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The Word of God, Not the Word of Men

January 23rd, 2020

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)

A hallmark of true Christianity is respect for and reverence toward the Bible as the Word of God. As such, the Bible stands in contrast to the words of human beings. It is the divine message that God’s Spirit has inspired through human hands and minds, and though each of these human authors conveys his own unique personality, it is still the Word of God that we have.

The Concreteness of Circumstances

We should not be discouraged that these various books of the Bible came from various individuals dealing with specific concrete circumstances, for that fact commends their practical value to us. It has often been observed that among all the great speeches of humanity that each of them was given on a specific occasion to address a specific concrete circumstance. And the Bible was also written in real situations for real and historical people.

As such the books are peppered with various customs that applied to those circumstances but are not demanding on all people for all times. For example, Romans 16:16 says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” and a practical interpretation for that verse does not demand that Christians through all centuries and in every culture must kiss each other, rather than we are to acknowledge our Christian brothers and sisters and to greet them in a culturally appropriate way that reflects true holiness.

This interpretation is called the Grammatical-Historical Method of Biblical Interpretation and it simply means that the Bible is to be interpreted in light of its original historical situation, using the rules of grammar, and in consideration of where it lies in salvation history. For example, many things that were bound or forbidden in the Old Testament were loosed or allowed in the New Testament — the eating of different meats, for example. Mark 7:19 states that Jesus declared all meats clean, and Paul affirms this in Romans 14:20, so those commands in the Old Testament that forbade the eating of certain foods are no longer obligatory on a Christian.

The concreteness means that it is readily helpful to us today. When we read that Paul urged two women in Philippi to agree with one another and stop their divisive feuding, we can understand the relevancy of the biblical point. When we read about fleeing temptations, we understand and can apply that to our circumstances. When we read about James rebuking the gossips in his church, warning on the danger of the human tongue, we understand that we also deal with those problems.

And historically, when we read of Obadiah’s rebuke to the nation of Edom, descendants of Esau who was Jacob’s brother, when they stood aloof when their brother Israel was in need, when they looted Jerusalem with the invading armies, we see the condemnation against every Christian who ignores his spiritual brother’s or his spiritual sister’s spiritual needs.

The Power of the Word

The word of God is to be embraced with faith and obedience, and in this is our hope. God has spoken to us today and His word is always fresh to the one who believes it. The true power of the Word is not against demons, that we read it aloud to merely cast them out, but its power is found in the way it touches the human heart, leading people to repentance and faith and obedience.

No one can be a good growing Christian without a daily diet of the word of God. It is the “word of life” (Phil. 2:16) or the word that brings life to our hearts.

  • It saves us from our sin: Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
  • It feeds our souls; Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
  • It cleanses our consciences, as Paul wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph. 5:25-26).
  • It unites the church: Romans 16:25 says, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.”
  • It strengthens us against temptation: Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
  • It encourages us in difficult times: Psalm 119:81 says, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word.”

Both for the church and for the individual believer, the Bible is God’s message of salvation, hope, strength, direction, wisdom, encouragement, rebuke, and more.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

1 Thessalonians, Bible

The Bible and the Church

January 21st, 2020

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine as lights in the world as you hold forth the word of life, in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16 BSB)

The Bible is to have a central place in the life of the Christian and in the life of the local church. The Christian, having originally been found and saved by God through the word of God, finds in the word the truth of God and spiritual meat for the spiritual sustenance of his soul. The church finds the word to be the tool of God for their witness and for their spiritual development. By teaching, proclaiming, and believing the word of God the church finds unity, leadership, clarity, efficiency, purpose, truth, and life.

The word of life

These words are strong here and have a remarkable history behind them. Words by themselves, as we all know, are often empty and meaningless, the powerless promises of an egotist. Words can by themselves alone be deceptive, leading us to believe and act upon lies and ruses. But the words of Christ bring life, as His disciples testified, Christ has the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68), and, in fact, is that word of eternal life that shined into the darkness of the world in His incarnation (John 1:1-4), and He remains the “word of life” for those who believe in Him (1 John 1:1).

The life that Christ gives is not merely a better life, but a pure life that is eternal in its nature. The nature of this life is the continual growth in intimate knowledge of Christ, as He said: “And this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). All that we know of Jesus, apart from a few obscure outside historical references, is found in the Bible. To to know Christ, and thereby to know God and to have true spiritual life, requires us to know the Bible.

Holding forth the word of life

The words of the text above are also instructive of the church’s ministry and witness. In what we do we are not only to hold upon the word of God ourselves, but we are to hold it forth as our message,  testament, and ministry. The word of the original Greek is epecho, a combination of epi and echo, or “upon” and “hold.” It carries the meaning of “holding onto,” “paying attention to,” and “holding forth.” Ellicott’s Commentary is especially helpful here, seeing a connection between “holding forth” or “holding out” the word and the words in the preceding verse about the church “you shine like stars in the world”:

Holding forth the word of life.—This translation seems correct, and the reference is to the comparison above. There may, indeed, be (as has been supposed) a reference, involving a change of metaphor, to the holding forth of a torch, for guidance, or for transmission, as in the celebrated torch race of ancient times. But this supposed change of metaphor is unnecessary. The “luminaries” hold forth their light to men, and that light is the “word of life.”

So Ellicott’s Commentary sees a continuation between “shining like stars in the universe” and “holding out the word of life.” The word translated “universe” or “world” is kosmos in Greek and either word is a fair translation. The night sky shows the shining stars against the backdrop of the blackness of nothingness, and Christians shine like that in this world. The blackness of the world is the darkness of unbelief and confusion, the anger and hatred and selfishness of the world. And the light of the Christian is the word of light.

Why is the Christian different? He is different because he has the word of God and has trusted in the Christ of the word, and has received divine illumination in his soul. He holds forth the “word of God,” the “gospel of Jesus Christ,” or the “word of life,” as the hope of the world because it is his hope as well, and the clearest explanation for why he is different from others. As Heinrich Meyer saw it: “That those, who have a longing for life, may let it (the gospel of Christ) be the light which shall guide them to life.”

Hold on as we hold forth

The Bible is the book we hold on to as we hold it forth to others. The church should keep the Bible in the forefront of its life and not hide it under mountains of other programming. It is not something we should apologize for teaching, rather it is the best thing the church has for its own edification and for its message to the lost. Through teaching the Word, we present Christ who can save, and Christ who can give true life, and the beautiful teachings of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

There is no conflict, or there should be none, in the teachings of the Word and the work of the Spirit. He is the Author of the book, and works in our lives through the Bible to lead us and teach us.

 

 

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