I think it's important at the end of every year to preach a sermon on the importance of God's Word in our lives, both personally and corporately. We can forget as individuals and we can forget as a church the main things, and the main thing is to feed on God's Word so we are strengthened in Christ and we love him. Spurgeon reminds us how much Scripture strengthens us.
You have lost a dear child. Was there not a word of the Lord to cheer you? You lost your property. Was there not a passage in the scriptures to meet the disaster? You have been slandered. Was there not a word to console you? You were very sick and with all depressed. Had not the Lord provided a comfort for you in that case? I will not multiply questions. The fact is that you never were high but the word of the Lord was up with you, and you never were low but what the scripture was down with you.
So I want to look at six truths today from God's Word. But let's begin by looking at this passage in Nehemiah 8:1-8. This is a great passage on the reading and exposition of the Scriptures.
(Read Nehemiah 8:1-8)
In corporate gatherings the exposition of Scripture should be central
The people gathered publicly to read God's Word and have it explained, and of course that's what we're doing here. That's what the church of Jesus Christ has always done when it's operating rightly—paying heed to the preaching, exposition, and teaching of the Word. We read in verse three, they were attentive to what God's Word said. They paid heed to it. We all know how easy it is to be present and to not hear the Word of God. I've heard many, many sermons in my life but when I arrive I am tired or distracted or worried about something. So we pray, not just for ourselves but we pray for everyone gathered. We pray for other churches when they are gathered together to be attentive, to pay heed to God's Word. If we're attentive in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the Word is ever fresh. It's always new. It's always radiant and powerful and strengthening anew.
Another thing I want to point out from this text is there is no magical benefit from reading God's Word. There isn't some benefit from just reading it without understanding it. It's not like taking a vitamin pill and popping it in your mouth, as if it helps when you don't have a clue what's going on. There's no superstitious understanding here of reading the Word. The Word benefits us when it's accompanied by understanding, when we grasp what's in it. So notice in verses seven and eight, the Levites helped the people to understand the law while the people remained in their places. They read from the law of God, and they gave the sense or the meaning, so that the people understood the reading. So it's important to explain what's in the Scriptures, to understand it, to grasp it for there to be benefit. It's the job of preachers and teachers to be clear. It's not our job fundamentally to be clever, witty, and entertaining, but to be clear so that people understand and are benefitted by what the Word says.
Is this just an Old Testament thing? Or is this in the New Testament as well? There's a lot of verses we could turn to, but I just want to look at one— 1 Timothy 4:13. Here's what Paul commands Timothy to do: devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture. Paul says, devote yourself to the Word, and to teaching and exhortation. Teaching means explaining the Scripture, application means applying it. So that's our goal, not just to teach the Scripture but also to apply it to our lives so that we understand it. This is my first point, the Scripture is for the corporate benefit of the body as we're corporately gathered to understand it, to apply it, to read it.
We study God's Word because it is the final authority and the truth
Now, logically, really, this point belongs before the first one, doesn't it? But I want to back up here and say, why do we do this at all? Because Scripture is authoritative and infallible—it cannot fail—and Scripture is inerrant—it is totally true. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture," not some Scripture, "is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Scripture is authoritative because it is inspired by God. The point isn't that it's inspiring, that it makes us feel inspired. The point is that it is inspired, that it's objectively inspired. It's the objective revelation of God. Whether we feel it's inspired or not, the Scripture is breathed out by God. That's a fact. It is the Word of God. Therefore, Scripture tells us what to believe by what it teaches. It's useful for teaching. Our doctrines as a church reflect Scripture. Scripture is the authority. It is not our goal to disseminate human opinions but to reflect what the Bible says. Our doctrines as a church are not a result of human ingenuity and human wisdom. They are revealed by God. We are not with blindfolded eyes trying to grasp after the elephant. Our faith is revealed to us supernaturally. We believe in a personal God who has revealed himself to us in Scripture.
Scripture does not only tell us what to believe but what to do. That's practical. It corrects and trains us in righteousness so that we are equipped to live a life that pleases God. We don't rely on our own reason or our own intuitions for what we should believe or how we should live. We rely on God's authoritative revelation.
I love this quote by John Calvin, "There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own reason." I think that's true. Many people rely on their reason because of their arrogance, and they block out the inspired and inerrant Word of God. They say, "I just can't believe this or that," and they come up with some rational reason why they reject what Scripture says. John Calvin was a gifted person intellectually but he realized that our role in reading Scripture is to be humble and teachable and to be corrected by God's word.
2 Peter 1:20-21 also emphasize that Scripture is the Word of God. 2 Peter 1:20 says, "No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." We have the words of men in Scripture, but ultimately we are told in this text they are the words of God. These men were carried along by the Holy Spirit, so they spoke God's Word, not their own word. Therefore, these words are authoritative and without error. Jesus said in John 10:35, "Scripture cannot be broken."
In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. Not one iota, not one dot of the law will pass away until all is fulfilled. Our Lord Jesus Christ believed the Old Testament was the Word of God. Six times in the book of Matthew Jesus replies to those who were questioning him with the words, "Have you not read?" When the Pharisees questioned what Jesus did on the Sabbath, he said, "Have you not read what David did?" When Jesus was questioned on divorce, he said, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?" When the religious leaders questioned the children for crying out hosanna on Palm Sunday, Jesus said, "Have you never read, out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise?" When Jesus told the parable of the vineyard to the religious leaders, he concluded by saying, "Have you never read in the Scriptures, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?" When the Sadducees doubted the resurrection, Jesus replied to them, "Have you not read what was said to you by God?"
The authority of Scripture is clear in the life of our Lord Jesus. He always trusted the Word of God. It was his authority; and if it was his authority it should be our authority. The authority of Scripture reigns over reason, and it reigns over tradition. Tradition and custom are not the Word of God. The church's pronouncements are not the Word of God ultimately. It's the Scripture that has the final authority. So we study God's Word because it is inspired and because it is authoritative.
We study the Word to grow in knowledge
All Christians should be growing in their knowledge of Scripture. Paul says in Acts 20:27, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." So this is for preachers, isn't it? To preach the whole counsel of God you've got to know the whole counsel of God. But it's also for all of us because the pastor preaches the whole counsel of God so that we all know the whole counsel of God. That means we must be growing in our understanding of the Bible. We must not read or preach the parts that we especially like or that we already know, but the whole counsel of God.
When Jonathan Edwards was a teenager he made this resolution: "Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same." So here are my questions for you: Are you studying the Scriptures steadily, constantly, and frequently? Are you growing in the knowledge of the same? And are you perceiving that you're growing in your knowledge of the Bible? Reading the Scriptures is meant to be thrilling and exciting. If you're not learning anything, if it's not fresh to you, it won't be thrilling to you.
You need a plan to study God's Word. You need a routine. We make sure we have a routine for eating, such as, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You need a routine. You need to set aside time. Most of us work best if we have patterns and habits in our life. We need habits to read God's Word, because we can have a desire to read it and not implement it because we don't have habits in our life. Sometimes routines must be broken for extreme circumstances, but typically we follow routines, don't we? Maybe you'll miss breakfast and lunch one special day because of lots of things are going on. But you don't do that routinely. Same with reading God's Word. We need a pattern, we need a routine, we need a plan.
We read in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 about parents, that they are to diligently teach their children the Scriptures. Parents are to talk about them when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. Do you do that with your children, if you have children? How can you do it if you don't know God's Word? Secondly, you won't do it if you're not excited about God's truth. We talk about what we're excited about. If the Word is thrilling to you, if God's Word is exciting to you, you'll talk about it with your family. They will know what's most important.
We focus on Scripture because God creates life through his Word
Life does not come from within us; life comes from outside of us. That's true from the very beginning. Genesis 1:3 says, "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." The Word of God created life at the beginning. God spoke the word and the universe supernaturally came into existence. Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."
We read about the power of God's Word in the famous passage about the dry bones in Ezekiel. Beginning in Ezekiel 37:1, "The hand of the Lord was upon me," this is Ezekiel now, "and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry." They were dead. "And he said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?'" Ezekiel could have said, "No, they're dead, that's impossible, dry bones can't live." But he answered, "And I answered, 'O Lord God, you know.'" That's a very humble answer. That's a very teachable answer. Instead of relying on his own reason, he said, "You know, Lord." "Then he said to me, 'Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.'" These bones are dead, what's the use of preaching the Word to these dead bones? Verse 5, "Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.' So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.' So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army."
The Word created the universe and the Word gives life to the dead. That's why we believe in preaching the Word, even in dead churches. The Word of God is the means by which he brings people to life. It is a powerful Word. We see the same thing in the New Testament. New life, being born again comes by the Word of God.
1 Peter 1:23 says, "You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable through," here's the means, "the living and abiding word of God." How does new life come? How are people born again? Through God's Word, through the gospel. God gives life to those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Not because we're great speakers, not because we're tremendously excellent at sharing the gospel with others, but through his Word, through the gospel. That is why we believe it is important not just to live the gospel in front of unbelievers but to tell the gospel, to say what the gospel is.
What is the gospel? I'm going to give it to you very briefly in four points. God is our Creator. He created all of us as human beings, therefore we owe him our life. We owe him everything. We owe him reverence, obedience, and faith. Secondly, we've all sinned. We've all failed to do what God has commanded. We've all dishonored him, we've been independent, we've gone our own way. Third, God has sent a Redeemer, Christ Jesus who lived a perfect life and who never sinned and always pleased God. In love he took our sins upon himself so that if we trust in him, fourth, we are saved. Not on the basis of our own works but on the basis of what Christ has done for us. That's not very complicated, is it? We can say that briefly to people. Of course people need further explanation, but there is the heart of the gospel. That's the means by which God is pleased to give people new life through the foolishness of the message. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, that foolish message is the wisdom of God by which he gives life.
We study the Word because faith comes from hearing God's Word
Life is full of many trials. I don't know what you're experiencing right now but there are many hard things in life, many difficulties, and what we need is faith. I've been reading a book on Luther lately and one of the things Luther said is, "It's hard to have faith, it's hard to trust." Because we don't have the capability as human beings to do that. Where does faith come from? How do we get faith even as Christians, how do we continue to believe? Well, Paul tells us, in Romans 10:17, "So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ."
Faith comes from what? Hearing the Word of God. Faith helps us in our battle with Satan. How can we counteract Satan's temptations? Ephesians 6:16-17 says, "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one, and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God." So Satan throws those flaming darts at us, but if we have the shield of faith we can counteract them. But how do we get faith? From hearing the Word through the sword of the Spirit. When we are under attack we respond with the Word of God. That's one of the benefits of memorizing Scripture. We need to know it so that we can repel Satan's attacks when he tries to deceive us. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in Luke 4, three times he said when he was tempted, "It is written." He knew the Scriptures. He had them memorized and he could repel the attacks of the devil with Scripture.
Psalm 119 says, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." But if we don't know Scripture and haven't read Scripture, we have no ammunition when the attack comes. We are defenseless; we have no shield. We have nothing to repel those attacks, and we have no fuel for our faith. The fuel for our lives isn't faith. The fuel is God's Word which gives strength.
We study God's Word because God's Word gives us joy
Finally, we study God's word because God's word gives us joy. Psalm 119:35 says, "Direct me in the path of your commands for there I find delight." Does the command to read and know God's Word sound like a burden to you, sound kind of heavy to you? Maybe even a little legalistic to you? It is a duty, it is a command, but it's a delight, he's telling us. Here is the way to happiness. It's a strange sort of duty, but God gives it to us so that we'll be happy. That's not legalism. It's feeding on the Word so we can feed on God. Jeremiah talks about God's Word, "When your words came, I ate them. They became mine. I ate them. They were my joy and my heart's delight." I hope that's true of you, but I pray that will be true of all of us in the coming year. God's Word will be our delight.
Psalm 1:2 says, "Blessed is the person how meditates on the law of the Lord day and night." You know, the Greek translation of the word for "meditate" is the same word that is used for "worry." I don't think it means "worry" here but I think that's instructive. Blessed is the person who worries about God's Word day and night. Well, not literally, but what does it mean to worry? It's like a broken record. You go back to what you're concerned about over and over again. That's what he is saying about God's Word. You chew on it. You go back to it. You think about it. You drink from it. How blessed that is.
Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom with that word, singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with that word, with thankfulness in your hearts to God because of that word, and whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Do you want to do everything to honor Jesus? Well, you're not going to be able to do it. I'm not going to be able to do it, if we're not richly filled with the Word. The parallel passage says in Ephesians 5:18 says, "And do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery. But be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another." Note how Ephesians refers to the same themes we see in Colossians: addressing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. If someone thinks they're filled with the Spirit and they're not filled with the Word, they are not filled with the Spirit. Only those who are filled with the Word are filled with the Spirit.
So what are you doing to keep in the Word? Do you have a plan? And a place and a pattern and a routine? There are a lot of things you can do in the coming year. I'm not going to suggest anything in particular, but just make a plan. Or keep the plan you have. Have a routine. How easy it is for other things to crowd out our time in the Word. If you don't plan it and guard your time with God it won't happen. Other things will squeeze it out. I close with a quote from John Wesley. He said, "I am a spirit come from God and returning to God. I want to know one thing: The way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book. At any price, give me the book of God. I have it. We have it. There is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book. Here, then, I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone. Only God is here. In his presence I open, I read as for this end, to find the way to heaven."
Tom Schreiner is a preaching pastor at Clifton Baptist and teaches New Testament and Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.