Thursday, June 23, 2016

Being Equipped

We cannot overemphasize the importance of the Word of God for Christians to be equipped to respond to this fallen world with faith, endurance and even with joy.  This is what St. Paul says in his letter to Timothy, the newly minted Bishop of Ephesus:  "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 complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16–17) With these words, the Apostle is reminding his young protege (and all of us who are listening in) of the importance of Scripture, of the process by which Scripture works and of the purpose of Scripture.

  • The importance of Scripture:  The Word of God preserved in the Bible is important because it is from God himself.  If the words of a wise or important person carry weight (e.g., we often quote Shakespeare or Plato or Einstein or Bill Gates, etc.), then words from God are gravity itself. The Bible on your desk (or on your shelf covered in dust) contains the words of God written down.  Paul talks about the Scripture being “breathed out by God.”  This peculiar and poetic phrase is meant to evoke images of God’s creative power in the Old Testament.  We read of the creation of mankind in Genesis: “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7) This phrase also brings to mind the imagery of Ezekiel 37, the valley of the dry bones.  In this passage Ezekiel has a vision that he is looking over a valley filled with the skeletal remains of a vast army.  The bones are “very dry,” that is, very dead.  He is told that this valley of bones represents the people of Israel: they seem beyond hope of life.  But with God, all things are possible.  Ezekiel is told: "“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army." (Ezekiel 37:9–10)  When you and I breathe out, the warmth of our breath dissipates into the air.  But when God breathes out, the energy in it creates new life! That is what happened when God inspired the Scriptures to be written: life-giving words were formed.  This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “… the word of God is living and active." (Hebrews 4:12)  The Bible is important because it is God’s very word, and whatever words God breathes out have power to create life! 

  • The process by which Scripture works: God’s Scripture works on us in a specific way.  The writer of Hebrews says, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)  The image here is that the Bible is like a surgical tool in the hands of God: it cuts out the cancerous sin in our bodies and our minds and our spirits.  But hows does this happen?  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us: Enabled by God’s Holy Spirit we listen to God’s word and respond… and God’s Word begins to work on us.  It teaches us: Teaching shows us what is true, right, beautiful and good.  Without God’s teaching, we wouldn’t know what the true, the good and the beautiful are.  It rebukes and corrects us:  In order to teach us what is good and right, we often have to be told that what we’ve believed and lived in the past was not right, not good, not true.  Rebuke is the act of telling someone: “You’re wrong.”  Correction is the act of showing someone how to right the wrong.  If rebuke (or reproof) shows us how we've deviated from the path, then correction shows us the way back.  God’s word also trains us for righteousness:  Through the Scriptures we are trained to live in God’s Kingdom, in God’s ways.  Note the word “training.”  Training requires more than just understanding information. You don’t train for a marathon by reading about it.  Training requires action and formation of habit.  To engage with God in the work of Scripture, we must be willing to be trained… to let God’s Word inform our daily habits of thinking, feeling, and action.   This training takes time, repetition, continual submission, and passion (“love for the game”). God is the one who makes this process work (1 Cor 3:7; Phil 2:13), but we must listen to Him, obey him, pray to Him for help (Phil 2:12; Gal 5:22-23; John 15:4).  

  • The purpose (or goal) of the Scriptures:  God’s goal in working on us through the Bible is to equip us for living a new kind of life in a new World.  St. Paul tells us that the process of God’s word, that is, God’s working through teaching, rebuke, correction and training happens “ that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:17)  Elsewhere Paul articulates the goal of his teaching of the Scriptures in this way: "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5, NASB) St. James talks about it this way: "Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)  

  • Jesus said it this way: “Make them holy by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17, trans. mine) The end goal of God’s work in the Bible is nothing short of the completion of our salvation, and the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity in us.  Through God’s Word empowered by the Holy Spirit and because of the atoning death of Christ which makes us holy, we become what God declares we are in Christ: "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:2–5)

    This is God’s glorious purpose for the Bible that you have in your home, the Bible that we read on Sundays, the Bible that informs all our life as Christians.  Next week in the “From Fr. Tom” section of our newsletter, we will talk more about how, at Good Shepherd, we go about knowing the Bible in such a way that we don’t merely ‘know’ it, but are formed by it, and so are receiving the gift of salvation in full.  

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