Why the Bible is so important.
The second declaration on our vision statement is that we seek to teach the Bible in a way that is relevant to everyday life.
I would like to look at the passage that we have had read from 2 Timothy. It is a letter written by Paul, an experienced minister of the gospel, to Timothy, a younger man who is pastor of a church in Ephesus. And our verses today tell us why the Bible, why Scripture, is so important.
Of course, we must remember that when Paul speaks to Timothy about ‘Holy Scripture’, he is primarily speaking of what we know as the Old Testament, the first two thirds of our Bible. However, some of the earliest writings of the first apostles had also come to be recognised as ‘Scripture’. So, for instance, Peter writes to a congregation about Paul’s writings. He says, ‘His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures’ (1 Peter 3.16). And very quickly the Church came to accept the books that we have in our New Testament as Scripture.
So what Paul writes of Scripture here, can be taken to apply to the whole of what we have as our Bible.
And Paul urges Timothy to continue in what he has learnt and become convinced of (2 Tim 3.14). And Paul urges him to continue to be committed to Scripture.
And he gives him 4 reasons
1. The Bible is God breathed (v16)
We need that conviction today. When you pick up this book, you are picking up the word of God. We often say it at the end of a Bible reading: ‘This is the word of the Lord’.
This is inspired – literally ‘breathed in’.
That does not mean that this is auto-writing.
Some people would try to persuade us that they are channels for someone who has died, and that they are writing down the very words that these people are giving. They put a pen in their hand, their brain in neutral and just write. Apart from being wrong – the Bible makes it clear that we must not even attempt to get in touch with the ‘other side’ – God does not work that way.
He doesn’t override our feelings, intellect and decisions. He works through our feelings, intellect and decisions.
So these are the words of God – and we can see through them to God - but they are also the words of Paul – and we can see through them to the person of Paul.
We can see the heart of Paul, the passion of Paul. We can also see his frustration or anger or disappointment or brokenness.
God does not override Paul’s personality or circumstances.
He uses Paul’s personality and circumstances.
It is like what we believe about Jesus.
We believe Jesus was fully 100% human. When you look at him you see a human being living a perfect life. But we also believe that he is 100% divine. When you look at him, you see 100% God. So with the Bible. It is 100% the words of Paul and Peter and Matthew and Luke and Isaiah. But it is also 100% the word of God.
This is no ordinary book. When the Queen was given a Bible at her coronation, the moderator of the Church of Scotland said to her, “Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”
Now I know that there are many who would challenge that. They would argue that science has disproved the Bible, that we can never know how to interpret the Bible, that it is sexist or homophobic or seditious. For 70 years it was banned in the former Soviet Union. It is still a banned book in North Korea, in Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. And people have constantly tried to discredit the Bible: they misquote or take verses out of context and try to show how foolish or unacceptable they are.
And I would never deny that there are challenges. There are bits of the Bible that are hard to understand. There are teachings that challenge the thinking of our contemporary society. And we need some humility in this, and recognise that people have used the Bible to justify things that we now realise the Bible can never be used to justify: things like the crusades, the burning of heretics, slavery or apartheid or the justification of turning women into objects who are there to satisfy men. And people have handled the Bible in an offensive way – even though the Bible itself teaches us to treat all people ‘with gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3.15).
St Augustine said, “The Scriptures are holy, they are truthful, they are blameless.… So we have no grounds at all for blaming Scripture if we happen to deviate in any way, because we haven’t understood it. When we do understand it, we are right. But when we are wrong because we haven’t understood it, we leave it in the right. When we have gone wrong, we don’t make out Scripture to be wrong, but it continues to stand up straight and right, so that we may return to it for correction” (Sermons 23.3).
We really don’t need to defend the Bible. Spurgeon said, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”
And my challenge to people who have heard all this horrendous stuff about the Bible is very simple. Read it for yourself. Begin in the New Testament. Read one of the accounts of the life of Jesus.
And when you read, pray; ask God, if he is there, to speak to you through the words.
And don’t read it to pick holes in it; don’t read it as an academic exercise; read it – even if you don’t believe it – as if it were the lively oracles of God. Read it with humility. Read it as if it were ‘God breathed’
2. The Bible can make us wise for salvation
The Bible does not save us.
Possession of the Bible does not save us – not even of one of those really big old family ones!
Knowledge of the Bible does not save us. There is the story told of the person who, on his death bed, was found reading the Bible and making notes. He said he was cramming for finals.
Being able to quote various verses, or list the books of the OT and NT, or quote the Bible, or know who Karen-Happuch is, will not save us. But if you tell me at the end of the service, it would impress me!
The Bible does not save us. But the Bible makes us wise for salvation.
What saves us is when we listen to the message of the Bible, and put our faith and our trust in the person who the Bible is all about, Jesus Christ.
So, for instance, after his resurrection, when Jesus appears to his followers (they can’t believe that he has risen from the dead), he says to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’ (Luke 24.27)
This was a really big thing in Jesus’ teaching. We need to be aware of this. Many of Jesus’ opponents were Bible people. They knew their Bibles. They studied their Bibles. They could quote their Bibles. But Jesus challenges them, ‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’ (John 5.39)
The Bible does not save us. But it is important because it does make us wise so that we can come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. 2 Timothy 3.15 tells us that it makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
3. The Bible equips us for every good work.
‘All Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man or woman of God is equipped for every good work’ (v16-17)
God, in his word, in the Bible points us to Jesus. He speaks of his coming. He speaks of his kingdom and rule. He tells us his plan and the way that he works. He tells us of Jesus, who he is, the sort of life that he lived, his teaching, his suffering and death and resurrection, his giving of the Spirit, his living in and among his people and his coming again. He tells us of his desire that all people, from all nations, of all creeds, will come to know his love for us.
And God, in his word, the Bible, shows us our brokenness and our need for Jesus to do good works; And as we realise that we cannot do any good work in our own strength, he invites us to come to the One who can help us.
And God, in his word, the Bible, teaches us what the good works are that we are called to do: how we are to live as his people under his rule. It shows us the good life, the way of wisdom: the way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
And God, in his word, the Bible, gives us examples of people who have done good works. He tells us of men and women who put their faith in the word of God, even in the face of awful opposition. He warns us of the sort of temptations that we will face. He encourages us to continue to be faithful.
And God, in his word, the Bible, reassures us. He speaks of his love and forgiveness, of how he chooses nobodies like us and uses failures like us. He reassures us of his presence and of his power at work in us and for us.
The Bible is described as a hammer and a fire. It breaks open lies and falsehood and shows evil to be evil. (Jeremiah 23.9)
The Bible is described as a rock. A rock on which some stand, and some stumble (1 Peter 2.8)
The Bible is described as a mirror (James 1.23). You read it and you begin to see yourself as you really are, in the light of God.
The Bible is described as a lamp (Psalm 119.105). It shows the way to go, and how to live.
And the Bible is described as a sword (Ephesians 6.17; Hebrews 4.12). We do not have physical weapons in our battle against lies and half-truths. The only thing we have is the Word of God. And all we can do is proclaim the truth.
But that is enough. It is all we need to be equipped to do every good work.
4. The Bible changes how we live
Paul urges Timothy to hold on to Scripture. ‘As for you’, he says, ‘continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it’. (v14)
I think he is probably speaking of himself and the others from whom Timothy heard about Jesus. In 2 Timothy 1.13, Paul writes, ‘What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus’.
And in the first few verses we read today, Paul reminds Timothy of his teaching, way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love and endurance in suffering.
And so Paul is saying to Timothy: ‘Hold on to Jesus and hold on to Scripture, because you can see from me that this all works’. It is not an antiquated book that is really only of interest to historians. It is not a science textbook putting forward the latest theories. It is not a book of philosophical theory. It is important because it changes how we live. It is about living for God, putting him first, going where he wants you to go, trusting him, being oh so patient with people, learning to grow in love. And it is about living that way in the face of trials – many of which come because we are followers of Jesus.
And it works!
And Paul in 2 Timothy 4.1-2 urges Timothy to preach the word. To do it in season and out of season, literally to do it in good times and in bad times. He is urged to speak the words of God to his people to correct, rebuke and challenge, to encourage, to give careful instruction.
I am passionate about this, as you probably realise!
I was brought up going to church. But as an older teenager I began to realise that although I was a Christian, it was more a label thing and a social thing. I did not pray and I certainly did not experience God at work in my life. So I made a decision to start to regularly pray and to read and study the Bible. I read through Genesis, linking passages in Genesis with other parts in the Bible. I then read through Luke’s gospel, doing the same. There was no overwhelming experience that I had, but as I did that, I began to become more and more aware of the reality of God, and of the power of God at work in me and through me.
I would urge you to be people who love the word, who seek to get to know the word, who speak the word, who live the word. Our Church (with a capital C) needs men and women who are willing to preach and the teach the word. And sadly, in so many of our churches, it is not happening.
That is why this church unashamedly has a history, a tradition, a legacy of being a Bible teaching church.
It is why today we seek to be a Church which teaches the Bible. If we don’t do that, challenge me.
It is why small groups where we can come together to study the Bible and learn to apply it to our everyday lives are so important.
It is why we urge ourselves and we urge each other to spend time daily with the word of God – using the readings on the notice sheet, using Bible reading notes, using wordlive or Time to Pray or whatever. It is why I would encourage people to use approaches like ‘Dwelling in the Word’ – spending a week or a month or even a year on the same passage - or learning passages of the Bible by heart (why not start with 2 Timothy 3.16-17) and meditating on them during the day or when you are lying awake at night. It is why I would encourage people to go on more serious courses getting to know the Bible, maybe even taking out a year of your life to do so.
In the words of another preacher, and I quote,
“May I urge you – as I always have done, and always will – don’t just listen carefully to what the preacher says, but take time regularly to read the Bible at home as well. This is something I never stop drumming into my friends and acquaintances!
Don’t let anyone make excuses like these: ‘I’m too busy with politics .. I must get on with my job’.. What on earth are you saying? It’s ‘not your business to read the Bible’ because you’ve got too many other things to bother about? But that’s the very reason why you need to read the Bible!
The more worries you have, the more you need the Bible to keep you going! .. Your wife or husband irritates you, you worry about your children, your enemies are waiting to catch you out, someone you thought was your friend is jealous of you, your neighbour spreads rumours about you or picks quarrels with you, your colleague acts behind your back, someone sues you, you suffer from poverty, you lose your nearest and dearest .. Where can you find a suit of armour, or a castle from which to defend yourself? Where can you find ointment for your wounds, but in the Bible?
Haven’t you noticed how a smith, mason or carpenter, however much is back is against the wall, will never sell or pawn the tools of his trade? If he did, how could he earn his living? That is how we should think of the Bible; just as mallets, hammers, saws, chisels are the tools of the craftsman’s trade, so the books of the prophets and the apostles, and all scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, are the tools of our salvation” (From the sermon ‘On Lazarus’ (third discourse) by John Chrysostom, 350?-407, quoted in Lion Book of Christian Classics, p20)
Those words were spoken by a man called John Chrysostom, and they are as relevant for us today as they were for his listeners 1700 years ago.