The price for owning a Bible is steep in some countries. In one country, Christians are sentenced to fifteen years in prison for owning a copy. Smugglers risk their lives bringing copies into closed nations. Churches and homes are raided so Bibles can be confiscated and destroyed. Bookstores and printing shops that distribute Christian literature are subject to the same treatment.
Christians in these places are desperate for God’s Word. Some wait their entire lives to receive a Bible. I once read of a group of Christians who wrote down every Scripture they heard on a radio broadcast to create a homemade “Bible” on loose sheets of paper. These believers regard the Bible as a precious treasure. They take great risks by owning and reading it, but do so joyfully because it is their most valuable possession.
Contrast this with the American church. Most American Christians own several copies of the Bible. We have devotional Bibles, chronological Bibles, study Bibles…you name it! Some of us even pay extra for our names to be imprinted on the cover. But few of us actually read them. In fact, the average Christian spends more time watching TV in one evening than reading the Bible in an entire week!
This bears out the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” We are so familiar with God’s Word that we no longer appreciate it. Just as we throw away food that is still good to eat and pour out water that is still good to drink, so we allow our Bibles to sit on a bookshelf gathering dust. We neglect our source of spiritual strength and nourishment because we take it for granted.
Martin Luther faced a similar situation, but for a different reason. People in his day didn’t read the Bible either. But it wasn’t because they willfully ignored it; it was because it wasn’t available to them. The church had monopolized the Word of God. It was written in Latin, and its meaning was shrouded by centuries of complicated theology. So the Bible was accessible only to educated clergy.
Luther made God’s Word accessible to the common man. He published the first edition of his German Bible in 1534, and spent the rest of his life refining it. He taught from several books of the Bible and wrote many commentaries. He preached multiple times a week. And he read the entire Bible twice a year.
He compared studying the Bible to picking apples: “First I shake the whole apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.”
Contrast this with the American church. In a country where the Bible (and resources to help us understand it) is more accessible than ever, are we shaking the apple tree of God’s Word for ourselves? Are we looking under each leaf? Or are we are content for others to vomit regurgitated fruit down for us from its lowest branches?
Many bemoan that our country’s moral foundation is eroding. But can we blame our country? The Prophets teach that the fate of a nation depends on the health of its church. If we have lost our biblical moorings, can we expect anything else of America?
Like medieval Europe, the church in our day needs a reformation. And every reformation begins with the rediscovery of God’s Word. The American church must devote itself anew to the Bible. May God grant us Luther’s dedication to read, study, and obey it tirelessly!
How are you “shaking the apple tree”? In other words, how do you stay grounded in God’s Word? How can you do better? Leave your thoughts with a comment below!
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