Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Reminders: The Bible

Well, here it is. My last sermon as your pastor. And as I said last week, there are some things that I would like you to remember, things that I’ve taught you in the past. Last week, it was all about the question, ‘Who is God, and what is He like?’ This week I want to remind you about God’s Word, the Bible.

There are several reasons why I want to do this, but here is just one. If you lose the Bible, everything falls apart. Sad to say, there are churches that are in the process of losing the Bible. That doesn’t mean that they have rejected it outright, though some have. But what it does mean is that the final appeal is made to something other than the Bible and what it teaches. That might be some tradition or the opinion of some noteworthy person or what everybody ‘just knows is right’. It might even be simply whatever is the opinion of the person preaching. The Bible as the final authority is being set aside, sometimes very quietly. And once you start down that path things begin to fall apart. I don’t want that to happen to you.

Remember Jesus’ words.

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. Matthew 7:26–27

Jesus’ warning doesn’t apply merely to what He said in the Sermon on the Mount. We live in a time when there are many who, to one extent or another, are losing the Bible. The rain is falling, and the floods have come. Their ‘houses’ are collapsing. And you can see it in how their lives aren’t working at all well. Hold on to the Bible as God’s Word.

Let’s take a look at the Bible. We’ll start with this question. How does the Bible describe itself?

First, there’s this.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

To really appreciate what this is saying, you have to consider what it assumes. It assumes darkness. You don’t need a light when the sun is shining brightly. Life is filled with darkness, and that is the case because of sin. And one thing that happens in darkness is that you can lose your way. In fact, without the light of the Bible, you will most certainly lose your way. The Bible understands itself as indispensable because it and only it provides the light you need to safely make your way through the darkness of this life.

The Bible also says this about itself.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

What was the point of the manna? God explains. It was to teach the people the critical importance of God’s words. Everybody knows that we need food to live. No food means death, the death of the body. In the same way, no words from God means death, the death of the soul as well as the body. You need God’s words.

And here is something important to notice. It says, ‘man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’; ‘every word’. If you are going to live, you need every single word that’s in the Bible. That means you need to know about what some people call the boring parts of the Bible. Every word. And it is as you digest these words that God speaks that you will be able to live, and to live well. I’m guessing that there are parts of the Bible that some of you have never read or heard read. You need to fix that. To live well, you need every word.

Now, another way the Bible describes itself. Listen.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

The Bible discerns, that is, it exposes, ‘the thoughts and intentions of the heart’, of your heart. You need this to happen. And the reason is simple.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

Your heart hides things from you, things about yourself. And these are facts about who you are that you really need to be aware of. It is the Bible that will reveal those facts to you so that you will deal with them appropriately.

Medical technology can reveal that a person has some sickness. And that is so good. It gives him the opportunity to deal with that sickness and be rid of it. The Bible reveals the sicknesses of your heart. And it does that so that you can deal with them and be rid of them.

At the same time, there are some really good things going on in your heart.  The Spirit has been at work and has blessed you. You have been changed. You need to see that also so that you will be aware of the power of the grace of God at work in your life. Being aware of this can be so encouraging, something that you need so that you will persevere.

You need to know your heart. The Bible will reveal it to you.

And then, there are these two descriptions of what the Bible can do.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21

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 [NASV]

Again, there is an assumption at work here. And, if you stop to think about it, the assumption is clear. There is more saving to be done in a Christian’s soul, in your soul. And the reason for that is obvious. Sin continues to reside in your soul. The way that God has decided to deal with such sin, to free you from such sin, is by His Word, the Bible. So, those who receive the implanted word, those who long for the pure milk of the word - these will come to enjoy more and more freedom from sin and all of the joys that go with that freedom.

Now, these are just a few ways that the Bible describes itself. And I think that my point is clear enough. You need the Bible. You really need it.

In light of that, what my next thought will be should be obvious. You need to know the Bible. You need to know the Bible so that you can live well, increasingly freed from the sins that hide in your heart, better able to follow Jesus, enjoying more of the blessings that He offers.

And how are you to do that? How are you to come to know the Bible and to know it well? Until relatively recently, pretty much the only way to come to know the Bible was by attending the worship of the Church. And when it comes to ‘relatively recently’, bear in mind that the history of the Church goes back many, many millennia, back to Adam and Eve. Individuals or families actually owning a Bible to read on their own is a pretty recent event.

But even now, the primary way to come to know the Bible well is still by attending the worship of the Church. And one reason I say that is that there is something mystical, something supernatural, about the reading and preaching of the Word in the context of worship. The Spirit acts in special ways when the people of God come together as the Church to worship God.

I’ve talked to you before about the place of the preaching of the Word in the worship of God. But now, I want to point to the importance of the reading of the Word as a part of worship. There are examples of this in the Bible. But to put all doubt aside, listen to what Paul writes to his young protege, Timothy, as he instructs him how to be a faithful pastor of a congregation.

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture…1 Timothy 4:13

It is a sad fact that there are more and more churches that are neglecting this command. It is increasingly common to have little or even no ‘public reading of Scripture’ during a worship service. How does that make sense? How is it safe? Christians need to know the Bible. It is my fervent hope that you never fall into the trap of neglecting the reading of the Word. Make sure that that remains a part of the worship of Faith Reformed. And if any of you move away, be sure to look for this aspect of the worship of a local church as you consider becoming a member there. Does that church read the Bible during worship on Sundays?

Remember, you need to know the Bible.

This brings me to the topic of meditating on the Bible. This is to be something that you do, individually and as families.

Listen to how the blessed man is described in this familiar Psalm.

…his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:2

And what are the results of his meditating on the Word?

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3

Meditation on the Bible is so important. And this is not something that needs to be complicated or take hours of time. Meditating on the Bible is simply a matter of being curious about what you hear or read. Why this word instead of that word? How does this verse connect with the one that I read yesterday? What does this particular word actually mean? And pay particular attention to the little words that can be so easily overlooked, words like ‘for’ and ‘of’ or ‘in’.  Be curious. Ask questions. Pray for answers.

Here are some things that you will find as you meditate on the Bible: commands to obey, promises to believe, principles of life to apply. Those are familiar to most. But there are other things that you will also find: warnings from God to take seriously, and definitions of life to adopt.

There are many aspects of life that are being redefined these days. What is a family? What does success look like? What does it mean to be a man or to be a woman? Who is God, and what is He like? The Bible explains reality. It gives you the definitions of life that you need if you’re going to be able to understand what is going on and thus live well. So, just for one example, Paul writes in more than one place about what it means to be a husband and what it means to be a wife. He even writes about what it means to be a child in the family. He is defining the home, something being redefined these days in subtle ways. And many Christians are being fooled. Look for how the Bible defines the various aspects of life. You really need to be careful to do that these days.

I’ve laid out a few aspects of what the Bible is about. Now, I need to say something about how you are to respond to all of this. I have two thoughts.

Here’s the first. You need to submit to the Bible. Why do I say that? Well, for one thing, it’s going to confront you. It’s going to tell you to live this way instead of that way. And there are going to be times when you just won’t like that. You actually like the way that you currently live. And change is so scary. The Bible will confront those ways of thinking.

But what would you expect? You are sinners. And that’s not just about some little things that don’t seem to make any real difference. It’s about those wicked attitudes hiding in your hearts, those selfish demands that you just don’t want to let go of, those foolish desires for things that you think will make life work. As you get to know the Bible better and better, it will confront you. If you are wise, you will submit to whatever it calls for. Or to say that better, you will submit to whatever the God who speaks through the Bible calls for: commands to obey, promises to believe, principles of life to apply, warnings from God to take seriously, and definitions of life to adopt.

This is important. And it is important because there are those who actually do know the Bible pretty well, but they don’t live it. They don’t submit to God speaking through it. But they think all is well because they know what it says and can explain it to you. How sad.

Let’s be honest. There are bits of the Bible that you know, but don’t submit to. How can that be good? Expect to be confronted. Be ready to submit.

And it needs to be said that this is not something that you do on your own. We all have been deeply influenced by American individualism. That’s one reason why, for so many, the key to Christian living is the solo quiet time or devotions or whatever you want to call it. But Christian living is a group project. It is pursued in the context of community, the community called the local church. So, we need to help each other. We do that by pointing out to each other things like commands that need to be obeyed, warnings to take seriously, promises to enjoy. We need to do this. Any reluctance to do this is a failure to love. So, remember where Jesus says, ‘If your brother sins go to him’, remember where Paul writes, ‘Encourage one another’, remember places like these when you need to go to someone and when someone comes to you. Without this, you will not be able to benefit from the Bible as fully as you might. In fact, if you know to do these things and refuse - well, how can God bless that? Will He not rather curse such rebellion?

And now, my last thought. It is impossible to really benefit from the Bible without prayer. The lack of prayer is like saying, ‘I can do this all on my own’.  What pride! Has there ever been a more foolish claim? The key to being able to know the Bible and submit to it is prayer, appealing to God for His kind favor.

But, let’s be specific. What exactly are you to pray? What are you to ask the Father for?  Once again, the Psalms are so very helpful.

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Psalm 119:18

The Bible is filled with ‘wondrous things’, that is, with things that will amaze you. And it will surely do that because the Bible reveals God. The sad fact is that, because of our sin, we are blind to so much of what Bible has to say. So, it only makes sense to regularly pray that verse or something like it. ‘Father, there are things here that I really need to see. Please make that happen.’ That has recently become my habit before I begin my daily reading of the Bible. Let me suggest that you pray this for yourself and for each other.

Well, there it is, my last sermon as your pastor. So, let me end it with this. You have been a great congregation to preach to. I was once asked about you, about what was so good about you. And what I told that person was that you take the Bible seriously. I had that conversation something like twenty years ago. And you have only gotten more serious about the Bible since then. You have been great, and I have been blessed to have been your pastor.