Learning the Language
I will never forget my first semester of Greek in 2008. I had never taken a language before and all the new letters, sounds, and rules was quite overwhelming. I had learned basic words in Korean and Pashto while overseas in the Army, but I wasn’t actually learning the language. Sitting down every day and learning these new letters and sounds, on one hand, was quite dry and repetitious. But on the other hand, they were transporting me into a world that existed 2,000 years ago.
Thankfully, our English translations are so good that we rarely miss the differences between the original languages of the Bible and the English language today. Yet, even the English Bible transports us into customs and traditions that are thousands of years old. I would argue that these types of things are what often keep Christians from regularly reading the Bible. I have known people who are passionate to know God, commit to reading their Bible regularly, only to stop when a 2-3 day stretch gets difficult or confusing. I have known people who would rather tell them what the Bible says than to commit to a consistent reading of it for themselves.
We all must confess that the Bible is difficult to read sometimes. I just finished Leviticus and was tempted to skim it, but to rightly understand much of the New Testament means an understanding of books like Leviticus. It was through this commitment to mine and dig in these words from thousands of years ago that led to a sweetness of better understanding who Christ is and what he accomplished as our spotless Lamb, our sympathetic high priest, and our once for all atonement (especially in Hebrews).
This leads me to one more thing we may need to confess: we often approach the Bible like it’s magic. We think because it’s the Word of God that we somehow can open it, read a couple verses, and be instantaneously changed. However, in God’s created world, most things take work and reading the Bible is no exception. Is it a Divinely inspired book? Yes. Is it infallible because the Divine Author is infallible? Yes? But it takes work. Like learning a new language, the Bible takes reading consistently, meditating on slowly, discussing with others, and praying it’s words to God Himself. It is work, but a work that will reward you more than any other form of work in this world. As John Piper says on page 10 of his book Future Grace, "Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.” Sure, you can open the Bible and read a Proverb today and it may encourage you or help you, but it’s in the hard work of digging where you find the greatest treasure: Christ Himself.
HOW TO DIG
Let me give you a quick example. This morning I was reading Psalm 39. Psalm 39:1 says, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.’”
The first temptation is to keep reading without thinking. The second temptation is to conclude: Being nice is good, being mean is bad. Are those two temptations sinful? No. It is a form of raking that fails to dig for diamonds. It is a failure to learn the language of the Bible that the Spirit longs to use to change our hearts. So, what does it look like to slow down and dig and learn the language? Here are a couple observations, conclusions, and an application:
David is saying he will not sin with his tongue. That is hard, isn’t it. It is for me, even with those i LOVE.
David will not sin with his tongue, “so long as the wicked are in my presence.” I have a hard time controlling my tongue with my loved ones, how much more with those who intend to harm me?
I can then ask, why do I find it so hard to muzzle my tongue? Sure, I can subdue it for a little while by my own strength but I know it’s bound to start a fire (James 3).
So what do I do with this uncontrollable tongue? In Psalm 39:3-4, David takes his anger and uncontrollable tongue to the LORD Himself. David asks that the LORD would show him how fleeting and temporary his life is. Do you see what he is doing? He is not blaming the wicked for his inability to control his tongue. No, he takes his need to the LORD and wants to be reminded that he is temporary. This will humble any man or woman.
Years later, a greater King than David would come to this world. The Apostle John calls him the Word (John 1:1-4). This Word, Jesus Christ, would only speak in a way that would offer grace to all those that would come into his presence confessing their need, especially the need for a new tongue.
All those whom Christ redeems begin to learn the language of the Scriptures. They no longer speak as the old unredeemed person, but as the new. Paul explains the new language of the redeemed like this: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
A redeemed person has a new heart that produces a new type of language, a language that speaks the native tongue of the kingdom of God, the language of grace.
The sobering truth is that we will grow in speaking this new language, but sometimes we will go back to speaking the language of the world. But one Day, Christ our King will descend upon this world and set up his kingdom in it’s fullness upon the earth (Rev. 221-4). We will only speak the native tongue of our God, the language of grace.
Diamonds! This digging brings us to the person and work of Christ. His language, the Word of God, is beautiful and rewarding. The question I want to leave you with is a question Brett McCracken asks in his newest book, The Wisdom Pyramid: “Do we wake up in the morning with a hunger for the ‘sweeter than honey’ daily sustenance of Scripture, full of God-given nutrients that have fed billions of people over thousands of years, or do we instead go to the vending machines of our smartphones, snacking on whatever addictive candy appeals to our tastes at the moment?”