I did not grow up in a church that did “sword drills.” Many of my friends have described standing before the church, Bible in hand, just waiting for the leader to call out a verse. They would then race to the correct page and place their finger on the announced verse.
I must admit, I’m not sure how well I would have done at this kind of drill. I’ve read my Bible cover to cover multiple times and I absolutely know all of the books contained in it. Yet, even after twenty years of ministry, I still fumble a little when trying to remember whether Zephaniah is before or after Haggai.
The name “sword drill” comes from the book of Ephesians. In describing the “armor of God,” it mentions “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” In the book of Hebrews, we read, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
It is also from these texts that we get the idea of the Bible as “the word of God.” This week, however, I was reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis that gave me pause. In a personal letter to a “Mrs. Johnson” on November 8, 1952, Lewis was seeking to answer her question: “Is the Bible infallible?”
Lewis wrote, “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him… We must not use the Bible as a sort of encyclopedia out of which texts can be taken for use as weapons.”
John’s Gospel clearly states that Jesus is “the Word become flesh.” We read and study our holy scriptures in the hopes that they will bring us to “the Word” — that is, to Christ himself. Our interpretations of those texts must always reflect the character of Christ as “the Word.” Studying those sacred texts should create in the student a character that reflects that of “the Word.”
In other words, if our reading of scripture doesn’t cause us to love more deeply and extend compassion to others, we’ve read it wrong. If our reading of scripture doesn’t lead us to exchange the ways of this world (power, greed, selfishness, gossip, pride, etc.) for the ways of Christ, we’ve read it wrong. If our reading of scripture leads us to hate our brothers and sisters or see them as our enemy, we’ve read it wrong. If we read our scriptures only to cherry pick isolated verses that correspond to our preconceived prejudice and biases, we’ve read it wrong.
As I write these words, I catch myself humming the old hymn, “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life, / Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life… / Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.” In “the Word” there is life. Let us settle for nothing less.