It is important for us to know how to study the Bible, and today’s reading gives us a chance to think a bit about that in raising an important question: How do we approach the stories in the Bible?
There isn’t a command to follow or a teaching to obey. There is not a promise to be claimed by faith. It’s a story, just a story, of something God did a long time ago. What does that have to do with us?
Stories are rarely “just stories”. They are a record of how God has acted in the past, and since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, they serve as a guide as to how we can expect Him to act in the future. They are also capture real life, flesh and blood pictures of what it looks like to live in harmony with God, and to have a relationship with him.
So how has God acted in this story? How did Paul act? What matters to Luke (the story teller) that maybe should matter to us as well? These are the kind of questions we ask in a passage like this. And then when we’ve answered them, we apply those answers to the present.
Here, for instance, are some the questions I find myself asking: How can I expect God to act today in a crisis I’m facing? What would it look like for me to trust God like Paul trusts God, in the dark of the night when the situation appears to be worsening (when the “ship is about to run aground”, or when I’m afraid of being abandoned)? What difference would it make in my life if the things that mattered most to Luke mattered the most to me (hint: Luke likes to count, and
just like the rest of us, what he counts is what is important to him).
Taking the time to read the story, to reflect on some questions, and to work through the answers and implications for our lives, is what it means to study the Bible. It’s how we discover God’s word for us—and not just what he has already said to someone else.