The Word of God is the authority by which we test everything against. It’s the map for the journey. If we are not sure about something, how to do something, how to decide something, where to go, where do we turn? The Word of God. The answers to life, personal faith, church, the final destination, the marching orders for the church, it’s all there.
It’s like Prego sauce. It looks like plain tomato sauce, but on the label it says, mushrooms, bell peppers and onions, but you can’t see them. But it’s in there. You need answers. Look to the Bible – it’s in there.
What if there is a disagreement for the flavor of the Prego sauce? One guy tastes it and says, that’s nothing but tomatoes. Another guy says, no, I taste pesto with a hint of garlic. How do you settle the debate? You turn the bottle around and read the ingredients.
The Bible is our ingredients list. When there is a disagreement, we go back to the Bible. It sounds obvious, but I find that many are not as biblical as they think. How do I know this? Ask the guy who says, this Prego is nothing but tomatoes. Ask him, are you sure? And he would say, I bet my life on it. I know tomatoes. I know my sauce. This thing is nothing but tomato sauce. The guy who thinks it is pesto with a hint of garlic is equally confident in his assessment.
How do you settle a debate when 2 parties are equally confident but only one can be right? Well, you involve others. You ask your roommate to taste it. Your roommate might agree with you that it’s tomato sauce because he is your friend and he’s biased. So you ask a stranger. You call the manufacturer. You interview people who work on the assembly line of the Prego plant. Did you see pine nuts? Did you see garlic? Or was it tomatoes? And hopefully, a consensus starts to take shape. And the guy who said, this is tomato sauce has to admit, I guess I was wrong, it is Pesto.
Just like the Prego example, when it comes to Scripture, we got the same ingredient list, the same source, but we got different palates. Maybe we ate kimchi all our lives and our taste buds are shot. We say we are eating tomato when it’s actually Pesto. What makes it trickier is that many things in Scripture are up for interpretation. Some say, God likes spaghetti noodles and they are sure of it. Other say, no, what kind of fool are you, God likes penne pasta.
Each one of us, whether we know it or not, reads and interprets Scripture through various lenses. Some lens are clear and we see Scripture properly. Other lenses are cracked, or opaque and so we see things in a distorted way.
For example, you can live in the West where it is comfortable and all the references in the Bible about the poor, although from the context it is obviously talking about the physically poor, we can see those references through an over-spiritualized lens. And what that does is it distorts Scripture and gets us off the hook. I don’t have to consider those who have nothing materially and who don’t have financial means, those who are physically poor because those references are talking about the poor in spirit. You see how a wrong lens gets us off the hook?
We need to be careful when we are reading the Word of God that we are not reading it through a particular lens. As a regular practice, we need to re-examine our lens. Is my lens cracked? Does it have smudges on it? There should be nothing that I say on a Sunday sermon or a Bible study that I would be afraid to share with anyone outside our church. I have nothing to hide. And if I am morphing into a heretic, I would want outside voices to tell me that I am off.
That’s why we need outside voices. If my interpretations or emphases were unique, you should be nervous. Every leader has blind spots. Every church has blind spots. It’s for your own safety that I invest a considerable amount of time and energy getting to know pastors outside of our immediate circle. It’s for your safety that I listen to other preachers and I spend time reading books and commentaries. If I were lazy, I could jump around and teach topically what I know. And 20 years can go by and I’d still be preaching the same message.
Shouldn’t there be growth in my knowledge of God as He reveals himself through Scripture over time? Shouldn’t I get surprised from time to time when a passage of Scripture is revealed to me in a fresh way that I’ve never seen before. And what for me is a fresh, new insight, shouldn’t it be the case that this insight while it may be new for me, my understanding of a particular passage is consistent with the way it has been interpreted over the centuries?
That’s why I don’t like the idea of coming up with a vision statement that is rigid and unchanging. Because you and I are not rigid and unchanging. We grow. And as our understanding of God grows, our vision for Christian life and the church ought to change with it. We might apply a truth one way based on a particular passage, but it needs to be balanced by other passages. For example, God is a God of love. He accepts me, he takes me as I am, he welcomes all prodigals home. That is an unshakable truth. But that truth needs to be balanced with God being a God of truth. He is holy. He judges sin. We need to keep both in view. In tension.
The best way that I know how to keep from becoming imbalanced is to preach the Bible chapter by chapter, book by book. But even as I do that, I have to keep examining myself, am I seeing Scripture through a lens that is particular to me and my upbringing and my preferences or am I coming to Scripture with fresh eyes each day?
I am thankful to God because He seems to be giving me just the right book when I need it. 2 years ago, he gave me Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church which was extremely helpful in laying some foundational principles about how to do church. Last year, he led me to The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller which helped me immensely in wrestling with the topic of marriage and grounding it biblically and theologically. Recently, he led me to Robert E. Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism, which God used to bring some additional clarity to what I already believed in terms of the mission of the church. And some of Coleman’s material was instrumental in helping to shape this material that I am about to share.
Book: Coleman – The Master Plan of Evangelism (read Billy Graham endorsement)
Today, I want to talk about the Word of God and discipleship. Those two are intimately linked together. But before we get into that relationship, let’s read some high level verses about the Word of God.
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. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
When you read the Word of God or you listen to a Bible study or a sermon, what is supposed to happen? I hope we come away with a sense of God’s presence. Maybe we can call it an encounter with Christ. Or we can refer to it as the Holy Spirit stirring us. This can include feeling loved or inspired or built up in our faith. But because we are sinners, many times, the hidden things are going to be uncovered and laid bare. The thoughts and attitudes of our hearts will be exposed.
From this group, I don’t want to hear the criticism, why does this church talk about sin? I don’t ever want to be accused or I don’t want any of our preachers at this church to be accused of manipulating Scripture to condemn a particular behavior or to address a particular sin in our congregation. I hope you all can give us a bit more credit than that. I think I can speak on behalf of all 3 of the preachers that we are trying our best to preach what the text says and we are not saying things to single you out in your sin or to defend certain actions or positions. I ask you to extend that kind of trust to the preachers and if you are bothered by something, start by assuming that perhaps the Holy Spirit is using the Word of God to judge the thoughts and attitudes of your heart.
2 Tim 3
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Whenever the Word of God is preached, it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 of the functions of Scripture are negative. Rebuking and correcting. It’s not my job to rebuke you or correct you based on random criteria and preferences. God, through His Word and with the help of the Holy Spirit, whenever the Word is preached, God’s job is to teach, rebuke, correct and train.
Is this your experience when you hear the Word of God? Okay, you hear a sermon or a Bible study and you are taught and you are trained in some area. But is that all? Do you find yourself being rebuked and corrected by the Word of God? When you open the Bible for morning devotional, do you find yourself rebuked and corrected? Or when you hear about repentance and selfishness and your need to deny yourself or to love sacrificially, do you think, yeah, I got those down.
Frankly, it surprises me that so few people come forward for prayer during our hymn of commitment after our sermons. I remember coming forward almost every other week as a college student because the Word of God spoke to me and I had to repent. Because I was blind and arrogant. Many times, I was repenting of the same sin over and over. I just wanted to respond concretely and receive prayers from someone. I mean, I could have done it from my seat, but I wanted to make a concrete commitment, I want to solidify my desire to seek God and be forgiven and love more and sacrifice more out of gratitude for the cross and the high price Jesus paid to forgive me.
I really don’t know why more people don’t come forward. It’s either, our preachers are bad, which I don’t think is the case, or we’re all saints. I think the real reason is you’re insecure, you’re people conscious, you don’t want to appear weak, or your heart is hardened and you just don’t care. Think about it. Come on guys, let’s talk the Word more seriously.
The Word of God, whenever it is preached or read or studied, it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Be eager to respond to the preaching of the Word in repentance and brokenness. That’s all I ask. Show some sign that the Word of God is having some kind of effect in your life. Even if the Word is not expounded, the verses themselves, many of them are plain enough to understand, they should move us to tears because we fall so short of God’s standard and we should always be on our knees in repentance.
What’s the goal of being taught, rebuked, corrected and trained? So that v17
2 Tim 3
17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Who are the servants of God? Not the pastor, not the paid staff, not the “professional,” but everyone. Every believer is a servant of God.
The function of the Word of God is to equip the servant of God, meaning each believer is to be equipped for every good work that you will ever be asked to do over the course of your lifetime. Every good work that comes from your life will be the direct result of the Word of God having equipped you in some way. Every kind act, every edifying word, every charitable deed will originate from the Word of God equipping your life to act and speak in a godly way.
Every servant, every believer is equipped by the Word of God for every good work. If you are not convinced, here is another passage.
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
In a church, who’s doing the work? Is it the pastor doing all the work? Or the Bible study teacher doing all the work? Or the evangelist doing all the evangelism? No, we have our various roles and functions in order that God’s PEOPLE can do various works of service, together. Do you see that?
Whether you’re with us for 4 years or 40 years, we want each of our members to be equipped and to leave here equipped. For works of service. To serve others.
The Word of God equips and prepare the entire body of Christ, every believer, for good works or works of service. But good works or works of service is kind of broad. So I want to bring it down to 2 concrete areas.