“The Bible”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
This is the last time that I will ever stand before this congregation and preach a sermon. I regret this deeply; it is not how I would have planned things at all. However, I am driven to it by my ill health and the needs of my family.
This morning, then, I must finish the trio of sermons about the core attributes of the Jackson Heights church. The first was kindness, the second was unity, and the third is love of the Bible. This is a congregation that loves the word of God, and from that, everything else follows.
Thus, it's appropriate for me to begin this farewell sermon with words from another farewell sermon, Paul's address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. In verse 32 he commends them to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Today, we're going to use that as an outline to discuss what is most important about the Bible.
The first significant idea in this passage is that the Bible is the word of the grace of God. There are many passages that we could use to illustrate what this means, but one of them is Ephesians 2:1-7. We were dead in our sins, but the grace of God made us alive again together with Christ.
Grace is what is truly unique about our faith. Certainly, the New Testament sets forth a wonderful system of ethics, but there are other systems of ethics out there. Even the people in our society who celebrate sin and call evil good have an ethical code. That's why they mob people on social media who violate it!
Standards of right and wrong are universal. However, only Christianity has strong standards accompanied by forgiveness for violating those standards. God hates our sin! In fact, He hates it so much that only the blood of His only begotten Son could wash it away.
Who could imagine such a thing, that an all-powerful God would love us enough to redeem us at such a terrible cost! That's grace. I've heard about it every Sunday all my life, but I still can't comprehend it.
This is the gospel we proclaim, not the gospel of the laws that condemn us, but the gospel of the grace that saves us. However, I'm afraid that some Christians are under the impression that grace evaporates along with the water after you're baptized. God saved us once, but now we'd better get all our ducks in a row!
Not so. How foolish would God have to be, to go to all that work of saving us while expecting our hapless selves to get things right thereafter! Every day of our lives, we remain in need of grace, and the great message of the Bible is that God will provide it.
Second, Paul tells us that the word of grace is able to build us up. The passage that best explains how this works is a familiar one, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. To some, my citation of this text might seem to contradict what I just said about grace, but really, grace and obedience are two halves of the same whole.
When we understand the richness and magnificence of God’s salvation, how could we possibly keep on doing the same thing that we've been doing? I want to spend every day of my life being pleasing to God because it's the least I could do after all He's done for me. Of course, none of my paltry acts of service are worthy to be compared to salvation, but I still have to try. The problem with people who don't try is not that they don't understand law. It's that they don't understand grace.
For those who do understand grace, for those who are determined to please and glorify their Savior, this text provides a road map. As is the case with many lists in Scripture, the first item in this list is not really an item. It's a subject heading. Paul tells us that the Scriptures were profitable for teaching, and then he explains how they teach.
I like to think of this as a spiritual U-turn. When we're going the wrong way, the Scriptures rebuke us. They yell, “Stop!” Next, they correct us. They say, “Try this way instead.” Once we're going the right way, they train us. They say, “Here's how to do this better.” Through them, we can get all of the spiritual instruction we need.
However, here we encounter one of the great spiritual dangers for religious people, self-righteousness. Rather than coming to the Bible to look for the spiritual U-turns that we need to make, we come to it looking for the spiritual U-turns that others need to make. We hear or read a passage, and we think of somebody who really needs to listen, and that somebody isn't us. Then, we sit around complaining to our self-righteous friends about how those other people just don't get it.
It's true that we do have a spiritual duty to warn and admonish others. However, that's not the goal of self-righteousness. Most self-righteous people will never have a difficult conversation with someone they think is in sin because having that conversation takes love instead of contempt. Self-righteousness is all about diverting our attention from our own imperfections so that we can boast in ourselves instead of in God.
Instead, our primary application of Scripture, especially when it comes to rebuking and correcting, must always be to ourselves. It is able to build us up, not somebody else. When we come across as humble servants rather than self-righteous judges, that's when we're able to influence others’ lives for good.
Finally, the word of God's grace is able to give us an inheritance. Here, let's consider 1 Peter 1:3-7. As Peter's words here make clear, being a Christian is not about fulfillment in this life. Sometimes, even the most faithful face great suffering. We see this repeatedly in Scripture, from Jesus on down.
What keeps us going is God's promise of a reward. The Bible isn't like one of those scammy emails from a Nigerian prince who promises you millions but will leave you with an empty bank account. Instead, our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven. This is why we keep going through those trials, long after worldly people would have quit. What is waiting for us will be worth it.
The key to obtaining this inheritance is the word of God. There are lots of other books about religion out there. None of them hold the secret of eternal life. There are lots of religious scholars and religious experts. None of them are the way to eternal fellowship with God. Even I will not help you at all if I stray from what God has revealed.
All we need is the book that we hold in our hands or have stored on our phones. God has given us His inspired word, and He has given everyone who needs to understand it the ability to understand. It's all right here, His precious gift to ordinary people who want to seek Him and find Him.
There is no such thing as too much Bible. The more we read and study it, the more it will teach us, convict us, and inspire us. Every assembly of the Jackson Heights church is precious because every one is an opportunity to learn more about the Bible. Sometimes, we sing a hymn entitled “When We All Get to Heaven”. If all of us steadfastly seek God according to His word, and then all of us will.