“People of the Book”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
When my family and I were on vacation last month, the Sunday we were gone, we assembled with a local congregation of Christians. It certainly was one of the more memorable services I’ve attended, but not in a good way. Most notably, it took 45 minutes for anyone behind the pulpit to invite me to open a Bible. No Scripture was read during the Lord’s Supper, and even the sermon was a long story rather than an examination of God’s word.
Not surprisingly, this was a church in trouble. Even though there were about 100 people in that building, my children were far and away the youngest present. The singing was downright dispiriting. I’ve been far more edified by the song worship of congregations a tenth of that size. Unless something dramatic changes, that church will shut its doors, and right now, all they’re doing is running out the clock.
This is not something that only happens to other churches. It can happen to the Jackson Heights church too, and all the problems begin with a failure to turn to the word. The Bible is the wellspring of our spiritual existence, and as soon as this congregation gets cut off from God’s word, it will wither and die. The same thing happens to Christians who lose their connection to the Scriptures. With this in mind, then, let’s consider this morning what we can do to be people of the book.
There are many passages that could help us with this study, but I think one of the most powerful statements of God’s will here appears in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. In fact, this text is so rich that we’re going to stay here for the rest of the morning.
In it, Moses makes three main points, and the first of these is that if we want to be people of the book, we have to SEEK THE WORD. In this regard, he tells us first of all that the word is not too difficult for us. Contextually, this isn’t talking about the word being difficult to do. It’s about the word being difficult to understand.
There are plenty of false teachers out there who insist that the word is too difficult, that everybody can’t understand it, but that’s a lie. In reality, everybody here who has enough spiritual understanding to be accountable to God for their sins also has enough spiritual understanding to grasp the gospel. Now, it is true that different people have different gifts when it comes to Bible study, and some can understand more than others, but all of us can understand what we need to.
Second, we don’t need to find somebody else to understand the word for us either. As Moses says, we don’t need to ask who will go up to heaven and get the word, or who will go across the sea to get it. Instead, the word is very near to each one of us.
This means that every one of us should make the Bible our guide rather than relying on any human being to be our guide. I hope that the things that I teach and preach are helpful to you spiritually, but never should any of you take my word for it instead of searching the Scriptures for yourself. I think Clay does an excellent job in his work here, but I know he too would say, “Don’t trust me. Trust the word of God.” Sad to say, millions will find themselves in hell because they trusted a man instead of the word. The more time we spend with the word ourselves, the safer our souls will be.
Second, we must OWN THE WORD. We must make it our own. We must make it a part of ourselves. Notice that Moses says that the word is to be found in two places in God’s people. It is to be in their mouths, and it is to be in their hearts.
Let’s start with the mouth. A couple of years ago, there was a meme floating around on Facebook that bemoaned one of the consequences of getting older. It said, “These days, I open my mouth, and my mother comes out.” I’m here to tell you, brethren, that’s true for me! I’m pretty much the male version of my mother. In fact, part of me is kind of glad that nobody here but Lauren met my mother so that none of you can tell how bad I’ve gotten!
Many of us know what that’s like. We know what it’s like to open our mouths and have our parents come out. How often do we open our mouths and have our Father in heaven come out? How often do we open our mouths and have Jesus come out? How often do we open our mouths and have Bible come out? If we truly have made the word our own, it will reveal itself in our speech. If, on the other hand, nobody could tell from talking to us that we’ve ever cracked a Bible, we’ve got work to do.
In fact, there’s only one way to make sure that Bible comes out of our mouths. It’s by implanting the word in our hearts. It’s by studying the Scriptures with the goal of remembering them and transforming ourselves.
It’s one thing to be a hearer of the word, to show up for services and sit passively through sermons and Bible classes. It’s another to be a student of the word, to be eager, attentive, hungry to learn, to ask questions when we don’t understand. We can’t absorb the word by osmosis, like the student who tries to prepare for a math test by putting the textbook under his pillow. Instead, we must choose to actively take it within ourselves and make it a part of us.
Finally, we must KEEP THE WORD. As Moses indicates, God has revealed His will to us and instructed us to internalize it so that we can keep all the commandments of His law. Bible study isn’t an intellectual exercise. It’s a life-transformation exercise, and if the word does not transform our lives, we have missed the entire point of the activity.
Sadly, I’ve known Christians who have missed the point like this. They regard themselves as great students of the word. Frequently, they sneer at the ignorance of their brothers and sisters in the congregation.
However, their lives reveal their own lack of understanding. They struggle with horrendous sin problems. Their marriages are a mess. Their interactions with others are frequently unpleasant, marked by anger, bitterness, and pride. Now, I’m not in any position to assess the claims that such people make about how much time they spend with the Bible. Nonetheless, I can say with confidence that whatever time they have spent, it has not had the effect on them that God desires it to have.
Of course, even as we consider such Christians, we must beware of falling into the same trap. They claim to be freshwater springs, but they send out salt water. How about us, though? How is the transforming work of the word of God evident in our lives?
Many of us here are not new Christians. We’ve been studying the word for decades, and if we have applied ourselves at all, that should have resulted in a pretty decent understanding of what’s between the covers of the Bible.
As James says in James 3:13, if indeed we are wise and understanding, it’s time to reveal the gentleness of that wisdom in our good behavior. It’s time to erase the last traces of worldly wisdom from the way we treat others. We know that God wants us to be peacemakers in all our relationships, especially the relationships of our families. Well, it’s time to start making peace. We know that God wants us to be gentle and compassionate to those who have any kind of need, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. Well, it’s time to start caring for those people. Only in this way do our lives proclaim God’s will and show His glory to others.