This morning I had the opportunity, as I do several times per year, to speak to a congregation on behalf of The Gideons International. You are probably familiar with the Gideons even if you don’t realize it; we’re the folks that place Bibles in hotels and hospitals, or give New Testaments to students, emergency personnel, and soldiers. One reason I have supported this ministry for as long as I can remember is that it has always retained a simple mission centered largely around scripture distribution. Funds raised in churches and through other donations from non-members are devoted entirely to purchasing Bibles; members of the association cover all of the overhead through annual dues. I generally abhor having to ask people for money, but honestly asking folks for money to buy Bibles, knowing that all of it really will be used for that purpose, is easy.
Gideon presentations in churches include the sharing of statistics such as the number of scriptures placed in the previous year (73.5 million) and since the association’s inception (2.35 billion), as well as the number of countries, territories and possessions in which we operate (200) and the number of languages in which we distribute scriptures (108). But the bulk of speaking time is devoted to sharing stories of people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ after reading a Gideon-placed scripture. Most of these are just ordinary folks who received a New Testament at school or found a Bible in a hotel room at a particularly dark moment, but occasionally we encounter more high-profile examples, such as the conversion story of internationally-known apologist and author Ravi Zacharias (b. 1946), who was converted through reading a Gideon Bible in a hospital room after a failed suicide attempt as a teenager. All of these stories are miraculous in their way; the saving of souls is the special work of the Spirit of God, and these Gideon Bibles are in the end just “seeds” being scattered. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6)
God clearly uses the reading of scripture to work faith in our hearts, yet amazingly even those who claim to love the Bible and believe it to be the Word of God rarely read it and know little of what it says. According to a recent Lifeway study, people in general tend to revere or respect the Bible, but fewer than half of Americans have read the scriptures to any significant degree. Even professing Christians are incredibly inconsistent in this regard, with only 49% of professing evangelicals self-reporting as being likely to read the Bible each day, according to this same study. There is a remarkable inconsistency in claiming to believe a book to be revealed by God, yet not bothering to find out what it says.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t have a Bible? I’m sure you can find one. Send me an email and I’ll send you one. Or visit Bible Gateway or any number of free online Bible resources. Even the Gideons have an Bible-reading app! It is easier to read the Word of God today than ever.
Perhaps you ignore the Bible thinking that you will find contradictions or logical errors and such. Interestingly, most people who claim the scriptures to be “full of contradictions” can’t name one. While there are a few difficulties in the text, there are no unanswerable ones, and the Bible’s internal consistency is impossible to ignore. In the end, the message is simple: God made us, we sinned against God, and God sent his Son to redeem fallen, sinful people for himself. That message might sound absurd or offensive, but it is not inconsistent or contradictory.
Or maybe you are afraid that the scriptures will somehow convict you of your own shortcomings. I can guarantee that they will. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) Thankfully, while the Bible lays bare our shortcomings it also offers forgiveness through Christ for all that believe. Its central message is one of hope, not condemnation.
Speaking of famous individuals who were converted through reading scripture, few are more noteworthy than Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who in his Confessions wrote of his own remarkable conversion through reading God’s Word:
As I was saying this and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house chanting as if it might be a boy or a girl (I do not know which), saying and repeating over and over again “Pick up and read, pick up and read.” At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children’s game in which such a chant is used. But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first chapter I might find…. So I hurried back to the place where Alypius was sitting. There I had put down the book of the apostle when I got up. I seized it, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.” (Romans 13:13-14)
I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled. (152-153)
There we read the greatest theologian of the early church describing his own conversion from worldliness and unbelief to saving faith in Christ after obeying the unexpected call of “Pick up and read.” Or, in the original Latin, tolle lege. I have read the entire Bible through each year for at least fifteen years. It has never become dull or tiresome, its unity of message and purpose becomes ever more apparent, and its presentation of who God is and who we are seems even truer each time. Start reading today. It will challenge you but ultimately it will be a blessing to you. Tolle Lege!