A Bible study blog series about the Fundamental Christian Doctrines based on the Southern Baptist Faith and Message. Topics to be covered during the course of this study are:
- the Scriptures (current location of the study)
- God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
- God’s Purpose of Grace
- Baptism and Lord’s Supper
- Lord’s Day
- God’s Kingdom
- Last Things
- Evangelism and Missions
- Christians and Social Order
- Peace and War
- Religious Liberty
In my last Bible Study blog post, I began this new series on Foundational Biblical Doctrines. We are currently looking at what the Bible says about itself – the Scriptures. I began by discussing How the Bible Came to Be. For this second part, we’ll look at how the Bible says that it is intended to be used.
How Scripture is to be Viewed and Used
I remember in my young adult years (in other words, many years ago) being reminded and encouraged that to raise an objection to something or take a stand on something using Scripture as an argument would be only as effective as how much your life already reflects reliance on Scripture. In other words, if I were to claim Scripture as the basis for my actions, it better reflect on all my actions rather than in only the one area that I choose.
Scripture was never intended to be a set of “one-liners” that we can pull out to support something if we ignore Scripture for virtually everything else. This is why I cringe when I see/hear people protesting something using Scripture without knowing what the rest of their life demonstrates about it. God intends Scripture to be an integral part of our existence, influencing our actions and decisions on a constant basis.
When Moses was giving his final set of addresses to the Israelite nation before his death he said (Deuteronomy 4:1-2), “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.” Listen and do – don’t add to or take away… these are the actions Moses encouraged the nation to do in regard to God’s word. Additionally, he directed their leader (the eventual king) in Deuteronomy 17:19-20 to “read in it [the Scriptures] all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.“
Joshua, the next leader of the nation, followed Moses’ directive to keep the Word of God before the nation (Joshua 8:34): “And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law.” This came on the heels of the defeat of Jericho and Ai. The writer of Hebrews, though, commented on Joshua and the Israelites. He said (Hebrews 4:8-13), “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 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. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This is an important treatise on what it means to follow God’s Word. God’s Word is not about a list of rules to be followed in which we can say, “there… I did it… I followed the rules.” The Sabbath rest to which the writer of Hebrews is referring is actually faith in the work of Jesus resulting in our salvation. When we enter into God’s rest, we are submitting to Him and His Word and not depending on our own efforts to bring about our salvation. The Scripture, then, serves to change us on the inside, resulting in our conformity to the image of God.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to study the Scriptures and allow them to work themselves into our life. In Acts 17:11 the Bereans were commended for their diligence in doing this: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” They were committed to making sure that the teachings they heard were consistent with the rest of the Scriptures. In other words, they had a love for the Scriptures and understood how important they were.
This love for Scripture is illustrated in many of the Psalms. For example, Psalms 19:7-10 says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Note the characteristics attributed to God’s Word:
- it revives the soul
- it produces wisdom
- it brings about rejoicing
- it provides enlightenment
- it is enduring
- it is righteous
- it is desirable and sweet
Note that when this psalm was written by David, the scriptures would have been primarily the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Joshua and Judges may have been known then, or not, and possibly Job. It is easy for us to overlook the Pentateuch, considering it boring or irrelevant, but it is these very Scriptures that David and other Psalmists proclaimed as beautiful.
Consider Psalm 119. The entire Psalm is built around the Hebrew alphabet with each 8-verse stanza consisting of verses starting with the same letter of the alphabet. And, each verse is talking about some aspect of the love of God’s word. That’s 176 statements! Here are just a few:
- Psalms 119:11 – I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
- Psalms 119:89 – Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
- Psalms 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
- Psalms 119:140 – Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.
Statements of love for God’s Word come from people who didn’t always have an easy life. Many of the Psalms are laments about how difficult life is or how problems surround the writer, yet they consistently return to statements about trusting God nevertheless. For example, Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 15:16), “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Yet this statement comes within the context of a passage in which Jeremiah is complaining to God about how things are going. Just two verses later we read, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” And, God’s answer to him is not what we might consider encouraging. God tells him to continue being faithful and God will ultimately deliver him, yet his troubles will still continue for now.
We must remember that God’s Word is His story. It’s not about us. God’s activity (past, present, and future) can be verified by consulting His Word and we can use those Scriptures to remind us and teach us of God. Isaiah 34:16 says, “Seek and read from the book of the LORD…“. In context, Isaiah has just prophesied about God’s judgment on the nations and God is reminding him to go back to God’s Word to see and verify that God does what He says He will do.
It is this reliance on and understanding of God’s Word that should set us apart as Christians. Jesus (John 17:15-17), during his prayer for believers just before being handed over for his trial and crucifixion said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The word “sanctify” means to be set apart for God’s use. Jesus is saying here that His word (Scripture) is the means by which God sets us apart for His work.
Peter (1 Peter 3:13-17) encourages believers to be ready with an answer (apologetics). “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” I recently heard a sermon in which the pastor compared one’s testimony to the use of God’s Word. Someone might say, “well, I’ve got my testimony and no one can argue with that.” That may well be true, and your testimony is an important aspect of how you bear witness to God’s work. However, your testimony is not on equal footing with God’s Word. It is His Word that stands forever, as Isaiah 40:8 (quoted in the last Bible study) says: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.“
Peter gave us an example of using God’s Word along with our testimony in Acts 2:16-41. I’ve inserted Scripture references to indicate when he uses God’s Word to illustrate his points: “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel [Joel 2:28-32]: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him [Psalm 16:8-11], “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says [Psalm 110:1], “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.“
Paul also uses apologetics to make his point in Romans 15:1-7: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written [Psalm 69:9], “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Paul explains his use of Scripture by stating that “whatever was written … was written for our instruction.” Reading Scripture is not just about familiarizing ourselves with God’s Word. It is for our instruction to gain understanding of His ways. And one of the greatest understandings that we can gain is how the Scriptures – all of them – point us toward God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus. And that’s what I will write about in my next Bible study.