How do you like to read your Bible?
I joke that reading is my love language. But as a mother of four active teenager(ish) kids, I am rarely able to find pockets of time that give me a quality experience with my escape du’ jour. That’s why it’s great fun to work (part-time) as a fiction reviewer for a leading industry magazine. When my editor assigns a book, Mommy is under orders (“It’s my job!”) to ensconce myself in a comfy chair with what is usually a good read. When I am able to finish the book in one or two sittings, my reviews are more accurate and insightful. Plotlines are more easily recalled, and characters remain vibrant and memorable.
I once took on a challenge to read through the New Testament in forty(ish) days and found remarkable similarities to my ideal reviewing scenario. That timeline requires reading chunks of scripture—sometimes eight to twelve chapters—in one sitting, pretty ambitious for someone who usually takes several months on a study of one book. The Gospels, though repetitious, weren’t too difficult. Acts moved more quickly—it was fascinating to follow characters continually through so much action and drama. It also allowed me to see the larger plot of how the church grew numerically and spread geographically.
And then I came to Paul’s letters, many of which I would read completely in one sitting. How often do we really do that? With all the quotable quotes and Instagramable imagery, we so easily forget that these were correspondence from a leader to his friends, from a pastor to his congregants. Beyond the important doctrine, these letters also reveal relationships, disappointments, and dreams.
Choose a letter that Paul wrote and read it from start to finish in one sitting. You’ll discover an amazing display of emotion between Paul and his readers. For instance, he closes Romans, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and others with personal greetings and praises of his coworkers and friends—by name. He often lists their accomplishments in spreading the gospel as partners alongside himself or as protégés left to carry on the work.
He grieved eloquently over the Galatians’ willingness to stray from the true gospel (Gal. 1). He admonished the Corinthians over their petty divisions (1 Cor 3) and double-mindedness (1 Cor. 5), while extolling their shared calling as ambassadors tasked with reconciling people to God and each other (2 Cor. 5). He called out specific people sinning publicly (Phil 4:2). He clearly loved the people in the churches he founded: “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).
By reading his letters as correspondence, we find context for individual verses that deepen our understanding of his original meaning. This leads to more accurate interpretation and then application in our own lives. Every book in the Bible has a unique story to tell, and we are richer for pulling up a comfy chair and burying our noses into one at a time.