Richard Niell Donovan
Paul was an old pastor, nearing the end of his ministry, giving advice to Timothy, a young pastor, who was just beginning his ministry. Paul’s letter to Timothy emphasized that Timothy should hold to the truth, as he had learned the truth from the scriptures and the Christians who had nurtured him. Then Paul says: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” Other translations say, “All Scripture is inspired by God.”
We talked last Sunday in my Sunday school class about the word “inspired.” What does it mean? Does it mean that God dictated the Bible word-for-word to Paul and the other Biblical authors? Or did God place thoughts in their minds that they wrote in their own words.
As you read the Bible, particularly in the original Hebrew and Greek languages, you will find great differences in style and language between one author and another. Paul was a highly educated man, and that is evident in his vocabulary and tight logic. Peter was an uneducated fisherman, and that comes through in his writings. I believe that God inspired the thoughts rather than the individual words of the Bible. He used the personalities of the individual writers.
But—and this is the crucial point—God did inspire the scriptures. God did insure that what comes to us within these covers is true. He inspired the Biblical authors, and insured that they told us what we need to know. And so Paul says to Timothy:
“From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures
which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith,
which is in Christ Jesus.
Every Scripture is God-breathed
and 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” (3:15-17).
The Bible has great power. God provided it to us as a textbook for our faith. It might not look like a textbook to you when you first try to read it. It includes the history of God’s dealings with people over a period of centuries. But the Bible includes more than history.
• It includes the Psalms, the beautiful poetry of faith.
• It includes the prophets, who warned the Israelites when they were doing wrong, and told of the coming of the Messiah who would save Israel.
• It includes the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—which tell us of the life and teachings of Jesus.
•It includes the letters of Paul and others. These letters, provided guidance to young Christians for specific circumstances. But the guidance that Paul provided to Timothy and others guides for us today as well.
If we know the Bible, it has great power to help us when we need help the most. Whether we are sweating out a problem, trying to make a decision, concerned about the future, or trying to determine how to deal with family problems, the Bible can help us. It can help us through every crisis of life if we know it. If we don’t know it, it is like gold buried under the beach. We can’t use gold to buy food, clothing and shelter until we find it and dig it up. We can’t use the Bible to help us through difficult times until we open its pages and learn what it says.
The Bible is the authoritative word of God. This is difficult for Americans. We don’t like authority. We believe that everyone has a right to do whatever they want and to believe whatever they want. Furthermore, we believe that everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s.
But is that true?
• We don’t really believe that everyone has a right to do whatever they want. We accept laws that limit our freedom, because we don’t want to give others the freedom to rob, pillage, and plunder. People cannot do whatever they want.
• People do have a right to believe whatever they want, but it doesn’t make them right. Neither does it give them a right to act on their beliefs. Skinheads can believe anything they want about blacks and Jews, but that doesn’t make them right—and it doesn’t give them the right to burn other people’s houses.
• Is everyone’s opinion as good as everyone else’s. I don’t think so. When we are sick, we seek the opinion of a doctor. The doctor’s opinion is better than our neighbor’s opinion, because the doctor has studied medicine more carefully. This week, my physician said, “The results of a five-year study have just been published by Mayo Clinic. We are going to change your treatment, because it gives us a better chance of saving your life.” He gave me the article so that I could read the study. I trust that doctor’s opinion more than the opinion of a friend of mine who says, “Eat broccoli and drink skim milk, and everything will be all right.”
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And so it is in the realm of our Christian faith. Each of us has a right to our opinion, and each of us has an opinion, but that doesn’t mean that every opinion is equally true.
I like to listen to the great saints of the church, because I can learn from their opinions:
• I greatly respect Mother Teresa. She lives her faith with great authority, so I respect her opinion.
• I have good friends, Don and Bridgitt Dryden, who have served as missionaries in Haiti for twenty years. Don was my chaplain’s assistant before he went to Haiti. Even then, I saw that he and Bridgitt were people of great faith. Don and Bridgitt have sacrificed greatly to carry on their ministry. They live their faith with great authority, and I respect their opinions and covet their prayers. Whenever anything important happens to me, I write Don and Bridgitt and ask for their prayers.
• There are great saints in this congregation—people who live their faith with great authority, and I respect their opinions.
But Mother Teresa isn’t perfect; she can be wrong. Don and Bridgitt aren’t perfect; they can be wrong. The saints in this congregation aren’t perfect; they can be wrong. I certainly am not perfect; I can be wrong.
Are we then lost in the swirl of differing opinions? Is there no solid truth on which we can stand? Is there no place we can look for guidance? Is our best guess our best hope?
No! God gave us the Bible so that we could know the truth. It becomes the standard by which all our opinions are measured. It is like a gyro-compass that maintains its true direction regardless of the pull of magnetic fields. It guides us faithfully through all life’s storms if we will simply know and follow it.
But Paul warned Timothy that. He said that:
“the time will come hen they will not listen to the sound doctrine,
but, having itching ears,
will heap up for themselves
teachers after their own lusts” (4:3).
In other words, Paul was warning Timothy that the time would come when people would avoid facing the truth––would listen only to the things they wanted to hear––would reward teachers and talk show hosts and celebrities with whom they could resonate––even if those people told lies instead of the truth.
That time is here. Our nation is awash in a thousand pagan opinions, from coaches who proclaim that “winning is the only thing” to New Agers who believe in astrology and reincarnation to trial lawyers who believe that nobody is ever guilty of anything because we are all victims of something.
In this age of a thousand opinions, we don’t need another opinion; we need the truth. God has provided the truth in his scriptures. They are a faithful guide, and we neglect them at our peril.
The great preacher, E. Stanley Jones, put it this way:
“One trying to live without the guidance of the scriptures
would be like a captain of a ship
who would brush aside chart and compass and stars
and would say, “I will be guided by my intuitions.”
No person can be spiritual who is not scriptural.
If there is dust on your Bible,
there is dust on your experience of Christ.”
But most of us don’t give the Bible much of a place in our lives. A contemporary poet puts it this way.
“They lie on the table, side by side;
The Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
One is well-worn but cherished with pride.
(Not the Bible, but the TV Guide).
One is used daily to help folks decide.
(No! Not the Bible; it’s the TV Guide).
As the pages are turned, what shall they see?
Oh, what does it matter, turn on the TV.
Then confusion reigns, they can’t all agree
On what they shall watch on the old TV.
So they open the book in which they confide.
(No, not the Bible; it’s the TV Guide.)
The Word of God is seldom read,
maybe a verse e’er they fall into bed,
exhausted and sleepy and tired as can be.
Not from reading the Bible; from watching TV.
So, then back to the table, side by side,
lie the Holy Bible, and the TV Guide.
No time for prayer, no time for the Word.
The plan of salvation is seldom heard,
but forgiveness of sin so full and free
is found in the Bible, not on TV!”
Does that sound familiar? Does that describe your home? If so, I invite you to make a change in your life. I invite you to give God the time that you now give to just one thirty-minute television program each day. Spend that time reading your Bible each day. It will change your life. Someday, when the crisis hits, it may save your life—it may save your family—it may save your child.
• Read the Bible.
• Learn the Bible.
• Let the Bible inform your opinions.
• Let the Bible form your character
• Let the Bible lead you to the truth.
• Let the Bible guide your life.
And God will reward your faithfulness with a peace and confidence that you can find only through his presence and his truth as he reveals them in his Holy word.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 1994, Richard Niell Donovan