Rev’d Jonathan Gale
This is the fourth and final sermon in our June series on the Scriptures.
- In week one we looked at the origins of Scripture and saw how God uses it, in the first instance, to reveal Christ, and in the second instance to equip us for ministry with God.
- In week two we looked at the overall teaching of Scripture, namely that God’s mission is to save, but more than that, to renew all of creation so that the individual salvation of souls, and the infusion of justice in the world, have a context in which they flourish. We found that a knowledge of how God has worked is vital if we are to co-operate fully with God in what he is doing.
- In week three we learnt how vital Scripture is in enabling God to minister both to us and through us, and that an intentional engagement in Scripture and prayer (sometimes called the Quiet Time) is vital for our effectiveness as Christians because they are vital in our relationship with Jesus.
I need to preface what I am about to say with this: I make the assumption that as a Christian you are not simply a consumer – i.e. someone who simply comes to church to have your needs met.
Our experience of church will see our spiritual needs met, in fact more than met. But being a disciple is more than simply being a believer and it is only a disciple who will fully appreciate why immersion in the Scriptures is so important.
This is because essentially, the Scriptures equip you for service. If that’s not your motivation this sermon will sit uncomfortably with you. That’s because it won’t be scratching where you are itching.
St Paul tells us frequently and in various ways that we need to grow up. And growing up is moving from believer to disciple, from being a taker to being a giver, from being a spiritual child to being a spiritual adult.
In our first reading today we notice young Samuel doing just that. In the story we see that when Samuel was a little boy “The word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3: 1). These were tough times spiritually in Israel with the High Priest Eli’s sons behaving disgracefully and the country gradually going to the dogs.
But by verse 19 we read, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”
God’s speaking to Samuel had turned him into someone whose spiritual authority was recognised. His receptivity to Eli’s teaching matured him. In the phrase “let none of his words fall to the ground” is an indication that people took notice. In other words, the word of God was doing its work in him!
Scripture today has exactly the same effect. Its impact on people is life-changing.
I’d like us to have a look at some of the images Scripture uses of itself and what affect these have on us if we engage constructively and respectfully with God’s word so that it benefits us in our efforts to build the Kingdom of God.
In Psalm 119: 105, the Word is compared to light.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
When we walk through unknown terrain in the dark, we use a light in order to see our way. That is a picture of what the Bible does for us in a world that is overwhelmingly secular in outlook.
Immersing ourselves in Scripture has the effect of drawing us towards God. We can have head knowledge of salvation but apart from God’s word, brought to life by the Holy Spirit, it has little effect, if any. This is one of the reasons someone can attend church for years and not have a sense of the work of Christ actually applied to them.
Furthermore, the Bible gives light to the Christian on the pathway of right doctrine, showing up at the same time the pitfalls of false teaching alongside the road. We seldom face easily identifiable heretical tendencies today. After all, any heresy is normally only named and shamed after its devastating impact on the church. The Scriptures provide us with applied knowledge – the truth in action – as normal human beings staying on track as we mature.
The Holy Spirit commended the believers at Berea, because they did not receive what the apostle Paul preached to them until they had themselves checked it with the Scriptures (Acts 17: 11). People who search the Scriptures diligently are not easily lured into false doctrine. They know the truth that has made them free.
In James 1:22 – 23, the Word of God is compared to a mirror. We need a mirror to see whether our faces are clean or whether our hair is properly combed. Without one, we cannot tell how we look. If James had been writing his epistle in the twentieth century, he might perhaps have gone a step further and used a more modern symbol, the X-ray, to illustrate this effect of God’s Word. An X-ray film shows me the conditions of the interior organs in my body, which I cannot know otherwise. The Bible does something similar in that it shows me the condition of my heart before God. It corrects me and reproves me so that I might be fully equipped to serve Him (2 Timothy 3: 16 -17).
It is easy to be deceived about our spiritual condition, especially if we have never subjected ourselves to the X-ray of God’s Word. Immersing ourselves in the Scriptures has the effect of identifying things we might otherwise overlook.
In Jeremiah 23:29, the Word of God is compared to a fire. Fire, in the Bible, is used as a purifying symbol. Gold placed in the fire is purified, whereas wood is consumed. The Word of God, similarly, has a purifying effect upon our lives, eliminating from them what is un-Christlike.
It not only shows us our faults, but it also makes us holy. No man can ever hope to be holy without spending time each day in God’s presence.
Holiness is often misunderstood. It is not perfection, though it does involve improvement. To be holy is to be set apart for a specific purpose. In other words it’s about identifying as a Christ follower and being equipped as a Christ follower. In the process the encumbrances are sloughed off – or in the fire imagery – burnt up.
In the same verse of Jeremiah 23 we see the Word of God compared to a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces. If you want to make a road on a mountainside, you have to break up rocks. These days we use dynamite for that purpose, whereas in Jeremiah’s day they used hammers.
The Word of God is His dynamite, capable of removing huge obstacles. We all face trials and problems in our lives, situations in which the mountains have closed in upon us and it appears as though we have reached a dead-end. Often we remain in such situations, discouraged and defeated, not knowing what to do or where in turn. Our ignorance, at such times, of the promises that God has given us in Scripture prevents us from living into those promises. Like dynamite, an immersion in Scripture blasts away the obstacles in our path because it has the effect of increasing faith, which is the critical ingredient to the Christian life. (Romans 10: 17).
In Luke 8: 11, the Word of God is compared to seed which, when sown into the ground, produces fruit. 1 Peter 1: 23 states that our new birth itself is a result of that seed sprouting in our hearts. Only as we are fruitful can God be glorified through our lives. It can be helpful to examine ourselves in terms of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness), and self-control that are the fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 – 23. These are matters of character – of being. But being a Christian is also about doing.
Do you find fruit in your service with God in the shape of unbelievers drawn towards discovering God and believers being drawn closer to Him? If not, perhaps the reason is that you are not regularly receiving the Word of God into your own heart as seed. Psalm 1: 2 – 3 tells us that it is the person who regularly meditates on God’s Word, who will be like the fruitful tree, prospering in all that he does.
In Mark 4:20 Jesus says, “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
It’s being prepared to receive, nurture and nourish the Word, that brings fruitfulness because the Word, like a seed, is filled with the potential for life and growth.
The Word of God is also compared to food in Psalm 119: 103, Jeremiah 15: 16 and in 1 Peter 2: 2. The prophet Ezekiel and the apostle John are each shown in Scripture as “eating” a book (Ezekiel 3: 1-3; Revelation 10: 9 – 10).
We have here a picture of people assimilating and digesting the Word of God. Food gives us strength. Our bodies cannot be built up without it. A person who is under-nourished will be weak, and therefore unable to resist disease. He will also be unable to defend himself if physically assaulted.
In exactly the same way, one who neglects the Word of God will be spiritually under-developed, and consequently unable to resist temptation and to withstand spiritual onslaught. Only those who regularly meditate on God’s Word grow into strong Christians (1 John 2: 14). Mere reading of the Bible will not make you strong, but meditation upon it allows the Word to penetrate into the very core of your being and become a part of you, hidden in your heart (Psalm 119: 11).
Job said that he esteemed the words of God’s mouth more even than his daily food (Job 23: 12). By listening to God daily he built up a tremendous reserve of spiritual strength. He did not lose his faith in God, in spite of all the adversity he faced. Job’s example gives us an idea of the tremendous strength that God’s Word, if received daily, can give us to face every trial in life.
Sword (of the Spirit)
In Ephesians 6: 17 we find the Word of God is called the sword of the Spirit. The Christian life is a constant battle with a cunning foe, whose method of attack is often to cast doubt upon God’s love, God’s justice, even God Himself. This sword can defeat his every move, provided we know how to use it.
Discouragement is one of the Devil’s strongest weapons. With it he has knocked down many mighty men. Moses, Elijah and Jonah each trembled at its shock, but each one of these men overcame his own malaise by listening to the Word of the Lord.
You and I may be able temporarily to tide over our discouragement by occupying ourselves in some way that provides a diversion, but only by the Word of God itself can we ever overcome it completely. Jesus Himself overcame Satan in the wilderness solely through His use of this Sword.
In conclusion, all these images of God’s Word are merely that – metaphors. But they all help to explain how the Word functions in us and through us with very concrete results. The Scriptures change us – materially. And if you want to experience a useful life as a disciple, you will engage with God’s Word daily and let your mind dwell in its stories.
God loves communicating with us. In fact he longs to. When we make the effort in prayer and meditate upon and within the Scriptures, we will embark on something we never want to leave.
The reason for this is quite simple: the Scriptures reveal Christ, not simply as an object we can understand and speak about, but within us, transforming us from within. It is the birthing and development of Christ in the depths of our beings that Paul refers to when he speaks about Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1: 27b) and he is the hope of the world.
God bless you