Paul Harvey died recently, but one of the most popular segment on his broadcasts was the one in which he always concluded “And now you know…the rest of the story.” He took a familiar bit of information and expanded on it by giving the back story or the previously unknown conclusion. His added information made the bit of known information come alive to listeners because they now knew…the rest of the story.The Old Testament very much provides “the rest of the story” for Christians. Yes, we can know all that we need to know for salvation, even all that we need to know to live a Godly life; but without knowing the rest of the story, we lack a depth of understanding of God’s character and ways and can develop a very lopsided and inaccurate view of God.

Develop an Appreciation for God’s Love of His People
The Christian who ignores the Old Testament is likely to have a lesser appreciation of God’s love for His people. The passages in Matthew (12:23) and Luke (13:34) where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”) has little context without the rich history of God calling Abraham 2,000 years earlier and consistently being faithful to the promise He had made with Abraham.
The Old Testament reader follows God’s love from His creation of man in His own image through His initiation of a covenant with Abraham (and effectively all mankind), through His giving of the “perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25), through His protection of the wandering Israelites, through His preservation and leading of a (rebellious) people in all kinds of circumstances – always leading them toward an intimate relationship with Himself. Knowing these things gives God’s love a history, and love with a history is somehow more powerful than love discovered yesterday. I’m not sure I can adequately explain that except to say that one of the things that strengthens the love I have for my husband is knowing that he has loved me for a very long time. It doesn’t grow dim, it grows deep. God’s love has had a very long time to deepen. As a 21st century Christian, I am the blessed recipient of that deep, deep love.Develop an Understanding of Your Role in God’s Unfolding Plan
In addition to lacking an understanding of the depth of God’s love, Christians who don’t spend time in the Old Testament may easily develop a misunderstanding of their role in the unfolding of God’s plan. A study of only the New Testament can lead us to believe that our salvation is primarily about us – what God did for you and me. And while it is true that God so loved each of us that He gave His only son to die for our sins so that we might each have eternal life by believing in Him, it is also true that all of history is about God preparing a people for Himself. My salvation is as much about God’s plan from the beginning of time as it is about me.

There is sometimes a tension in the Christian walk between the individual and the corporate expression and understanding of our faith. The answer to the tension is that we must take a “both/and” approach. Both individual and corporate worship are important. Both individual and corporate prayer are needed. Both individual and corporate sin must be dealt with. Our salvation must be understood both as an individual salvation, and as the salvation of a people destined to worship and serve God forever. As a Gentile, my salvation wasn’t Plan B. God always intended to bless all the nations through Abraham. Studying the Old Testament gives readers a greater appreciation for the “bigness” of God’s plan and His ability to follow it through thousands of years until it impacted their life. It can help us appreciate that we are a part of something so much bigger than what we might have previously considered.

See God’s Faithfulness Throughout History
Which brings us back to the topic of the faithfulness of God toward a people who fail Him regularly – I’m convinced that God’s faithfulness cannot be fully understood with just our New Testament record. Yes, the New Testament provides examples of God’s faithfulness. Yet I find that “the more the better.” Hebrews 11 gives a list of saints who “by faith” overcame the circumstances of their lives and trusted God. God rewarded their faithfulness with His own faithfulness. Reading the list in Hebrews 11 begins to build the faith necessary for the trials we will face, but it’s a poor substitute for reading the Old Testament accounts of those stories. And learning the stories in Sunday School class, as many children do, is akin to reading the Reader’s Digest version out of sequence and over a long period of time. Yes, we have the head knowledge of the facts (perhaps), but it’s going back to the Old Testament as a new creature in Christ that builds faith as we read of God’s faithfulness over and over and over again. Surely, if He has been faithful throughout history, even when His people lacked faith and behaved badly, surely He will be faithful to me! Reading the Old Testament builds my faith as I see the faithfulness of God.

Learn How God Works in the Lives of His People
In addition to helping the reader understand God’s abiding love for us and helping to build our faith, reading the Old Testament illustrates to the reader how God works in the lives of His people. The New Testament focuses on a period of perhaps one hundred years. The Old Testament covers 2,000 years (excluding chapters 1-12 of Genesis which covers the creation of the world up to the call of Abraham). Often, the New Testament teaches principles while the Old Testament illustrates those principles worked out through the lives of people who had a relationship with God. For example, James tells us that faith produces perseverance, bringing us to maturity. That teaching is demonstrated in the life of Joseph. The New Testament urges me to persevere; Joseph shows me how to do so. Additionally, a careful reading of the Old Testament teaches us much about how God speaks to His people. An excellent resource that illustrates this point is the book Developing Your Prophetic Gifting in which the author, Graham Cooke, uses the Old Testament examples of prophecy to teach his readers how to hear the voice of God. The Old Testament illustrates how God works in the lives of His people and how He speaks to His people by allowing the reader to walk through history with them.

Scripture is God-Breathed…Every Bit of It!
Finally, there are two critical reasons for Christians to broaden their horizons and pursue a study of the Old Testament: Scripture tells us that it is valuable and Jesus quotes it often. II Timothy 3:16-17 is a commonly memorized passage: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This passage doesn’t say “The New Testament…”, it says “All Scripture…”. That verse alone tells me that there is much value in the Old Testament. Additionally, Jesus and the apostles frequently quoted from the Old Testament. It is clear that Jesus had a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament and many of His stories, parables and sayings refer back to it. Without some knowledge of the background of those passages, the quotes become a bit out of place and time…they lack “the rest of the story.”

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