A Christian university student shared a room with a Muslim. As they became friends, their conversation turned to their beliefs. The believer asked the Muslim if he’d ever read the Bible. He answered no, but then asked if the Christian had ever read the Koran.
The believer responded, “No, I haven’t, but I’m sure it would be interesting. Why don’t we read both together, once a week, alternating books?” The young man accepted the challenge, their friendship deepened, and during the second term he became a believer in Jesus.
One evening, late in the term, he burst into the room and shouted at the longtime believer, “You deceived me!”
“What are you talking about?” the believer asked.
The new believer opened his Bible and said, “I’ve been reading it through, like you told me, and just read that the Word is living and active!” He grinned. “You knew all along that the Bible contained God’s power and that the Koran is a book like any other. I never had a chance!”
“And now you’ll hate me for life?” queried the believer.
“No,” he answered, “but it was an unfair contest.”
This Christian university student and soon the converted friend discovered that the Bible “was written in the past to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
It is surprising how many Christians don’t understand this reality. Many in the church know that the Bible is the guidebook of the faith but they view it similar to the constitution of an organization or even the Constitution of our country. They know it is there, but have little idea what is in it. Pollsters report that the state of Biblical illiteracy in the church is staggering.
This morning I want to remind you of what you hopefully already know: the Bible is a book that is filled with life and relevance.
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
THE BIBLE IS A UNIQUE BOOK
It is the Word of God
2 Peter 1:20-21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 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.
Peter is obviously talking about the Old Testament (since there was no “New Testament yet) however, later in this same letter Peter refers to Paul’s letters as being like the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:16) This indicates that Peter already recognized that Paul’s words were inspired.
This text is important because it tells us that the Bible is not a made-up book. It is not like the novel, the DaVinci Code, which is a made up story that sounds accurate but is historically off base. The Bible is factually accurate and is from God himself.
It is Instructive
Paul told Timothy,
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16,17)
The word translated God-breathed is translated “inspired” in some versions. When people hear the word “inspired” they think of someone who is filled with passion and think of “inspiring” as in an “inspiring story”. That is not what Paul is saying. Paul means to say that the Scriptures have come from God. For that reason, “God-breathed” is a better translation.
In Romans Paul says “everything written in the past” was written to teach us. This is similar to his words to Timothy that the Bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
This is easier to believe about passages like the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the Psalms, the Proverbs, even much of what we find n the letters of the Apostles. It is harder to see in some of the historical accounts of genocide, the genealogies, and the seemingly endless prophecies against wicked nations. We are told that it was ALL written for our instruction.
I must admit that I don’t fully understand the purpose of the endless genealogies in 1 Chronicles other than the fact that it shows us that the Bible is a real book about real people who lived in history. It is not a “story book” it is a history book. It records the accurate account of what has happened in history not only to those who were God’s children, but also to those who were not.
The accounts of the times the Israelites were told to wipe out entire nations reminds us that God has the right to judge sinful people at any time and in any way that He so desires. The prophecies about God’s destruction of the neighboring nations of Israel seem tedious until you check them out and find that they all came true. This teaches us that God’s promises are sure. The Bible does not need to be MADE relevant . . .it IS relevant.
THE BIBLE IS A VALUABLE BOOK
Paul said, “that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” There is some question here as to what these words mean. One view says that Paul is saying, “the Bible was written to teach us and if we endure in reading it we will find encouragement and hope.” The other view (the one that I prefer) says, “the Bible was written to teach us and we find hope through the endurance and encouragement that comes from the Bible.”
The Bible Helps us to Endure in Hard Times The Bible equips us to endure first by teaching us about the character of God. The Bible points us to a God who is holy, wise, good and loving. He is a God who will vindicate the righteous and punish the wicked. He is a God who finishes what He started and will not desert those who belong to Him.
When times are hard and times are confusing and we don’t understand we are given the strength to hang on because we can be confident of whom we are hanging on to. By pointing to the character, strength, and reliability of God we find that we have the strength to hang on.
It helps, if you are going up in a plane, to know that you are were piloted by an experienced pilot. It is nice to know that a Surgeon has performed the operation you are about to have successfully many times. And it is comforting in confusing times to know that the One who created the universe, and who knows the end from the beginning is caring for you.
The Bible gives us examples of Other People. The Bible is filled with stories about people as they encountered God. Some of the stories show us positive encounters. We read about Joseph who endured though he was falsely accused and imprisoned. We read about Daniel and his friends who remained faithful even in the face of death. We read about Jeremiah who continued to proclaim the truth though no one seemed to listen. We read the story of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, Job and many more.
We also learn lessons from negative examples. We find that we are not alone in the struggle. One of the comments that I hear most frequently from people after they read my book, FAITH LESSONS is this, “You know, those people were just like me!” The Bible is a balanced book. It records not only the successes but the failures of others. From these examples we can learn what NOT to do. We can also learn that even those who make the worst choices can be forgiven and renewed.
We read about David’s adultery, Abraham’s compromises, Moses’ reluctance and frustration. We read about the frustration of Habakkuk, the deception of Ananias and Saphirra, the doubt of Thomas, the betrayal of Peter, the fierceness of Paul’s persecutions before his conversion. The Bible tells the honest truth and we can learn from these mistakes.
Most of all the Bible points us to Jesus. We can see how He handled opponents, how he gave of himself, how he was the fulfillment of hundreds of prophetic passages. When Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus with the two believers we are told that he started at the beginning of the Bible and showed how all of the Old Testament was really pointing to Him. We learn that God has a plan.
The Bible teaches us to hope rather than despair The word for encouragement is the word “paraklesis”. It is the same word that Jesus used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Counselor or Advocate. The literal meaning of the word is “to come alongside another person to help him or her.”
The Bible is the chief means the Holy Spirit uses to instruct us and guide us. God’s Spirit inspired the writers and continues to use the Word of God to convict of sin, assure us of forgiveness, and point us toward the future.
Paul says the Bible encourages us in the hope. In this world so filled with despair, the Bible helps us to hope. There are no easy answers or sure-fire formulas for how to get through the tough times of life. What the Bible does do is point us in the right direction. It points us toward Jesus.
The Bible Gives us hope through the Promises of God. As we read the Bible we come across the great promises of Scripture. We see the promises
He is with us always (Mt. 28:20)
He will bring justice (2 Thess. 1:6)
He will never stop loving us (Romans 835ff)
He has prepared a place for us (John 14:1)
He will provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19)
He will give us the strength for hard times. (Philippians 4:13)
Those who believe will live even though they die (John 11:26)
The Bible encourages hope through the message of salvation. The Bible points us to the fact of man’s sin and the hopelessness of our situation. Why is that valuable? It’s valuable because it shows us that the performance approach to salvation will never work. Our only hope of salvation is anchored to Jesus Christ. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Even though we know we deserve Hell, we can have the confident hope of Heaven through faith in Christ. We are not saved because we master information related to the Bible, we are saved when we put our trust and confidence in Christ. There is a sense in which we cannot learn of Christ without the Bible but there is another sense in which we cannot understand Scripture without the indwelling of God’s Spirit which comes through faith in Christ. If you don’t understand the Bible it may be because you have not truly trusted Christ. If you are trusting Christ and don’t seem to be growing it is most likely because you are not absorbing His Word.
The Bible encourages by telling us of a future judgment. How does this help us to hope? First, because it affirms that there IS a future. If there is a day of Judgment then there is life beyond the grave. Second, the reality of Judgment shows that there will be justice in the world. Those who have been falsely accused will be vindicated. Those who thought they were “getting away” with something will be called to account. Understand that on that day we will even see that the sins that we have been forgiven had a horrible cost . . .the death of the Son of God.
Finally, the message of Judgment points to the reality of Heaven. There is a better day coming. Even if the things of this life seem wrong, even if we feel we have been cheated or suffered more than our share . . . this is not the end of the story. The reality of Judgment stimulates hope.
The logical conclusion from this is that we should be devoted students of the scriptures and should read our Bible as a treasure that unlocks the secret of life.
A man was out walking in the desert when a voice said to him, “Pick up some pebbles and put them in your pocket, and tomorrow you will be both sorry and glad.” The man obeyed. He stooped down and picked up a handful of pebbles and put them in his pocket. The next morning he reached into his pocket and found diamonds and rubies and emeralds. And he was both glad and sorry. Glad that he had taken some — sorry that he hadn’t taken more. This is the way it is with God’s Word. When you make the effort to read and study His Word you discover that those words become the source of life. Your only regret is that you didn’t take in more.
If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone National Park, you were probably given a piece of paper by a ranger at the park entrance. On it in big letters was the warning “Do Not Feed the Bears.” You no sooner drive into the heart of the park, however, than you see people feeding the bears. If you ask a ranger about this they will say sadly, “you have only a small part of the picture.” He will describe how the park service personnel in the fall and winter have to carry away the bodies of dead bears — bears who have lost their ability to fend for food.
That’s what’s happening to us! We are so used to people telling us what the Bible means that we are losing the ability to read the Bible on our own.
Simple Suggestions for Getting Started
1. Begin a regular Bible reading program and stick with it. There is a Bible reading program in the Daily Bread, there are programs in some of the study Bibles, there are even Bible reading programs online. If you go out walking or running or spend a great deal of time traveling you might pick up an audio version of the Bible. Until you find a program start with the Gospel of John and read a section each day. Ask yourself, “What is it that God wants me to learn from this passage?” make these lessons the focus of your prayer before the Lord.
2. Interact with the text. Underline key words. Jot thoughts and questions in the margin. Discipline yourself to ask not only, “What did this text mean to those who received it? Ask, “What does God want me to learn from this text?
3. Get a study Bible in a version that you can understand that has understandable notes. You will spend $20 for a DVD, so spend the $40.00 on a good study Bible. Be cautioned however; put your focus on the text and not the notes but use the notes to get your meditation going.
4. Memorize the verses from the Bible. Psalm 119:11 tells us that we should “hide His Word in our hearts so we won’t sin against God.” Set a goal of memorizing one verse a week and review all the verses each day.
5. Get involved in a Bible Study Group and follow along in your Bible during worship.
6. Take advantage of Bible Study resources on the web. If you have a passage you don’t understand, type that reference into a search engine and you will be surprised the resources that will come up.
7. Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t understand . . . determine to practice what you do understand.
The story is told of a man who was reading the Bible at a local park. A seminarian came up to the man and said, “What are you reading?” The man said, “The Book of Revelation”. The seminarian asked, “Do you understand it?” The man said, “Yep.” “What is it saying?” The man answered, “Jesus wins!”
This man was not troubled by the details he didn’t understand at this point. He heard the message, and drew comfort, strength and encouragement from it. This is our task . . . rather than being intimidated by the fact that there are many things you don’t understand, read, celebrate and apply what you do understand.
The Bible was written and preserved so that we might benefit. The truths and principles are timeless. The lessons can guide us away from trouble and to the source of joyful living. However, the Bible can’t do anything in your life until you pick it up and actually read it. You’ll read the TV Guide, the newspaper and your favorite magazine . . . why not invest some time in reading God’s instruction for successful living?