Teach the Bible audio (5MB)
I wonder how many of you are old enough to remember a TV show called the Greatest American Hero. It was about an ordinary guy who encounters aliens who’ve decided that earth is in such a bad way it needs saving. So they send him a belt that gives him super powers. They also give him a set of instructions for using the belt but somehow he manages to lose them; and so he blunders from one adventure to another, never really working out how to control these new super powers. Well I think that’s something of a parable of many Christians who’ve received the gift of the Holy Spirit, have been brought into the people of God, but they don’t really know how to live from then on, because they’ve forgotten to read the instruction manual. It’s not that they’ve lost the instructions but they’ve never read the details. In some cases they’ve never had their own copy of the instructions or the one they have isn’t readable. I visited an older parishioner a few years ago and was discussing some theological question they had but when I asked if they had a Bible we could look at, the only one in the house was the King James Version. Now I know the language is beautiful, or so they say, but when you’re trying to understand what something means it’s very hard to do when the language is so foreign to you, when words have changed so much in 400 years. But at least they had a Bible and read it regularly.
Well, let me ask you,
Does it matter if I read my Bible regularly?
Would you be any worse off if you only read the Bible here on a Sunday?
It’s almost as if Paul knew we’d ask that sort of question when he wrote to Timothy. He certainly seemed to have a good idea what life would be like in the 21st century. Listen to what we just read in 2 Tim 4:3-4: “3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” That’s not a bad description of the times we live in, is it: people not wanting to hear the truth of the gospel but instead turning to myths and forms of spirituality that seem more palatable and that put less demand on their moral life? People wanting to set their own standards of behaviour rather than following those that God has prescribed. So they turn to new age gurus or even Christian ministers who’ve shaped their theology to meet current cultural norms. I discovered on Friday that there’s a new term for this– it’s called Progressive Christianity. Apparently if you throw out all the central beliefs of Christianity you’ve progressed!
But the problem is, truth matters. As much as people would suggest that all truth is relative there are some things that don’t change just because we don’t like them. One of the reasons we need to know our Bibles well is so that we’ll understand the world from the point of view of the one who created it, so we can follow the maker’s instructions. If we want to follow the truth then we need to know the one who is the Truth. And the way we get to know him is to read what he’s revealed to us.
The letter to the Hebrews begins with these words: “1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” God has been revealing himself to us for thousands of years, first through the prophets of the Old Testament and most clearly through Jesus Christ. So if you want to know what God is like - and what he likes - you need to read his word.
I was thinking about this last week as we were listening to George talking about speaking the Gospel. Paul actually mentions this in 2 Tim 3:15 where he points out how the Scriptures that Timothy has known from childhood are able to instruct us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Just think how valuable it is to know God’s word well when you’re answering people’s questions about your faith. I don’t mean remembering memory verses, though that probably doesn’t hurt, but simply knowing God’s word well enough that you can think through the issues that people present. For example if someone asks you why being a member of a church is important what would you tell them? Well, you could tell them that God had told us not to give up gathering together because we need to encourage one another to remain faithful and to do good works and to love one another, especially when times are tough (Heb 10:24-25). Or you could tell them that God has put us in Churches so we can show other people what a difference it makes when we’re all following Christ. (Eph 3:9-10) That’s just a minor example where knowing God’s word well can help us in everyday conversations with non-Christians.
So yes, it does matter whether I read my Bible because I need to know what’s in it if I’m to know the truth.
But let’s think for a bit about the question:
What do we get from reading the Bible?
Let’s look some more at our passage from 2 Tim 3. No doubt many of you have read this before so there shouldn’t be anything new in it but it never hurts to be reminded of the truth of God’s word does it?
1. It’s useful
He says that God’s word is useful for a whole range of things. I was looking in our kitchen drawer the other day and I realised that there are all sorts of utensils that have different uses. Some we use every now and then. Some we don’t use much at all because they’re for a particular purpose. But some are used all the time. The same goes for the books on the bookshelf in my study. There are some that I use on occasion when I need them: a Greek Lexicon, a Book of Parish Prayers. There are some I haven’t opened since I first read them if at all. But there’s one book that I have open on my desk all the time because it’s useful at all sorts of levels. In fact it’s not only on my desk but it’s on my computer and my mobile phone as well.
It’s useful for teaching: both teaching myself and teaching others. If truth matters then I need a reliable source of truth. It’s no use being taught by someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I remember when I was at Ridley there was a Chinese student there who got a job as a tour guide for Chinese speaking tourists. She did very well until the time she was taking people around Philip Island and someone wanted to know what the island was in the distance and she calmly told them that that was Tasmania. Well, as you can imagine, that was the end of her job as a tour guide. If you’re a tour guide you need to know the truth about the places you’re taking people to. And here Paul’s saying that if you want to learn the truth the Scriptures are where you’ll find it.
Secondly it’s useful for reproof. While I was in Vancouver I read a fairly long article by St Augustine on Rebuke and Grace, where he thinks about the question whether the grace of God means that we shouldn’t worry about rebuking wrongdoers. Does God’s freely given forgiveness mean that sin is no longer relevant to our lives? If someone rebukes me can I say that God has forgiven me so why are you bothering me? Well no, he says, because God’s standards still apply to me even if God has overlooked my past failings. And how do I know that? Because his word tells me so. For example, he says, God’s word prescribes that love must be maintained so God rebukes us when love is not maintained. Paul tells us that the law is given so we’ll know where we’re falling short of what God requires of us. In fact all of God’s word helps us to know where we fall short and is useful in pulling us up to rethink our attitude and behaviour.
Next God’s word is useful for correction. It’s easy to get the wrong idea about things isn’t it? Particularly if you listen to the wrong teachers. So much of what we think we know comes from third or fourth hand sources. If you’re like me, when there’s something you don’t know these days the first place you go is to the Internet. Wikipedia is a great tool isn’t it? But whenever I find something there I remind myself that it could be wrong because I don’t know how reliable the source is. When it comes to the moral standards of our world where do you go for guidance? Is it to the popular press? Is it to the monthly magazines that people buy? Is it to the TV shows that we find on our screens each day of the week? Is it to the people at work or school who tell you their weekend adventures on a Monday morning?
Much better if you go to God’s word to correct the misguidance of the world around us.
5. Training in righteousness
Next God’s word is useful for training us in righteousness.
As you know I’m a regular at the gym. Now I could just go and do some random exercises each day depending on what I was feeling like that day. But the gym provides instructors who give me a set of exercises to follow for a couple of months at a time that are designed to give a different set of muscles a workout each time.
Well God’s word is like that - if we read it all. It covers just about every part of our lives. Now it doesn’t mention the Internet or fast cars or mobile phone technology or computers, so it won’t answer your problems with Microsoft software or Vodafone or VWs that stop going. But it does give you the information you need to train yourself for life in God’s presence. 1 John 3 tells us: “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” God’s word shows us what it means to be pure in God’s eyes. It shows us the sort of character that we need to be working on to prepare us for life with God
The aim of all this is that we might be proficient. That is, competent or skilled, an expert even. And what is it that we’re to be proficient at? Living for God; doing the things that God wants us to do. The proficiency he’s talking about is what we’re being trained for: that is, righteousness.
And that proficiency is connected with the final outcome of studying God’s word;
7. Well equipped for every good work
We’ll be proficient because we’re well equipped for good works. Do you remember from our sermons on Ephesians that God tells us that we’re created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand for us to walk in? (Eph 2:10) Well we’ll only be able to do those good works if we’re equipped by God’s word to know how to do them properly; if we’ve trained ourselves in God’s ways through studying his word; if we’re proficient in Christian living through regular practice.
How can we do it?
In June we had a visit here by Rico Tice, an evangelist from All Souls Langham Place in London. He was here for the EFAC AGM and talked about being sharers of God’s word. As part of his talk he gave a really good model for reading God’s word that I’d like to share with you. It’s a four level model.
1. Personal Reading
The first level is personal reading. What commonly known as the quiet time. This is where Bible reading notes like the Scripture Union notes that Jack Giles takes orders for come in. There are various other systems of course but the point of them all is to provide a structure whereby Christians are helped to read God’s word systematically on a daily basis.
2. One on one
The second level is one-on-one, where you find someone to read the Bible with. This might be someone who’s older or more mature as a Christian, who can help you understand the bits that you find hard to work out, or it might be a friend who wants to have that extra bit of incentive to study God’s word regularly.
This is a method that’s often used with new Christians to help them come to grips with how to read and understand the Bible as part of a discipleship program.
3. Small groups
The next level is small groups – usually groups of say 6 to 12 people who meet maybe weekly to study a book of the Bible over a period of weeks. This allows a range of experiences and levels of knowledge to be applied to understanding what God’s word might mean in our own situations. I trust you know that we have a number of these at St Thomas’ already and there’s always room for more. If you're not in a small group already I suggest you talk to George about how you might join one.
4. Large gatherings
Finally there’s the large gatherings like our Sunday service, CMS Summer Under The Son, Belgrave Heights Conventions, where God’s word is proclaimed and explained and applied to the whole congregation. It’s interesting that a number of the letters we have from Paul to individuals include the instruction to have them read to the whole Church. There are some things that the whole Church needs to hear together so that together we can be instructed - or rebuked or corrected. This is one reason we need to be present every week at our corporate worship services, in case we miss something important that God has to say to us.
That brings me to my final point:
I jumped over that little phrase in v 16 earlier: “16All scripture is inspired by God.” The word is “God-breathed”. What we’re reading here isn’t just a collection of musings by various human beings. It’s not just a collection of useful philosophy that will help us live useful lives. No, it’s God-breathed. Yes, it’s written by human beings, but they’re people who have been led by God’s Spirit to write things down for our learning, for our instruction. And when we hear it preached, God’s Spirit continues to breathe through that word into our hearts, to change us, to rebuke us, to train us in righteousness, to equip us for doing good works.
Before I finish let me just say that we should be thankful to God that he’s put us in a Church where his word is taken seriously; where the preachers believe the Bible to be the authoritative word of God; and where our leaders think that this is one of our prime mission directives.
In fact, if you were to ask me which of our three Mission directives is the most important I’d probably have to say this one, because from it spring the other two and without it the other two will inevitably fail. So let’s make sure that as a church we continue to teach the Bible at all four of those levels I just mentioned, from the large gatherings, right down to our own personal regular Bible Reading so that we’re proficient, equipped for every good work.