Is SOAP Biblical? (Part 2)

Reading the Bible daily, meditatively, and obediently is one of the most critical means for spiritual growth towards Christlikeness. Why? Because God’s Word is like food that is necessary for our spiritual nourishment and development.

And just as there are diverse and equally valid ways of consuming food, there are also diverse and valid ways of consuming God’s Word.

A restaurant chef consumes food for the purpose of creating the best possible meals. Chefs are akin to Bible teachers who study God’s Word, digging for theological concepts, exploring historical and cultural contexts, analysing grammar, comparing biblical texts throughout the cannon, as well as synergising and presenting biblical truths in an engaging way for their audience.

A restaurant critic consumes food for the purpose of analysing the quality of meals. Critics are similar to Bible study groups or theologically oriented students who investigate the cultural background, mull over each passage, focus on syntax and research commentaries for the purpose of constructing the most accurate meaning and interpretation of the text.

A restaurant patron, on the other hand, consumes food for the purpose of nourishment and enjoyment. Patrons may not be able to identify the intricate ingredients or the cooking techniques deployed, but they sure can eat, enjoy and be nourished by the meal! Patrons are symbolic of devoted believers who approach the Bible with humility seeking to be nourished, guided and transformed by God’s Spirit through His Word.

God's Word is our Spiritual Food

Throughout the Scripture, we observe that the Word of God is portrayed through the metaphor of food (e.g., Deuteronomy 8:3, Job 23:12, Jeremiah 15:16, Matthew 4:4). The Apostle Peter instructs the believers: “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, NASB). This verse mirrors three-aspects of a biblical theme, emphasising that consuming God’s Word is essential, accessible and formative for all.

Consuming God's Word is Essential for all

Over and over again we are reminded in the Bible that consuming God’s Word is absolutely essential. It’s critical for our survival, nourishment, and growth. Consider Peter’s use of the analogy of “milk” to describe the Word (1 Peter 2:2). It is self-evident that milk is essential for newborn babies; they simply cannot survive without it. Dr Edmund Clowney, Emeritus Professor of Practical Theology, in the Bible Speaks Today on The Message of 1 Peter, explains 1 Peter 2:2 stating:

Like newborn babies, crave the pure milk of the word… For an infant, milk is not a fringe benefit… They must have an infant’s desperate desire for basic nourishment.

Peter again shows that the Lord who gave us new birth by the word also gives us growth by the word. The word for ‘grow up’ is in the passive: we grow only as we are ‘grown’ by the milk of God‘s Word (pp. 78-80).

Throughout the Scripture we are invited to consume God’s Word daily. Jesus compared God’s Word to “bread,” that is essential for people’s survival (Matthew 4:4). Accordingly, the Psalmist meditates on the Word (Psalm 119:48), “day and night” (Psalm 1:2), asserting that, “it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97)? The Hebrew words for meditation were derived from two roots: hagah (to slowly utter words in a low sound) and siach (to be occupied with). These terms portray an activity of repeatedly and slowly reading God’s Word, musing, imagining, feeling and pondering upon something of genuine concern.

Meditating upon God’s Word is not a good “option” but it is “essential” for our spiritual nourishment and development. Believers who embrace the Word and see it as essential to their spiritual development, DO NOT waver in craving it, consuming it and being nourished by it.

Consuming God's Word is Accessible to all

If the Word of God is required nourishment, then it must be accessible to all believers. It cannot be limited to the intellectual, knowledgeable, theologically trained and capable spiritual elite. Notice that Peter invited “newborn babies” (1 Peter 2:2) to crave and consume God’s Word. Elsewhere, “newborn babies” refer to new or immature believers (Hebrew 5:11-14). Clearly, anyone should be able to consume God’s Word and grasp its implications without having a degree in theology to unveil its historical context, comprehend its syntax and analyse its meaning for the first audience.

Meditative reading methods (e.g., SOAP) allow all types of people to access the Bible and be influenced by it. Accessibility to the Bible by all is a direct result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ followers. The New Testament affirms that the Spirit; the Helper, indwells, teaches and guides believers “into all truth” (John 14:26; 16:13). He enlightens the hearts of the believers and illuminates the Word, revealing the deep things of God (Ephesians 1:17-18 & 1 Corinthians 2:10-11). The term enlighten (phótizó) means “shine,” “bring to light,” “make evident,” or “reveal”! The Spirit of God gives wisdom, revelation and understanding when God’s people open the Word and humbly seek His guidance. Meditative reading of the Word (e.g. SOAP), requires a prayerful approach to the text, seeking God to speak specifically into our situations, pains, and decisions!

Accordingly, the Westminster Confession of Faith affirmed that both learned and unlearned people can grasp the message of the Scripture:

“Those things which are necessary to be known, . . . for salvation, are so clearly propounded in some place of Scripture or other that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”(1) 

Consuming God's Word is Formative for all

Reading the Word meditatively is transformative for all believers. Notice that Peter indicates that newborn babies who crave the milk will inevitably “grow” by the Word (1 Peter 2:2). The Bible is not meant to be read as a textbook offering historical information and theological assertions. Rather, as has been articulated by Bible commentators, the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to transform believers into the likeness of the Son of God (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Word, humbly consumed, forms our very being. We are never the same when we read, meditate and apply God’s Word in our daily thoughts, motivations, interactions and actions. The Word changes us. That’s why we read that Joshua was instructed to meditate on God’s Word day and night. “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).

Throughout the New Testament we are instructed that the transformative power of the Word is released when we apply it. Jesus Himself, at the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount, instructed His audience to put His words “into practice” (Matthew 7:24-27). Similarly, James the brother of Jesus warns that we deceive ourselves IF we listen but do not apply God’s Word. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22-25). 

That’s exactly why mediative reading of the Scripture is critical for our development as it focuses primarily on application, not just information. Such a reverent approach to the Word safe-guards us from becoming arm-chair experts and hypocritical people who gain biblical information without humble obedience. Yet, we know biblically that transformation is experienced in applying the Word. Accordingly, the renowned Charles Finney urged believers, regarding the Bible saying,

“We must read that more than any or all other books. We must pause and pray over it, verse after verse, and compare part with part, dwell on it, digest it, and get it into our minds, till we feel that the Spirit of God has filled us with the spirit of holiness.” (2)

WALLY COOKS BUT DOESN’T EAT!

Several years ago, I had the privilege of leading a Community of Disciplers (CoD) with a few older gentlemen. Wally may have been a Christian longer than the others. When we introduced the practice of SOAP in our discipleship group, Wally seemed reluctant to embrace it. Week after week, he communicated his displeasure. In fact, on one occasion, Wally shared his “SOAP” from one of Paul’s epistles where he claimed that God instructed him NOT to do SOAPs daily because it was a religious and legalistic approach to Christianity.

Surprisingly however, Wally religiously studied the Word and taught it in a weekly Bible study class at his local church. I couldn’t fully grasp Wally’s delight around reading the Word weekly in his capacity as a teacher as compared to his resistance to reading the Word in order to live it out daily!

I didn’t want to embarrass Wally in the group setting so I didn’t comment. But, honestly, to argue that spending time with God’s Word daily is a legalistic practice is nothing but a cop out! (There. I said it). Yet, Wally was NOT the only Christian who refuted the biblical foundation of meditative Bible reading (e.g., SOAP). In my ministry years, I have encountered resistance from numerous believers and leaders in the local church who refused to establish a habit of reading and applying God’s Word daily. Sadly, they miss out on the divine nourishment, revelation and joy that comes as a result.

I hope you have been able to observe that SOAP, as an example of a meditative method, is a biblical approach to engaging with God through His Word. In the next blog, I will address the historical foundations of this meditative method of Bible reading.

Be utterly blessed,

[email protected]

Notes

(1) The Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.007, in The Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America Part I: Book of Confessions. New York: The General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, 1966.

(2) Cited in Evan Howard, 2012, Lectio Divina in the Evangelical Tradition, Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, Vol. 5, No. 1, 56 -77.

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