The Bible: Kindling for Christian Hedonism
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Christian Hedonism is very much aware that every day with Jesus is not "sweeter than the day before." Some days with Jesus our disposition is as sour as raw persimmons. Some days with Jesus we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus fear turns us into a knot of nerve ends. Some days with Jesus we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry. Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before. We know it from experience and we know it from Scripture. For the text says (Psalm 19:7), "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." If every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before, we wouldn't need to be revived.
The Bible Kindles Joy
The reason David praised God with the words, "He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul," is because he had bad days. There were days when his soul needed to be restored. It's the same phrase used in Psalm 19:7—"the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." Normal Christian life is a repeated process of restoration and renewal. Our joy is not static. It fluctuates with real life. It is as vulnerable to Satan's attacks as a Lebanese marine compound to a suicide bomber. When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:24, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy," we should emphasize it this way: "We are workers with you for your joy." The preservation of our joy in God takes work. It is a fight. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, and he has an insatiable appetite to destroy one thing: the joy of faith.
But the Holy Spirit has given us a shield called faith and a sword called the Word of God and a power called prayer to defend and extend our joy. Or, to change the image, when Satan huffs and puffs and tries to blow out the flame of your joy, you have an endless supply of kindling in the Word of God. And even though there are days when we feel that every cinder in our soul is cold, yet if we crawl to the Word of God and cry out for ears to hear, the cold ashes will be lifted and the tiny spark of life will be fanned, because, "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." The Bible is the kindling of Christian Hedonism.
My aim this morning is to motivate you to wear the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and to wield it for the preservation of your joy in God. There are three steps we need to climb together. First, we need to know why we accept the Bible as the word of God. Almost everybody in the world would agree that if the one and true God has spoken, then there will be no lasting happiness for people who ignore his word. But very few people really believe that the Bible is the word of the living God. Nor should they believe it without sufficient reasons. Second, we need to see some encouraging examples of how the Bible kindles and preserves our joy. Finally, we need to hear a practical challenge to renew our daily meditation in the Word of God, and to bind that sword so close around our waist that we are never without it.
Jesus—The Foundation for Confidence in the Bible
1) In the limitations of time that we have, perhaps the best way to take the first step is for me to commend to you why I accept the Bible as the word of God. The foundation of my confidence is Jesus Christ. You don't need to believe first that the Bible is infallible in order to know that it presents you with a historical person of incomparable qualities. The possibility that the historical Jesus was a con artist or a lunatic is to me so remote that I am drawn to confess that he is true. His claims are not the propaganda of a deceiver or the presumption of a schizophrenic. He speaks with authority, forgives sin, heals the sick, casts out demons, penetrates the hearts of his opponents, loves his enemies, dies for sinners, and leaves behind an empty grave, not because he pulled the wool over the eyes of the world but because he is the ever-living Son of God who came to save the world. He has won my trust through his words and deeds.
From Jesus I move backward to the Old Testament and forward to the New Testament. All four gospels present different evidence that Jesus considered the Old Testament to be the word of God. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says he came not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets, and in Matthew 22:29 he says that the Sadducees err because they don't know the Scriptures. In Mark 7:8–9 Jesus contrasts man-made traditions with the commandment of God in the Old Testament. In Luke 24:44 he tells the disciples that everything written about him in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled. And in John 10:35 he said simply, "Scripture cannot be broken." Therefore, I read the Old Testament as the word of God because Jesus did.
Six Observations on the New Testament as God's Word
But Jesus did not stay on earth to endorse the New Testament. My confidence in the New Testament as God's word rests on a group of observations which taken together provide a reasonable ground of confidence.
1) Jesus chose twelve apostles to be his authoritative representatives in founding the church. He promised them at the end of his life, "The Holy Spirit . . . will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said" (John 14:26; 16:13).
2) Then the apostle Paul, whose stunning conversion from a life of murdering Christians to making Christians demands some special explanation, explains that he (and the other apostles) have been commissioned by the risen Christ to preach "in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:13). Christ's prediction is being fulfilled through this inspiration.
3) Peter confirms this in 2 Peter 3:16 by putting Paul's writings in the same category with the inspired (2 Peter 1:21) Old Testament writings.
4) All the New Testament writings come from those earliest days of promised special revelation and were written by the apostles and their close associates.
5) The message of these books has the ring of truth because it makes sense out of so much reality. The message of God's holiness and our guilt on the one hand, and Christ's death and resurrection as our only hope on the other hand—that message fits the reality we see and the hope we long for and don't see.
6) Finally, as the Baptist Catechism says, "The Bible evidences itself to be God's word by . . . its power to convert sinners and edify saints."
For these reasons, when I read the Old and New Testaments, I read them as the word of God. God is not silent in my life. He is uncomfortably vocal and precise about all kinds of things. I count it as a singular act of grace on his part that he has appointed for me that my life work is to understand his word and teach his church. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. Which means that the things said about the word of God in the Bible apply to the Bible. And I have been simply overwhelmed in preparing for this message by how much the Bible has to say about the value of the word of God. What a treasure we have in the very words of God! "More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10).
The Word of God Is Your Life
2) That leads us to the second step this morning, namely, some examples of how the Bible has so much value for us. Why is a life of meditation on Holy Scripture a life of joy? Most of the specifics I want to give you may soon be forgotten, but I hope the total impact of the Bible's value will make you want to read it more regularly, more deeply, and more joyfully. Consider these benefits.
In Deuteronomy 32:46–47 Moses says, "Lay to heart all the words which I enjoin upon you this day, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no trifle for you, but it is your life." The Bible is not a trifle; it is a matter of life and death. If you treat the Word of God as a trifle, you forfeit life. Our physical life depends on God's Word because by his word we were created (Psalm 33:9; Hebrews 11:3), and "he upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). Our spiritual life begins by the Word of God: James 1:18, "By his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth." "You have been born anew . . . through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). And not only do we begin to live by God's Word, we go on living by God's Word: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). Our physical life is created and upheld by the word of God, and our personal-spiritual life is born anew and lived by the word of God. Therefore, the Bible is "no trifle for you, it is your life!"
The Word of God Begets Faith and Hope
The Word of Christ begets and sustains life because it begets and sustains faith. "These things are written," John says, "that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). "Faith comes by hearing," writes the apostle Paul, "and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). The faith that starts our life in Christ and the faith by which we go on living come from hearing the Word of God. If faith is of eternal importance for your daily life, so is the Bible.
Sometimes faith and hope are virtually synonyms in Scripture. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1). Without this hope for the future we get discouraged and depressed and our joy drains away. Hope is absolutely essential to Christian joy (Romans 15:13). And how do we maintain hope? The psalmist puts it like this (78:5–7), "He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children . . . so that they might set their hope in God." Paul puts it so plainly: "Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4). The whole Bible has this aim and this power: to create hope in the hearts of God's people.
The Word of God Sets Free and Provides Wisdom
Another essential element of life is freedom. None of us would be happy if we were not free from what we hate and free for what we love. And where do we find true freedom? Psalm 119:45 says, "I shall walk in freedom, for I sought thy precepts." And Jesus says, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). And lest we miss the point, he says later in John 17:17, "Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth." The word of God is divine truth that frees us from deception. It breaks the power of counterfeit pleasures, and keeps us free from stumbling into the stupidity of sin. "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). "I have laid up thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee" (Psalm 119:11; cf. v. 9). The promises of God are the liberating, guiding power of godliness: "Through his precious and very great promises you escape from the corruption that is in the world . . . and become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4; cf. John 15:3). Freedom, guidance, likeness to God—all these come to us as we meditate upon and trust the Word of God, the Bible.
Of course, the Bible does not answer every question about life. Every fork in the road does not have a biblical arrow. We have need of wisdom in ourselves. But that, too, is a gift of Scripture. As the text says, "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple . . . the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Psalm 19:7–8; cf. 119:98). People whose minds are saturated with God's Word and submissive to his thoughts have a wisdom that eternity will prove to be superior to all the secular wisdom in the world.
The Word of God Restores and Comforts
Nevertheless, our bent will and imperfect perceptions lead us time and again into foolish acts and harmful situations. That day is not sweeter than the day before, and we need restoration and comfort. Where can we turn for comfort? We can follow the psalmist again: "This is my comfort in my affliction, that thy promise gives me life . . . When I think of thy ordinances from of old, I take comfort, O Lord" (Psalm 119:50, 52). And when our failures and our afflictions threaten our assurance of faith, where do we turn to rebuild our confidence? John invites us to turn to the Word of God: "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). The Bible is written to give us assurance of eternal life.
Satan's number one objective is to destroy your joy of faith. You have one offensive weapon: the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). But what many Christians fail to realize is that you can't draw the sword from someone else's scabbard. If you don't wear it, if the Word of God does not abide in you (John 15:7), you will reach for it in vain. If you don't wear it, you can't wield it. But if you do, what a mighty warrior you will be! "I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one" (1 John 2:14).
Devote Yourselves to the Word of God
3) So the Bible is the Word of God, and the Word of God is no trifle. It is the source of life and faith and hope and freedom and guidance and wisdom and comfort and assurance and victory over our greatest enemy. Is it any wonder, then, that those who knew best said, "The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart" (Psalm 19:8)? "I will delight in thy statutes, I will not forget thy word" (Psalm 119:16). "Oh, how I love thy law, it is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). "Thy testimonies are my heritage for ever, yea, they are the joy of my heart" (Psalm 119:111). "Thy words were found, and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by thy name" (Jeremiah 15:16). But are we to pursue this joy like Christian Hedonists? Are we to throw the kindling of God's Word on the fire of joy? Are we to pursue our holy pleasure by meditating on the Word of Christ? Indeed, we are. For the Lord himself has said, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full" (John 15:11).
On this Reformation Sunday I beseech you not to let the blood of the martyrs be spilled in vain. Don't let the labors of Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Zwingli be spent out in vain. God raised them up to free the Holy Scriptures for us. We despise God and insult his saints if we treat the Bible as a trifle in our lives. Martin Luther knew as well as any man who ever lived that every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before. And according to Roland Bainton, he wrote these words in the year of his deepest depression:
And though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him—
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure:
One little word shall fell him.
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