We live in a world full of messages. Wherever we go, we find them. They are almost impossible to escape. They start to hammer their messages into our mind first thing in the morning as we read the morning paper, listen to the radio or just quietly eat our breakfast in silence. There on the box of serials we read our first life style message of the day. Then it goes on and on and on unto we crush in bead late at night.
An article I read on the Internet stated that the average person living in a large city in the western world is hit by over 2000 advertising messages every day. It is a veritable bombardment of messages targeting us: sound, words, pictures and images. They all have the same purpose; to impact, change and conform our needs, desires, values and lifestyle into specific streamlined patterns of being obedient consumers.
In this unavoidable flood of images, messages and information we need to choose something worthwhile clinging to and building our lives on. And it is important to make that our every day choice; otherwise we will be swamped by that flood. If you desire to live as a Christian the natural choice is the turn to God’s Word for that guidance. And that is what we are going to talk about today.
God himself invites us to pursue him in our lives, and as we do so we need to go to his Word, read it, try to understand it, apply it to our lives and submit to its authority. Preparing for this message I read an excerpt from E. Stanley Jones’ book Conversion where he pointed to Jesus as our first and foremost example in doing this. Jesus had the habit of doing three different things, E. Stanley Jones writes:
- “He stood up to read.” – Jesus had the habit of reading God’s Word.
- “He went up on the mountain to pray.” – Jesus had the habit of praying.
- “He preached the good news of thekingdomofGod.” – Jesus had the habit of passing on to others what he himself received and retained.
Jesus was totally devoted and submitted to God’s Word and that habit he passed on to his followers; to his disciples and to the church.
What does it mean for us to devote and submit our lives to God’s Word?
I would like to answer that question today by telling you about three different situations and persons in the Biblical history and the history of the church where answering that question rightly was imperative for the future of God’s people. The first one is a man who devoted himself to the Word of God to the extent that he wanted to be
The Man of One Book
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was born in the North-eastern part ofEnglandin 1703. At the age of 17 he enrolled atOxfordfor theological studies. Ten years later and still eight years before his life-changing experience at Aldersgate Street he wrote:
I want to know one thing, the way to heaven – how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O, give me that Book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book).” John Wesley, Sermons, Preface.
Before we smile at this narrow-minded strange person who thinks the Bible is all he needs to read, we need to consider some additional facts about him. Wesley was a remarkable person. He spoke a number of languages fluently including Latin. He experimented with electricity and medicine. He was a reformer of society. He wrote or edited more than 400 books. He was a constant reader and a never ending learner of new things. And in his letters he strongly rebukes those who think they would not need any other reading than the Bible. If he would have lived today he would probably have been one of those guys with the latest Smartphone and iPad.
Nevertheless, his prayer is to be the man of one book – the Word of God. Why? There God himself has shown us the way to salvation, to a new life and to full fellowship with himself. For John Wesley, as for all the other reformers, the Bible was the normative text, given by God, for everything that has to do with faith, practice, polity and life style issues.
To become a people of one book is to make God’s Word the highest authority for our faith and but also for how we live that faith in our everyday life. That means that we constantly have to make the good choice. There will inevitably be clashes between a biblically based life and the life the world around us wants us to live. Being an authentic Christian always comes with a prize. John Wesley was prepared to pay that prize even in the academic world ofOxford. Are you prepared to make the Word of God your number one authority in life? That is the crucial question today.
The next person I want you to meet is the young emerging leader send by his mentor on a difficult mission overseas. I’m talking about Timothy. At the moment he isEphesusinAsia Minor.
Continue in what you have learned
The situation inEphesushad deteriorated quite dramatically since Paul made his last visit there. In his farewell speech he predicted that false teaching would threaten the young church. To correct the false doctrine and put the church up on track again he appoints Timothy to go there as his emissary. During his stay in Ephesus Timothy receives two letters of encouragement from Paul. In the second letter Paul writes:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 Tim 3:14-16
Paul’s basic message to Timothy is “continue in what you have learned.” When people start to challenge the authority of God’s Word, when people want us to adapt to and adopt what for the day is politically correct, the advice is “as for you, continue in what you have learned.” Here we also find how important it is to teach our children profound Biblical truths to base their lives on. Timothy was a third generation Christian. In his home his mother and grandmother had instructed him in the Christian faith and in biblical truths. In times of uncertainty and many different messages – also when it comes to what to believe and how to apply God’s Word – it is important to go back to basics. That is exactly what Paul is telling Timothy to do.
Tim, my son, don’t let them confuse you. Go back to basics and never turn away from what you have learned at home and from me.
And then Paul instructs Timothy in how he is going to keep himself and the people he is sent to supervise on track. It’s all about God’s Word. Never turn away from it. Why? It has a fundamental authority surpassing everything else in this world. And that authority rests on the fact that, even though the biblical texts are written down by humans, God’s Holy Spirit has breaded life into those words and made them to something much more than human words – God’s Words.
Therefore God’s Word has the capacity to, when we submit to its authority:
- Make us wise – wisdom is about knowing how to live rightly in a set situation.
- Show us the way to salvation – and it clearly tells us that there is no other way to the Father than through Jesus Christ.
- Help us to walk and live in righteousness and when we turn away from the right path it corrects us and helps us to come right again.
- Contains everything we need to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Timothy and the church he lead submitted themselves to the authority of God’s Word and the church went up on track again to fulfil its redemptive mission.
A people submitted to God’s Word
The third example today is from one of the most remarkable revivals recorded in the Bible. It comes from the time of the Jews returning toJerusalemfrom the Diaspora inBabylon. The book of Nehemiah tells us the exciting story of how he together with some of his friends got the permission from King Artaxerxes to go back toJerusalemand rebuild the city.
With excitement and great enthusiasm, Nehemiah starts the project of rebuilding the walls ofJerusalemand the city itself. He faces a number of huge obstacles but overcomes them and finally the wall is erected again around the city. When everything is completed, the people gather to celebrate. And it is the story about that time of celebration that was our reading today. So what happens here?
Ezra, the priest, reads the book of the Law to the people. He starts in the morning and the reading goes on through the day. And as he is reading the people listening to him are standing. Why? They are standing in respect for the Word of God. They recognize that the words they hear are more than just words from Ezra’s mouth. And so during the day they worship God for his Word. They agree to the teaching by responding “Amen!” to what they hear. Later during the day they break out in smaller groups and the Levites start to explain the Word to them. In this process the Holy Spirit is moving among the people and the same thing happens to them as happens when Peter is preaching at the day of Pentecost. They were cut to their hearts and asked, “What shall we do?”
Do you remember what Paul wrote to Timothy about the Scriptures? They are God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and coaching towards righteousness. That’s exactly what happens when the Levites are teaching the people. They start crying because they haven’t heard God’s Word for such a long time and now it hits them how far their lives are from the standard held up in God’s Word. The feeling of regret, sorrow and inadequacy is so great that Nehemiah has to ban the weeping and tell the people to celebrate instead because it was a day of celebration of God’s Word. And so it went on for a week.
A fortnight later, they are gathered again. This time it’s not to listen to God’s Word but to confess their sins and repent from their ungodly way of living. And so the story ends with a covenant between God and his people where they commit themselves back to God again.
In the history of the Bible and the church there is no record of any type of revival without God’s people discovering the power and the authority of God’s Word, repenting from their sins and recommitting to a life in accordance to God’s Word. It’s no coincidence that a great revival broke out in the country I come from in the middle of the 19th century. Two things made that revival possible. A public school reform which made the Swedish people literate and the access to affordable Bibles and Christian literature. The revival came to be called the readers revival, and people still talks about the readers. They were reading God’s Word. They were discovering the power of that Word to show them the way to salvation and to a new life in Christ. If we want to be part of a revival here inAustralia we need to become readers, but not only readers, but also doers.
Pursue God – submitted to his Word
The last example today is from a place very familiar to all of us –TurramurraUnitingChurch. We started this year casting the vision of a church reaching out into our community with effectiveness and power. We talked about being part of a revival inAustralia. That’s the reason we gather here today, in the year 2005, to pursue God, and to do that individually, and to do that together as a church:
- Committed to prayer
- Submitted to God’s Word
- Yielded to the leadership of the Spirit
- And hungering for a passionate relationship with Jesus
But in order for that to become a reality there are some things we need to do:
- Together with John Wesley we need to make a quality discission to make everything in our lives subordinated to the Word of God, including what we believe, how we live, what values drive our lives and what choices we make.
- Together with Timothy we need to discover the power of the Word, turn our backs to speculations and political correctness, and go back to basics and try to read, understand and apply the Bible as plainly and direct as possible.
- Together with the people gathered in the main square before the Water Gate in Jerusalem we need to stand up in respect to God’s Word, listen to it attentively and the Word cuts us at our hearts, repent and recommit ourselves again to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
Denna predikan fanns med i en serie predikningar som jag och Steve Everist höll omkring årets tema i Turramurra Uniting Church i början av 2005. Med tanke på den debatt som pågått om bibelsyn och om Bibelns plats i församlingens, kyrkans och den enskildes liv känns det rätt att publicera den här texten också på min blogg. Du är som alltid välkommen att dela dina synpunkter på innehållet i kommentarsfältet nedan.