Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
I’m a big fan of old fashioned lighting, especially old kerosene lanterns because they’re simple. I went to light one of my lanterns and the flame wouldn’t stay alive for more than a few seconds. I thought, “Maybe the vent is covered in carbon and there isn’t enough oxygen for the flame.” So, I took it apart, cleaned it out, and put it back together. I was sure it was the vent.
To my chagrin, the flame died within seconds even after the lantern was cleaned. Next I trimmed the wick because it seemed too dark; perhaps having a fresh wick would allow the flame to stay alive. It wasn’t a stopped vent, so it had to be the wick. Sure enough, the flame died even with a fresh wick. At this point I was stumped.
The next day it occurred to me whilst putting gas in my car: the lantern was just out of kerosene! It was obvious to the extreme. I knew Chelsea would never let that one go. When I got home I put the kerosene into the lantern which, of course, was the solution to a simple problem that I overcomplicated.
This is a mundane example of a profound truth: we make mistakes as humans. Worse yet, some people put words in God’s mouth that He never used. “My God is a God of love – He wouldn’t condemn me just for this one little sin.” “God doesn’t care if we live the way we want.” Some use phrases like this with great confidence while overlooking an obvious truth: God has told us what He does and does not care about in His word.
If we aren’t in the word listening to God and allowing Him to change us, our solutions will end in failure. There was only one solution to keep that flame going in my lantern. There is only one right way to follow God, and He’s told us how to do that! Life will be so much easier for those who look to God for answers before relying on their own wisdom.
- Planting gospel seed (cf. Luke 8:11) will result in people of all ages, backgrounds, and nations becoming Christians.
- Overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21) will soften hard-hearted enemies.
- Approaching a wayward brother or sister in lovingkindness (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20) will bring some back to faithfulness.
- Faithful attendance will stimulate to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
- Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from the heart and with purpose will help us and everyone else who is present (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
- Spending time together and getting to know each other will make us closer to one another (Acts 2:44; 4:32).
- Investing in a heartfelt relationship with God will lessen anxiety and increase peace and joy (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).
- If the church stays committed to souls and service, it will grow (Acts 6:1-7).
- Speaking to (rather than about) those who we feel have offended us results in greater harmony and reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-17).
- Culture is met mightily by transformed, sacrificial representatives for Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).
- We will win more in the world if we are not trying to simply embrace and imitate it as it is (Jas. 4:4).
- Emphasizing leadership will result in people rising up to lead (cf. Ti. 1:5-11; 1 Th. 5:12-13).
- Homes united in dedication to putting Christ’s kingdom first will have a high rate of success in raising faithful children (Pr. 22:6; Eph. 6:1-4).
- If we will consult Scripture for answers to our dilemmas, we’ll uncover the best solutions possible (Ps. 119:105).
In our search for relevance, effectiveness, and success in our present world, let’s not overthink it! Whatever the question, if it matters (2 Pet. 1:3), the Bible has the answer. It will work!
This phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to describe love. While it is an apt, poetic description of love, it also is the perfect modifier of God’s Word. If there is a word to describe the current culture, it is “change.” Our world is enamored with it, constantly changing its mind, its values, its standards of right and wrong, its worldview, and its priorities. Swept up in all of this are societal attitudes about so many things.
What was once right is now wrong. What was wrong is now right. And while not every instance of this is wrong, so many of them are the product of mankind pushing the envelope of previous norms and standards of decency. Let me cite some specific examples:
- The definition of marriage
- The definition of gender
- Sexual mores
- The sanctity and humanity of the unborn
- The view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture
- Male and female leadership roles
- The move from monotheism to polytheism (one God to many Gods)
- The existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ
- The ethics of honesty, hard work, and service
Our list could be much longer, but these representative items have all fallen victim to the world’s push for what it sees as greater freedom, satisfaction, and happiness. Those who rely on the Bible as their infallible guide already know how the story turns out for those who make themselves the standard. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). More solemnly, Solomon says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). In Paul’s day, suppressing, speculative, sensual, and subverting souls rejected God in deference to self-guidance with destructive results (Rom. 1:18ff). Thus it will always be when man builds upon the foundation of himself.
What happens with us, individually and collectively, when we build upon the rock of Scripture is survival in the severest tests (Mat. 7:24-25). When we see Scripture as something to change us rather than something subject to our changes, we have a sure standard by which to chart our lives. Antecedent societies have experienced the trauma of spiritual self-determination (cf. Prov. 14:34). In a world enamored with unrighteous change, may we determine to fix our gaze on the ever-fixed mark of Scripture!
When it comes to caring for the physical body, I have a lot to learn. While I work out nearly day, my most developed muscle is the table one. I will be working to use that muscle far less this year. But judging from all the new faces in the gym this morning, there are a lot of people who are going to be exercising their bodies who haven’t been doing so—at least for the next few days or weeks.
When it comes to caring for the spiritual body of Christ, I have even more to learn. Helping the church grow, develop, and fulfill its purpose better is a challenge that grows more daunting with each new year as our culture changes, our own distractions mount, and our sight is so easily eclipsed by the influence of this world. With that in mind, there is something we can do for His body that will give it its best opportunity to please God. It centers around what we do with the Bible, as a church.
We must have confidence that God’s Word will give us what we need to have to be what we need to be. Through such, we will be “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). It takes the Word to cause “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Isn’t this what Paul is also saying to Colosse, when he urges them to hold fast to the head so that the body would grow “with a growth which is from God”? (Col. 2:19). We cannot hope to strengthen and protect Christ’s spiritual body locally without consulting the training manual of the Great Physician. Let’s make that specific and practical:
- Preachers must lovingly preach even the difficult subjects (i.e., God’s law of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the distinct plan of salvation, the undenominational, singular nature of the New Testament church, God’s sexual ethics, the role of men and women, God’s pattern of worship, personal purity, etc.) and be a living example of the believer as their ethic is driven by that Word.
- Elders must shepherd guided by the infallible Word and not with personal favoritism, deciding solely on popularity or what the majority favors, bending to political correctness, fear of offending influential members, and the like.
- Deacons must function in a way that shows discipline, dedication, devotion, and discretion which is shaped and guided by the New Testament pattern for their works.
- Members must follow with love, esteem, and cooperation when their leaders urge them to follow God’s truth, even if it’s distasteful to us or challenges our comfort and complacency.
- Individual Christians must discipline their hearts and minds to be open and submissive to what they encounter in Scripture rather than be defensive and rebellious.
- Families must dedicate themselves to studying and honoring the Word at home, in their daily lives, to grow and mature in the Words of truth.
- Each of us must see the mandate to save souls, repeated throughout the New Testament, as a personal responsibility for which God holds us all accountable.
Isn’t it exciting to think about how much stronger the body of Christ where we are might be this time next year? If each of us will allow God’s inspired word to be the beacon and guide of our lives, His body is going to be powerful, noticeable, and desirable. We will draw men to Christ. We will be the picture of spiritual health. As you make your resolutions, won’t you determine to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you (Col. 3:16).
One of the more interesting Hebrew words in the Old Testament is the word translated “meditate” in passages such as Psalm 1:2. הָגָה (“Haga”), most often found among the poets and prophets, has a wide range of meaning depending on derivation of the root word. Elihu uses the word to speak of the “rumbling” of God’s voice (Job 37:2). Moses uses the word to speak of a “sigh” (Ps. 90:9). Isaiah uses the word to speak of the “moaning” of a dove (38:14) and “growling” of a lion (31:4). The occult mediums “whispered” and “muttered” their incantations (8:19) (Harris, et al, TWOT, 1999, n/p). Yet, the word is often used to speak of a low voice within, pondering and rehearsing what God’s Word has to say and what it means. This is how David and Joshua use the term in speaking of meditating day and night on God’s Word (cf. Jos. 1:8). It is possible that in carefully considering God’s Word, the student would rehearse or mouth the words of God as they contemplated and looked into it. One lexicography renders it “to read in an undertone” (Koehler, et al, HAL, 1999, n/p).
How one studies the Bible is very personal, but for it to have value and assist us in living the way God wants us to, there has to be a process in place that takes us beyond mere reading to comprehension and then on to application. Meditation upon the Bible seems a vital part of this. When is the last time in your personal Bible reading that you memorized, rehearsed, and meditated upon what you read that day? Do you revisit in your mind what you read earlier, pondering meaning and relevance in your attempt to live as God wants you to live? Have you found yourself returning to its truths again and again, convicting yourself of needed changes and improvements in your Christian walk?
Meditating upon God’s Word will build your reverence of it, your conviction that it as modern and relevant as today’s sunrise, and your view of it as the inspired, authoritative Word of God. It will bind your mind and heart to the mind and heart of God. It will help you elevate your thoughts and consider the bigger picture of eternity and not just the mundanity of earth. It will have you singing with David, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).
The tendency to try and make subjective experience as more meaningful and valuable than objective truth is age old. We would rather feel something than learn or obey something. Yet, notice how thoroughly the Bible shows that adequate knowledge of God relies upon studying and knowing the Bible.
• GENESIS (24:12-14)–God’s KINDNESS is knowable.
• EXODUS (14:4-18)–God’s MATCHLESS HONOR is knowable.
• LEVITICUS (23:43)–God’s PROTECTING NATURE is knowable.
• NUMBERS (16:28)–God’s SPOKESMEN are knowable.
• DEUTERONOMY (4:35)–God’s PREEMINENCE is knowable.
• JOSHUA (23:13)–God’s CONDITIONS are knowable.
• JUDGES (6:37)–God’s INTERVENTION is knowable.
• RUTH (2:12)–God’s REWARD is knowable.
• 1 SAMUEL (17:46-47)–God’s MEANS OF SALVATION is knowable.
• 2 SAMUEL (7:18-29)–God’s PROMISES are knowable.
• 1 KINGS (20:28)–God’s SUPREMACY is knowable.
• 2 KINGS (19:19)–God’s UNIVERSAL AUTHORITY is knowable.
• 1 CHRONICLES (28:9)–God’s DIVINE QUALITIES are knowable.
• 2 CHRONICLES (25:16)–God’s DISAPPROVAL is knowable.
• EZRA (7:25)–God’s LAWS are knowable.
• NEHEMIAH (9:14)–God’s REVELATION is knowable.
• ESTHER (4:14 + rest of book)–God’s USE OF PROVIDENCE is knowable (even if we don’t know what is or isn’t providence).
• JOB (19:25)–God’s REDEMPTIVE WORK is knowable.
• PSALMS (100:3)–God’s CREATIVE POWER is knowable.
• PROVERBS (24:12)–God’s LIMITLESS ABILITY is knowable.
• ECCLESIASTES (3:14)–God’s PERFECTION is knowable.
• SONG OF SOLOMON–God’s DEVOTION TO MARRIAGE is knowable.
• ISAIAH (60:16)–God’s SALVATION & REDEMPTION are knowable.
• JEREMIAH (16:21)–God’s NAME & MIGHT are knowable.
• LAMENTATIONS–God’s STANDARD FOR PUNISHMENT is knowable.
• EZEKIEL (5:13)–God’s ZEALOUS WORD is knowable.
• DANIEL (11:32)–God’s STRENGTHENING is knowable.
• HOSEA (13:4)–God’s WORSHIP REQUIREMENTS are knowable.
• JOEL (2:27)–God’s PRESENCE is knowable.
• AMOS (3:2)–God’s HATRED OF INIQUITY is knowable.
• OBADIAH–God’s FEELINGS TOWARD PRIDE are knowable.
• JONAH (4:2)–God’s GRACIOUSNESS is knowable.
• MICAH (6:5)–God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is knowable.
• NAHUM (1)–God’s PROTECTIVE CARE is knowable.
• HABAKKUK (2:14)–God’s GLORY is knowable.
• ZEPHANIAH (2:3)–God’s DESIRE TO BE SOUGHT is knowable.
• HAGGAI–God’s MISSION is knowable.
• ZECHARIAH (2:9-13)-God’s PLAN OF SALVATION is knowable.
• MALACHI (2:4-5)–God’s COVENANT is knowable.
• MATTHEW (22:16)–God’s TEACHINGS are knowable.
• MARK (1:24)–God’s HOLINESS is knowable.
• LUKE (11:13)–God’s BENEVOLENCE is knowable.
• JOHN (17:3)–God’s UNIQUENESS is knowable.
• ACTS (2:36-47)–God’s REQUIREMENTS FOR SALVATION are knowable.
• ROMANS (8:28)–God’s ASSURANCE TO THOSE WHO LOVE HIM is knowable.
• 1 CORINTHIANS (2:12)–God’s SPIRITUAL BLESSING OF REVELATION is knowable.
• 2 CORINTHIANS (8:9)–God’s GRACE is knowable.
• GALATIANS (3:7)–God’s HEIRS are knowable.
• EPHESIANS (1:17-19)–God’s BESTOWED WISDOM & HOPE are knowable.
• PHILIPPIANS (3:8-11)–God’s SON is knowable.
• COLOSSIANS (4:1)–God’s MASTERFUL ROLE is knowable.
• 1 THESSALONIANS (1:4)–God’s MEANS OF ELECTION is knowable.
• 2 THESSALONIANS (3:7)–God’s GOOD EXAMPLES are knowable.
• 1 TIMOTHY (3:15)–God’s CODE OF CONDUCT IN THE HIS HOUSEHOLD is knowable.
• 2 TIMOTHY (3:15-17)–God’s HOLY SCRIPTURES are knowable.
• TITUS (1:9-16)–God’s SOUND DOCTRINE is knowable.
• PHILEMON–God’s FREEDOM FROM SIN & CALL FOR SERVICE IN CHRIST is knowable.
• HEBREWS (8:11-13)–God’s SUPERIOR SALVATION is knowable.
• JAMES (2:20)–God’s DEMAND FOR ACTIVE FAITH is knowable.
• 1 PETER (1:18-19)–God’s INCORRUPTIBLE MEANS OF SALVATION is knowable.
• 2 PETER (3:17)–God’s FOREWARNINGS are knowable.
• 1 JOHN (4:2)–God’s SPIRIT is knowable.
• 2 JOHN 1–God’s TRUTH is knowable.
• 3 JOHN 12–God’s INSPIRED WRITERS’ TRUTHFUL RECORD is knowable.
• JUDE (4-23)–God’s ENEMIES are knowable.
• REVELATION (2:10,17)–God’s REWARD is knowable.
This does not begin to exhaust the list of things which the Bible tells us we can know! God has not left us to grope in the dark. Neither has He left it up to us to decide to live however we want to live.