Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Do you know this old song?
Oh, the B-I-B-L-E, yes,
that’s the book for me;
I stand alone on the Word of God,
Nothing is more sacred in the Protestant church than the Bible. We study it, quote it, defend it and use it as the basis of what we think, say and do. While we may not always agree on what the Bible says, there’s no question that it’s central to our faith. It’s God’s Word that contains, among other things:
• The Law;
• the Covenant;
• the history of God’s chosen people, Israel;
• the recurring drama of their rebellion and God’s redemption;
• the promise of a Messiah;
• the coming of the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth;
• the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus;
• the New Covenant in his name;
• the growth of the church from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond;
• the promise of Christ’s reign at the end of time.
We talked about the Bible in our Officer Training class last week and how we understand it in the Reformed faith. What I’d like to focus on this morning is its authority – not only it’s authority over us, but the authority it gives us to speak and act in Christ’s name.
Let’s begin with what Paul told Timothy in this passage for today. He said,
But you remain in the things which you have learned …
From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith …If you just got here, we talked about Timothy a few weeks ago – how he was Paul’s young protégé and how he looked up to Paul and helped him bridge the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles. We made note of the fact that Timothy grew up in a devout home, where he learned the scriptures of the Jewish faith from childhood. Paul writes,
“(I am) reminded of the sincere faith that is in you;
which lived first in your grandmother Lois,
and your mother Eunice,
and, I am persuaded, in you also.”
(2 Timothy 1:5)
Paul wrote this letter to Timothy from Rome, where he was under house arrest waiting for the day when Nero would have him executed. What do say as your final words to someone you love? Well, this is what Paul said to Timothy:
“… remain in the things you have learned …
the holy scriptures, which you have known since infancy.”
This speaks to me in a powerful way: Hold on to what you know. Don’t get carried away by the images you see, the language you hear, the values espoused by the culture around you. Stay the course. Hold fast to the unchanging truth of God’s holy Word. Here are just a few examples of what I’m thinking:
• The Bible teaches us that God created humankind in his image. “Male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Today’s culture would have us believe that beyond being male or female one might be transgendered in a variety of ways.
• The Bible teaches us that God instituted marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman in which they might experience perfect unity with God and each other, and from which children might be conceived and nurtured and loved. Today’s culture would have us believe that marriage joins together any two or more individuals, regardless of gender, for whatever purpose they may have in mind.
• The Bible teaches us that human life is a sacred gift of God and should be protected and preserved at all costs. Today’s culture would have us take life into our own hands, from terminating an unwanted pregnancy, to terminating the life of an older person when it’s deemed no longer to have a reasonable quality of life.
• The Bible teaches us that, even though we’re created in the image of God, we have a rebellious nature and, given the choice, we’d rather do things our way than be obedient to God. Today’s culture would have us believe that it’s all up to us, that we have within us all the potential for good we need and the freedom to use, if we choose. It’s up to us.
• The Bible teaches us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) – alienation from God and others. Today’s culture would have us believe that there’s no such thing as sin, only poor choices – which may lead to bad consequences – but, hey, that’s just part of being human.
I could on go on, but you get the point: The teachings of the Bible stand in direct conflict with today’s culture. The question is who are you going to believe?
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Paul admonished Timothy to hold on to what he knew to be true for all time. I think he’d say the same to us today: Stand alone on the Word of God.
But why should we? What makes the teachings of the Bible more authoritative than, say, the teachings of scientists and scholars, philosophers and theologians? Simply this:
Every Scripture is God-breathed and/or,
Every writing inspired by God is profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete,
thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I mentioned that we talked about the Bible last Sunday night. Here’s a summary of what we learned:
• The Bible was written by many different authors over a long period of time.
• While God did not dictate the words, God inspired the biblical writers by the Holy Spirit to record his Word.
• If we had access to the original manuscripts, we’d find that they give us an accurate account of what God intended for us to know, without error.
• Even now, we’re able to hear God’s Word through the words scripture if we’re willing to study them carefully and rely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
I think we can all agree: There’s a world of difference between what some guru today thinks and what God said so long ago.
But let’s be honest: The words of the Bible were written hundreds – some of it, thousands – of years ago in ancient Hebrew and Greek. The original manuscripts are nowhere to be found. Even the ancient manuscripts we have don’t contain punctuation marks or capital letters. Some parts of the Bible are confusing and difficult to understand. Some seem to contradict each other. The whole biblical witness comes out of a far different time and place. How are we to take it seriously and apply it to our own day and age?
Well, consider this: We like to say, “With God, all things are possible,” and they are. (By the way, that’s a direct quote from Mark 14:16) Well, isn’t just like God …
to entrust His Word to fallible human beings …
who wrote on fragile papyrus scrolls …
that were later copied by other fallible human beings …
who translated it into other languages …
and added punctuation and paragraphing …
then edited it to make the words flow more smoothly …
who passed it on to fallible human beings like us,
who understand it only in part;
yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit
are able to find words of inspiration
and discern the Truth that has stood the test of time.
If you take seriously how old the scriptures of the Bible are and all of the translation and redaction and interpretation they’ve gone through, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the Bible makes any sense at all.
But it does! From the loftiest scholar to the simplest child, the Bible conveys a message of truth, judgment and mercy to all who turn to it in faith. In a world of disinformation and changing values, the Bible gives us a firm foundation upon which to stand. It is the one authority we can depend on to shape our faith and guide our thoughts and actions.
But there’s more: The Bible is not only the authority for what we think, say and do, it gives us the authority to proclaim God’s Word to the world in which we live. It authorizes us to speak and act in Christ’s name. This is what Paul told Timothy:
I command you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ …
preach the word; be urgent in season and out of season;
reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching.
For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine,
but, having itching ears,
will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts;
and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables.
But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship,
do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5)
Most of you are actively involved in some sort of Bible study, whether in Sunday school or a home group or online or your own daily discipline. That’s good. No matter how much you study the Bible, you’ll never understand it completely, but the more you do, the more you’ll appreciate its beauty and wisdom.
Well, here’s what I’d like for you to consider: Bible study is only half of the equation. The other half is to share what you’ve learned with others.
To put it this way: As edifying as it may be to know and love the sacred scriptures, it’s not just about you. It’s about God’s love for all mankind.
The point of Bible study is not for you to collect pearls of wisdom to savor and enjoy, but to “preach the word, in season and out.” It’s not to make you a saint, but to equip you to “do the work of an evangelist and so fulfill your ministry.”
Personally, I’m offended by the way preaching has been given such a bad rap in our day: “Don’t you go preaching to me.” The connotation of a preacher in today’s culture is that of a critical parent looking scornfully down in judgment on a little child.
But if preachers are maligned, evangelists are mocked and ridiculed. The stereotypical evangelist portrayed on television and in the movies is a slick-talking snake oil salesman with a thousand dollar suit and a million dollar smile, who vacillates between condemning you for your sins and coaxing you to send him your money.
Not long ago I was asked to lead a series of services at a little Presbyterian church out in the country. Kathy and I met with the planning committee, and I asked, “What exactly do you have in mind?” They weren’t quite sure, so I asked, “Are you thinking of something on the order of a revival?” They nearly jumped up out of their seats. “Heavens no,” one said, “We don’t use that term around here!” I wonder if something similar might be said about the word, “evangelism.”
What does it mean to be an evangelist? Now’s a good time to ask. The Pines Presbytery voted yesterday to release you from the PC(USA). If all goes well, you’ll be a transitional member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church this time next week. It’s possible you’ll be admitted as a full member by the end of the year.
What does it mean to be evangelical? It means to be an evangelist, and an evangelist is simply one who shares the Good News of God’s love with others. D. T. Niles said it best: “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
Some of the best examples of evangelism I know take place in a preschool, where a loving teaching helps children learn the Golden Rule and experience the joy of sharing what they have with others. Or at an AA meeting, where one alcoholic encourages another to trust in his Higher Power for the strength to stay sober. Or at a funeral service, where a grieving love one boldly stares death in the face and sings,
“Lead on, O King Eternal, we follow not with fears;
For gladness breaks like morning where’er Thy face appears;
The cross is lifted o’er us, we journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.”
Karl Barth was one of the most esteemed Bible scholars of the 20th Century. He came to the United States in 1962 and spoke at the Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago. Following the lecture, students were invited to ask questions. One asked, “Can you summarize your whole life’s work in theology in one sentence?” Barth thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”
Friends, God has given you his Word in holy scripture. He is the author, and, as the author, he authorizes you to share his Word with others. It need not be elaborate. Just share what you know and trust that the Spirit will inspire others not only to hear the truth of God’s Word, but to come to know the Word made flesh … the living Word … Jesus Christ … as the Lord and Savior of their lives.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2013, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.