Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Authority of the Bible

Download MP3 - The Authority of The Bible
2 Timothy 3v14-4v4

Why should we listen to what the Bible says? We've heard it read, sung parts of it... but in 2007 isn't it time to accept that the Bible is a relic that's best left in the past? It might be the all time bestseller but shouldn't we just let it collect dust on our bookshelves?

One newspaper recently said “The Bible is about love and tolerance” - which ought to make it very popular in our day and age... Another said: “Thankfully society as a whole - has realised that the Bible is not the literal word of God and believes that the bigotry and intolerance within its pages is unacceptable”. (1st - The Sunday Times, 2nd - Edinburgh Uni Student Paper)

And don't we say the same? I don't like what the Bible says, so I wont listen to it. Or more subtly – there are the pages we love, and the pages we overlook.... My opinion about the Bible isn't really the point – what matters is what it says about itself. This is what it says about itself: 3v16 “All scripture is God-breathed”. God-breathed. That's a strange phrase! What does it mean? It means that what the Bible says, God says.

How so? Words come on our breath. To say scripture is God-breathed is to say it comes from the mouth of God. Not by dictation but by human authors, like Paul who we see in 1v1 wrote this letter to Timothy – written by men, breathed out by God.

3v16 only explicitly refers to the Old Testament, the scriptures Timothy grew up with. But the rest of the New Testament shows itself to be scripture too. And so we're to take all 66 books as scripture, and all scripture is God speaking. (I appreciate that this needs much more justification - but in a short talk I had to leave that one hanging!)

When God speaks it's always significant. He doesn't waste words. He spoke into the darkness – let – there – be – light. And there was light! When God speaks universes get created. And it was good, good, good, good, good and very good. His word gets things done.

And no-one can be divided from their words. Like him or not, George Bush, is probably the most powerful person in the world. His word has authority to wield nuclear weapons and economic influence.

On a much greater scale God's word, in this book, carries the full weight of God's authority. His words represent him. And God is the authority, not just on war and economics but on all of life.

1. The Saving Word
Look at 3v14, this powerful authoritative word of God came to Timothy, through the tenderness, weakness and gentle patience of his mother Eunice (1v5). The universe creating word from parent to child...
From the scriptures,
v14, Timothy learned.
From the scriptures,
v14 he was convinced.

About salvation: 3v15. Of “salvation – through faith – in Christ Jesus”. A weighty word from God's mouth, from Eunice to her son Timothy. ...what a priviledge, opportunity and challenge for those who are parents - to teach God's word to your children...

By his word the LORD stakes his claim on our lives. In 1v8-10 we're told of his good news (8), his purpose and grace (9) and the abolition of death to bring eternal life
(10).
The Bible is God's book of good news, about Jesus.


Marcus Honeysett comments:
“There is one God,
- with one plan of salvation
- through the one man Jesus Christ,
- that he tells us about in one book
- and illuminates by one Spirit”

(Source, Meltdown, IVP)

We shouldn't be surprised! God spoke to make us, and he speaks to save us. Human ideas and innovation don't change the world, God's word does. Delivered from mother to child, from one person to another... The word of God - doing the work of God. All the scriptures publishing God's saving word... From Genesis to Revelation, in law and history, songs and prophecy, biography and letters. All packed with the good news that Jesus Christ is our Saviour!

And, notice - 3v16-17 – Not just to get us started... The Bible is not just for Christmas, it's for life, all of life: 3v16-17... “...useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Our creator speaks with authority in his word. Not mystically but through the commands and instructions and explanations of his story. And we need it! But, personal Bible study doesn't always feel great. It doesn't always feel like the universe-creating authoritative word of God. It can seem difficult, even dull, or just overwhelming as we don't know where to begin... For some here it may be days or weeks since we last opened the Bible. Because of the pressures of life... or just out of carelessness. It happens.

And the point here is not to feel guilty about that. It's not a sin if we don't read the Bible every day. But – this is God's authoritative word. It's food for life. If we're neglecting it we'll drift into trouble. God has given us his word in a book for our benefit. Sometimes it's difficult, but it will yield to “faith-filled” study.
When we're struggling, let's help one another, ...On reflection one of the reasons I didn't do well at University was that I was too proud to ask for help... Let's share our discoveries and difficulties together.

Let's get God's saving word into our busy lives. Prayerfully asking questions of the author as we read it. Lord, what are you saying here? What does this mean? How must I change?
God stakes his claim on our lives, teaching us about our Saviour Jesus Christ.

2. The Judging Word
Jesus is our Saviour, v15, but also 4v1: Judge. God's word is life to those who accept it, but the stench of death to those who reject it. Paul charges Timothy, 4v2 - “Preach – the – word”, 4v2. Cry out to all the people - “Hear ye, hear ye... Jesus is Saviour, and Judge!”

Now, you'd think that since all the people need a Saviour, that all the people would embrace this good news... who wouldn't want eternal life with Jesus? But, 4v3... people do not and will not put up with sound doctrine – 'sound' means healthy, 'doctrine' means teaching... we wont put up with healthy teaching. We don't know what's good for us, and we don't want what's good for us...
That's where everything went wrong in the first place - It wasn't eating fruit that got Adam and Eve in trouble – the problem was they stood over God's word. They judged what God said, and thought they knew better.

It was the same with King Ahab of Israel. He gathered around himself 400 prophets who would tell him whatever he wanted to hear. Four-hundred yes-men, to feed his ego and drown out God's word... There was one true prophet who spoke from God. And Ahab said
“I hate him because he never says anything good about me, only bad”.
Can we do that with a bank statement we don't like?
Or a medical report? Like isn't the point.
So, God judged Ahab.
Not as a man who hated God's word,
but as a man who hated God.
God will not be divided from His word...
(I'm grateful to Mark Dever's The Message of the OT for the above insights)

And we can do it, even without 400 friends... I read the Bible and see clearly the Word of God saying “be humble”. But I prefer the Word of Dave – which says “be proud!”. And when I follow the Word of Dave I reject the Word of God. But, since what the Bible says, God says then I'm disobeying God by disobeying his word... Prefering, 4v3, to serve my 'itching ears' instead of my glorious God. Praying “my kingdom come, my will be done...”

A man visited the Louvre in Paris,
He took a look at the Mona Lisa.
He examined it from several angles, before turning to the security guard and saying: “I don't like it”.
The guard replied:
“Sir, these paintings are
no longer being judged,
the viewers are”.

(Illustration from Mike Bullmore, Feeding on God)

So too for God's word. It stands. The saving word. If we listen to it, we find life in Jesus. But if we stand over it, judging it, then it judges us, God judges us by His word. We wont always like what God's word says – because of that we need to pray that our hearts are changed, and we need to hear God's word preached. To be confronted with it.

That's why the constitution of our church says this:
“the visible church of Christ is
a congregation of faithful men,
in which the pure Word of God is preached...”
(Church of England, 39 Articles)


The preaching isn't meant to be “the boring bit” of our meeting – it's the time get refreshed, as the good news of Jesus Christ is heralded in our hearing. Piers, Ian, Steve and myself are committed to preaching the word week by week. Not to just picking out what we want to say.
As we each listen we too must not pick and choose what we're prepared to hear. If we come to judge God's word it will sound worse than fingernails on a blackboard, to our itching ears. The judging word.

But it need not be that way. If we will come to listen to God's word, it may sound uncomfortable, but also glorious. As should our response in songs and liturgy, filling the air with the aroma of Jesus. The same will be true, day by day, decision by decision, living under the authority of God by living under his word - leading us to salvation - through faith - in Christ Jesus.


3 comments:

  1. Dave,

    Nice talk, really feels like a talk, rahter than an article. I would have loved to hear you deliver it. I'm sure you did it well.

    But if we are saved by faith in Christ, as we are Christians already, then why did you say this, "As should our response in songs and liturgy, filling the air with the aroma of Jesus. The same will be true, day by day, decision by decision, living under the authority of God by living under his word - leading us to salvation - through faith - in Christ Jesus."

    It sounds more like a catholic take on justification than a protestant one to me? Have I misunderstood the way you expressed the amount of salvation the already believing Christian has, before they go on with their Bible study?

    Another thing. You mention decisions and you mention personal bible study. Do you think you could describe your own battle with the authority of scipture in more detail? I think it would make it much more relevant for me.

    And another thing, surely the authority and value of scripture flows from God's being and his status, rather than the Bibles claim about itself? I know you went onto talk about old Dubya, but I think you might do well to give this point more thrust and penetration.

    Well done tho.

    Tom

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  2. Thanks for this piece. Helpful to see this understanding of the Bible set out so clearly.

    It's not my opinion but I appreciate its candour.

    I wonder if you might want to give us a bit more on 'My opinion about the Bible isn't really the point – what matters is what it says about itself.'

    If the Daily Mail describes itself as 'the best tabloid daily newspaper in the world' does our opinion about its claim matter? I think so. And that means we have to deal with the genuine opinions of many people whose opinion about the Bible differs from its own claims. If we don't think their opinions matter we are giving them insufficient respect and, it follows, less freedom than God gives us.

    Incidentally I heard a talk once on the inspiration of scripture where the preacher (Bob Clucas) made the point that if it is breathed out it is better described as God-expired not inspired.

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  3. Hi Tom,

    The MP3 is listed as the latest one on the Arborfield MP3 feed further up this page. I've yet to listen to it back so it might be terrible..

    I think the reference to salvation is to say that the message of salvation (the gospel / message of the whole bible) is what we live by daily... not meaning to say that our salvation is not achieved.

    I agree that it's our doctrine of God that determines it's authority - and I would push that harder another time. But, I think the key is that I am basing authority on God's authority, because God has said that his word is breathed by him.

    Thanks for the thoughts and let me know if you have more.

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