Please read John 5:36-40 & 2 Timothy 2:14-19 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.
In a Dec. 16, 2018 article in The Jerusalem Post, Yafit Ovadia reported that a digitized time capsule will be on board an unmanned spacecraft when it is launched to the Moon this spring. The time capsule will contain Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a traveler’s prayer “Tefilat Haderech,” the Bible, the Israeli flag, maps of the State of Israel, the national anthem, a photograph of Ilan Ramon (Israel’s pioneer astronaut who died on the Space Shuttle Columbia), and pictures drawn by Israeli children. The spacecraft will be carried by into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, making Israel the fourth country after the US, the USSR and China to attempt a lunar landing mission.
Israel will spend $95 million to put the unmanned lander on the moon, which is a bargain compared to NASA’s Apollo 11, which cost the US close to $9.9 billion in 1969. 80% of the funding was raised from private donors.
I hope and pray the project is successful so afterwards I can say, “They can put a Bible on the moon; you can open one and read it!” There’s a great potential for sermons and exhortations to get people into t word of God!
Before we get started, let me clarify one thing. We refer to Jesus as the Word of God (capital “W”) because He is the personal revelation of God to us. In Jesus’ words & deeds we learn all we need to know to b saved.
We refer to the Bible as the word of God (small case “w”) to distinguish the specific revelation of God, the words on the page. It may be a little confusing otherwise. So I hope you can follow this: we must have the Word of God in our heart before we can truly understand and use the word of God. A life-changing study of the Bible begins with a life that has already been changed by Jesus.
BIBLE or “BALONEY?”
(Which of the statements below are actually found in the Bible and which originate elsewhere?)
- “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
- “To the woman he said, ‘Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
- “I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by.”
- “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.”
- “Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.”
- “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.”
- “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
- “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.”
- “A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.”
Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.
- We don’t study the Bible to earn salvation (John 5:36-40).
CONTEXT: These verses are part of Jesus’ rebuke of JEWS who faulted Him for working a miracle on the Sabbath, as is spelled out in verse sixteen; SO, BECAUSE JESUS WAS DOING THESE THINGS ON THE SABBATH, THE JEWS PERSECUTED HIM. In this portion of His reply Jesus revealed who He really was, attempting to persuade them that He had the authority to act in ways their version of the Law prohibited. (Maybe you could say He pulled rank on them!) He attempted to show them that He was their Messiah, the one whose coming had been foretold in the Scriptures they studied. Toward the end he concluded, “YOU DON’T BELIEVE T ONE HE SENT” (v. 38).
COMMENT: Studying the Scriptures will not, by itself, make anyone right with God.
In verses 36-40 Jesus appealed to the witness of Scripture because they held the Scripture in high regard. However, the problem was they had misused the Scriptures to justify their prejudice and excuse their sin. They were good students in the sense that they DILIGENTLY studied God’s word. Jesus gave them that compliment. Unfortunately, they approached the Scriptures with a closed mind and a bad motive: “YOU THINK THAT BY THEM YOU POSSESS ETERNAL LIFE.” In other words, they sought to master the word of God intellectually and morally and thereby earn or deserve eternal life. They sought to provide for themselves a place in heaven.
This thinking is identified in one of their own authoritative writings, “The Sayings of the Fathers.” Here are two examples:
“He who has acquired the words of the Law has acquired for himself life in the world to come.” (2:8)
“Great is the law for it gives to those who practice it life in this world and in the world to come.” (6:7)
The end result was self-condemnation. Jesus said, “THESE ARE THE SCRIPTURES THAT TESTIFY ABOUT ME, YET YOU REFUSE TO COME TO ME TO HAVE LIFE” (vs. 39-40). We’d like to think this sort of thing never happens in the Church, but it does. People can study the Book without ever knowing the Author. Of course, they will never get it right and will not enter heaven, but they may gain enough proficiency to fool themselves and/or fool others. People search the bible for evidence supporting their theology, when the process is supposed to work the opposite way.
William Barclay warned, “[The Jewish religious leaders] did not humbly learn a theology from scripture; they used scripture to defend a theology which they themselves had produced. There is still a danger we should use the Bible to prove our beliefs and not to test them.”
- We study the Bible to show we’ve received salvation (2 Timothy 2:14-19).
CONTEXT: Because he was a pastor, Paul challenged Timothy to hold himself to a higher standard, including biblical literacy. Timothy’s best defense against false teachers, busybodies and other trouble-makers in the church is to know God’s word and hold fast to it.
COMMENT: Every follower of Jesus needs to increase their understanding and use of the Bible. There is no other way except to study it.
Paul wrote that Timothy was to PRESENT himself to the church as a leader who met three important qualifications.
APPROVED. The word literally meant “has passed the test.” It was used to refer to building materials that were inspected and worthy: it was a metal object refined by fire, a stone cut to the mason’s specifications.
WHO DOES NOT NEED TO BE ASHAMED. Like the materials he uses, the builder’s craftsmanship is also evaluated and deemed worthy.
WHO CORRECTLY HANDLES THE WORD OF TRUTH. The phrase CORRECTLY HANDLES pictures a farmer handling a plow, making a straight furrow or a builder whose wall is plumb or road straight. This is a WORKMAN who faithfully studies the word of God in order to understand it truthfully, apply it rightly, and teach it in a way that makes genuine disciples of Jesus.
What is the difference between Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s? Only a difference of focus; both talk about diligent study of the word. Jesus approved only one use of the Bible; to receive salvation, not to create it. He condemned self-righteousness. Paul called Pastor Timothy to handle Scripture with extra care. Timothy would not earn salvation by taking this care, but he would show others how to be saved by teaching Scripture in this way. Taken together, these teachings commend the diligent study of God’s word, but only if you first know who Jesus Christ are and have accepted His gracious salvation by faith.
Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.
Though many of the Jewish religious leaders were excellent students of the Bible (most of them had memorized the Old Testament in its entirety!), Jesus condemned their failure to see the truth. In order to know the truth, we must become more familiar with what God has revealed through daily study and practice. To illustrate that fact, I now offer you the answers to the “Bible vs. Baloney” quiz. Number one is a quote from Benjamin Franklin and number five is a quote attributed to Buddha. If anyone says they can be found in the Bible, they’re feeding you baloney. How did you do?
Doubt is not the great enemy of faith; self-sufficiency or self-righteousness is. People who have doubts are testing their faith. They possess at least the humility to confess they don’t have all the answers and are working to try to better understand.
People who think they have it figured out are self-deceived. They know the words and actions that give an appearance of godliness, but because they have sought to achieve it on their own, they do not have life in Christ.
Because salvation is by grace, no self-reliant person will ever have it. Being proud of one’s big brain or big heart prohibits a person from putting their trust in Christ. William Barclay commented on this passage, “The function of the Bible is not to give life, but to point us to the One who can.”
Our attitude needs to be the same as the Apostle Peter. On an occasion when many of His followers left Him, Jesus asked the twelve if they’d be leaving too. Peter’s reply is instructive; he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?”
Peter’s reply shows us two things we need to practice:
One; refuse to compromise on the word of God. One of the core doctrines of our faith is that the Bible is the revelation of God. We don’t have to argue with people who think they know better, but we must stubbornly insist on the Bible as the authoritative rule of faith and practice.
Two; refuse to quit on the Word of God capital “W,” Jesus Christ. He is the single source of eternal life. That is an unpopular notion among people who have self-made religion but not Christianity. Again, we don’t have to argue with anybody but we must not surrender this truth.
I realize not everyone is “bookish,” but there is no substitute for studying and applying God’s word to realize spiritual maturity.
The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay
The Zondervan Bible Commentary