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POST DATE: 2007-03-31
II Timothy 3:16-17
Picture yourself in the midst of a discussion in a university dorm room. All sorts of ideas and views concerning God, His nature, and our relationship to Him or it are being offered. The question inevitably emerges, "Which is right?" and "How do we know?" It is with a great deal of joy that Christians say, "The Truth is that God has spoken; God has revealed himself. He has made himself known. We have in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments a measuring rod, a canon, whereby we can distinguish truth from error in our understanding of God and how he would have us relate to Him. We are not left to our hunches, speculations, or to uncertain agnosticism. God has spoken!"
In a sense God speaks to every human heart. Through the greatness of the universe he bears testimony to His power. All that comes into being must rest on that which is always there, God the Creator. All that is small must finally rely upon something greater, and the universe itself rests upon the eternal power of God. How eternally great He must be. God also bears witness to Himself in and through our human constitution (i.e., in our thinking, in our purposing, in our consciences, in our loving, and in our personalness) for He is the ground and source of all these gifts. How righteous He must be. How fully personal He must be. How caring and loving He must be. This universal revelation of Himself, which God gives us all, is referred to in theology as God's general revelation. The Apostle Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans points to another obvious fact. We human beings, fallen and sinful as we are, distort God's general revelation and turn it into the world's non-Christian religions, which are full of error. In these "religions" we make God after our own desires, so that God can be manipulated and used by us. As the Apostle puts it, we suppress God's truth in unrighteousness on the one hand, and on the other hand, we distort his truth, making Him after the image of men and reptiles and beasts, or thinking of Him as an impersonal force (Romans 1:18 ff). Something more is needed.
In fact, God, who has chosen to become our Savior, has made a "special" or saving revelation of Himself in which he breaks into our religious error and our willful rejection of His truth. In this saving revelation He brings to us a clear, and forgiving, Word in order to draw us back into the fellowship with Himself and to set our lives free to live in paths of righteousness and truth. This saving revelation begins with Abraham. God calls Abraham apart to begin a new relationship and a new people in fellowship with Himself. Over a period of time, with Abraham and in the midst of Israel, God reveals himself as a God of power. Through the Prophets He is revealed as a righteous God, who sent prophets to warn of judgment on sin and to promise forgiveness to the repentant. He also reveals us to ourselves, showing us our need for a Savior from the punishment and power of our sin, and our need for a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to set us free to respond to him. We need our minds to be cleared and our wills transformed.
Thus Jesus Christ is the chief revelation of God and the Word of God incarnate. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it this way . . . "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he spoke to us by a son," . . . (Hebrews 1: 1-2). Christ is more than a prophet; he is God's Word incarnate. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, ... no one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known." (John 1:1-18)
It is important to stop for a moment in order to dwell upon this. Christ is the fullness of God's revelation of Himself. He is God with us. He is God drawn near; He is God expressing himself in human form so that we might know Him. A prophet is one specially chosen by God to bear God's message. He is God's messenger. Jesus is more than a prophet. He is God's very self-expression in person. The blessing and importance of this is well illustrated by the story of the father who was putting his young daughter to bed. She was fearful and asked him not to leave. He said, ''But daughter, do not be afraid, God is with you." She replied, "Yes, Daddy, but I want somebody with me who has a face." We Christians rejoice to say that God has a face! We "behold the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." He is God in grace and love drawn near for us and for our salvation. In Christ we distinguish fully between truth and error about God, first.
But if Jesus is God's truth incarnate, then His teaching about Scripture and His attitude toward Scripture is also true and important. He taught that the Old Testament Scriptures, The Law and the Prophets and the Writings, were the Word of God, as they claimed to be. How often in the midst of the Old Testament do we hear the refrain, "Thus saith the Lord..." "The Word of the Lord came to me saying . . ." Jesus knew the Old Testament writings intimately and was fed by them. He quoted them in the face of temptation. For Him, they resolved all theological arguments. "How do you read?" he would ask. They disclosed the shape of His ministry. "These things must happen that the Word of God be fulfilled."
Jesus also promised that His Apostles would receive the Holy Spirit in order that they would remember all that he, Jesus, taught them, and so that they would be led into all truth. This was done so that the Apostles in their teaching would present the fullness of God's truth revealed in Christ. Jesus in so doing pointed forward to the inspired teaching of the Apostles later set down in the New Testament writings. Jesus clearly calls us by His example, by His teaching, to find in Holy Scriptures the Word of God written, both in the Old and New Testaments.
There is a text which sums up all we have been saying. We do well to dwell upon it for a moment. It is II Timothy 3:14-17. We read as follows:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work.
Here we have a statement about the purpose, the utter uniqueness and the transforming impact of Scripture. The purpose is clearly to lead us to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Scripture centers in Christ, it points to Christ. It is in Christ that we know God personally as our Lord and Savior and commit ourselves to following him. Next, the Scriptures are utterly unique. They can give us God's Word because they are inspired by God. The word "inspired" in this text means "breathed out" by God. The analogy here is to our speech. When I want to speak to you I breathe out my words, so it is with God. He breathes out by His Spirit, His Word written through the authors of Holy Scripture. The Scripture originates first in the mind of God, and then by His Spirit in the mind and hearts of men. It is the Scriptures, not the authors, which are breathed out or inspired. The biblical authors write as they are led and moved by the Spirit of God. The point of it all is to give us His word in the Scriptures so that we might truly know Him and respond to Him. Finally, notice the dynamic effect of Scriptures promised to us when they are read in faith and applied by the Holy Spirit. They are profitable for teaching (i.e., for right understanding and doctrine), for reproof (i.e., to show us the right way to live), and for training in righteousness (i.e., for regular and repeated imitation in order that we might live regularly in God's paths and in fellowship with Him). The end result is that we are made complete, made like Christ, and equipped for every good work, which He has in store for each of us - and all of us together.
This, then, is the authority of Scripture. The Scriptures are God's Word written to be heard by us in God's Spirit so that we might live in fellowship with God, do His work and find His purpose for our lives. Surely, it calls us in the words of the old collect "to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them" so that we might indeed hold fast to everlasting life in Him. As we know God in and through the Scriptures, and experience their authority in our lives, we become more like Christ. This is not only a blessing to us but to those around us. Keep in mind that we are often the first "Bible" a non-Christian reads -for Christ's sake, for our sake, for the Church's sake, and for our neighbor's sake, we give God thanks for the reliability and authority of The Bible.
Romans 1:18-32 - Why is "general revelation" insufficient by itself? Why don't the non-Christian religions of the world reveal God truthfully or comprehensively?
Hebrews 1:1-2, John 1:1-18 - Describe the uniqueness of God's revelation of Himself in Jessus Christ.
II Timothy 3:14-17 - What does this text claim concerning the authority of Scripture? Concerning the utility of Scripture?
Some time ago a monk in the Order of the Holy Cross told me a story of when he was a missionary in Africa. They were moving some supplies across country and were being assisted with their move by some natives. They had been on the move for several days and had been making very good time. They had just finished eating breakfast and were preparing to break camp when the natives’ leader approached them. He told them that they had to stay where they were for that day. The missionaries responded; “why, we have been making such good time and in staying here for a day we would loose that advantage”? The leader of the natives said that his men believed that they had been moving so fast that they had left their souls behind. They believed they must stay in one place for a day to allow their souls to catch up with them. In our lives today we maintain such a fast pace that we do sometimes feel that we have left our souls behind. We need to stop and spend time with God so our souls can catch up with us. Or, we need to, “Be still and know I am God”.
For many years I made an annual retreat to an Order of Holy Cross monastery in Pineville, SC. I would spend the last week of December and the first week of January with them. What a wonderful time. You would be awaken before daylight, get dressed and go to the chapel for Matins (Morning Prayer). After Matins we would have Communion. We would all have breakfast together and the monks would start their assigned chores. If you liked you could assist them. At noon we would all go back to the chapel for Diurnum (Noon Day Prayers). The afternoon would be filled with completing their chores, study and rest. Around sundown we would have Vespers (Evening Prayer) and then Compline before bedtime. What a mountain top experience to join them in their rhythm of prayer, study, and service.
It is critical that we attend to our spiritual health. We must nourish our soul through prayer and study. We must exercise our spirit by bearing fruit through Christian service. And we must rest our self in the bosom of our Heavenly Father. Stay in one place and allow your soul to catch up with you. Be still and get to know God.