OUR NEED FOR GOD’S HOLY WORD
In the previous sharing on the reality of our spiritual sickness, we shared that the study and application of God’s Word in Scripture is the ‘medicine’ we need daily in our walk with God as ‘pilgrims’ here on earth. This takes place individually and in Christian fellowship together.
I find Hebrews 4:12 AMPLIFIED very helpful in bringing home this truth:
“For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power (making it active, operative, energizing, and effective); it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and (the immortal) spirit, and of joints and marrows (of the deepest part of our nature), exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart’.
This is complemented by:
“Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, (and) for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose and action), so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, AMPLIFIED).
Notice how comprehensive and all-encompassing is the effect of receiving, applying, assimilating, and conforming to, the Word of God in our lives, individually and corporately. If we need correction, understanding, accurate perception and analysis of ourselves and the situations we face; if we desire to be transparent before God and to grow; if we desire to serve God effectively and in a manner fully pleasing to Him; – all these are not possible without the Word of God truly understood and applied in our lives sincerely.
If we think we can get along in our Christian lives rather ‘smoothly’; if we believe we can nurture a deep relationship with God and true brethren; all these without regular reading, studying and receiving God’s Word in our lives, we are deeply mistaken.
The truth is: we cannot grow in holiness without the ‘spiritual milk’ and ‘spiritual meat’ – our lives will be barren and our service to Him will not be truly fruitful; we cannot be the kind of Chrisians God wants us to be if we are not willing to receive and obey His Word – there will be no lasting victory over sin, no strengthening of our ‘inner man’, and no continual joy of the Lord in our lives and ministry, and God will not be able to use us for His holy and eternal purpose.
The consequences are serious – they can and will probably lead to eternal
negative ‘damage’ and effects. Do not take what the Bible has to say lightly – do not imagine that all is well as long as we appear in church regularly, and give our tithes faithfully, and do our duties and activities with approval from those in charge in the local congregation. Dear brethren (including ourselves), take heed to God’s exhortations and warnings!!
PROPER INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURES IS ESSENTIAL
We considered the need for God’s holy Word to be studied, imbibed, and assimilated as ‘medication’ for our spiritual sickness in our journey as pilgrims on earth towards our final destination, prepared for God’s people.
However, we need to realise that the Scripture needs to be interpreted accurately and properly if we desire God’s Word to have its positive impact on our lives. In other words, there ought to be safeguards for interpreting Scripture.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Notice the important qualification in handling the Scripture rightly in order to be approved by God and not to be ashamed for improper and distorted interpretation, and application of the word of truth.
The safeguards, rightly applied, can ensure that one’s interpretation of the Bible will be right; and that secular distortions will never invade one’s mind to discolour one’s thoughts in this process.
We know that Satan can also quote the Scripture (refer Matthew 4 in the temptation scene), but his objective in the quotation is always to lead us astray in our interpretation and application. We are aware that there can be subjective eccentricity in our own interpretation; and when this subjective eccentricity is manipulated by the evil one who plants ‘thoughts’ in our minds, the consequence can be serious distortions of the truth of Scripture. Most heresies begin with distortion of the truth, even an elementary aspect of it.
There must be precision in handling texts. The first step is to discover what each passage meant as a message about God written on His behalf to a particular envisaged readership – that is, what the original message was communicating, and the ones meant to receive that message.
To determine what meaning God has for us in the historical material, we must seek to see what truths about God and His world the passage teaches, assumes or illustrates – only then can we reflect on how these truths impact our lives today.
Many of us make the mistake of applying straightaway certain truths that are not actually taught in the passage, although these truths may be noted in other passages of Scripture; and the other mistake is to apply truths that are not actually meant for our lives today, but are supposed to be only for the original hearers.
Nothing must be read into texts that cannot be read out of them. We ought not to just highlight one word in the text and start to apply it, or to even elaborate on it as a ‘sermon’ or ‘topic’ when in actuality, the text does not even refer to it except that the word is in the passage as part of the message.
Nothing taught by any text may be disregarded or left unapplied if we desire to be faithful in the interpretation of Scripture; at times, we may find that the accurate interpretation of a certain text puts us in a bad light or even contradicts our improper lifestyle or attitude in life, and so we find it better just to ‘gloss over it’ superficially.
We must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture; in other words, we must let one part of Scripture to throw light on another which deals with the same subject. This is very helpful when we examine ambiguous passages; such passages should be interpreted in harmony with unambiguous ones – we then allow things that define themselves as primary and central to provide a frame of reference and a perspective for looking at those that are secondary and peripheral. In this way, we guard ourselves from establishing doctrines from ambiguous passage or solitary passage that is not in harmony with the rest of Scripture.
And so we see that to be approved as a worker who rightly handles God’s Word is not an easy task. No wonder the Apostle James warns that let not many be teachers of the word, for they would incur greater judgements.
Finally, we must always remember that the Author and Interpreter of Scripture is always and ultimately the Holy Spirit; all the tools of interpretation would do us no good if we do not look to Him in prayer and depend on Him for the right understanding and application of God’s Word.
WHY THE CONTINUAL STRESS ON THE ‘WORD OF GOD’
Bible intake for believers and the church is so very essential because it is part of the Spiritual Disciplines which promote spiritual growth. We may be familiar with Spiritual Disciplines (which include prayer, worship, service, and others) but no Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. Why so? In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we have all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in the Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God as well as best and most fulfilling for ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be Godly, we must know the Word of God intimately.
Consider this: God uses three primary ‘catalysts’ for changing us and conforming us to Christlessness, but only one is largely under our control. One catalyst the Lord uses to change us is people. God may use friends to sharpen us into more Christlike living (Proverbs 27:17); sometimes God even uses our enemies to file away our rough, ungodly edges. Parents, children, spouses, teachers, neighbours, pastors -God changes us through these people.
Another agent God uses in our lives is circumstances. (Rom. 8:28). Financial pressure, physical conditions, illnesses, even the weather are used in the hands of Divine Providence to stimulate His elect toward holiness.
The third catalyst is Spiritual Disciplines, chief of which is intake of God’s Word. This differs from the first two in that when God uses the Disciplines, He works from the inside out. When He changes us through people and circumstances, the process works from the outside in.
We often have little choice regarding the people and circumstances God brings into our lives, but we can decide, for example, whether we will read the Bible or pray today.
Growth in holiness is a gift from God (John 17:17;Heb. 2:11). However, we can do something to further the process – God has given us theSpiritual Disciplines as a means of receiving His grace and growing in Godliness. Do not neglect them if we truly seek to know Him, to grow in Godliness, and to be useful to Him in kingdom building.