The Bible text for today’s sermon is 2 Timothy 3:1-17.
There is a very definite link between moral decline and the authority of Scripture.
Adherence, obedience to the written Word of God… Is the only way to remain in the faith in days like today!
You know well that the Word of God has been under attack for many centuries.
But like an ancient castle it has withstood many assaults.
Up to and through the 17th century these attacks were primarily outward.
That is, they were an assault from without by people who tried to destroy the Scriptures by direct methods.
History is full of accounts of book burnings, papal interdicts, and even the murder of translators of the Word of God.
But these outward attacks against the Bible utterly failed.
In the 18th century a new approach was made by the enemies of Scripture.
The modernist’s approach was to water down the Word of God.
Convince people that the Bible is a good book, but it has not real authority.
The Bible is not the word of God, but it only contains the word of God!
But they are also failing!
No force will really overthrow the Word of God; we never need to fear that.
But as far as individuals are concerned, it is possible for these attacks against the Scripture to upset their faith.
This is why Paul is warning Timothy, his son in the faith!
I would like to speak about four propositions which I believe must govern our thinking as we approach the subject of the authority of the Scriptures in this 21st century.
1. As Christians, we have no right to hold a different view of Scripture than that held by Jesus himself.
The authority of the Bible rests squarely upon the authority of Jesus Christ himself.
To be a Christian at all means that we have fully accepted the authority of Jesus.
If we have not, we are not Christians – except in name only.
It is an utter inconsistency to say that we accept what the Bible says about Christ and reject what Jesus says about Scripture.
We cannot say of Jesus that,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the bodily expression of the fullness of God, that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and that He is before all things and by Him all things hold together…’
But that he is quite wrong about Adam and Noah and Jonah and the rest of the Old Testament.
That statement is inconsistent with any logic!
We cannot call Jesus Christ Lord, and say:
- He has the right to choose our mates.
- He has the right to pick our line of work.
- He has the right to govern our life in all its attitudes and ways.
- He determines my eternal destiny.
But then we do not believe him when he speaks of the creation of man, or the sanctity of marriage, or the sinfulness of certain sexual acts.
When we read the New Testament we see that the Lord Jesus casts the mantle of his authority over all of the Old Testament, and, by anticipation, over all of the New Testament.
Remember Jesus said, speaking of the Old Testament in John 10:35b: “…the scripture cannot be broken,…’
When tempted by Satan, Jesus quotes Scriptures, again and again saying, ‘It is written…’
When Jesus was questioned by the religious leaders about Marriage and Divorce he answered them: Matthew 19:4-6
Then there is that remarkable passage in Luke, when the Lord Jesus is speaking to his doubting disciples after His resurrection.
So because Jesus accepted the authority of Scripture, if he is my Lord and Master I have no other choice than to do the same!
The second proposition is somewhat similar and grows out of the first and it is this:
2. As Christians, we have no right to view Scripture in a different way than the apostles’ view of Scripture.
The apostles, like our Lord, are our teachers.
It is Karl Barth who says,
“We cannot stand and look over the apostles’ shoulders, correcting their work. It is they who stand looking over our shoulders, correcting our work.”
The apostles, in writing the New Testament, everywhere declare that their authority is simply the Lord’s authority.
They, too, rest the authority of their words squarely upon the authority of the Lord Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15:3
In other words, this is not a fabricated message.
It is not something borrowed from this philosophy, and that authority, and this way of thinking.
It is not, Paul says, received from people at all.
The apostles, as they write, are very conscious that the words of the message they preach are the words of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:13
There is a clear declaration that he was conscious of speaking more than his own thoughts, more than his own ideas, more than his own theological concepts.
The apostles regarded each other’s words in this same light.
2 Peter 3:15-16
Peter makes very clear that he accepted Paul’s writings as Scripture, and the early church accepted these apostolic writings as the very words of the Lord Jesus right from the beginning.
In view of this, when a professor behind a desk in Chicago or New York or London makes a pronouncement that differs from what Paul or Peter or James or John has said, then reject it.
These men who lived in the 1st century and associated with the Lord Jesus, who heard His words, and who so ministered in power throughout the world of their day as to transform the generation in which they lived, knew far more about what God thought and said than any man studying theology today.
So our second proposition is that, in thinking about the authority of the Word, we must remember that, as Christians, we have no right to a different view of Scripture than that held by the apostles, or we cannot consistently call ourselves Christians.
3. We can never discover the depths of Scripture’s insights into life without first accepting it as true and authoritative.
What I am saying is that we must first believe Scripture before we can understand it.
And we must first believe Scriptures before we can benefit from them.
As long as we keep asking,
“Should this passage be here? Is it genuine, is it real? Has it been inserted? Is it a legend? Is it a fairy tale? Is it something that is merely the thinking of the apostles and was never in the mind of Christ?”
If this is our constant approach then we can never get around to asking.
What does this say to me?
What does it mean?
Where is the wisdom hidden in this that I need so desperately in my life?”
Those students and pseudo-scholars who feel they are a final authority on what ought to be here, and what ought not to be here, never seem to be able to understand what is written.
Let me clarify myself:
I do believe in the study of Theology, and there is, of course, a legitimate place for a meticulous research of text and context, and we deeply indebted to scholars for the incredibly painstaking work that they have done in the years, and have remained faithful to the authority of God’s word!
The entire Bible has been examined like no other book ever written, word by word, letter by letter, by the greatest body of scholars that has ever concentrated its knowledge upon one subject.
The task has been done, and it has been well done, and we can trust our scholarly Greek texts and the careful English versions that are based upon them.
But my point is this:
We can never understand the Scripture until we believe it first.
You cannot understand nuclear physics unless you first believe the underlying principles that have to do with this realm of human knowledge.
You cannot understand chemistry unless you are willing to accept certain of the chemical formulas that have been proposed.
You cannot believe anything until you accept it as genuine and put it to the test of experience.
And this is true of the Word of God: we must believe that this book is from God to us!
When we do this, then and only then, the Bible will become beneficial.
The great evangelist Billy Graham’s testimony in this regard.
He says that as a young man, early in his ministry, there came into his life a time of doubt as to the authority of the Scriptures.
There came questions as to whether the text as we have it could be trusted, whether this was the Word of God or merely the ideas of men about Jesus.
He was troubled by the questions that occur so frequently in these days.
He went away by himself up into the mountains, taking his Bible with him, and there began to read it, and read it, and read it.
He came at last to the place where he said to God,
“I have seen enough of the transforming ability of this word to know that you are behind it. I know, Lord, there are many questions, many areas that I do not understand about this book, and take it by faith that it is your word and believe it and preach it as your word and trust that you will make clear to me what it means.“
It was from that time that Billy Graham’s world-wide ministry of evangelism began.
You well know that his favorite expression is, “The Bible says.”
He does not debate it with anyone; he does not question it; he simply declares it.
Which brings me to my fourth, and last, proposition concerning the Word.
4. Scripture does not need to be defended, but simply declared.
I must confess that I have totally changed my view on the place of apologetics in the defense of faith.
I once thought that apologetics, the science of the defense of Scripture, was especially needed to answer the skeptic and the agnostic.
But I have learned to do differently.
I know now that apologetics may be very helpful for a Christian who is confronted with honest problems, but it is almost totally useless in appealing to an atheist or a skeptic unless they are truly searching, and open minded and sincere with themselves.
No, all that is necessary is to use the Scriptures.
If it is the word of God it will confirm itself.
It will have in itself innate, natural authority.
For after all, a word has power only because of who utters it.
The word itself is useless.
If a person who is a compulsive liar utters a statement, it may be very true but it is of no effect because they are a known liars.
Mark Twain tells, in one of his books, of a man who committed suicide and hung a note on himself saying he had taken his own life.
But the coroner’s jury declared it must be false, he must have been murdered, because he said he had killed himself and he was known to be a compulsive liar, therefore it could not be true.
So a word has power, any word, only by virtue of the one who utters it.
The word of Stephen Harper has power not because he is a man (there are a lot of other men).
Not because he is from Alberta (that authority would be less because he does not come from a larger province)
Not because he is from the Conservative Party.
But the word of Stephen Harper has power because he is the Prime Minister of Canada!
As long as he remains Prime Minister, there is an inbuilt power in the word that he speaks by virtue of his office.
Now if Scripture is from God, it will have innate, inbuilt power.
Let us allow the word of God to do its own work.
We must learn to declare it and proclaim it in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing explains the world situation as the Bible does.
No philosophy that is current among men today ever comes to grips with international affairs like Scripture.
Take even the question of the origin of the world and the nature of it.
Only in the light of Scripture can one understand the total process of history.
Like Timothy, today we are being attacked by a subtle and devious philosophy which is attempting to undermine the authority of the Word of God, especially in the realm of morality.
Much of the moral revolution of our day, the awful collapse of moral standards in great sections of human life, is directly traceable to false concepts concerning Scripture.
2 Timothy 3:13-17
The choice that is left to us as Christians is very simple; it is always the same in every generation:
Either we accept the Bible as God’s word to us, his own self-revelation, his own explanation of the affairs of life and of human history.
As the only other alternative, we must rest our faith upon the shifting, complex, ever-changing authority of modern knowledge and human ability.
It is either Christ or the critics, one or the other.
One way leads to moral decline and final collapse; the other way brings us to illuminating insights into our own hearts, and into the processes of history and to the place of integrity and character.
That is because the Word of God is truth, it is reality, and the one characteristic that marks reality is that it will never change!
Truth is always truth.
If it were true ten thousand years ago, it is still true today.
That is why a two thousand year old book is as valid today as it ever was, for truth is simply unchangeable.
And it is the final measuring stick of any civilization or any individual life.
Image source: David Campbell