What Is The Bible Good For?
Who would have ever thought that a sermon on the Bible could be controversial? It is true. Churches and Universities all over the world are debating the question, "What is the Bible good for?".
Now, I've heard the argument, "It's all interpretation. Everything the biblical authors wrote was their interpretation".
While I understand this argument, it is a weak one. Scripture itself refutes this--listen to what 2Peter 1:20, 21 says: "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God".
The sad truth is not too many people believe this anymore. Not too many people believe the Bible is the actual Word of God anymore. What I hear instead is the heretical phrase, "the Bible CONTAINS the Word of God".
I recently read an example of this: a seminary professor who taught a relativistic view of truth. This prof was insisting to his class that language has no absolute meaning. "What (something) means to you is not necessarily what it means to me" he told them. One student protested, "That is not right! It is true that language is sometimes ambiguous, but that is why we write dictionaries--to explain what we mean".
Another student gave an example, "If you look out the window and see an airplane in the sky and say, 'Look an airplane!' everybody looks up. Why do they do that? It is because the word 'airplane' carries some objective content. It is not an empty term.
The professor did not agree. He kept pressing his point. So, finally, one of the students said, "If language is meaningless, then the language we are speaking here is meaningless. And if the language we are speaking here is meaningless, our being here is meaningless".
Then another student asked, "Well, if this is meaningless, what are we going to do with the rest of the hour?".
"Let's play squash" said one of the students. So the whole class got up, went out the door, and left the professor alone in the classroom with his theory.
The same illustration can be applied to the Church. If we do not have a sure word from God with objective, absolute, content, then what we are doing in our churches is as meaningless as what that professor was doing in his classroom. If that is true, the most rational thing a congregation can do on a Sunday is get up and walk out.
I, however, would urge against that. I would urge against walking out because the Bible is indeed the Word of God. It does not merely contain truth, it IS truth.
Would you like to know what God is like? The Bible tells us everything we need to know about God--not everything about God, our puny brains could not contain that--but everything WE NEED TO KNOW about God is truthfully depicted in the Scriptures. Therefore, all other depictions of God must be scrutinized by the sure Word of God.
The Bible also accurately depicts what humans are like. Unfortunately, the running theme from Genesis to Revelation is that we are a self-centred bunch--we are sinners who persevere in disobeying a Holy God.
So what is the Bible good for? Number one, the Bible tells us what God is like --pretty important information, wouldn't you say? Secondly, the Bible tells us what we are like --it documents our perpetual disobedience to God. Thirdly, the Bible aids us in reconciling with God (repeat). That is the message the apostle Paul has for Timothy in his second letter, chapter 3.
Earlier in this sermon, I confessed that few people believe that the Bible is the Word of God anymore. Well, Paul begins chapter 3 by explaining at length why this is so. Listen to what Paul says and ask yourself if he could be describing life in the 1990's here: "in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God"(3:1-4). Now does that sound like North Americans in the 1990's or what?
But Paul tells Timothy NOT to be like that. In verse 14 he says, "You, HOWEVER, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of (them)". Paul is saying, "Don't be like everyone else. Don't be self-centred. Don't be without control. Don't choose worldly pleasure, choose God".
And how do we choose God, who we cannot see, rather than worldly pleasures which are right in front of us? Paul's resolution is to "continue in the things you have learned". Learned from where? The "sacred writings"--the Scriptures, Paul says.
Timothy had 2 choices and we have 2 choices. We can allow ourselves to make decisions according to our natural cravings or we can allow Scripture to guide our every action. If we are honest, however, I think we will find that our actions are governed by our cravings more often than they are governed by Scripture.
The marketers from just about every company in North America know this and accordingly direct their efforts at our tendency to give in to our cravings. You can't afford that leather couch? Well then, "Don't pay a cent until the year 2000!". Are you feeling tired, hungry, and worn down? Don't worry, McDonald's insists that you DESERVE a break today.
The marketer of the 90's has it easy. They're simply prodding you to do what you naturally want to do. The preacher of the 90's, however, has a bigger challenge. I'm trying to encourage you to do something that doesn't come naturally to most--I'm trying to encourage you, as Paul did to Timothy, to learn your Bible and to live by it.
"Now why should I be reading my Bible more?", you might ask. The first reason is just common sense. In a day and age where people spend hours a week reading and watching T.V. programs about their favourite celebrity or athlete, wouldn't it make sense to learn a thing or two about the Almighty Creator of the Universe?
A second reason to read our Bible more is because what we will receive is of unequaled value. When we give in to our natural cravings we may get immediate results, but we don't get lasting results. Physical pleasure, we all know, is fleeting. And as we continue to gain material things, we inevitably find out there are better material things still left to acquire. But with Scripture we get something of lasting value. Paul says that the Bible is "able to give you wisdom"--wisdom "that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus"(3:15). All this to say that the spiritual blessings we get from reading Scripture are PERMANENT.
It would be reasonable to conclude then, that reading Scripture is essential for anyone who wants to become a mature Christian(repeat).
That is exactly the point of verses 16 and 17: "All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work".
A key phrase here is "God-breathed". Now some Bibles translate the Greek work to "inspired", but this can be misleading. It can be misleading because we use the word inspiration in a very human way. We think of a poet writing a great poem and we say, "He must certainly have been inspired to write that". That is not what the Paul is talking about here.
Paul's point is that when human beings wrote down what we call the Scriptures, what they were writing was breathed out by God--that is, every word is their according to the will of God. How else could you explain the Bible's unity?
The Bible is comprised of 66 different books, written over a period of about 1500 years by about 40 different authors. The authors ranged from kings to fisherman to tax collectors. If asked about any particular subject, these writers would have had views as diverse as the opinions of people living today. Yet together they produced a work united in its doctrines, historical viewpoints, ethics, and future expectations. The Bible is a united, error-free piece of work because God breathed it out.
Very little in our world is black or white anymore. Everything seems to come in shades of gray. In a day and age where truth seems relative to where you are standing, the Bible offers us timeless truth.
Paul says that "All" of Scripture is "profitable"--not some of it, but ALL of it. It is profitable for "teaching"--teaching us how to live like Christ. It is profitable for "reproof"--when T.V. and other forms of media begin to shape our views of the world, Scripture is able to reprove us--it can reshape our beliefs. Scripture is profitable "for correction"--when we are living in ways that are against God's moral law, Scripture is able to correct us by showing us how to live in a God-honouring way.
Scripture is profitable for "training in righteousness"--in the same way lifting weights strengthens an athlete's body, abiding by the words of Scripture is the best way to become spiritually fit. Paul says that Scripture makes us "adequate" and "equipped for every good work". God calls all of His people to do ministry, and just when you are ready to doubt your ability to minister, Paul tells us that learning and abiding by Scripture will make us adequate for the task.
God has high expectations for His people. We cannot expect a Holy God to settle for the mediocrity that most of us settle for. Thanks be to God that Christ has given us salvation so that we don't perish eternally. But we should also be thankful that God has given us the Bible so that we don't perish in this lifetime either. Amen.