it’s probably not discussed much, and c) as a result of a and b, our walks with the Lord can suffer. That’s hardly to say we’re terrible Christians for it, or that the problem will prevent us from growing leaps and bounds in the faith. This is more a matter of fine-tuning. And since regular time in the Word of God is a non-negotiable for all believers, this problem is worth our increased awareness. An effort to correct it I hope will yield spiritual dividends in the long haul.
It all boils down to the following straightforward concept that’s dawned on me as I’m using my 2014 reading plan. (And if you haven’t taken the opportunity to start using one, it’s certainly not too late!) Essentially, the next time you read Scripture, I encourage you to try to divorce your mind from knowing where you are in the actual act of reading. In other words, say John 3 is part of your face-to-face time. Instead of getting yourself caught up in knowing, “OK, here comes “For God so loved the world…”, allow me to suggest simply reading. That’s how Scripture was digested for millennia anyway since there weren’t chapter numbers, verse numbers, topical line breaks, etc. Those identifications aren’t divinely inspired. People put them in much later only to make referencing specific Scripture more universally practical.
Then, by simply reading (and let’s stick with John 3 here), you can benefit so much more and draw so much closer to God by paying closer to attention to everything He has to say in a given passage. Let’s take the conversation that occurs between Jesus and Nicodemus before what we identify as the sixteenth verse and before the narrative about John the Baptist. There’s plenty of good stuff to learn in 1-15, as Christ highlights Nicodemus’s (a Pharisee) failure to grasp God’s intended teaching in the books of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel… which is sad because his fellow Jews look to him as an expert teacher of the Mosaic Law! At least the poor fellow managed to properly identify Jesus as sent from God, despite completely blowing it by wondering how a human was to possibly exit his mother’s womb a second time. This helps us as twenty-first century believers to understand the precious value of the Old Testament, seeing as Christ is constantly quoting from it in the gospels. John 3 is significantly more than a reference point that God sent Christ to be mankind’s Savior! And after you work through the conversation, then be careful that you don’t get caught by John 3:30, another buzz verse. John makes plenty of beautiful comments about our Messiah, and you can’t miss them simply because of his famously humble statement that his role in God’s kingdom pales in comparison to that of Jesus Christ!
An example from my own recent reading comes from Psalm 16. For those who said psalm is near and dear, you would likely know that “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” resides at the end of what David penned. I knew it would be there too because I saw it turning the page in my ESV study Bible, being curious how long Psalm 16 actually was, and the verse was highlighted as well. However, what a crying shame it would have been for me to miss verse 2, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” What a reminder that all my blessings come from God! Or even verse 4, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;”. A chilling comment teaching that every unbeliever will always be full of grief and never be satisfied apart from Jesus Christ! And yes I point out those specific verses, but of course there’s no less value in the other eight.
All this is to say that there’s plenty more [than what Christians typically point to as “familiar verses”] that God wants us to learn from. The Bible isn’t just a collection of buzz statements that we ought to live by anecdotally. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, there’s more than a lifetime’s worth of spiritual truth and principles to digest. We must treat all of it as important! Thus, the next time you read, do just that. Buzz verses are good and helpful, but never forget your God is in all of Scripture.