(A sermon based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9 & John 5:39-40 for Sunday, February 14, 2010; it is the third in a series called "The Way Forward.")
We are talking about the way forward for First Baptist Church; we have said that the way forward involves an intentional and determined focus on worshiping God, on following Jesus, and on being formed by Scripture. I put the worship of God first in the list because everything that we are and everything that we do is based on the one basic fact that God is worthy of our praise and devotion. I put following Jesus next because Jesus is our Lord and so everything about our lives is a part of our following of him.
Today we turn to the third item of this vision for our church: we want to focus on being formed by Scripture. As I have said in the two previous sermons, all three components of the vision go together; we want to be formed by Scripture because it is inspired by the God whom we worship and because it teaches us how to follow Jesus.
What does it mean to be formed by Scripture?
To be formed by Scripture is to be immersed in it.
To be formed by Scripture means more than to read it; it means to immerse our lives in it.
In the Deuteronomy text, Moses said to the people of Israel about the Lord’s commandments, “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” In other words, they were to saturate their lives with the content of God’s word.
So are we. We want to read and to study the Bible so as to have our lives covered up in it because in it we will find God’s way for us. We want to read it lovingly and longingly and slowly and hungrily.
Eugene Peterson has written of his dog that would go out into woods near their Montana home and bring back a large deer bone. Peterson told of how the dog would, after parading around with the bone a while, retreat to a spot where he could savor the bone. “He gnawed the bone, turned it over and around, licked it, worried it. Sometimes we could hear a low rumble or growl…. He was obviously enjoying himself and in no hurry. After a leisurely couple of hours he would bury it and return the next day to take it up again” [Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), p. 1]. That is how, Peterson says, we are to read the Bible—slowly and with great savor, soaking it up and taking it in with great reverence and respect for the way it can change our lives.
Because you see, as we take in the Bible we are taken into the Bible and we are thereby drawn into the world and the life that God intends for us.
To be formed by Scripture is to know God through it.
Because today is Valentine’s Day I know you will indulge my using my relationship with Debra as an illustration. I met Debra in the fall of 1976. I could have set about learning all that I could about her. With a little work I could have learned that she was born on February 15, that she was the youngest of six children, that her father was Dick and her mother was Kathleen, that she was born in Colquitt, Georgia and raised in Leary, that she graduated from Calhoun County High School, that she was 5 feet 1 ½ inches tall, and that her dog was named Punkin. I could have learned so much about her that I could have a really intelligent conversation with you about her. But that was not my goal. My goal was not to know about her; my goal was to know her. As I came to know her better I learned more about her; as I learned more about her I grew in my knowledge of her. What has made the difference is the relationship; that it is an informed relationship makes it all the better.
I am a believer in education and that includes education at church and in the Bible; I believe that we do not check our brains at the door of the church house but that we rather give our brains over to the service of God. It is not possible to learn too much about the Bible. But hear me clearly: the goal of our Bible reading is not to know a lot about the Bible or even to know a lot of what the Bible says, as important as that is; rather, our goal is to know God through the Bible. As the old hymn says, “Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee, Lord.”
We want to know God and the Bible is God’s written revelation to us; therefore, we study and meditate over and savor and submit to the Bible so that we can know God through it. The goal of our study of the Bible is to find God and thereby to find life.
To be formed by Scripture is to become like Jesus by it.
When we lovingly and deeply submit ourselves to Scripture, we will be changed because it will form us in the likeness of Christ which is the goal of our lives as Christians.
My mentor Dr. Howard Giddens repeated this story in a sermon about the Bible:
One day in London an atheist sought to make sport of an unlettered man who had been converted only a few years before. “Do you know anything about Jesus Christ?” he asked. “Yes, by the grace of God, I do,” was the answer. “When was he born?” was the next question. The ignorant saint gave an incorrect answer. “How old was he when he died?” Again the answer was incorrect. Other questions were asked with the same result until the atheist said with a sneer: “See, you do not know so much about Jesus as you thought, do you?” “I know all too little,” was the modest answer, “but I know this: three years ago I was one of the worst drunkards in the East End of London. Three years ago my wife was a brokenhearted woman and my children were as afraid of me as if I had been a wild beast. Today I have one of the happiest homes in London and when I come home at the close of the day my wife and children are glad to see me. Jesus Christ has done this for me. This I know.”
Submissive and devoted and reverent attention to the Scripture will change us because it will help us to become more and more like Jesus—more and more loving, more and more gracious, more and more forgiving, more and more gentle, more and more service-oriented, and more and more sacrificial. The God that we meet and the Jesus that we learn to follow through the Bible will do this for us.
This I know.