The Bible Jesus Read

Published: Monday, 16 April 2018

This sermon was presented by Geoff Pound at ABC on 15 April 2018. ‘The Bible Jesus Read’ is the second in a series entitled ‘Eat This Book’ on reading the Scriptures. This sermon manuscript concludes with questions for Personal Reflection and Group Study.

Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 3: 16-17

Several years ago, a Baptist minister friend told me that his wife was away at a conference for the week. I asked whether he was cooking up a storm in the kitchen. He said, “I don’t do cooking.” I asked, “What are you eating?” He said, “I’m eating Weetbix—Six for breakfast. Six for lunch and six for dinner.”[1]

Sanitarium had certainly done their advertising well. He was a Weetbix-kid that couldn’t break the habit.

Only this week a woman told me that when she goes away, her husband, who she said was a good cook, only cooks noodles. Noodles for breakfast. Noodles for lunch. Noodles for dinner. He cooks the noodles for his children and he even serves noodles to their two Staffordshire terriers.

Last week when we commenced our series entitled ‘Eat this Book’, we examined the passage in the last book of the Bible, from which this title springs.[2]

The text likens the reading of the Scripture to taking food into our bodies. We thought of the way that the Bible, like food, energises us. It sustains us. It builds bones and muscles. Biblical food is essential to our growth.

This made us think of a daily, regular intake of the Scriptures. Not fast food and fast eating but the slow, nourishing intake, whereby the food becomes part of us.

 

We recognized that just like living off the Weetbix diet or the Noodle Diet, not only is it narrow nutritionally, we can easily tire of reading the Bible.[3]

So, we thought of taking a new translation to freshen up our Biblical intake. We suggested adopting a Bible Reading Plan that gives us variety, a balanced intake and all the nutrients that are essential for spiritual health.

In today’s passage we turn from the image of food to the related image of training. Its significance won’t be lost on us in these days when our televisions have been flooded with athletes at the peak of their fitness demonstrating the fruit of their training.[4]

Ponder these benefits of reading the Bible:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3: 16 - 17

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful…

This is another reason to reject the Weetbix or Noodle Diet approach to Bible Reading and to consciously partake of the extensive Scriptural smorgasbord.

A couple of Tuesdays ago we had a young man from Iran come into our facilities, and as the door was open, he came into the Sanctuary and started reading the Bible. Not long after, he came into the office with a question for Cynthia. She introduced him to me and he said, “I’ve been raised a Muslim. This is the first time I’ve read the Bible and I want to know more about the Christian faith.” I gave him a Bible that he could take home. His question related to something in the first chapter of Genesis and we talked about how to read the Bible, that Genesis and Exodus might be interesting but Leviticus is hard work. It’s like eating a box of hair.

Paul writes to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful,” but maybe some is more useful than others at different times, depending on our need and our development as an enquirer and a believer.

When Paul told Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God”, the only Scripture that existed then was the Hebrew Scriptures. The preferred term for this is the ‘Hebrew Bible’ because to call it the ‘Old Testament’ has negative connotations for Jewish people. ‘Old’ Testament can suggest outdated, obsolete and incomplete, so in this interfaith world, especially when Christian and Jewish scholars are working together, it’s better to use neutral language.[5]

Even for Christians, talk of ‘Old’ Testament can imply that with the ‘New’ Testament, the Old Testament is redundant. It’s been superseded. It’s like, why ever would you watch a black and white television when you can watch it in colour?

Many of the early Christians (like Marcion) asked the same question, and some argued that the old part should be cut from the Bible.[6] “We’re no longer under law but under grace,” they say. “We’re living in a multicultural world not a Jewish world.” The Nazis in Germany tried to amputate the Hebrew Scriptures from the Christian Scriptures.[7]

The use of the Hebrew Scriptures posed questions and big debates for the first Christians, especially those from a Greek or Gentile background living in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus. They asked: “Are we still tied to the Jewish dietary laws such as no pork? Do Christians still need to practice circumcision? Do we still have to keep the 4th commandment—‘Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy’? (Ex 20: 8-11)

That’s an interesting question when here at Ashburton Baptist we have the Seventh Day Baptists using our facilities every Saturday. Many modern-day Christians don’t take to the Hebrew Bible with scissors. They just ignore it.

The word ‘bible’ comes from the Greek phrase, ‘ta biblia’ meaning ‘the books’ so it’s best to see the Bible not as one book but as a collection. Just as we don’t take books out of our local library by working our way through the classification numbers or alphabetically, we need to make our selection through something like a reading plan.

As a library has different types of literature such as poetry, plays, fiction and non-fiction, so the Bible contains different genre:

There’s history books or narrative like Genesis, Joshua and Ruth

There are legal books such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy

Wisdom literature like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes

Psalms are songs and liturgy often used in worship and regarded as a prayer book

There’s prophecy such as Isaiah and Jeremiah

Apocalyptic books like Daniel and Revelation which uses coded language for a hostile world

There’s eye witness accounts in the Gospels and

There are letters written to individuals and churches.

So, we’re to read and study these in different ways.

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”

What’s the use of all these different books?

Oswald Chambers once said that:

“The Psalms teach you how to pray;

Job teaches you how to suffer;

The Song of Solomon teaches you how to love;

Proverbs teaches you how to live; and

Ecclesiastes teaches you how to enjoy.”[8]

Others with not so sunny a disposition, like the author, Philip Yancey, have said, that the book of Job helps us to ask and explore questions. Job strips a relationship with God down to its bare essentials. He has it out with God. His book helps us to ask how spoiled brats like Solomon get spiritual and material gifts while good people like Job get catastrophe and disaster.[9]

Books like Deuteronomy help us to reflect on our journey of faith. Psalms echoes the whole range of emotions and positions from faith to unbelief, from great joy to the depths of despair, and from hearty praise through to cries of lament.[10]

The Hebrew Bible has a .realism because in it we experience something like our contemporary world with evil, violence and revenge. There are passionate stories of love and hate, horrific stories of rape and murder, slave trafficking and war.

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching…

Reading the Bible, Paul says to Timothy, is useful for getting to know and learn about faith and living as a believer. I suspect that many have a Google approach to our reading of the Bible. So, we ask: “What does the Bible say about doubt, or abortion or homosexuality or prayer?” Our search can lead us to some texts that we cherry pick. We can take them out of context, rather than learning about faith and living from the whole sweep of Scripture.

This is a challenge for us as a local church:

How might we better provide a solid Christian Education and training in discipleship for people of all ages?

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof,

2 Timothy 3: 16

Reproof! We may not appreciate this but the Bible is like a mirror.

We look in the mirror and we see that our hair is sticking up at the back, our parting is skewwhiff and there’s toothpaste running down our cheek.

Similarly, when we look in the Bible it can point up our shortcomings, our mistakes and our failures.

Sometimes we don’t know we have got body odour.

We don’t realise we’ve got bad breath.

We’re not aware that we get too close to people and invade their personal space.

We don’t know that we don’t listen, that we highjack and hog the conversation and always bring it round to us and our achievements.

That’s why we need others who can reprove us and rebuke us. For, in the Bible we see the prophet Nathan saying to David, “You are the man.” You are the culprit. We see Jesus reproving his disciples who were jockeying for the better places in God’s kingdom.

Maybe this all helps us to think of how Jesus did his teaching with his disciples. They read the Bible together. They learned together and this involved rebuke as they spoke the truth in love.

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction

When I was young we used to have the Rawleigh’s Man visit our home every few weeks. Rawleigh’s was a door to door distribution which has now largely been superseded by selling online.

The Rawleigh’s Man would come into your house and open his suitcase full of ointments, vitamins and antiseptics. If you said you had a bout of arthritis he’d sell you his tin of ‘Muscle Rub’. If your mind was often woozy, he’d sell you some spray called ‘Head Clear’.

He was almost like our home visiting doctor and pharmacist all rolled into one. He was so much more than this because he would also show you spices for cooking, aromas for your bath and burner, cleaners for your surfaces and miracle fluids to unblock your drains.

The problem with the Rawleigh’s approach to the Bible is that it is all about me. It’s human centred. It’s problem-centred. This isn’t education. The first words of the Bible are ‘in the beginning God…’. The Bible is God-centred.

That’s why a Bible Reading Plan or a lectionary of readings helps us to come under God’s authority. It enables us to listen. It leads us to pray like Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In this long, slow process our wrongs are corrected.

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

From the comfort of our homes we watch on television a sprinter who runs 100 metres in 10 seconds flat. It’s all over in a flash but behind that moment of glory are years of rigorous training. It’s the part that nobody sees.

Or think of a pianist at a grand piano. Their performance holds us spellbound for 40 minutes. It is absolutely marvellous. But remember the years of practice. It’s the part that nobody else sees.

What is true of performance and athletics and everything else is true in the service of Jesus Christ. To be a worthy and proficient servant of Jesus requires training, discipline and lots of painstaking work.

So what event are you in training for?

Which discipline are you tackling?

There must be thousands of Aussie children who have been inspired in recent days to be champion swimmers like Ariarne Titmus or Mack Horton, and lots of others that have begged their parents to buy them a pole vault or a javelin.

Our text today calls us to be in training for righteousness.

The study of Scripture is absolutely essential as we go for gold in right living.

As we saw last week, the reading of Scripture is not an end in itself. The whole purpose of this reading and training in the Scripture is:

17 so that everyone who belongs to God [That’s you! That’s me!] may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Amen. So, may it be.

Prayer

We thank you loving God, that you have spoken to and that you continue to speak to us.

Help us to be quiet, responsive and eager to listen and to do your word.

You speak to us through our conscience with words that arrest and convictions that make us speak up and act more worthily.

You speak to us through our memories, in which recollections of family and friends and what they have said and done, warm our hearts, sustain our hopes and guide our lives.

You speak to us in our hopes and passions, that save us from living the status quo and fire us up to live purposefully, to follow in Christ’s ways, to have loftier goals for our devotion and more worthy aims for our lives.

You speak to us through the needs of the world. You speak through the poor and those leaving their war-torn countries in search of a welcome and a new start.

You speak to us through your Scriptures. You have breathed upon people with your Spirit and inspired them to write and translate them into the languages of our world. Breathe upon us as we read these same Scriptures. May they inspire us. Help us to treasure your word, to train according to your Scriptures, to desire to be equipped for service and to honour its stories and commands by ensuring that Your word takes on flesh in our lives.

We pray in your name, Amen.

Questions for Personal Reflection and Group Study

  1. 1. How varied is your regular Scriptural diet at the moment and how are you seeking to broaden and enrich your Biblical nutritional intake?
  1. 2. Paul says to Timothy: All scripture is inspired by God and is useful…

Discuss.

Which books of the Bible or which genre (narrative, Gospels, letters etc.) are you more attracted to and which parts do you find the least attractive or useful? Explain and discuss.

  1. 3. A preferred term for the first part of the Bible is ‘Hebrew Bible’ rather than ‘Old Testament’ as it is neutral language when discussing with Jewish people. With Christians, ‘Old’ Testament can convey the idea that this part has been superseded by the ‘New’ Testament. The language is debatable so what do you think? What terms do you think we should use?
  1. 4. There have been blatant attempts by Christian leaders and governments to cut the Hebrew Bible from the Holy Bible. How do you regard and appreciate the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of the teaching of Jesus and the church, as recorded in the ‘New Testament’?
  1. 5. If you were a librarian with oversight of the ‘biblical collection’, which books would you be encouraging people to take out and read? Why?
  1. 6. What are the features of the Hebrew Bible that you appreciate and treasure?
  1. 7. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching…

How do we avoid a Google approach to the Scriptures whereby we cherry pick texts and take them out of context, rather than learning about faith and living from the whole sweep of Scripture?

How might we better provide a solid Christian Education and training in discipleship for people of all ages?

8.All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction

How have you found the Bible has served you as a mirror, pointing up deficiencies, flaws and mistakes?

What conditions are best needed for reproof and correction to take place with one another?

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Any further thoughts that arise for you about this text or specifically about training in righteousness and being equipped for every good work?

Prayer

We seek your blessing, O God, that we might be a blessing to others.

We seek the breath, the prompting and the courage of your Spirit that we might be your people, in the places where we work and play and study this week.

We commit ourselves, with the wealth of Your Word, to training in righteousness so that we may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

AMEN

 

[1] ‘Weetbix’, Wikipedia.

[2] ‘Eat This Book’, Ashburton Baptist Church, 8 April, manuscript and podcast.

[3] Just because we get bored with Bible reading or we find it not exciting are not good reasons to persist. Thomas Merton wrote: “There is, in a word, nothing comfortable about the Bible – until we manage to get so used to it that we make it comfortable for ourselves.... Have we ceased to question the book and be questioned by it? Have we ceased to fight it? And perhaps our rating is no longer serious. For most people, the understanding of the Bible is, and should be, a struggle: not merely to find meanings that can be looked up in books of reference, but to come to terms personally with the stark scandal and contradiction in the Bible itself....Let us not be too sure we know the Bible just because we have learned not to be astonished at it, just because we have learned not to have problems with it. In Thomas Merton, ‘Opening the Bible: With an Introduction by Rob Stone’ (Liturgical Press, 1986), 37. Also quoted by Philip Yancey in ‘The Bible Jesus Read, 4.

[4] This sermon was given on the final day of the Gold Coast, XXI Commonwealth Games, April 4-15 2018.

[5] This view is constantly being debated with different conclusions being reached. See, ‘What is the culturally sensitive way to refer to the Old Testament?’, Massachusetts Bible Society. Also the Hebrew Scriptures varies with the Christian biblical canon in the way of naming the books, numbering or ordering of the books.

[6] Marcion who lived around 144 A.D. rejected the Hebrew Bible. See Marcionism, Wikipedia.

[7] “Once, a government tried to amputate the Old Testament from Christian Scriptures. The Nazis in Germany forbade study of this Jewish book and Old Testament scholarship disappeared from German seminaries and journals. In 1940, at the height of Nazi power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer defiantly published a book on Psalms and got slapped with the fine. In letters of appeal he argued convincingly that he was explicating the prayer book of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus quoted often from the Old Testament, Bonhoeffer noted, and never from any other book – even though the Hebrew Cannon had not been officially closed. Besides, much of the Old Testament explicitly or implicitly points to Jesus.” In ‘The Bible Jesus Read by Philip Yancey, 24 -25.

[8] Philip Yancey, ‘The Bible Jesus Read’, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999, 9. Yancey’s book enriches my next few paragraphs and gives us the sermon title!

[9] Novelist Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend, “I read the book of Job last night – I don’t think God comes well out of it.” In Philip Yancey, ‘The Bible Jesus Read, 51.

[10] Eugene Peterson, recent translator of Psalms, admits that only a minority [of the Psalms] focus on praise and Thanksgiving; perhaps as many as 70% take the form of laments.... I have never conducted a survey but I have a hunch that the average Christian bookstore reverses the proportions: at least 70% of the Books, plaques, and gift items speak to our well-being, while a much smaller percentage speak to our distress. In Philip Yancey, ‘The Bible Jesus Read’, 128.