I have long been fascinated by the Orthodox Jewish tradition of wearing phylacteries. Leather boxes, filled with Scripture, are strapped to an individual’s left arm and to their forehead. These are worn during periods of prayer, and their design is to direct the wearer’s mind on God. The Scripture contained in those little boxes is, in part, Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
This is a centuries-old tradition within the realm of Judaism. It might be a strange idea for us in modernity to understand the aesthetic or practicality of strapping Bible-boxes to our bodies, but I think there’s something important to be found in that confusion—in this instance, the frill nor the sensibility matters. At its core, this is a tradition to love God, to speak of Him often, and to recite and dwell on His Word. We can and should glean wisdom from this.
We love God better by seeking to know Him more. We seek to know Him more by reading the very thing He gave us to be known by: The Bible. 2 Peter 1 reminds us that God has granted us knowledge pertaining to life and godliness, and this knowledge comes through Jesus Christ. And we know Jesus Christ through God’s Word.
I know it seems like I’m talking in circles, but there is quite literally nothing more important that you could do than know your Bible. This statement isn’t condoning skipping work so that you can stay home and read your Bible, nor am I saying that circumstances in life don’t influence the frequency and/or depth of our reading. What I am surely saying is this: we cannot love God unless we know Him. We cannot know Him unless we listen to what He has told us about Himself.
There are many purposes of Scripture reading, but I’d like to boil it down to two primary, foundational points: Knowing God and knowing His instruction for us. When we actively engage in Bible reading, we are involved in His instruction for us. I’ve found it very easy in my personal life to look at the Bible as a weapon, a wealth of knowledge that points out how others should be living. This is simply not so. Instead, I urge you to look at the Bible as a tool that allows you to love God better, a vessel by which God’s instruction is made manifest in our lives.
When we love God better by knowing Him and by loving His instruction for us, it is natural for us to become encumbered with a strong and diligent love for His Church. Nearly every New Testament epistle is littered with instruction on how we are supposed to relate to one another in Christ. A summation of this can be found in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26:
“So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
God, through the revelation of His Word to us, makes it abundantly clear in multiple accounts that we are to yield ourselves to one another, deferring our own preferences for the sake of the preferences of those around us, and cherishing our brothers and sisters in Christ by submitting to them. A natural overflow of our love for God should be a fierce and loyal dedication to caring for the Bride of Christ.
Lastly, when each of these tenants is working in tandem with one another, we should have an insatiable desire to pursue to lost and bring them into our adopted family. I feel it’s important to point out the cycle that is portrayed in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Doubtlessly, because Christians love and know God they keep His command to bring the Gospel to those who have not heard. From there, they cultivate a spirit of knowing, loving, and obeying God through the discipleship shown by those who do know, love, and obey God. Every year we enter a cycle of proclaiming resolutions. Sometimes we keep them and other times we don’t.
This is a cycle worthy of eternity. This is a cycle to pay attention to as we ring in the new year.
So maybe it would be good for us to consider phylacteries. For Orthodox Jews, there is a physical and constant reminder to love God with everything they have. Imagine the treasure that exists in storing up reminders of eternal things, the Word of God! Perhaps we should deliberate the ways that we can bind ourselves up in Scripture, and be kept accountable to keep His ordinances. Whether you have a resolution or not, whether you’ve been out of sync with the Bible for a week or for a year, whether you feel like you’re comfortable in your ardent love for God or see areas where you should grow, commit this year to Christ. Commit this year to loving Him better.
Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.