Stepping Stone #2 – The Book
2 Timothy 3:14 ff.
Since our Sunday School youth and teachers set the beautiful stepping stones in our lovely new part behind the church on Rally Day, we’ve been thinking together about the steps we take along the journey of faith. Last week we talked about Baptism, which is for many people the initial encounter with God’s grace and love. This week we are going to focus on what is for most of us the next step – learning the story of God and humanity in the pages of the Bible – Holy Scripture – the Book
Listen for the Word of God as it comes to us from the 2nd Letter to Timothy, Chapter 3, beginning at verse 14.
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
This is my Bible. It was given to me by my parents, as a birthday gift the summer I graduated from seminary. My old Bible (the one I got from church when I was in the fourth grade) was all marked up with multicolor highlighters, it had lost it’s cover, gotten caught in the rain more than once, and Ephesians was beginning to fall out. My father and I went to the bookstore and picked it out. We didn’t look at the study bibles, or the fancy paraphrase bibles, or the heavy show Bibles. Daddy said he wanted to get me a “working Bible”. I know he mostly meant a Bible that I could use in my work as a minister. But it is equally true that this is a working Bible because it works on me.
From this Bible I have learned, more than from any commentary or course, what salvation in Jesus Christ means. It is to this Bible that I have looked when days were dark and courage failed me. This is where I am reminded about the hope of the Gospel, and challenged to walk more faithfully with my friend and redeemer, Jesus Christ. And these are the words I wrestle with in an attempt to communicate the promise and the demands of the Christian life.
I want you to know that when I speak to you about the Bible, I do not do so primarily as a person trained in interpretation of ancient texts, or as a church professional, whatever that means. I speak to you as someone whose life has been saved by the person of Jesus Christ I have encountered though this book.
I love this book. Learning to love the Bible is one of the first steps that we take in our Christian walk. It is a step the church tries to encourage, even in our youngest members: Timothy’s letter says, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings”
The stories we learn in Sunday School point us to Jesus. Jesus loves me, this I know. For the BIBLE tells me so.
Maybe in the beginning, our first story is the story of Jesus welcoming the little children and blessing them. But we learn others, too. We learn the Christmas story, and the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, even as very little children. Sometimes worship, sometimes music, teaches us the Biblical witness . . . That’s why I repeat some words in the liturgy every Sunday. “ Friends, believe the good news of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. . . . All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”
Do we understand all the depth and fullness of these stories as children? No, but then you could argue that we don’t understand the depth and fullness of the Biblical narrative much better when we are 80 than when we are 8. The important thing is that we HEAR and learn these stories, so that they become part of our lives. Scripture is meant for us from childhood and then throughout our lives. Learning how to read and interpret scripture is a life long – in fact longer than life long – engagement. There is not a stage of life to which the scriptures do not speak.
As we get older, we may encounter challenges to reading the Bible in a way that strengthens and challenges our faith. We notice that some stories don’t seem to make sense. Or they don’t match with what we know from other parts of our life or other parts of the Bible. Love your enemies doesn’t exactly fit with stories in which God commands cities to be destroyed and all the inhabitants slain. And we begin to wonder how to make sense of this book.
Timothy says “All scripture is inspired by God.” But what does that mean? Some people decide that the Bible is just
an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men and women
Very few Presbyterians take that route – only 4% of members, and less than 1% of pastors.
In the Bible Belt, we may meet fellow Christians who insist that the only way to read the Bible with love and respect is to insist that every word of the Bible is literally true. In the 1990s about 30% of US adults held that view. That if Genesis says the world was created in seven days, then God demands that we believe that in the same amount of time we pass from Monday to Sunday, all the universe was brought forth and every earthly creature was created. A much smaller minority of Presbyterians hold that view. But we might secretly think that we should, since that’s what these more vocal denominations and TV evangelists insist upon, and they seem to be serious and devout. 77% of Presbyterian members, and 94% of Presbyterian pastors understand the Bible differently – as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, NOT all of which is to be interpreted literally, word for word. (Presbyterian survey 1990 and 1993)
This is not a “weaker” view of inspiration than the more fundamentalist one. But it is different. Believing as we do, more study, more thought, more engagement with one another as we study together is required. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, not just inspired in the writing of it, but in the reading and interpretation and application, too. God’s Spirit, moving among us, continues to be involved in bringing the Bible to life for us.
Presbyterian Bible Study tends to be a group activity more than a solitary pursuit. Even when we read the Bible devotionally, we are likely to have other people – in the form of a devotional booklet, or the notes of a study Bible, or some other resource – at hand. We aren’t biblical Lone Rangers.
Maybe some of you have given up on the Bible, because you’ve been trying to go it alone and it’s not working for you. Join a Bible study. Buy a study Bible. Call me up. I’ll come over and have a cup of coffee and puzzle a passage through with you. Or maybe you don’t know where to start to get back into the Bible. Don’t be discouraged! Step back. Take an overview, and get the big picture before you dive in. On your bulletin is the link to a very good, very short “summary” of the Biblical story. It makes plain what can seem sort of confusing if Sunday School was sort of a long time ago.
The Bible is our foundational story. It is our guide. It is an important stepping stone in the life of faith. But here’s the take home point – We are not saved by our Bibles. We are not made holy by memorizing scripture. The reason the Bible is so important is because it helps us grow in our understanding, appreciation and love for Jesus Christ, who DOES save us.
Timothy’s letter says, “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. Scripture doesn’t save us. Jesus does.
We understand scripture as a witness to Jesus Christ. We don’t say it is literally, historically, geologically true. We say it witnesses to the truth of Jesus. Jesus said, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
And it is Jesus’ way that we hope the Bible will teach us, correct us and train us to follow. It is so that we may be proficient and equipped to do as Jesus did, in every good work, that we love and study the Bible.
There’s a great story that preachers have been telling since the Civil War, about what makes the Bible such an important stepping stone in the life of faith:
An army chaplain, working the field after a battle, found a wounded man and asked him if he would like to hear a few verses of scripture. The man replied, no, but that he was thirsty. The chaplain gave him a drink from his canteen. Shall I read some scripture now? “No, thank you,” said the soldier. But could you put something under my head?” The chaplain did so and repeated his question once more. “No, sir, not now. But I’m cold. Could you cover me up?” And the chaplain took off his great coat and gently tucked it around the wounded man.
By now, the chaplain had put away his Bible, and prepared to walk away. But the soldier said, “Look, Chaplain, if there’s something in that book of yours that makes a person do what you’ve done for me, then I want to hear it.”
There’s something in this book that moves us one step closer to our Lord and Savior, and through which he equips us to take the next step in faith.