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Clinging to the Word of Life

“clinging to the Word of Life, that I will be satisfied in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor did I labor in vain.”

(Philippians 2:16)

Much can be said from these words of Paul, but I want to focus first on the initial words which follow the statement in the previous verse. What is the way in which we live our lives in a way that is blameless and pure? The answer is that we must do so clinging to the Word of Life. It is the Bible that provides us with every standard by which we may know the life we are to strive to live. It is the Bible that gives us wisdom and discernment for the decisions we make. And it is the Bible that records all of the promises of God that will give us the courage to live the way we are called to live…that is if we trust the Bible.

But Paul doesn’t simply say for us to trust the Bible. He says we are to cling to it like one might cling to the edge of a great cliff lest we fall to our doom on the valley floor below. This clinging is a life or death clinging. These scriptures for us are our very life (Deuteronomy 32:47). For we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). And it is not only our calling to live by them, but to speak of this word to others at every opportunity and no matter the cost (Acts 5:20).

Yet, how many professing Christians reject this word that God gives to us…or at least pick and choose that which they want to follow and that which they wish to ignore. Selective hearing does not an obedient follower make.

Thus, friends, set the Word of God before you, which is God’s Word of Life. Do so in all things and in every way. Let it guide your steps and do not deviate to the right or to the left from that which it instructs and commands. Let the Word of God guide your speech and your attitudes as well as your reasoning. Do not let any idea into your life except through the sieve of the Scriptures. It will always prove faithful and reliable…cling to it for it is your very life.

Sanctify them in the Truth (John 17:17)

“Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.”

(John 17:17)

What a powerful statement!  Jesus lays out two great truths for us in this little statement…first, that it is by the means of the Truth that we should be sanctified and that the Word of God (Scripture) is Truth.  Yet, we need to lay out some definitions here to make sure we understand the depth of this statement.

The first question we really need to ask is what does the word “sanctify” mean.  In Greek, the term sanctify is the word, aJgia/zw (hagiazw), which is related to the term a¢gioß (hagios), meaning “holy” or “set apart for sacred use.”  The Hebrew equivalent to this term is vwødDq (qadosh); God regularly sets apart his people (Leviticus 19:2, 20:26), his priests (Leviticus 21:8), and implements or items of worship (Leviticus 27:30,32) as hÎwhyÅl v®døq (qodesh layahweh)—“Holy to the Lord.”  Thus, getting back to aJgia/zw (hagiazw), sanctification is the process by which God makes us holy as He is holy.  It is a process by which he refines us as by fire (1 Peter 1:6-7), scraping off the dross and refining us for his work here in this world and to be ultimately purified as we are prepared to enter into his eternal presence in glory.

Thus, if we are sanctified in Truth and the scriptures are the revelation of God’s word, then how are we sanctified in the Bible?  To begin with, let us state up front that the efforts of man in this area avail him nothing if not indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is not talking here about those who do not have new life, but he is talking about the born-again believer in Jesus Christ.  Also, it should be noted that Jesus did speak many other words and do many other things than are recorded in the Bible (John 21:25), so some would argue that the Bible is not synonymous with God’s Word.  While there is some truth to that claim, it is clear that the Bible is the only revelation of God that has been written down and preserved for us through the ages (through the superintending of the Holy Spirit).  Certainly, there are many texts that claim divine or apostolic authorship as well as prophetic authorship, but these texts have clearly been shown to be much later additions, written under pseudonyms, and are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.  It has become popular in this age to drag out these texts and create false theologies based on them, but such is the work of false teachers whose condemnation was designated and written about long ago (Jude 4).  Look to the fruit of such teachers (Matthew 7:15-20) and who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny Jesus Christ (Jude 4 again).  The second century church fathers refuted them when they were writing, we should heed their warnings and not stumble into the errors of these charlatans.

As we move, then, back to the Bible—God’s revealed word and the source of all Truth, then how is it that the Bible is a tool in our sanctification?  John Calvin made the argument that there are three purposes to the moral law as it is contained in scripture—the first was simply to set before us a moral code so that we can live together in society without killing one another.  Simply spoken, how different our world would be if every human being on our planet lived by those ten basic commandments!  Secondly, the Ten Commandments are designed to teach us our inability to live a holy life before the Lord.  The simple fact is that try as we may, we cannot keep the commandments of God and thus as we survey the world around us, it is filled with idolatry, crime, adultery, greed, lust, etc…  Thus, the law teaches us we need a savior to redeem us from our wicked state.  Then finally comes the third use of the Law, which is as a tool of sanctification (what Jesus is talking about here) not for all mankind, but for the believer.  As we seek to live according to the Moral Law of God out of a desire to honor our Redeemer and God, we grow more and more like the one who fulfilled that law for us, Jesus Christ.

Jesus said that if we love him, we will demonstrate that love in obedience to his commands (John 14:15).  In addition, in the great commission, Jesus commands the Apostles to go out and make disciples.  What are the marks of a true disciple?  First, they have been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  But, secondly, they have been taught to obey “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  Thus, we can infer that it is not just the Moral Law that believers are to seek to obey, but all of God’s word as he lays it out before us.  This is not to suggest that we are to obey all of the sacramental laws of the Old Testament, Jesus has fulfilled them for us once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10) nor is it to mean that the civil laws of the Old Testament are to be applied as they were applied in the Old Testament—Jesus himself forgave sins punishable by death (John 8:11)—such laws were given for a people who were structured into a Theocratic kingdom, now we are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9) and thus have a priestly function while living within the nations of others (just as the Levites did in Israel and just as Abraham did while living as an alien in Canaan).  We can certainly glean some moral principles from these case laws in the Old Testament, but their application is a moral guide and not civil law.

The heart at what Jesus is getting at, though, is that we must be taking God’s word and applying it to every area of our lives if we are to grow like him.  How do we do this, though, if we are not immersing ourselves in our Bibles and studying it—recognizing it as Truth?  What does it say about our hearts if we go to the Bible, yet it does not change us?  In Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), being changed—transformed even—into the image of Christ through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2)—and how is that renewal to take place?  It takes place through the application of God’s word to every area of our lives—indeed, as our Lord prayed, we are sanctified according to his Word.  Christian, pursue that end.

We are Marked by God’s Word (John 17:14)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world as I am not of the world.”

(John 17:14)

We are used to hearing the language of the world hating us because we are not of the world; what is sad is that all too often, the world does not hate us because we have allowed ourselves to become friends with the world and to compromise who we are—or at least who we are supposed to be.  Too often there is little that distinguishes the life of a professing Christian from the life of a non-Christian either in speech or in action.  How rarely we live intentionally with respect to our faith and in doing so, it makes things more comfortable with respect to the world.  But as Peter wrote, when we don’t build on our faith (hence attracting opposition), we become so nearsighted that we stumble around as much as a blind person does (2 Peter 1:9) and the world cannot tell us apart.

Note too, the connection between receiving the Word of God and becoming citizens of heaven (also see Philippians 3:20).  One of the things that distinguishes the Christian from members of any other organization is that God has given Christians his Word—the Scriptures.  So long as we hold on to that book and so long as we treat that book as the divine and authoritative word of God, the world will not ever come close to being our friend, but instead will hate us.

How sad it is, though, that so many Christians, for the love of this world, are quick to compromise this wonderful Word that sets us apart!  They compromise the truth about Christ’s deity, they compromise the truth about God’s creative work, they compromise the truth about the exclusivity of Christianity, they compromise the truth about abortion, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, and the list goes on and on and on.  Do you see what we have allowed the church to do?  Jesus said that it is because we have His Word, the world will hate us.

What is it about that Word that makes it so dangerous to the world?  The bottom line is that because God is the author of his Word, which makes the Scriptures true, infallible, inerrant, and absolute.  The world does not like being told that it is wrong—let alone that it is condemned to judgment because it clings to its sin and does not submit to the authority of God Almighty.

The mind of fallen man prefers a god of its own design, one that makes no claims or demands, one that is more like a cuddly friend to get you through a dark night than like an almighty God.  They like the image of a doddering old man who is too senile to remember sins and wrongs but who is able to bestow good gifts.  They want a tame god—one that is safe.  The Bible shatters their illusions and presents not a safe god of man’s design, but a God who demands obedience and submission from his followers.  The God of the Bible is anything but tame and senile, but he is ferocious and vibrant—active not only in the life of his own, but in the lives of those who has forsaken him, using them for his own purposes.  The Bible does not present God as existing to serve man, but on the contrary, the Bible presents man as existing to serve God.  The world cannot stand this—it hates the Bible, it hates what the Bible tells their conscience about their created god, and it hates those who hold to the Bible as true and right.

Oh, loved ones, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are marked by this book we call the Bible.  Do not be ashamed of this even though it will bring you enmity from the world.  Rejoice in this book, because it is the very Word of Life (Philippians 2:16).  In this book, God reveals himself to us in all of his majesty.  Those who love the darkness have chosen to live in the darkness, but you who have professed to hold to the light—do not forsake the Word which is light for the love of the shadowy realms of this world.

Is the Bible Inerrant?

One of the things we talk a lot about in church circles is the authority of scripture—that it is given by God and is designed to instruct us in every area of life.  One of the terms that we use when we speak of why the scriptures are authoritative is the term “inerrant.”  But I have found that while we often throw that term around, a lot of times, people aren’t entirely sure what the term means.

To be “inerrant” means far more than something has no errors in it.  When I was in school, I regularly had “error-free” mathematics tests; when I was in seminary, many of my Hebrew vocabulary tests were found to be “error-free,” but none of these were inerrant.  The word inerrant means not only that something has no errors, but that it is incapable of making an error.  The Oxford American Dictionary defines “inerrant” as “incapable of being wrong.”  One writer described the inerrancy of the scriptures in this way: “They are exempt from the liability to mistake.”

So why do we ascribe such a nature to the scriptures?  To begin with, they are God’s word, and if God is incapable of making a mistake, then his word also must be incapable of making a mistake—remembering that those who wrote down God’s word were “moved along by the Spirit” as a ship is blown by the wind filling its sails (2 Peter 1:21).  In the language of the Apostle Paul, scripture is exhaled by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and thus is the source of all training and guidance for the believer.  These are God’s words and not man’s and thus we ought to expect them to carry the authority and attributes of God’s character and not man’s character.

It is granted that there are many these days that doubt the inerrancy of scripture.  For some, it is a plain matter of unbelief.  For others it is misinformation or not having studied the evidence.  For others it is the fear that if one acknowledges these words to be the inerrant word of God then one must submit one’s life to scripture’s authority and demands, and such is true.  Regardless of the reason that people doubt, Scripture has withstood every test and challenge that has been leveled at it.

There is one other thing that is worth noting about such a book as we have.  Not only are the scriptures our only guide for faith and life, but they are the only book to guide us as we go to our deaths.  The Bible shows us Jesus Christ, our need for him as a redeemer, and his promise that if we trust in him in life, confessing him with our lips and believing in him in our hearts, he will confess us before the Father and guarantee us eternal life in paradise.  For the one who is facing death, this is the kind of knowledge that brings peace and enables them to leave this world with grace and not fear.  It is no wonder that the Scriptures are what most people ask to have read to them on their deathbeds, and not Shakespeare or Coleridge.  The Bible is the one book that transcends death because it was written by a God who died and rose again—promising that he would do the same for us.

A Proverb in a Song: part 4

“My mouth shall speak wisdoms;

the meditation of my heart is understanding.”

(Psalm 49:4 {Psalm 49:3 in English Bibles})


And now that the psalmist has called peoples from across the planet to heed the words of his lips, he addresses them specifically.  He is saying, listen here, you people of the earth and I will provide true wisdom for your ears!  In addition, the psalmist clarifies the importance of what he is going to say by pointing out that the meditation of his heart—that which he is about to speak—will give them understanding.  Oh, beloved, how deep a truth this is for us—wisdom and understanding come from no other place but from God and is conveyed to us through his Word.  How often do we seek to forge our own understandings?  How often do we reject the plain teachings of scripture because we cannot comprehend what is being revealed?  How often do we submit the scriptures to our own understanding rather than submitting our understanding to the scriptures?

Now, you will note something unusual about the translation that I have rendered with respect to the word “wisdom.”  In English and in Hebrew, the word wisdom is normally used as a collective noun, simply meaning that whether you speak one piece of wisdom or twenty, it is still referred to as “wisdom” and not “wisdoms.”  Yet, in this verse, the psalmist has pluralized this word.  What is significant about this is that the plural form of wisdom only occurs in four places in the Hebrew Bible—once here, and three times in the book of Proverbs (1:20, 9:1, 24:7).  This provides a connection to what it is that the psalmist is going to communicate in the following verse—the wisdom that he is about to espouse is a proverb to be heard by all the nations of the earth.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Hebrew word for meditation, tWgh’ (haguth), is derived from the Hebrew verb, hg”h’ (hagah), which means, “to growl.”  The imagery is   reflective of the way that traditional Hebrew students of God’s word would mutter softly as they were immersed in their study of the scriptures.  This intense concentration, accompanied by the quiet muttering as they studied, was reminiscent of an animal quietly growling as they were focused steadfastly on their prey.  This being said, it is worth posing the question, in our busy and hectic world, do we ever make the time to study God’s word so intently that we do not permit distractions to encroach on that time?  Sadly, I think that answer for most of us is no. 

Beloved, hear the words of wisdom that will come from the depth of this psalmist’s soul.  They will bring understanding to our hearts.  But do not only hear his words, hear what he communicates to us by his life.  He is a man who has spent time growling over scripture—so deeply focused on the study of God’s word that outside distractions are cast aside totally.  And as a result of this devotion to God’s word, wisdom pours from his lips.  Friends, if you want wisdom, James reminds us that we are to pray for it and that God will give it in abundance (James 1:5-8)—and this comes through trial (James 1:2-4).  Yet, if you want to nurture and mature wisdom, you must immerse yourself in the undistracted study of God’s word.  That means we must be deliberate about making such time—indeed, that is a challenge in our modern, fast-paced culture, but oh, how wonderful the benefits of such time are!