We are a sceptical people filled with suspicion. I saw a photo recently of a truck filled with manure, with the statement written on it: ‘This truck is loaded will political promises.’
It is easy to laugh at such a statement. But it is also a sign of our sadly cynical times. We live in a time when we disbelieve whatever politicians say, and even the media are accused of bias. The question is, who can we trust? Is there anyone who will tell the truth?
The Bible makes a bold claim for itself. It claims to be the word of God, and therefore entirely trustworthy and true.
It says in Prov 30:5, ‘Every word of God proves true.’
‘Ah,’ someone will say. ‘Of course the Bible will make that claim! The Bible says it’s true, and people believe it blindly!’ The irreligious sceptic will use terms like ‘circular argument’ to get away from examining the claims of the Bible.
But when you examine the claim, how could the Bible say anything else? If the Bible is the word of God, then of course it is true! If these words are from him, if he was so in control of everything written that what we have in our Bibles is exactly what he intended, then they must be true! God cannot lie, the Bible tells us, therefore the Bible cannot lie because it is his word!
Every word from his mouth is truth. How comforting to know that in a world full of deception, there is a sure word we can turn to. When the world fears a political crisis will be the end of the world, we have the truth. When we are tempted to believe our sin has defeated us, we have his promises. His word is truth.
The art of summary takes much practice to perfect. Journalists must regularly sift through all the facts of a situation and decide what is necessary to include and what is not.
What would your answer be if someone asked you to summarise the Bible? If they just wanted the guts of it? If this was my one chance with someone I would eagerly explain that Jesus came to save us from God’s judgement for our sin – though that leaves so much detail to fill in.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC), attempts this monumental task in this way:
WSC Q3: What do the Scriptures principally teach?
WSC A3: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
No doubt every summary could be improved upon, but this is a good effort! If we are to ‘glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ (WSC A1), we must know who God is and what he wants from us!
This sparks further questions (some which will be asked in the following 104 questions!). And what is painfully clear is that though God’s requirements are spelled out in God’s word, we cannot do it. We stand condemned for sin.
But praise God! One thing we learn about God in his word (and in the catechism) is that he is full of mercy. And in mercy, he sent Christ to save us. ‘God, being rich in mercy … made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved’ (Eph 2:4-5).
How good is our God, that he not only gives knowledge of himself (John 1:18), but because he knows us so well, provides a Saviour! And more, he then gives us his Spirit, so we can now please him as we live lives of obedience.
I remember a time when electronic products came with proper instructions. My first mobile phone had a thick booklet, explaining in detail each button, and the various features. But no longer. Now there is a diagram with the outside buttons pointed out, but no further detail. You need to find the various features yourself.
But that is not how God operates. He doesn’t expect us to discover on our own, through instinct or trial and error, how to do what we were made for. The first question of the Shorter Catechism (WSC) said our purpose ‘is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ The second tells us where we find our instructions.
WSC Q2: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
WSC A2: The word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
The Bible! That’s where we find our answers! That’s where we find our instruction! God has spoken words of life, and they are recorded for us, and passed down through the ages. The word of God, the Scriptures, the Bible, is where we discover how we can do this incredible task, our wondrous purpose.
God’s word is not only ‘able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,’ but it useful for how we live and what we think (2 Tim 3:15-17). The church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Eph 2:20).
There is no other ‘rule.’ No obligation or teaching found outside Scripture has any authority when it comes to glorifying and enjoying him. He has given us all we need. Praise God.
How can we hear God’s voice? Where can we find it? These are questions that many Christians ask. We long to be like Abraham, who heard God speak with his ears, like Jacob with his dream, or like Moses at the burning bush. We long for that personal word, the one that speaks directly to our situation, gives specific guidance, assures us of love, and any number of possibilities.
We read Hebrews 1:1 wishing that it would happen to us too: ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.’ We wish we could be prophets hearing from God in varied ways, or that there would be a modern prophet. Some may even feel there is something wrong because they haven’t experienced this.
But that should fall away as we continue reading: ‘but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.’ This is the situation of every Christian through the ages – these are the last days, and in these days there has been a revelation.
In the past God spoke at many times and in various ways, now he has spoken in the definitive way – by his Son. Who is this Son? The heir of all things, who made the world. He’s the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature (v2). What more could God reveal to us than has already been revealed through him?
How can we hear from God? Through Christ, revealed in his Word. It is in God’s Word that he still speaks – not a new revelation, but an always relevant revelation (see Hebrews 3:7). God’s Word is sufficient, and satisfying. Why would we want more?
‘Now these Jews [from Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if they were so.’ (Acts 17:11).
This is one of my favourite verses when it comes to preaching and how it should be received. I can even say that it is through imitation (though not deliberately, because I don’t think I’d noticed these verses at the time) that eventually led me to leave the church I grew up in to join the Presbyterian Church. The Word of God was presented to me so clearly at Uni that I could see my church wasn’t teaching God’s Word well at all.
Have you ever considered how else the actions of the Bereans could have been interpreted? Paul was an apostle. He’d seen the light on the road to Damascus, he’d heard the voice, and he had obeyed. Imagine the attitude that could have been taken against the Bereans who tested all he said, not accepting them automatically. They could have been called proud, stubborn!
But instead they are commended. They treasured God’s Word and knew that anything that did not line up with it was false. They saw that Paul’s message lined up and was correct, and ‘many of them therefore believed’ (Acts 17:12).
This evening I am going to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. So, how should your response to my preaching change? Should you simply accept what I say as God’s word? Of course not! If the Bereans were commended for testing Paul, who am I not to be tested?! We should all test everything – if it aligns with God’s word, we accept it; if it doesn’t, we reject. Continue to treasure God’s Word, humbly submit to it, and examine everything, like the noble Bereans.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16)
How can we read the Bible, and fill ourselves with God’s word, and not be filled with thankfulness? Consider what the God’s word claims for itself:
- God’s word is true (John 17:17). Through the Bible we can discover the truth about who God is, who we are, and our desperate need for a saviour. It doesn’t tell us a nice lie that we can save ourselves, it tells us the honest, hard truth of sin and saviour.
- God’s word makes us wise for salvation (2 Tim 3:15). How could we know the good news, that Christ’s work on the cross saves us if we grasp hold of it by faith, if not for the Bible? Praise God for this glorious message!
- God’s word sanctifies us (makes us holy – John 17:17, Psalm 119:8). Without God’s word we’d be left in the dark with no clue how we should live, no idea how to please God. But in the Bible we discover how God wants us to live.
- God’s word equips us (2 Tim 2:16-17). Now that we’re saved, and because it’s a word of truth, God’s word equips us in how to live, how to love, what to think and believe, and in what areas we need to change. God doesn’t leave us on our own, he takes us by the hand through his word.
As we approach Easter, how could we not be filled with thankfulness at what God’s word has shown us? Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with thankfulness overflowing to others.