What Is the Bible?—Guidebook for life

In a world in which many people find themselves confused and unsure about where to look to find clear and compelling answers to life's big questions, the Bible is uniquely positioned to help. It is a guidebook for life, telling us the basic facts we need to understand about ourselves and providing a roadmap for the future. It also helps with how to live: what sort of person we need to be if we want to please God and truly find lasting fulfilment in life. This page tries to give a flavour of the practical advice the Bible gives about daily living and about how to grow as spiritual people in God's sight.

Someone once said that the definition of a wise man is not someone who knows everything, but someone who knows where to go to find anything that he needs. There is a lot of truth in the observation, and it explains why Google stock quickly grew to be worth over $150bn dollars, only a few years after it first floated on the stockmarket. In today’s information-drowned world, people put enormous value on being able to quickly find out what they want to know.

Where to Look

But you have to know where to look. What would be the value of being able to find the answer to the really big questions of life? It would be immense. Information which would help to understand what life is all about – to discover what happens after death, where the world is headed, the way we should live our lives today. If we knew where to look to find reliable answers to those questions, wouldn’t that be something that would be truly valuable, worth far more, for instance, than even the value of Google?!

Jesus once told a parable about a man who found treasure hidden in a field. On realising the immense value of his discovery, he sold everything he had so that he could buy the field. He knew that the sacrifice was well worth making, because the ultimate gain was far greater. It’s a parable about the value of spiritual capital – about knowing the answers to life’s big questions. Those questions revolve around knowing what’s truly important in life, and around knowing God’s future plans for His kingdom.

Finding a Direction

So it what sense does the Bible tell us ‘what we need to know’? In what sense is it a guidebook for life?

First, in the sense that it teaches the essentials about who we are, where we have come from, what is wrong with us, and what we need to do about it. All that looks at things from our perspective, but of course the answer to every one of those questions on the Bible’s view is found only in relation to God. This is God’s world not ours, according to the Bible. He has created us for a purpose, and while mankind has generally ignored that purpose and gone off to do his own thing, God still wants us to come back to Him and has made a way by which we can do so. He also has a great plan for the future.

All those topics are discussed elsewhere on these pages, so we won’t unpack them again here. It’s important to stress, though, that such an outline of the world and what it’s all about gives us a sense of place which is both grounding and refreshing. We find ourselves; we know who we are and what our place in the world is. We have a huge decision to make about whether we will or will not accept God of course, but we know what the issues are which are at stake. Life is not purely about getting a faster car, going on a better holiday, getting promoted, or whatever. We always sort of knew, underneath, that it couldn’t be, and yet somehow those really rather trivial things (in the big scheme) somehow force themselves into the front of our thinking. Maybe that perspectives about what life was all about was all wrong, and now the Bible’s ‘scheme’ on these basic issues about meaning and purpose in life can help us to see things in a different way.

Facts of Life

Let’s move the discussion into the first person to really bring home the impact the Bible can have on an individual person’s life.

So … knowing the facts of life (in the sense of the ‘who, what, why, where?’ of God, myself and the world I find myself in) is a huge benefit. Armed with that information I can begin to choose a course; I am no longer adrift in uncertainty.

And I can begin to understand, too, why it is that things are not all as they should be with this world – for God’s purpose was never about this present human existence as an end in itself. It was always about His kingdom for the future. So I can understand why there is frustration, suffering and death in this life. And when I begin to long for something more, I know where I can turn, and am assured that God has addressed and planned for each one of these needs.

More than that, the Bible is a guidebook in a very practical way. It releases me from a huge amount of moral uncertainty about what is truly right and wrong, whether all truth is relative, and what I really ought to be doing. I may always have been unsatisfied with the concept that ‘what felt right for me’ was truly right, and how it could be that ‘what felt right for you’ could be so different. The Bible is a guidebook in the sense that it makes many of these things clear. That doesn’t mean that it answers my every question and that I don’t have to think any more about how to behave – the principles of Godly behaviour still have to be interpreted and applied. But at least now I have the core principles – and that is hugely valuable. Now I know what I’m aiming for.

How to Live

The Bible challenges me and guides me to a higher moral and spiritual standard, a better way of living. I certainly fall short of it, again and again, but I know that God is powerful to forgive.

I know what my priorities are. Jesus said:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) (ESV)

He encouraged me to strive for the highest standards, not the lowest common denominator:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) (ESV)

He reminded me not to be distracted by temporal and fleeting things that seem so important yet don’t really matter on the long view:

“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:27) (ESV)

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or what shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33) (ESV)

Instead, the more I focus on my relationship with God, the more I will be satisfied.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) (ESV)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of find pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46) (ESV)

I’m encouraged to transform the way I think about others:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:44,46) (ESV)

Day by Day

On top of this, the Bible also gives wonderfully helpful advice for working life, for intellectual life, for community life (in the neighbourhood and among other believers), and for family life. It is in each of these that corners get knocked off and I get to try to put into practise those things that the Bible teaches. Take family life, for instance. The Bible presents a model for the relationship between husbands and wives which, if understood and applied, is more powerful than any marriage counselling. It explains that in marriage, the two partners are to act out like a living parable the living relationship of dependency and mutual love that exists between Christ and the church. It is a very inspiring ideal. It also gives advice about what my priorities should be as a parent, and the importance of avoiding provoking or enraging my children.

The essence of what the life of discipleship is all about can be captured well in two passages, one which summaries the Law of Moses in the New Testament, and another which explains a new level of love which disciples should try to copy, the love that Christ has shown towards them by dying so that they might live with him.

“A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandent. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'” (Matthew 22:35-40) (ESV)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) (ESV)

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