SERMON 5 OF 5 IN A SERIES EXPLORING SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE, PREACHED 18 NOVEMBER 2012. READ Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:97-105 (better read the whole psalm); 2 Timothy 3:1-17
The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.
Martin Luther, “Martin Luther–The Early Years,” Christian History, no. 34.
This book we call ‘the Bible’ is no ordinary book – it is living and active, continually challenging us to uncover fresh meaning and giving us insight into how we might live out God’s story. By savouring Scripture we are challenged to change, we are comforted with knowledge of God’s love, we are converted to Jesus likeness and thus he is seen in us, in our attitudes, and in our actions.
What is the Bible?
- A collection of stories
- A book
- Scripture – holy Words
- A Word of God
- The Word of God
Let’s stop with that thought for a moment. The Bible is the Word of God. What does that mean?
This is no ordinary book – it is not a story about God, it is not a text book about God, it is God’s Word to us.
That surely affects the way we regard it! Given that we say we LOVE God you’d expect that we would love God’s Word. Given that we say we want to follow Jesus you’d expect we would immerse ourselves in the Word to know him more.
Yet strangely we don’t.
When it comes to the Bible Christians are disappointingly undisciplined.
It fascinates and concerns me that people who say they value the Bible don’t show it by their use of it. With our lips we say it is our supreme authority, and we affirm familiar passages such as: God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105) and that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
We say these things yet the evidence shows that while the Bible remains in the top seller list the majority of Christians do not read it on a regular basis, and when they do it is often shallow reading. We who are called to follow Christ must become disciplined in our approach to Scripture. It should not be the last resort we turn to when in trouble, or relegated to Sunday reading but should be a regular part of our spiritual diet.
And more than just reading we need to learn to study the Bible, to absorb it, to savour it, to immerse ourselves in the Word and there discover the God who loves us.
And there to be converted by it.
As I have said repeatedly we are called to mature in faith – to put our roots down deep so that the character of Christ grows ever stronger within us.
This does not simply happen but it is a consequence of dwelling in the presence of God; of being intentional about knowing God and being known by God.
And what better way to do this than dwelling in God’s Word, of savouring Scripture
If we are to live in the presence of God’s power; and experience the power of God’s presence then we must put ourselves in the way of God on a regular basis.
What Paul writes to Timothy is instructive.
It was not easy being a Christian in those times, and the news Paul gives is sobering: it’s going to get harder: there will be persecution, evil will flourish and possibly the most dangerous thing of all; false and contrary teaching will abound. How is Timothy to keep his head up in the midst of this? How is he to stay true to God’s truth, how is he to discern what is right, what is wrong?
Paul makes it plain: stay with what you know. Stay with the Scripture which you know well; and it’s more than simply to remember what had been learnt, Paul says ‘continue’ in it. The sense here is to remain in it, not living on yesterday’s experience but to continue today in those good habits of yesterday.
So that the servant of God may be equipped for every good work – so that God’s people may know what is true and may live in it, so that they may continue – I suggest – to grow in Christian maturity.
The Psalmist makes a similar point: it is by treasuring the Word in our heart, and by living by its teaching that we are enabled to live holy lives. It’s as we dwell in the Scriptures that we are strengthened to follow God’s ways, and enabled to resist the traps and sidetracks of our age: it is a light to our path.
This makes sense when we recognise whose WORD it is. The God of all creation inspired these words and like God the Word of God is trustworthy and true.
Christians – we are supposedly ‘people of the Book’ we are called to pay heed to the Word of God; to treasure it, to savour it and meditate upon it, to allow it to challenge us, to receive it’s comfort when that is needed and to be converted by it.
So what should we do with the Word?
The following is not mine – I’m not even sure where I got it from now, but consider these ‘do’s and don’ts’.
Do: Read the Bible frequently.
Don’t: Let your Bible gather dust.
–This one is simple in principle and difficult in practice for many of us. An analogy may help. The Bible is commonly referred to as a love letter from God to his people, the church. What do you do with a love letter?
Surely you absorb every word, you say it to yourself over and over, you hold it to your node to catch the lingering scent of your lover. You read, you savour, to keep, you go back to time and time again.
We are God’s beloved, we should relish the opportunity to read God’s love letter one more time.
Do: Focus on the big-picture of the Bible.
Don’t: Get caught up in too many details.
–There is no doubt that some details are important. But, they can become distractions when we fail to see the bigger story of God coming to us. So read the whole picture.
Do: Read the Bible expecting to encounter God.
Don’t: Read the Bible to prove someone wrong.
–Reading the Bible is an opportunity to sit in the presence of God. It is a chance to find out about who we are made to be and to learn about the one who made us. It is not supposed to be a book of arguments that can be used against someone with whom we disagree. I know from first-hand experience the turmoil that can occur when we use the Bible as a weapon in an argument.
Do: Read the Bible slowly and prayerfully.
Don’t: Read the Bible for dos and don’ts.
–The Bible is not just a book of what we are to do and not do. It is a book about a relationship that God forms with each of us and His pursuit and forgiveness of us. So do read the Bible slowly and prayerfully seek to understand God’s word and live it in your everyday life. One way of doing this that I find helpful is called Lectio divina or divine reading you can read more about that here.
Do: Stop reading when you are struck by a word or phrase.
Don’t: Chug right through until you reach the end.
–The first to reach the end of the next chapter doesn’t get a gold medal. If something affects you when reading Scripture, then stop and reflect on why it moved you. Do some research, ask someone about it.
Do: Make changes in your life when challenged by Scripture.
Don’t: Put the changes off for another time.
–Christ’s grace is the medicine He offers us. One avenue of receiving that grace is through reading and applying Scripture to our lives. If we fail to apply it, then it is as if we went to the doctor and were diagnosed with a disease (realized our need for God’s grace); were given a prescription and bought it (read the Bible); but then never took the medicine that could make us healthy again (failed to apply the Bible to our lives).
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me, it challenges me, it comforts me, it converts me to Christlikeness.
Arohanui - Ian