A year ago I went to see my dentist and he said to me, "Doug, you have great teeth. They are solid, the gums are good, everything looks great!"
This year I went back for my checkup and he said, "Oh, Doug, you have two big cavities, right between the teeth." Long pause... "Have you been flossing?"
Ouch. Of course -- that task I know I'm supposed to do every day, but I don't. Flossing helps to clean out the food particles between the teeth, so they don't cause the teeth to start decaying.
Do you floss? Every day? I didn't floss at all, until I had to have two fillings this spring. Now I do.
I started thinking, though, that Bible reading is a lot like flossing -- it's one of those tasks that everyone knows you should do on a regular basis, but we often say, "Oh, I don't have time for that today," or "Maybe tomorrow."
And reading your Bible is a lot like flossing in another way -- it's a way of cleaning out the garbage that your brain picks up on a daily basis, just from living in a messed up world. Every day, just from living in this world, you daily come in contact with bad attitudes, bad actions, and bad ideas (and this happens even when you're just hanging out with other Christians, because -- let's face it -- Christians aren't perfect either!). And these bad attitudes, actions, and ideas can get lodged in your brain, where they do not belong.
Reading God's word is a way of dislodging some of that stuff that can cause spiritual decay. Romans 12:2 says to renew your mind, and so in a sense, we could think of a regimen of regular scripture reading as your "mental floss."
A couple more thoughts about the idea of scripture reading as your spiritual floss or mental floss:
1. Just as you should never say, "Oh, I've already flossed 500 times, I don't need to do it again," you should never say, "Oh, I've already read God's word 500 times -- why should I bother reading it again?" The answer should be obvious; the fact that you've flossed in the past doesn't do any good when it comes to cleaning out the garbage you've accumulated now. In the same way, since you're continually collecting spiritual garbage in this world, the spiritual flossing needs to be ongoing as well -- no matter how many times you've already read it!
2. If I hadn't told you that I had two cavities, you never would have known it. In the same way, if you allow spiritual decay in your life, you can probably hide it from people for a long time. But if you hide it, and don't do anything about it -- if you pretend it doesn't exist -- sooner or later, everything will collapse in spiritual decay, and you (and everyone else) will be saying, "What in the world just happened?"
A couple years ago I had my cholesterol level checked, and my doctor told me "Your cholesterol level is way too high." We talked about what I was going to do about it, and I told him I wasn't interested in taking any medications to lower my cholesterol. I wanted to do the "all natural" approach, even though I knew it would be much harder.
So I changed my habits. I changed the amount of exercise I do, and made significant changes in my diet. Now I eat far less fast food, far less fatty foods than I used to. And the good news is that, in the last two years, my cholesterol has dropped 27 points. I still have a little way to go, but that's definite progress.
Changing my diet has really changed the way that I "taste" food. I used to love really greasy foods. Now, however, after being careful to avoid greasy foods, my appetite has changed. If I have a pepperoni pizza, I find myself thinking "Wow! This tastes really greasy!" It's not that pizzas are any more greasy now than they were two years ago; it's just that my appetites have changed because of the kinds of foods I put into my system.
This change of appetite can happen spiritually as well:
Just as my physical appetites have changed from fatty foods to more healthy foods, our spiritual appetites can change as well. We are supposedto have an appetite for the Word of God, just like a little baby has an appetite for their mother's milk.
Unfortunately, our appetite changeswhen we start tasting of other things which aren't as healthy. What are some of the spiritual "fatty foods" that are unhealthy, and change our appetite away from God's healthy food?
Malice. Deceit. Hypocrisy. Envy. Slander. When we indulge these unhealthy spiritual appetites, it destroys our appetite for God's word, and ultimately means that we will never grow up spiritually.
So Peter says: "Put these things aside!" As long as you let any of these things into your spiritual diet, you will never be healthy, and you will never grow to maturity.
Imagine that you are not feeling well, so you schedule a visit with your doctor. After your checkup he tells you, "You've got a heart problem. We need to perform open-heart surgery."
So there you are, on the operating table, and the doctor is pulling out his tools of the trade...including, of course, his scalpel.
"Oh, Doctor," you say, "that looks very sharp, very painful. Do you think you could use something different?"
"What did you have in mind?"
After a moment's thought, you reply, "Maybe a feather-duster? That wouldn't hurt so much."
The doctor smiles, pulls a feather-duster out of his cabinet, brushes it several times over your heart, and then says, "There you go! Good as new!"
What would you think of this doctor? Surely you would think he was a quack? Although the scalpel may hurt, it's necessary for the healing of your heart.
It seems absurd to imagine asking a doctor to perform surgery on your heart without cutting you, and probably causing some pain. And though we would never expect this kind of painless treatment in the physical world, we often expect it in the spiritual world. We want God to perform healing on our hearts without causing us pain.
This is exactly the mentality Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy, where he writes:
The word of God is sharp and piercing, and is necessary for our spiritual well-being. Yet how often we say, "I'd rather hear something that entertains me, that tickles my ears!" But God's word is like that doctor's scalpel; its purpose is not to entertain or tickle; its purpose is to wound, and in wounding, bring healing to our wayward hearts.
Are you willing to come "under the knife" of the word of God, allowing it to injure you so that you can be healed? Or do you merely want to be entertained?
Wounding or tickling? One way is painless, but it leads to spiritual weakness and disease. The other way may be painful, but it is the only way to spiritual health and strength.