But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Today, at the end of prayer week, we focus on the preciousness and power of the Word of God, the Bible. I will call you today to love the Word of God and meditate on it every day this year and memorize it systematically.
There are at least five reasons we link prayer and Scripture each year during prayer week.
- Much of the Bible is prayer (most of the Psalms, etc.).
- The Bible is full of commands and encouragements for us to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- We are told to pray according to the will of God (1 John 5:14 ), and the Bible is the revealed will of God.
- The Word of God cannot be truly desired (Psalm 119:36) or spiritually comprehended (Psalm 119:18) or savingly spoken (2 Thessalonians 3:1) without the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we ask for by prayer.
- Being saturated with the Word of God produces an effective prayer life: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you , ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
So we link prayer and the Word at the beginning of each year in prayer week.
The Introduction of a New Bible Translation: The ESV
What's unique about this year is that we are introducing a new Bible translation, the English Standard Version. On June 3 the Council of Elders unanimously approved the following motion:
That we make the English Standard Version the preaching Bible of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and that we change our pew Bibles to the ESV when funds are available, and that we create fighter verse material based on the ESV.
As of this Sunday that is all done. What remains is to say why and then turn to the text for an encouragement to give ourselves to the Word this year. The full rationale that I presented to the Elders last June is online for you to read at www.DesiringGod.org. So I will be very brief here on this issue. But here to set the stage, here is the first paragraph of the paper:
I love the Bible the way I love my eyes—not because my eyes are lovely, but because without them I can't see what's lovely. Without the Bible I could not see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Without the Bible I could not know “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Without the Bible I would not know that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior. I love the Bible because it gives the wisdom that leads to salvation, and shows me that this salvation is nothing less than seeing and savoring the glory of Christ forever, and then provides for me inexhaustible ways of seeing and knowing and enjoying Christ.
The privilege of having God's Word in our own language is of incalculable worth. I would rather have you read any translation of the Bible—no matter how weak—than to have you read no translation of the Bible. If there could be only one translation in English, I would rather it be my least favorite than that there be none. God uses every version to bless people and save people.
Here is the problem we have had for almost thirty years in the English speaking world. The New International Version has become the most popular modern translation of the Bible in the Evangelical Church . But the NIV is very much of a paraphrase rather than a more literal translation. When I first read it in 1975 I knew I could never teach or preach from it, because of how much interpretation it does that I think the reader should do, not the translator. I will illustrate in a moment.
There have been two main alternatives to the NIV. One is the King James Version, which was translated into 17 th century English and not suitable as a translation into contemporary English. The other is the New American Standard Bible, which we have used in this church for some 20 years. The problem with the NASB is that, while being quite literal, it is not as readable as it might be. In other words, we were forced for 30 years to choose between the more readable, but less literal, NIV and the less readable, but more literal, NASB.
We are no longer limited to those two choices. The English Standard Version was published two years ago and is far more literal than the NIV and far more readable than the NASB. Not only is it a better balance, in my judgment, of literalness and readability, but it has the advantage of being in the lineage of the King James Version. Here's what I mean by lineage. The King James Version was published in 1611. A revision was published in 1901 called the American Standard Version. Then in 1952 the King James Version and the American Standard Version were revised and published as the Revised Standard Version. It was a good translation, but with a few liberal theological biases and some free-wheeling speculation in certain Old Testament poetry.
This version went out of print and was replaced in 1989 by the New Revised Standard Version. For most Evangelicals the NRSV was so lopsided in its handling of gender issues it never became a common version.
I am deeply thankful to God that Crossway Books made the decision to call for a preservation of the King James lineage by publishing a light revision of the Revised Standard Version. That is what the ESV is. Here you will find the cadences and much of the wording that you may have absorbed from the King James even without reading the King James—just because its impact on our culture for almost 500 years has been enormous.
Why the ESV Instead of the NIV?
The key practical question that should be asked is: Why not the NIV? So many people use it. Children have been raised on it. Why encourage people to change? Please know, that is all we are doing: encouraging. We do not require anyone to change in the Bible you use for your own personal reading and meditation and memorization. We hope that we can persuade you to move over to the ESV and that over the next several years there can be enough unity in this move as a church that we can do congregational recitations and readings right from our own Bible.
So why is the ESV better for us than the NIV? Now let me say again that the NIV is the precious Word of God. Oh, how careful we must be not to belittle the Word of God. And yet we must not put any human translation above criticism. God has used the NIV to bring millions of people to faith in Christ over the last 40 years. But its essential weakness is that the translators do for the reader what they should be allowed to do for themselves—they go well beyond necessary interpretation that is always involved in translation, and make decisions for the reader that good English does not require. Far too often the NIV replaces the ambiguity of the original with the decision of the translator, not because good English demands it, but because the philosophy of translation favors translator-clarity over apostolic-ambiguity. In all the following cases the ESV keeps the more literal translation and the NIV gives the interpretation of the translator instead of the ambiguity of the original.
Romans 1:5 ( hupakoen pisteos )
ESV the obedience of faith
NIV the obedience that comes from faith
Romans 3:20 ( ex ergon nomou )
ESV By works of the law
NIV by observing the law
Romans 13:8 ( medeni meden opheilete )
ESV Owe no one anything
NIV Let no debt remain outstanding
Hebrews 6:1 ( nekron ergon )
ESV dead works
NIV acts that lead to death
James 2:12 ( nomou eleutherias )
ESV the law of liberty
NIV the law that gives freedom
John 11:6 ( hos oun ekousen ) This is not an ambiguity removed. It is a meaning reversed, perhaps because the translation could not see what meaning “therefore” could have.
ESV So, when he heard
NIV Yet when he heard
Romans 8:35-36 ( thanatoumetha holen ten hemeran ) Again this is not a removal of ambiguity but a softening of the original. But the effect is to play into the hands of those who might argue: Christians only “face death” in persecution and calamity. They can be spared if they have enough faith. But the text says, “We are being killed.”
ESV we are being killed all the day long.
NIV we face death all day long.
Well, I am deeply thankful that the ESV exists. I pray that it will become the primary reading, preaching, teaching, memorizing Bible version of the English speaking world. It would be a wonderful thing if there could be glad-hearted common usage in local churches so that almost everyone is using the same Bible. Whether that happens will be finally God's doing, not ours.
There are hundreds of them available to you, and the fighter verse packs are now available in NIV and ESV. I hope you will consider the ESV for your family and for yourself.
2 Timothy 3:14—4:4
Now let's turn to 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4. My aim is to take a few minutes and stir you up to love the Word of God more, and to set your face firmly to read it and meditate on it and to memorize it this year.
There is so much that we could benefit from in this text. We could talk about the enormous seriousness of preaching the word (4:1-2). Or we could talk about the dangers of preaching to please the itching ears of unspiritual people (4:3-4). Or we could talk about the amazing wonder and blessing that all Scripture is “breathed out by God” (3:16). But I want to focus in closing on one thing: the wonderfully sufficient power of the Word of God to equip us for every good work. Verses 16-17:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work .
How Does the Bible Equip Us for Every Good Work?
That is a remarkable phrase: “every good work”! Everything good that God expects us to do, the Scriptures equip us to do. That is an amazing claim. How does it work? How does the Bible equip us for “every good work”?
It's not by supplying specific lists that cover all possible situations. Thinking that way would be a mistake in two ways. It would be a mistake because there are hundreds of specific situations we are in that the Bible does not specifically address. There were no TVs, computers, cars, phones, birth control pills, Prozac, genetic engineering, respirators, bullets, bombs in Jesus' day. The Bible does not equip us for every good deed by telling us the specific choice to make for every new situation.
The other reason it would be a mistake to think that way is that it leads straight to legalism—doing things because of outward conformity to a demand in the hope that performance will win approval. That is not Christian morality. Good works are done from a heart that treasures God and his help and from a heart that loves to display the glory of Christ, else the “good works” are not good, no matter how they conform to external expectations.
Here are two key verses to show this. Romans 14:23, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” And Romans 7:4, “My brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Bearing fruit in “every good work” (see Colossians 1:10 ) means that it comes out on the branches of your life naturally from something that has changed inside. And what has changed is that you are dead to the law as a set of lists to constrain from the outside, and are now united to Jesus Christ in a relationship of joyful trust so that when he speaks—even speaks some of that same law—it comes from within as the desire of your heart.
So here's my answer to how the Scripture equips us for “every good work.” The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.
An Illustration from George Mueller
I close with an illustration of this from George Mueller, who lived over 100 years ago in England and was famous for caring for thousands of orphans and seeing God answer his daily prayers for their provision. He gave this message when he was 59 at a New Year's service. It is a powerful call to be in the Word of God every day.
We have, through the goodness of the Lord, been permitted to enter upon another year—and the minds of many among us will no doubt be occupied with plans for the future, and the various fears of our work and service for the Lord. If our lives are spared we shall be engaged in those: the welfare of our families, the prosperity of our business, our work and service for Christ may be considered the most important matters to be attended to; but according to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord's work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. This has been my firm and settled condition for the last five and thirty years. For the first four years after my conversion I knew not its vast importance, but now after much experience I specially commend this point to the notice of my younger brethren and sisters in Christ: the secret of all true effectual service is joy in God, having experimental acquaintance and fellowship with God Himself.
But in what way shall we attain to this settled happiness of soul? How shall we learn to enjoy God? How shall we obtain such an all-sufficient soul-satisfying portion in him as shall enable us to let go the things of this world as vain and worthless in comparison? I answer, This happiness is to be obtained through the study of the Holy Scriptures. God has therein revealed Himself unto us in the face of Jesus Christ.
In the Scriptures, by the power of the Holy Ghost, He makes Himself known unto our souls. . . . [Therefore] The very earliest portion of the day we can command should be devoted to the meditation on Scriptures. Our souls should feed upon the Word. . . . This intimate experimental acquaintance with Him will make us truly happy. Nothing else will. . . . In God our Father, and the blessed Jesus, our souls have a rich, divine, imperishable, eternal treasure. Let us enter into practical possession of these true riches; yea, let the remaining days of our earthily pilgrimage be spent in an ever increasing, devoted, earnest consecration of our souls to God. (George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord's Dealings with George Mueller, Written by Himself [Muskegon, Mich.: Dust and Ashes Publications, 2003], pp. 730-732)
Amen. May 2004 be a year of faithful reading and meditation and memorization of the Word of God. And may we find our souls happy in God. And may we be freed from the selfish impulses of the world and live lives of radical, sacrificial love.