Imagine this. You wake up to find yourself out on a rocky and hazardous mountainside. It is dark. You don't know where you are. You cannot remember where you come from, nor how you got there. You are not alone. There are voices all around you.
You can see far enough through the gloom to make out people, some on their own, some in groups. One woman is slumped on the ground with her head in her hands. Some walk purposefully past, knocking over any in their path and trampling them underfoot. You hear cries and realise that those at the head of that party have just marched confidently over a rocky edge. To your astonishment, the whole group just carries on, following them 'til they've all fallen to their deaths. Some are wandering round in circles, chatting happily together, going nowhere.
It is a frightening chaos. You want to go home. But you don't know where that is, never mind how to get there. You rummage around in your rucksack and realise that you have nothing telling you where you live; no map; no compass; and no torch. You could not be more lost. What are you going to do?
That is what happened to me. In fact, of course, it happens to all of us. We all wake up, as it were, and find ourselves alive in the world. Where have we come from? Where are we going? How do we get there? Who should we go with? We need answers to these questions. There are many voices offering answers. One way or another, we have to stake our lives on something. We have to choose one path not another. We have to go with some and away from others. And we have to have very good reasons for our decision. Our lives depend on it.
Speaking personally, I've found in the Bible the information about my destination, the map, compass, torch and guide that I need. What are my reasons for that far reaching decision? That is what I thought about as I was preparing for this morning, and as I considered again the Bible reading we heard earlier. Please have that open in front of you: 2 Timothy 3.10-17. My title this morning is 'The Word of God'. Why believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Why stake your life on the Scriptures? As I thought about that I realised that my answer has ten interlinked parts, all reflected in this passage. I've put them in three groups, with each group under one of my headings on the sermon outline. So my first heading is this:
First, THE SCRIPTURES ARE SPOKEN BY GOD
The apostle Paul is in prison as he writes this letter to his younger associate Timothy. He is facing death. Paul will not be around much longer. Timothy will be under great pressure as a church leader.
Timothy must be under no illusions. 3.1:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money… [and he goes on, v 4] lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
We live, as did Timothy, in times when people love self, wealth and pleasure in preference to God. And that makes for a world that is coarse, brutal and hostile to goodness and godliness. What is more, we should not expect things to improve. 3.12-13:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Timothy's in for a torrid time, and Paul wants to make sure that his feet are set firmly on the rock of truth. So he goes on (v 14):
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed … [and so on].
So here are my first four reasons for staking my life on the fact that the Bible is God's Word written, and therefore true and trustworthy.
First, I was told by Christians I respected and trusted that the Bible is God's Word. So was Timothy. He had the example of his family. He also had Paul - his mentor and friend. Paul reminds him (v 10):
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings – what kind of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.
In Lystra Paul had been stoned and left for dead. Lystra was where Timothy lived – perhaps he even saw what happened there.
Now I haven't seen Christians stoned for their faith. But as a young man wanting to know the truth about life I certainly watched closely those who were telling me that I should trust what the Bible was saying. My conclusion was this: the greater a person's commitment to believing and obeying the Bible, the better I liked what I saw of their life and character.
Certainly I have seen committed Christians fail badly. But that is all the more shocking precisely because it is so contrary to what you expect. In general, I was impressed by the way that faith and life matched. I wanted what they had, so I was inclined to accept what they told me.
Reason number two: I realised that Christians have always believed and taught that the Bible is God's Word. From Paul and Timothy onwards, that has been one of the foundational truths of Christian faith.
Now I know that there have been exceptions. I know that not least in the West over the last 150 years people have said that only parts of the Bible are the inspired Word of God, or that none of it is.
But I realised that those views were an aberration, and that the mainstream of Christian believers across the world and through the centuries has always known that the Bible is the true Word of God.
I also came to the conclusion that failing to believe that had two consequences: the Bible ends up being neglected and the church ends up being destroyed. I did not find this a strong recommendation.
Reason number three: I realised that the Bible claims to be the Word of God. This passage is a classic example (3.16):
All Scripture is God-breathed…
In other words, the words of Scripture are breathed out of the mouth of God. Scripture is spoken by God.
That is not to deny the human character of the Biblical documents. The Bible was written by men. But they wrote under the direction and inspiration of the Spirit of God in such a way that God is the primary author of the Bible. It is his book. How God inspired people is another matter. That he inspired them is what counts.
And what impressed me was that the Bible's claim to be the Word of God is not just in a few isolated texts like this one, significant as they are as summaries of what the Bible says on this. The claim runs right through from beginning to end. And that applies to the New Testament as well as the Old.
Two quick examples. We heard the opening words of the Book of Jeremiah, which say, for instance (Jeremiah 1.9):
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth…"
And the apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 3.15-16, brackets Paul's letters with what he calls 'the other Scriptures' and describes them as having been written 'with the wisdom that God gave him'. He regarded Paul's letters as Scripture and expected others to do the same.
I quickly realised that examples like that could be multiplied over and over again. So I saw that I only had one of two options. I could accept the Bible on its own terms, as the written Word of God. Or alternatively I could reject its authority altogether. Either you take it or leave it. Either it's the Word of God, or it's a fabrication – the product of deluded or deceiving minds. For the life of me I cannot see how there can be any middle way between those two.
It's rather like the Hitler Diaries that came to light some years ago. They were either genuine or they were fake and worthless. They could not be both fake and of historical value. They were fake. I find it impossible to conclude that the Bible is a fake – in which case, it is what it claims to be: God's Word.
Reason number four: I found that the Bible, in all its diversity, is astonishingly coherent and unified. Paul talks in our passage about 'the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus' (v 15) and 'all Scripture' (v 16). He speaks of them as a unity, with a common origin and a common purpose. And the more I read the Bible, the more astounded I became by the way that this immense range of literature, put together over many centuries, seems to speak with one voice and to have one message.
I recently drove up Regent Street in London. One of the shop window displays was a massive picture of a face. And as you looked closer (while all the time keeping your eyes firmly on the road ahead) you realised that this picture was made up of hundreds of quite separate bits of paper, each one of them individually looking as if it had some fairly random splodges of colour on it. But when they were stuck one beside another, what emerged was this photograph of a smiling face. I think in fact it was the clothes we were supposed to be impressed by, but I didn't notice those.
The Bible is like that. Stand back and look at it, and what you see is a massive portrait of Jesus Christ. There's a bit of background. There's his eyes. There's his mouth. Every bit different. Every bit necessary. All fitting together. Why? Because there's one mind behind the whole thing: the mind of God. I found no other explanation for the coherence and unity of the Bible remotely convincing.
That's my first four reasons for believing that the only sensible thing for me to do was to build my life on the teaching of this book, and to let it form my view of life, the universe and everything. They all point towards the conviction that the Scriptures are spoken by God.
Four down, six to go. Now if you are alert you will have calculated by now that at this rate it's going to take about an hour and a half to get through all ten reasons. But do not fear. We've now cycled over the brow of the hill, and we're going to change up from first gear into third. It's an old bike. There's a long fast downhill slope ahead. You'll get your lunch.
You will see on the outline that my second heading is this:
Secondly, THE SCRIPTURES LEAD US TO SAVING FAITH IN CHRIST
In verse 15 Paul speaks of …
the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul is saying that not only does the Bible paint this giant and accurate portrait of Jesus Christ, but seeing it enables you to take hold of Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, and he rescues you from sin, Satan, death, condemnation and hell, and gives you eternal life. The Bible leads you to faith in Christ, and faith in Christ saves you. That was my experience.
But if we are going to see Christ clearly, we have to see ourselves clearly as well. And the Scriptures enable us to do that too.
So, reason number five: I found that the Bible is like a mirror in which I see both myself as I know myself to be, and also the world as I experience it. It lays my inner workings bare before me. I find I cannot but agree that what it tells me about myself is the truth. And what it shows me of a magnificent world dreadfully distorted and twisted out of alignment, with terrible consequences, is the world that I see around me.
The other day I heard Anthony Hopkins talking about his role as Hannibal Lector. He said he thought that perhaps it was psychologically helpful for people to watch. Any account of humanity has to reckon with both our glory and also what it is about us that leads Hopkins to think that finding entertainment in graphic tales of a cannibalistic multiple murderer will do us good.
When I look into the Bible I see the truth about me and my world.
And reason number six: I met Jesus Christ in the pages of the Bible. I found that all I had already been told about him is true. He is Lord. He is the Saviour. I didn't have to take other Christians word for it. I have the same access to the sources as they do. I encountered Jesus, and found that he has has the words of eternal life.
And that discovery lead me to reason number seven for taking the Bible as God's Word written: I found that Jesus unquestionably regarded the Bible in that way. And I was content to follow his lead. There is emphatically no one else I would rather trust on this matter.
Here is one example of Jesus's attitude to the Bible. It's taken from Matthew 19.3-6:
Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female', and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Jesus quotes from Genesis. And according to Jesus, who said what is written in Genesis? The Creator said it. God said it. According to Jesus, what is written in Genesis is God's Word. And that is his consistent attitude to the whole Old Testament. What's good enough for Jesus is good enough for me.
The Scriptures lead us to saving faith in Christ. And then my third heading on the outline:
Thirdly, THE SCRIPTURES EQUIP US FOR OUR LIVES AS DISCIPLES OF CHRIST
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.3.16-17
All of Scripture, properly used, moulds what we think and what we do.
'Teaching' and 'rebuking' relate to doctrine – what we believe. The Bible both, positively, shows us what is true and also, negatively, shows us where our thinking is up the creek.
'Correcting' and 'training in righteousness' relate to ethics – what we do, and the kind of people we are. The Bible both, negatively, lets us know when we are taking a wrong turning and, positively, shows us the right way to go.
The rest of my reasons for staking my life on the Scriptures are in line with that.
Reason number eight: I found that the Bible imposed its authority and divine origin on the whole of my life. It convinced me that it is God's truth. To stand in judgement over the Bible is to stand in judgement over God. I cannot but submit the whole of my life – what I believe and how I live – to its teaching. I am more aware than anyone of how inconsistent I have been over the years in following that through. But I found that in the end I had no choice. God spoke to me through his Word, the Scriptures, and what could I do but bow before him?
Reason number nine: I saw that when people submitted to the teaching of the Bible in a radical way, the whole direction of their lives was transformed for good. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to change lives in a wonderful way. The Bible is powerful. I know. I've seen it at work in others. And I've been on the receiving end myself.
And that links in to reason number ten: I found that when I believed what the Bible told me to believe and did what it told me to do, it worked. I found its promises to be true. Its diagnoses were spot on. Its remedies did what it said they would do. The teaching of the Scriptures makes people useful. It does equip them for every good work, just as Paul says here.
I'm not by any stretch of the imagination much of a cook. But a while ago, in Vivienne's absence, I baked a cake for my mother-in-law's birthday. Not something one can afford to get wrong. But the rewards are great if you get it right. All I had to go on was Vivienne's recipe. To my delight and joy, when I did what it told me to do, it worked. Rather to my surprise I readily admit (and even more to Vivienne's surprise), what came out of the oven looked like a cake, it smelled like a cake, it even tasted like a cake – so it must have been a cake. The recipe worked.
In the grand scheme of things, cakes are trivial (even if they are for your mother-in-law). Life is not. What the Bible gives us is the trustworthy recipe for life. It works. That should be no surprise. It is written by our Creator and Redeemer.
So there you have it. My ten reasons for staking my life on the Scriptures as God's truth. One: I was told to by people I trusted. Two: Christians always have. Three: the Bible claims to be the Word of God. Four: the Bible is an astonishing unity. Five: the Bible shows me the real world and the real me. Six: the Bible shows me Jesus. Seven: Jesus took the Scriptures as God's Word. Eight: the Scriptures imposed their authority on me. Nine: the Bible transforms people. Ten: it works.
Put all that together and I found when I was a teenager that I really had no option. Without the Bible, I knew, I would be out on a rocky and hazardous mountainside in the dark, utterly lost, with no idea where home was or how to get there; alone with no map, no compass, no torch, no guide. I thank God that by his grace I heard his voice calling in the pages of the Bible.
What about you? What are you going to stake your life on?