What’s the Big Deal? about the Bible

Below is the text from Sunday’s sermon, What’s the Big Deal? about the Bible.

Audio should be posted later this week.

What’s the Big Deal?
about the Bible
2 Timothy 3:16 & 17
Matt Todd

If you asked him, Sam wouldn’t say he was a very religious kind of guy. He believed in God, but that was about it. But now he found his life at a crossroads. He had some very major decisions to make – decisions that could have repercussions for the rest of his life. As he sat and contemplated what he should do, he noticed a Bible sitting on his shelf and decided that he should look there for answers. So, he picked it up and dusted it off.

Hoping to find a message from God, Sam opened his Bible to a random page. Then he closed his eyes and pointed to a particular spot on the page. He opened his eyes, hoping to discover his answer.

His finger was pointing at Matthew 27:5, which said, “…then he went away and hanged himself.”

Well, that can’t be right, Sam said to himself. He decided he should try again. Maybe he wasn’t doing this whole Bible-reading thing right. So he closed his eyes again and held it close to his heart. He decided he should say something – maybe a chant or something like that. So he began to repeat, “Show me the answer. Show me the answer. Show me the answer.” After a few moments of sincerely hoping for an answer, he opened his Bible again and pointed at a random spot on the page.

His finger landed on Luke 10:37b, which says, “Go and do likewise.” J

Sam had practiced a technique that is not uncommon in Christian circles. I must admit that I had done such a thing once or twice in my younger years. It’s common enough that it even has its own term. It’s known as Scripture Roulette: You never know what you’re going to get.

This practice shows the attitude have when they approach the Scriptures. They approach the Bible like it’s some kind of magic book full of incantations and spells that are there to get you through a tough spot in your life.

Now, I do agree that the Scriptures are full of a life-giving message and that message can help us continue to live faithfully during the difficult times of life. But that’s not its only purpose. And I think most of us in this room acknowledge that. But many times our practice when it comes to the Bible isn’t much different from Scripture Roulette.

If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to 2 Timothy chapter 3. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. 2 Timothy 3 is found on page 1039 in those red Bibles. 1 & 2 Timothy comes after the letters to the Thessalonians and before Titus and Philemon. It’s found towards the back of the New Testament.

Last week, we kicked off a new series called What’s the Big Deal? Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some common questions that people ask both within Christianity and about Christianity. We started, of course, by asking “What’s the Big Deal about Easter?” We’ll also be answering questions like, What’s the Big Deal about the Church? What’s the Big Deal about Heaven? What’s the Big Deal about Adoption? And this morning, we’re answering the question, “What’s the big deal about the Bible?”

So what is the big deal about the Bible? Why should we place such an emphasis of it on our lives?

It’s much more than a book of magic spells. It’s much more than a collection of ancient stories and laws. It’s the story of God and His relationship with His most prized creation: you, me, and all of humanity. So when we look at the story of God’s work throughout history, we discover how God can be at work today, too. Through the Bible, we can discover God’s mission and become active participants in that mission.

The best explanation of what the big deal about the Bible is can be found in one short verse in Paul’s second letter to Timothy.

Read 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17

Paul tells us that Scripture is God-breathed. That doesn’t necessarily mean what people initially think. The Bible wasn’t somehow miraculously delivered down from Heaven in its present form.

The Bible was written over a span of 1,500 years by more than 40 writers. God inspired kings and poets, prophets and shepherds. They wrote in the plush setting of a palace, while others etched their words during an island in exile. Some wrote out of the agony of personal tragedy, while others wrote in the ecstasy of a mountaintop experience. Written in three different languages on three different continents, there is no other book like the Bible. Despite the fact that it touches on thousands of complex subjects and controversial topics, it possesses a supernatural harmony from beginning to end. And it is relevant to every person on the planet.[1]

The Holy Spirit used men of God to write the Word of God. He did not erase the natural characteristics of the writers. In fact, God in His providence prepared the writers for the task of writing the Scriptures. Each writer has his own distinctive style and vocabulary. Each book of the Bible grew out of a special circumstances. In His preparation of His people, in His guiding of history, and in His working through the Spirit, God brought about the Scriptures.[2]

This, of course, leads us to the question, “Why are there so many different translations?” If the Bible is God’s message to us, why are there so many different versions of it?

There’s a very easy simple answer to this. I’d like to see by a raising of hands how many people are fluent in ancient Greek, ancient Hebrew, and Aramaic? No one? Really?

Of course not! If we’re lucky, you might be fluent in one or two different languages other than English. If you’re like me, you’ve taken three different foreign languages and they get so mixed up when you’re trying to speak that it all comes out in gibberish. Paul tells Timothy that all of Scripture is profitable and useful. In order for it to remain useful for us, we have to be able to understand it. In order for that to happen, it has to be made available in the language that we speak because we don’t speak the languages in which the Bible was originally written.

And there’s two schools of thought on how to translate the Scriptures into English, or any other language. As Dr. Hull, my Greek professor in seminary, used to say, “All language leaks.” What he means by that is there is no one to one correspondence between words in different languages. Tenses and sentence structure and all kinds of other variables change from language to language. This leads the translator to make an important decision. Do you try to make a literal, word by word translation the best as you can while possibly missing the meaning of the actual phrase? Or do you do a paraphrase, emphasizing the message and meaning of a word or verse without worrying so much about a literal, one-to-one correspondence?

So that’s why there’s a plethora of translations out there. Each translating group was trying to do their best to communicate the meaning of the writers of these books.  On one end of the spectrum, you have the New American Standard and the New Revised Standard translations. They do their best to make a literal, one-on-one translation from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, into English. And for the most part, they do a good job. The New American Standard is one of the best-known translations of the New Testament in the more literal realm. And the New Revised Standard Version does a very good job on the Old Testament. The problem is the language is sometimes bulky and difficult to read in English.

On the other side of the spectrum are the paraphrases, like the New Living Translation and the Message. They communicate concepts and ideas in very easy to understand ways. Of course, in the effort to communicate the meanings, some of the deeper concepts are lost in a paraphrase.

Neither approach is inherently better than the other one. In case you’re interested, for sermon preparation, I use the New International Version for two reasons: 1) it’s an attempt to bridge the gap between the literal and the paraphrase and it does a fairly decent job in its readability; and 2) it’s the translation I grew up with. So when I remember parts of a verse but not the whole thing, it’s much easier to find it in the NIV. I’m sure some of you have found that to be true with other translations, especially the King James Version.

There’s no official translation used here at Cowan Christian Church, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page, when I read from the Scripture during the sermon, I use the Revised Standard Version, which is these red Bibles. Because, as some of you may know, trying to follow a literal translation when you have a paraphrased can be difficult.

Scripture is like a mirror. We hold it up to ourselves and it shows us who we are, warts and all. But it doesn’t stop there. God uses the message contained in the Scripture to challenge us and to change us into the people we could be – the people God has called us to be. And so we need to continue to dig into the Scriptures and allow it to become a part of us. We cannot simply play Scripture Roulette and hope that everything is going to turn out OK. While God might use that method to communicate to us from time to time, it’s much more common for Him to speak to us while we’re interacting with His message to us on a regular basis. Only then is it useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Do you remember the trend a few years ago where students would wear these bracelets with the initials WWJD? on them? It was a great concept. Any time you might be in a compromising situation or react to something or need to make a decision, that bracelet was supposed to remind you to ask what Jesus would do. There was a disturbing trend that emerged, however. People would just assume that Jesus would do whatever they wanted to do and it would justify their response – even if it was truly a sinful response. The purpose of the bracelets was to remind students to get into the Scriptures and find out how, exactly, Jesus would respond in certain situations. And then to follow His example.

A few years into the WWJD? craze, I received a bracelet in the mail. It had these initials: HCYAWJWDIYDKWHD?

Anyone wanna take a guess at what that means?

How can you ask what Jesus would do if you don’t know what he did?

The message of the bracelet, although difficult to understand at first, was quite clear – we cannot claim to follow Jesus and live out His teachings if we don’t know what they are and what He did. And the way we discover that is through regular involvement with the Scriptures and allowing them to work on us in a way that only God’s message can.

The most effective way to make sure you’re avoiding Scripture Roulette and are regularly allowing God’s words to speak to you and work on you is by getting a plan. I want to let you know about three plans that have received great reviews.

1.) On the front pew and the table by the back doors there’s a Bible reading plan you can take home. If you follow that plan, you’ll read the entire Bible in a year. Now, just accumulating knowledge and reading through the Bible in a year aren’t the goals. The goal is to get involved in the Scriptures and allow them to get involved with you. During the process, your perspective will be broadened as you see the big picture of the story of God and His mission here on earth.

2.) The Lookout Magazine has a weekly reading schedule in it. It also has some questions for you to ponder as you read. We have a few copies of the Lookout available at either entrance to the Sanctuary.

3.) For those who like technology, there’s a site called YouVersion.com. And it even has apps for you to download for your blackberries or iphones or any other high-tech gadgets you might have. YouVersion.com provides different reading plans for you to follow and it keeps track of what you’ve done. The really cool part, however, is that you can discuss the different passages with people from around the world, which might change your perspective or understanding on what you’ve read.

It doesn’t really matter which plan you use. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if you use a plan at all. But it’s a very effective tool to continue to encourage you to get into God’s word on a daily basis. Although we engage God’s word here on Sunday mornings, that isn’t enough. The Scriptures are food for our souls. Imagine if you chose to just eat one meal one time a week. You’d be starving yourself, wouldn’t you? The same is true with our spiritual lives. If we’re not regularly fed the nourishments of God’s word, we are starving ourselves spiritually.

It doesn’t matter if you have one Bible or a hundred copies of the Bible. If the Scriptures aren’t a part of you and influential on your life, then it’s really not much different than a dictionary or a book of poetry in your life – is it?

What’s the big deal about the Bible? It’s a gift for us. It’s a tool for us that allows us to know more about God’s nature and to see how God’s love for us has been displayed throughout history. Have you been regularly seeking nourishment from this spiritual feast that’s available to you. Or are you starving yourself? I don’t know the answer. It’s between you and God. But if your life hasn’t been changed by the words spoken in this collection of books, you might want to ask God to show you what needs to change in your habits.

If you are here this morning and have felt spiritually dead, you can become alive in Christ today. He has called Himself the bread of Life and if you drink from him, get your nourishment from him, you’ll never thirst again. Come to the table of spiritual nourishment. Allow him to revive you and give you life through His words contained in the Scriptures. If you are looking to be alive again and have not chosen to follow Christ, that is where you have to start. Stop trying to do it all on your own and allow Him to guide you as you follow Him through life’s journey. That’s where becoming spiritually alive begins – by becoming a new life in Him. So what are you waiting for? Bury your old self in the waters of baptism and come up again alive in Him! If you know that’s a decision you need to make, you’re invited to come forward and share that with us as we sing our song of invitation this morning.

[1] Mark Batterson, Primal

[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (NT), p. 782

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