April 14, 2013
“Flourish: What’s So Important about the Bible?”
Rev. Ron Geisler
Intro: In context of this series; flourish – to grow or develop in a healthy and vigorous way; to thrive, to prosper, to bloom
According to a Barna survey, 42% of Americans say they believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Yet almost half of Americans believe that the Bible is too hard for them to understand, so on given week very few people actually read the book they claim to embrace as God’s literal word. Clearly there’s a discrepancy between what we say we believe and our true beliefs as demonstrated by our actions.
What Is the Bible?
What is the Bible? The word “Bible” means a book. The Bible is a collection of 66 different books divided into two sections (Old and New Testaments) written by over 40 different authors over a span of 1,500 years in three different languages, yet it presents a unified message of God’s plan and purpose for humanity. Thirty-nine books make up the Old Testament, which was written between around 1,500 BC and 400 BC, starting with the book of Genesis and ending with the Malachi.
The 27 books that make up the New Testament were written over a 50 year span, and they deal with Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, the beginning of the Christian church, and instruction about how to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is written primarily in Hebrew, with a little Aramaic, and the New Testament is written exclusively in Greek. Yet these diverse authors each in their own way present a unified portrait of God’s plans and purposes in our world.
As to different kinds of literature, the Bible contains history, poetry, humor, prophecy, romance, letters, biographies, songs, advice, laws and stories. So the Bible is an entire library of different kinds of literature. The Bible was also the first book ever printed on the printing press, it’s the best selling book of all time, and portions have been translated into over 1,946 different languages. We have over 30 different English translations of the Bible available to us. I use the New International Version of the Bible, though there’s also the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, and so on. Twenty-four percent of Americans own at least five Bibles.
Now this brings us to our original question: What’s So Important about the Bible? We’re going to look at four key ideas.
The Bible is Relevant
Let’s look at what the Bible says about itself. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).
Here we’re introduced to a word that describes the Bible, the word “scripture.” This word “scripture” means “sacred writings.” Other religions have their own sacred writings, for instance Islam has the Koran, Mormonism has The Book of Mormon, and Hinduism has the Bhagavad-Gita. The Bible is the Christian faith’s sacred writings–or Scripture.
These sacred writings are said to be “God breathed.” This word means to breath out rather than in, and that makes the focus of this word on God’s breath being the source or origin of the Bible. What Paul is saying here is that the fundamental characteristic of scripture–what makes these writings sacred writings–is the fact that God breathed them out, that they have their ultimate origin with God.
Now this fundamental characteristic of being God-breathed makes the Bible “useful.” This word means “practical,” and “beneficial.” I think the word “relevant” captures the meaning here, that because of the Bible’s source, it has vital practical relevance for our lives.
This relevance is seen in four areas: Teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. Teaching focuses on the Bible as giving us instruction to live life. Now this assumes that we come to the Bible as learners, because only learners can be taught. This instruction or teaching isn’t just about heavenly things, but it’s about practical things like being a good spouse, being a good parent, loaning out money, starting a business, and so forth. Rebuking sounds kind of harsh, but really it just means confronting our wrong ideas about life. This assumes that all of us carry around misconceptions and distortions about God, about ourselves, and about life that need to be changed. For instance if I measure success in life by how much money a person has, but the Bible measures success by a person’s faithfulness to God, then my criteria for success has been rebuked, and I need to change my definition to conform to God’s definition. Correction is similar to rebuking, but it focuses in on behavior instead of beliefs. This assumes that all of us lose our way in life sometimes, that we can easily wander off the course God has for us and end up roaming around in circles. The Bible corrects us when it gets us back on track in life, when it shows us where we are and how to get back on course with where God wants us to go. Finally, training in righteousness focuses on the Bible’s role in helping us live the kind of lives that please God. This assumes that a life of integrity doesn’t come naturally to us, that we need help to live the kind of life of integrity we want to live. The Bible trains us to do that which we could not do on our own when it comes to a life of integrity.
All of this results in being thoroughly equipped to life for a spiritually vital life with God. The Bible provides us with the equipment we need. SINCE GOD GAVE US THE ENTIRE BIBLE, ALL OF ITS TEACHINGS ARE RELEVANT FOR OUR LIVES.
The Bible Communicates God’s Voice
Now at this point many people are skeptical: “But everyone has their own interpretation of the Bible.” This is true if we treat the Bible as an encyclopedia of disconnected thoughts and ideas. It’s easy to take one or two verses and make them say anything you want them to say.
This is where 2 Peter 1:20-21 comes in: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (NIV).
Here we’re introduced to another term for the Bible, the word “prophecy.” We think of prophecy as predictions about the future, but biblically prophecy refers to God revealing things that we couldn’t figure out on our own. Future events could be included in that, but the focus of prophecy is God revealing himself.
SINCE GOD HAS SPOKEN THROUGH THE BIBLE, IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US TO LISTEN TO ITS MESSAGE.
For 2000 years the Christian faith has affirmed that God has spoken through the Bible. Our role as readers then is to hear the message of the Bible, not to read into it what we think it ought to say or to use isolated parts of the Bible to justify our own ideas. Before the civil war people who believed in slavery tried to justify their sin by quoting bits and pieces from the Bible. They used the Bible selectively, trying to rationalize their involvement in slavery. They refused to let the Bible speak for itself. Whenever we try to read our own ideas into the Bible we put ourselves in danger of missing God’s voice and hearing our own voice instead.
A key characteristic of the Bible is its truthfulness. Really, this idea of the Bible’s truthfulness must be the case if the Bible is truly “God breathed” because if God is the origin of the Bible, and if God is truthful, then the Bible must be truthful. By saying that the Bible is truthful, we’re saying that the Bible tells us the way things really are, that it accurately describes reality. It’s purpose is to reveal truth about knowing God and God’s ways.
The Bible Changes Us
Although the Bible reveals God’s truth to us, it’s primary purpose is not merely to educate us. Look at
Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV).
Even though our Bibles are printed with ink on pages, the author of Hebrews says that somehow God’s word is also living and active. This means that there’s a dynamic energy at work whenever a person reads the Bible, that somehow the living God is actively working in and through the words of the Bible to impact the reader’s life. This makes the Bible different from any other book. The Bible is described as a sharp double edged sword, which focuses on it’s ability to penetrate into our lives. THE BIBLE, IT IS ESSENTIAL FOR OUR SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION.
God works through the Bible to transform us into fully devoted followers of Jesus who wholeheartedly love God and others. Once we enter into a relationship with God through Christ, the Bible is God’s primary means of changing us. God certainly isn’t limited to the Bible because he also changes us in worship, through suffering, through prayer and so forth. But the Bible is essential and central to our transformation into the image of Christ, it’s a primary means God uses to penetrate past our defenses, to invade our hearts with his truth, so he can sort our thoughts, intentions, and motives. If you don’t want to be transformed, don’t read the Bible.
For most of us, I suspect, the real struggle comes in actually living as if we believe this is true, by actually seeking the relevance of the Bible for the problems we face, by actually listening to the Bible’s message, and by actually allowing God to transform us through our interaction with the Bible.