The Bible refers to itself as “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). What’s more, the first part of that 2 Timothy passage extends the claim to “all Scripture.” Completing the “you better take this seriously” tone, 2 Timothy 3:16 reveals that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” The fact that the Bible is God’s self-revelation of Himself is what makes Scriptures “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Intellectually accepting that the entire Bible is God’s Word and is the sole authority for faith and practice is one thing. Embracing that truth with our entire being and then putting into prayerful practice a heartfelt desire to read and learn from all of God’s Word is another thing altogether. Some people struggle to understand what truths about God can be gleaned from the genealogies that kick off 1 Chronicles (hint: the story of redemption has a clearly charted path and direction and the Davidic covenant is central to that story). Others dread reading the Minor Prophets. Most Christians have books of the Bible that cause them to mentally sigh. Below are four books of the Bible that I believe may top the list of most challenging for readers.
Job is the kind of book that you need to read all in one sitting or you can get yourself in trouble. Most people know the story of Job—how Satan goes to God and asks if he can put Job to the test. God allows Satan to afflict Job, with the only qualifier being that Satan can’t take his life. After Job is impoverished, diseased, and abandoned, some of his friends show up and provide Job with counsel. The thing is, much of what his friends say sounds right. It tickles the readers’ ears and tempts them to agree. Except, when chapter forty rolls around, the reader is all of a sudden confronted with God and His sovereign majesty. Many readers are also confronted with the fact that, like Job’s friends, they have been in open rebellion against God the entire time they were reading Job.
Don’t let the interesting anecdotes found throughout the book of Judges fool you; the book is challenging to read. It’s even more challenging to contemplate. The snowball of chaos and sin that rumbles through Judges feels awfully familiar to those of us living in the 21st century. To be fair, it would feel awfully familiar to us no matter what century we lived in. That’s because, like the ancient Israelites, we want to rule over our own lives and determine for ourselves what’s right. Like the ancient Israelites, we do not want to submit to God. Reading the book of Judges is challenging because it holds up a mirror to our own soul.
3. 1 Timothy
The book of 1 Timothy is the Apostle Paul’s intense instructions to his young protégé, Timothy. As a young pastor, Timothy was faced with external pressures—false teachers—and internal pressures in his own sinful heart. Reading the book, it’s impossible to escape the reality that being a Christian has deep ethical implications. We are to guard our hearts (and the hearts of others) from the allure of self-centered preaching, false doctrines that promote greed, and false teachers who speculate about things like asceticism. What’s more, our own lives should demonstrate a marked contrast from unbelievers. The ethical qualifications for church elders in 1 Timothy 3 are ethical qualifications that all Christians should prayerfully aspire to. And that’s the challenge. Reading Paul’s fatherly epistle to Timothy is a rebuke to those of us who hang onto sins in our own heart while pursuing a religion that is self-centered.
4. The Acts of the Apostles
Part two of Luke’s letter to Theophilus, The Acts of the Apostles tells the continuing story of the spread and growth of Jesus’ Church. Picking up where his namesake book left off, Luke begins with Jesus’ ascension back to heaven and then quickly moves into the actions of the twelve Disciples and their work in spreading God’s kingdom. And that’s the challenging thing. The book of Acts constantly confronts the reader with how a rag-tag group of scared followers of Jesus was used by the Holy Spirit to obey Jesus’ Great Commission and take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. What’s more, they preached the good news while being violently persecuted. Many followers of King Jesus who are living in America struggle to obey the Great Commission because we’re afraid that our neighbors and co-workers will think us strange. The Acts of the Apostles challenges our fearful and faithless disobedience.