Robbing Ourselves of Comfort
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
When Paul refers to the things written before, what does he mean? Well, perhaps a look at the previous verse of this same chapter can help us. “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’” Paul was referring to something that was written in the 69th psalm of the Old Testament, and when he says, “whatever things were written before”, don’t we know that Paul refers to the entirety of the Old Testament?
The breadth of the knowledge that God has provided for us as Christians includes the Old Testament, and when we exclude these books from our studies we are, in effect, robbing ourselves of patience, comfort, and hope.
Paul’s words also reveal to us a purpose for the preservation of the Old Testament. These things weren’t preserved to be considered from a purely academic standpoint. They shed light on the coming of Jesus, the certainty of His identity as the Messiah, and the reasons for His behavior. Paul explains the behavior of Jesus by quoting an Old Testament passage about Jesus while, at the same time, telling his audience to imitate Jesus.
Perhaps we could help our motivation to study the Old Testament by trying to summarize the content of each book and then adding the phrase, “…and God.” For example, What is the book of Joshua about? It is about the battles that Israel fought when they invaded the land of Canaan, how the land was divided among the tribes, and God. What is the book of Judges about? It is about a time of persistent idolatry in Israel, the men and women who helped relieve Israel’s suffering, and God.
Perhaps it would be even more accurate to put God at the beginning of our summaries of Old Testament books, for we believe the Old Testament books are always theological first, then historical, poetic, etc. Consider what Paul says later to Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16). All Scripture is, first and foremost, about God, what He is doing, and what He is showing to men -- especially with respect to the coming of Jesus.
If we completely exclude any book of the Bible from our studies we will not only rob ourselves of potential patience, comfort, and hope, but we will leave ourselves with an incomplete picture of who God is and what He does. We will leave ourselves with an incomplete understanding of His glory.
Are some books more challenging than others? Yes. Will one particular set of ideas about Bible study solve all of our problems? No. Can this process be completed in the course of a human lifetime? Not fully, and this fact may be a blessing in disguise. The breadth of what God has given us coupled with the frailties of human life guarantee us an endless supply of truths about God to be discovered and, in many cases, remembered. And remembrance is one of the most important aspects of how human beings sustain their desire for the things of God: “For he who lacks these things is short-sighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” (2 Peter 1:9)