Loving God’s Word

The Bible in my hand is the proof that God loves me.
Bible study is like entering into a marriage.

These statements are from Klaingar Ngarial who serves on the IFES regional team in French-speaking Africa. When I heard Klaingar use this love language to speak of Scripture engagement, I wanted to know more.

Why do you see the Bible as proof of God’s love to you?
Without the Bible, it would be impossible to know God and that is the biggest tragedy imaginable. Knowing God is the aim of everything which exists. God has given us the possibility to know him. At any given moment, I have access to his word.

In which ways is Bible study like entering into a marriage?
Both are about being together with another person. That forms us. Both when marrying and when studying the Bible, we need to want the other person and accept that this person has an influence on us.
As we read in the Bible, our thoughts and feelings are increasingly conformed to God’s Word. This process leads to deeper community with God.

What motivates you to read in the Bible?
I want to live in obedience towards God. And so, I don’t make my Bible reading dependent on whether I feel like it or not. And then, I am motivated by the desire to know God, to discover more of him. I can be in conversation with the creator of everything which exists! I can speak to him and he answers me as I meditate on his Word. Scripture leads to relational experiences with God.

As you read this interview, what thoughts come to your mind? What motivates you to read in the Bible? What images would you use to describe Scripture engagement?

As I travel around the IFES world, I meet numerous students for whom Bible reading has become a burdensome duty. Many of them grew up hearing ‘As a good Christian you must read your Bible’ – but they never really understood or internalized why it is important.

How can we help students grasp what a precious gift Scripture is to us? If we want to see students who are passionate about God’s Word, it is not enough to teach them methods of Bible study! We need to find ways of growing their love for God’s Word.

Sabine Kalthoff

What is Scripture Engagement?

This seemingly simple question is worth thinking about. Is Scripture engagement the same as reading my Bible?

IFES started to use the term “Scripture Engagement” in the Living Stones Vision 2020. I find this terminology helpful because it invites us to have a broad and relational view of the place of Scripture in our lives.

_Scripture engagement involves studying the Bible. But it is more than that: It is also loving, living, and sharing God’s Word.

_Scripture engagement needs specific times and places in which we interact with God’s Word. But it is more than that: Scripture engagement is not just an activity, it is a lifestyle.

_Scripture engagement helps us grow in our knowledge about God and this world. But it is more than that: It is entering into a transformative encounter with the living God.

At the heart of Scripture engagement lies a relationship. Scripture engagement is interacting with the Living God through his written word. The texts of Scripture are not just objects of study, but a room in which we enter to meet Jesus (See John 5:39-40). And so God’s Word draws us into the presence of God himself – inviting us to know and trust him, receive his grace, enjoy his fellowship, and renew our commitment to him.

Scripture engagement involves listening and responding to God. We know so much, yet struggle to translate it into life – many of us have big heads, but small feet. But a response is essential. God’s Word was not given to make smart students out of us, but lovers and disciples of Jesus who incarnate his Gospel in a lost and broken world.

So Scripture engagement is not finished until it is translated into life – into our words and deeds (See Matthew 7:24-27). This will only happen if we are willing to obey and able to engage Scripture in a way that is relevant to our context. Engaging with Scripture, with God, and with the world around us need to go hand in hand.

Who is the main actor in Scripture engagement? Is it we who pick up the Bible and study it? No. It is God. As we start to investigate Scripture, we soon discover that we are being investigated by the Word. God uses Scripture to connect with us through the work of the Holy Spirit. And so we come with the openness to listen, to be changed, and to be given our place as active participants in God’s story with this world.

The Bible mentions many ways of handling God’s Word: praising, honouring, hearing, meditating, taking to heart, remembering, eating, studying, understanding, accepting, receiving, trusting, doing, obeying, teaching, singing, proclaiming… and more. All of this is Scripture engagement. This video reflects on one of these verbs: eating God’s Word.

What is Scripture engagement? Why not take the time to talk about this question in your student groups and staff teams. It’s worth it!

Sabine Kalthoff

Why? What for?

IFES is committed to Scripture as God’s Word to us. We want students to read and study the Bible. Why? Please pause for a moment and think about why you read the Bible. What are your expectations as you do so?

Reading the Bible is not an end in itself. It is not about fulfilling a Christian duty for the sake of having done so. It is also not primarily about collecting information and facts (and then getting bored with Bible passages we think we already know).

As we seek to strengthen Scripture engagement in IFES our ultimate aim is not to see more students reading and studying the Bible. Yes, we want to see that happen, but for the sake of something greater. In God’s written word, students meet Jesus Christ, the Living Word – and get to know and trust him. Through God’s word, students grow in their love for God and for others, they receive grace and hope, they learn to see our world and themselves differently, they are challenged to place all of life under the Lordship of Christ. Scripture engagement is not an end in itself. Its ultimate aim is a transformative encounter with the living God. It is seeing God through his word shape us (individually and collectively) into the image of Christ.

The place of Scripture engagement in the Living Stones vision of IFES reflects this well: it is one of three core commitments which are to “surround and support” every aspect of IFES life. (See the Living Stones document: http://www.ifesworld.org/about/vision.) Scripture engagement is not one strategic priority set next to others; it is not an area of ministry which can be isolated from other things we are doing. It is integral to everything we do. This involves, for example, going through the six strategic priorities of the Living Stones vision asking questions like: How does Scripture shape our understanding, practice, and the content of evangelism? Which role does it play in strengthening leadership and formacion? How can we help students engage the university and their own field of studies through a biblical lens? And so on.

Why engage Scripture? How does Scripture engagement fit into the bigger picture of IFES student ministry? I encourage you to reflect on these questions with regard to your own life and ministry. One (of many) Bible passages worth meditating as you think about this is 2. Timothy 3:14-17.

Sabine Kalthoff