“Humble submission to God requires that I make a diligent effort to make myself familiar with the whole Bible.”

Where I live, I am considered the handy one. That includes my own family and the family of our dear friends, who share the property with us. As a result, I have spent a fair amount of time doing handy things. I’ve assembled furniture, installed appliances, programmed computers, assembled more furniture, hung outdoor lighting, mounted flatscreen TVs, painted rooms, built shelving, and assembled even more furniture. Some of these tasks are pretty simple and don’t require much in the way of preliminary instruction. Others have required a fair amount of reading, just to make sure I don’t make a mistake and accidentally flood the house.

As the handy guy, along with performing a lot of different tasks, I have also read a lot of different types of instruction manuals. The one thing that frustrates me the most about instruction manuals is all the filler information that is packed into them. Anyone who has ever consulted such a manual is probably familiar with the fact that you have to wade through a bunch of pages of tiny print just to get to the step-by-step directions that you want. I’m always asking, “Why is this here?” It’s pages of warnings, cautions, warranty information. When I finally find the instructions, I think, “This is all I need.” It’s not uncommon for me to tear out the relevant pages and discard the rest. I have the part that tells me what to do. The rest is unnecessary.

“This is all I need.” That’s a sneaky statement. It’s loaded with assumptions. Assumptions like: “I know better than the manufacturer what is useful and what is unnecessary.” “I know what information is actually critical to me.” “I am capable of making this evaluation for myself.”

For instruction manuals, all of these might actually be true. The problem is when I find myself treating the Bible in the same way. I flip through a bunch of pages to get to the part that I think is actually helpful. I don’t really need the fine print of the Old Testament. I’m a Christian. Get me to the New Testament. Get me to some useful stories about Jesus, and especially get me to some epistles that give relevant instruction for life. That is all I need.

Have you ever stopped to think about the way your Bible is composed? Pick up your Bible and open it to Matthew 1. Notice how many pages are on the left side of the Bible and how few are on the right side. It is striking to me how small our New Testament is. For that matter, it’s striking to me how small our entire Bible is! We don’t usually think of it that way, but for a book that took over a thousand years to compose, isn’t it amazing that you can carry it in one hand? For the book that is supposed to be the record of God’s activity in the world and the guide for His people, wouldn’t it make sense for it to be a lot bigger? Have you ever opened your Bible looking for an answer to a particular issue and thought, “Why doesn’t the Bible address this topic directly?” We simultaneously make the Bible smaller (“This part is all I need”) while wanting it to be bigger (“Why doesn’t it talk about such and such topic?”).

The Bible is composed as it is because God, in His infinite wisdom and love, has said to His people, “This is all that you need.” When I isolate myself to a certain part of the Bible, I’m effectively treating God the same way I treat the guy that wrote the instruction manual. I’m sure the intentions are good, but I really only need this tiny bit over here. I realize, then, that humble submission to God requires that I make a diligent effort to make myself familiar with the whole Bible. After all, God has only given me so much of His precious Word. Why would I discard any of His treasure for me?

One large portion of the Bible that we tend to treat this way is the Old Testament narrative. If we decide to read it at all, we probably pick and choose which portions we want to pay attention to. We are familiar with some of the Sunday School tales, but the majority is very foreign to us. It is easy to avoid. But consider this: Almost half of the Bible is contained in the historical records of Israel. Half! In the select portion of His Word that God has given to us, He has decided that we need half of it to document Israel’s history. With so much space given to this particular type of Scripture, Christians need to know how to read the Old Testament narratives. God has important truths for us to learn that are uniquely portrayed in the narratives.