God's Amazing Word, Part 2

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Psalm 19:7-9 - "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether."

Turn in your Bibles with me to Psalm 19, and we’re going to return to our study of verses 7-9.  Now, we were discussing the last time we were together that the truth is under attack—it has been ever since Satan, in the garden, tried to get Eve to question the very truth of God’s words, and the plan worked, and mankind plummeted into sin.  And that really marked the opening battle of a war that’s been raging in every century since.

And I don’t have to remind you that there are only two sides to this war—you’re either fighting to defend truth, or you’re fighting to attack it or deny it.  There are only two sides, and in this war, there are no noncombatants.  There is no neutral side in the war for truth, no Switzerland here.  You’re either for truth or against truth, but nevertheless participatory.

This is why Jude wrote in his epistle that all Christians—all those who have accepted the truth of Jesus Christ and have trusted in Him and Him alone, that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to pay the price for their sins—all Christians are called in Jude 3 to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”  Now I can’t assume that each one of you here tonight is on this side which is contending for the truth, but for our purposes here, I’m going to focus our discussion tonight towards that group.

You who have made a clear decision for Christ are soldiers in this war, and we must admit from the start that this is a strange war.  It’s unlike any other war man has fought, because we’re fighting not “against flesh blood,” right?  Who are we fighting?  We’re fighting “the rulers,” “the powers,” “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  So already we have a rude awakening that this war isn’t against man.  It’s not a fleshly war, rather it’s spiritual.  It’s on a different dimension.

What’s more, the nature of this war is totally different.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, “though we walk according to the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.”  And these fortresses, Paul tells us, are in the mind.  “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.”

So our battle is for the minds of men, and the weapons we’re given are used like cannons, firing at the walls of these ideological fortresses which man has erected for himself in his minds...fortresses which stand to oppose and keep out the knowledge of God.

So when we talk about our warfare as spiritual, we’re not speaking of fighting demons, although they, too, are combatants as well.  This spiritual warfare is a battle for the mind of men and our mission is in verse 5 of 2 Corinthians 10: “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Now Paul mentioned that our weapons are “divinely powerful” weapons, meaning that they aren’t earthly at all, but because we’re God’s soldiers, we’re issued these weapons from God…from his arsenal.  What, then, is our “divinely powerful” weapon?  It is, as Ephesians 6:17 states, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

Success only comes in this spiritual war if we use spiritual weapons, and our weapon happens to be the very words of God!  And it is this divinely powerful weapon which is able to smash down the fortresses of men’s minds and bring them captive to Christ.

But, like all good soldiers, success on the field of this great war demands the proper wielding of this weapon.  If we are contending for the truth with the truth, then we need to be careful to make sure we know the capabilities of our weapon.  We need to know how to handle it, what it’s capable of, and how to defend with it as well as attack with it.

And so, carrying on from last week, I want to take us through a passage that will help us understand our weapon.  It’s not the only passage we could turn to, but because it’s so concise and at the same time so comprehensive, it really is the perfect passage to give us a fundamental grasp of this weapon.

Now I want to very briefly review what we learned last week so we can build upon that foundation tonight.  In our passage we find three verses, and in them six short, parallel statements about the Word of God.  Each one gives a name for the Word, such as “the law,” and “the testimony,” and so forth.  And then there is given a description or characteristic of the Word.  It is “perfect” and “sure” and so on.  And finally there is given an effect, or an accomplishment.  The Word “restores the soul” and “makes wise the simple.”  It “rejoices the heart” and “enlightens the eyes.”

And tying these all together is the phrase “of the Lord,” we saw last time is really the unifying element of this passage.  For one, it is relating to the beginning of the Psalm by saying that God can be known of through His creation because his creation testifies to His glory, but in order to know Him, He must reveal Himself to us, and He’s graciously done that by speaking to us through His Word.

And this means, then, that God’s Word is a reflection of God’s character.  We saw last week that the Bible is sufficient.  It says, “the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.”  It is perfect in that it is complete and whole, and nothing is missing, and what’s more, it speaks to every part of man’s life.  Nothing falls outside its purview.  And for that reason it is capable of doing what no human effort can do: it restores.  It is able to transform the inner life of a man, bring him back to where he should be.  And this accomplishment happens because it is God working through His Word.  It is sufficient because He is sufficient.

Next we saw that “the testimony”—that is, God’s witnessing of Himself—“is sure”, or reliable, “making wise the simple.”  Scripture is trustworthy.  It is a firm foundation, and so the simple man, the man who is incapable of making sound judgments and exercising discernment can put His trust in the Word of God to give him the know-how to make sound decisions and exercise wisdom.  Scripture is trustworthy, but only because its author is trustworthy.

And thirdly, we saw that “the precepts”—the guidelines—“of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”  We can have joy in our hearts because we know that the principles God has laid out in His Word will not lead us down a path toward destruction.  We can be confident that if we walk according to His words, we’ll be walking that straight and narrow path that leads to life.  This is to say that the Word of God is infallible.  It is an inerrant guide, and this, once again, reflects the nature of God.

And so tonight I’d like to finish up this passage by looking at the last three characteristics of Scripture which are given in verses 8 & 9.

So, number 1: “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”  Scripture is called “the commandment”.  Notice, for one, it’s singular.  It’s not talking about the commandments of God that are in Scripture.  It’s talking about the Bible as a whole being a commandment from God, and what this is really pointing out is the Bible’s authority.  These are not mere suggests…they are divine commands that have come from the very mouth of the creator God.

And the characteristic of this commandment from God is that it is pure.  Really the better way to translate that is “clear,” or as one translator has said, “the commandment of the Lord is radiant—it is lucid and clear-cut and straightforward.  It is not ambiguous or obscure, but understandable and clear, and for this reason, it enlightening the eyes.  It brings correct understanding to a darkened mind and heart.  It clarifies and makes light of the truth because it is so clear.  In other words, Scripture has clarity.

There were many important and critical doctrines which were hammered out in the 16th century, during the time of the Protestant Reformation, and one of these doctrines dealt with the clarity, or the perspicuity of Scripture.  That is to say that, in the words of Wayne Grudem, “the Bible is written in such a way that all things necessary for our salvation and for our Christian life and growth are very clearly set forth in Scripture.”  In other words, “the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem).

James Patrick Callahan, in his book, The Clarity of Scripture, wrote, “Scripture can be and is read with profit, with appreciation and with transformative results.  It is open and transparent to earnest readers; it is intelligible and comprehensible to attentive readers.  Scripture itself is coherent and obvious.  It is direct and unambiguous as written; what is written is sufficient…Scripture is clear about what it is about.”

What Callahan’s saying is that, understood plainly and normally, taken at face value, God’s word can be clearly understood.  Its commandment, summed up in the greatest commandment to love God with everything you have, has been clearly presented.

This is not to say that Scripture is always easy to understand.  There are many difficult passages in Scripture which demand that readers think about it and meditate on it.  But difficult passages in Scripture don’t negate the clarity of Scripture.  We see this perfectly well in 2 Peter 3:16, when Peter says that even the apostle Paul writes things in his letters which are difficult to understand.  Paul had an amazing mind, and what he wrote was incredibly profound and not always easy to understand on the surface.  But Peter never says they are impossible to understand, only difficult.  In essence, Peter is affirming the importance of Paul’s writing while at the same time admitting they are weighty and profound, but nevertheless important to get right.  And the Peter says the people who distort Paul’s writings do so to their own destruction.  They are culpable for their twisting of the truth.

But this brings up a difficult and important question.  Why do Christians disagree?  Why do we misinterpret Scripture?  We can understand why the natural man doesn’t understand, because he doesn’t receive spiritual things because they are spiritually discerned.  But why do Christians, those who have been imparted with the Holy Spirit for the purposes of personal teaching and counseling, still get Scripture wrong?

It’s an important question, and in our generation even more so because we’re living in a postmodern world.  We’re living in an era that questions truth, that questions clear forms of communication and language, and believes in subjectivity in meaning.  And this postmodern mentality would try to answer that question by saying the reason we get it wrong is because there’s really nothing to get right!

And this kind of philosophy has had a massive impact upon the younger generations, to the point where a new movement has been arising in evangelical circles, one that is very diverse and developing.  It is made up of an admittedly broad and varied collection of pastors and church leaders, with a common concern for Christian mission to a postmodern generation.  As D.A. Carson has commented, “At the heart of the ‘movement’—or as some of its leaders prefer to call it, the ‘conversation’—lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is ‘emerging.’  Christian leaders must therefore adapt to this emerging church.  Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation.”  This movement has labeled the emerging, or the emergent church.

Now, while we can applaud this effort to minister to younger generations which, because of postmodernity, are really fraught with uncertainty, unfortunately some of the most influential people in this movement have allowed the philosophy of postmodernism to shape their own theology.  The Emergent Church, influenced by postmodernity, is attacking the clarity of Scripture, and some of its most influential thinkers and writers are propagating this philosophy, and young men and women eating it up like crazy.  Let me read you a couple of things that these writers have said so you can have a basic idea of what they are saying.

In the introduction to one such book, the author notes, “A warning: as in most of my other books, there are places here where I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity.”  So at the very outset of his book, he is admitting that his understanding of how to stimulate thought in readers is to be shocking, obscure and ambiguous, rather than clear.  And it seems as though the common theme running through all of these writings is that “there is great danger in the quest to be right.”

From the same book, the author writes, “We must be open to the perpetual possibility that our received understandings of the gospel may be faulty, imbalanced, poorly nuanced, or downright warped and twisted...[and must] continually expect to rediscover the gospel.”

Another writer, who at one time was a reformed pastor and conference speaker, wrote in a series of ministry newsletters statements to this effect: being certain about anything is often tantamount to idolatry.  He says, “I have been forced to give up certitude.”  He writes, “If there is a foundation in Christian theology, and I believe that there must be, then it is not found in the Church, Scripture, tradition or culture.”

If there is a foundation? If? And if there is a foundation for Christian theology, and it’s not found in Scripture, then where is it found?  That statement has amazingly devastating implications.

And one other writer has said this alarming statement: “The gospel is not a matter of certainties.”

What these emergent thinkers say is, in the words of one of them, “theology must be a humble, human attempt to ‘hear God’, never about rational approaches to texts.”  In other words, theology is about being able to admit that I’m too humble to say I know what the Bible means by what it says.  I would never be so arrogant and proud so as to say that I could tell you what the Bible means.  And anyone who does say that is proud.

Now, the reason I’m telling you this is not to pick on these writers or this movement, but to give you a biblical perspective of what it is and what it’s saying.  These are key thinkers and writers in this movement, and because this movement has gained so much popularity in the last few years, it is definitely relevant to us.  The CBD website has a whole section of their online bookstore devoted exclusively to emergent church books.  And we have a lot of young people in this congregation who are going to school, going to college, who are being assaulted by postmodern thinking, and it is very tempting to begin to allow your worldview to slip into postmodern mode, where everything is relative and subjective, and nothing is certain, and you’re afraid to have any convictions at all.

But remember what I said about God and Scripture.  How you view Scripture is directly related to how you view God.  If you believe it is impossible to really be sure and certain about anything in Scripture, then you’re asserting that God is incapable of communicating clearly, which also makes Him unjust for holding us humans accountable for things which he can’t get across clearly enough to be understood by us.  That’s the implications of Emergent Church thinking.  It says Christians can’t comprehend Scripture well enough to be certain about anything, and it indicts God for punishing people for what he can’t communicate.

This is not to say that we don’t need humility in approaching Scripture.  We need convictions, but we need them with patience and graciousness.  We need to see ourselves biblically: we are sinful, and we can get it wrong, and we need to constantly be seeking the Spirit’s guidance in understanding what He has written.  But, we need convictions!  Let me put it this way: if you aren’t certain about what the gospel is, then I’m not certain that you’re saved.  You have no assurance of your own salvation if you’re waffling on what the gospel is or if you can really even know what it is.

So why do Christians disagree?  It’s not because the Scriptures are unclear.  Jesus, in his earthly ministry, never once said to his Jewish listeners, “I know what you’re problem is, the Scriptures are really unclear on that issue.”  Instead, he kept saying, “have you not read?”  “Have you never read in the Scriptures?”  “You’re wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  Jesus assumed that what the people read they were responsible to understand.  So it’s not because the Scriptures are unclear.

So I want to give you two reasons.  (1) It may be that we are seeking to make affirmations where Scripture itself is silent.  God just may not have given us the answer to our question.  Or (2) it is possible that we have made mistakes in our interpretation of Scripture.  We could be missing data, or our own sinfulness is blinding us to the truth.

Let me finish this point by quoting Martin Luther.  He said, “But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or lack of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of truth...Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God...If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures but he that hath the Spirit of God...If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.”

It is because of the perspicuity, or the clarity of Scripture, that man’s eyes are enlightened.  We can see clearly because the word has been given clearly.  “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  The Scriptures show us who we are, and they show us where to go, and they bring light to our eyes, which were once darkened, without understanding.

Moving onto the next point, verse 9 says, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.”  Now here we see the Scriptures being called “the fear of the Lord.”  That expression is very common throughout Scripture.  But here fear isn’t talking about something we do but something that is taught.  God’s Word is a commandment to fear God, to have reverence for Him.  One commentator writes, “It is the revealed way in which God is to be feared…it is the religion of Yahweh.”  Or, as another pastor as put it, the Bible is the believer’s manual for worship, and this is what this word is talking about.  It is talking about true worship.

Now because worship is equated with “fear”, this means that worship is really serious business.  Worship is not something to mess around with.  Just ask Uzzah.  You recall the story…2 Samuel 6.  David is bringing back the ark of the Lord from the Philistines.  And as well-intentioned as he was, he still disobeyed the words of God by putting it on a cart.  The ark was only to be carried on poles by the Levites, but David put it on a cart and pulled it with oxen.  And Uzzah, also well-intentioned, reached out when the oxen stumbled, because he didn’t want the ark to topple over.  But he touched the ark of God, and God’s anger burned against him, and Scripture said God “struck him down there for his irreverence.”

Good intentions aside, true worship involves the obeying of God’s commandments.  Now I know that can turn into gross legalism, but this is also a concept that is commanded: “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Deut. 13:4).  Worshipping God involves obedience to God.  Don’t ever think that you can ever worship God and have irreverence for His Word, because you’re having irreverence for God.  Uzzah was expressing heartfelt worship to God by keeping the ark from falling over.  But that very act of genuine worship betrayed a heart of irreverence for God, and Uzzah paid the ultimate price for that irreverence.

We need to be eager to learn the kind of true worship and fear that God will accept.  I would hate to learn in heaven that what I thought was true worship was detestable to God, and that it really reeked of irreverence.

A.W. Tozer writes, “It is entirely possible for humans to have recognized forms of worship apart from Christ and apart from the salvation he offers.  I need to go even a little further beyond that statement to point out a similar and parallel truth.  Authentic religious experience is altogether possible apart from Christ.  Now, I hope you are not misunderstanding me and charging me in your own mind with heresy.  Yes, I said there may be worship apart from Christ and I said there may be authentic religious experience apart from Christ.  But I did not say—and I do not believe—that such religious experiences or forms of worship are acceptable to God.  There are certain kinds of worship that God will not accept, though they may be directed toward Him and meant to be given to Him.  It is recorded that when Jesus was teaching here on earth, He told His hearers that the day would come when people would say to Him, ‘Did not we do miracles in Your name?  Did not we speak for You on the street corner?’  Do you remember the sternness and the sharpness of His reply?  ‘I never knew you!  Depart from Me!’”

Recall also Jesus’ words in John 4.  “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”  So if we’re trying to know what kind of worship God will accept, Christ has told us.  We need worship that is both in spirit and truth.  No other form of worship will do.

So what does spirit and truth mean?  Well, in spiritual worship, we’re talking about worship which emanates from the heart.  It is heartfelt worship, which flows from the spirit, and is affected by the Holy Spirit.  It is not simply dead orthodoxy with no passion and no life.  I hasten to add that spiritual worship can be done all the time.  But the other side of it involves worshipping in truth.  Tozer wrote, “We cannot worship in the spirit alone, for the spirit without truth is helpless.  We cannot worship in truth alone, for that would be theology without fire.  Worship must be in spirit and in truth!”

And the balance of these two is that they fuel each other.  Worship comes from your inner heart’s outcry in response to God’s truth.  Music is just the icing on the cake.  You can get a room full of people singing at the top of their lungs, and that may or may not be acceptable worship.  Because if you scrape off the icing, you might be surprised what you find.  We can show worship through music, but it doesn’t start with music, it starts with our hearts understanding God’s truth and then overflowing with praise and adoration.  We could say, then, that worship is ascribing to God His due worth.

Proverbs 2:3-5 reads, “For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.”  It is Scripture which informs our worship.  And this brings out an important principle.  You can only worship God as much as you understand how much he deserves that worship.  In other words, if you have a superficial understanding of God, then you will only be able to worship God superficially.  If you want to soar to the heights of praise and worship, then you need to dig to the bottom of Scripture, because that is where your worship is informed.  That is where the truth is, and that is what your heart is going to respond to, so that you worship in Spirit and truth.  Transcendence is the product of profundity, to put it differently.  You can only go up in praise as high as you can go down in understanding, and this means we dig into our Bibles.

And David says, in verse 9, that this kind of worship is “clean, enduring forever.”  True worship, the kind that God accepts, is clean, lacking any defilement, and it outlasts every other form of worship, because it is true worship.  It endures forever, and we will be praising God and worshipping Him for eternity!

Now, moving to our third and final statement in verse 9, “The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.”  We’ve seen Scripture described as “law,” being divine instructions.  It has been called “testimony,” being a divine witness.  It is “precepts,” meaning divine principles.  It is a “commandment,” meaning divine decree.  It is “fear,” meaning divine worship.  And now we see Scripture described as “judgments,” or divine verdicts.  It views the Bible as a series of judicial decisions, and what’s more, it views God as a judge making these judgments.

And the nature of these judgments is truth.  They are true and righteous altogether.  Taken alone they are truth.  But as a whole, as a unit, they are all true.  They all come together to form one cohesive unity which expresses God’s divine judgments…His accurate assessment of man’s condition…and this assessment is characterized as true and righteous.

The words of Pilate still echo down the corridors of the 21st century.  “What is truth?”  And what is utterly amazing is that Pilate was able to ask that very question while staring into the eyes of the man who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  Pilate couldn’t see it.  The world can’t see it.

Turn back to 2 Corinthians 10, once again, and I want to look at this passage one more time.  Paul is here describing people as having constructed for themselves fortresses in their minds which are logismos in the Greek.  They are “speculations.”  They are ideologies.  They are intellectual defenses.  They are ways of thinking.  And Paul says they are “every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.”  This is the opposite of truth.  They are meant to keep out the truth.  They are locked up in these ideological fortresses, peering down from the towers of their minds, earnestly fighting to keep the truth from penetrating.

And it is with the truth that we fight.  Have you ever thought of that?  How often have we failed to speak the truth out of fear of rejection, or that we might hurt feelings, when in reality to not speak the truth might be the most unloving thing we can do?  To allow people to die locked up in the towers of these fortresses is not what Christ has called us to do.  We are called to destroy these fortresses...to smash them down and bring those people captive in obedience to Christ.  That’s our call.  And we do that with the truth!  That’s our weapon is the truth.  “Sanctify them in your truth,” Jesus said in John 17:17, “your word is truth.”  Psalm 119:160: “Thy word is true from the beginning.”

I know it’s hard, sometimes, to say what needs to be said, the unpopular thing, the thing you know no one wants to hear.  And I know when you’re talking to someone about important matters of life and spiritual things, the last thing the nonbeliever wants to hear is Scripture.  This is not just annoying to them.  It’s the enemy.  It’s what they are trying to keep out.  And yet it is our weapon: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, which is truth.  And these fortresses are their prisons, and they will be their graves.  That gives a whole new take on the phrase, “the truth shall set you free.”  It really will set them free from the prison that they have constructed around themselves.

Listen, the soldier on the battlefield has one weapon.  He may be loaded with armor to shield him from attack, but he has one weapon.  And that soldier has to decide for himself if he wants to use that weapon.  Use your weapon.  It’s not loaded with blanks.  We’re not running around with rubber swords.  And thanks to God, we have a weapon from His arsenal.  And this weapon is sufficient for life, completely reliable, accurate and inerrant, clear and powerful.  It affects worship in its hearers and it is complete and utter truth.  What better weapon could we have?

I want to leave you with one final thought.  Just ask yourself this question: am I using the weapon God’s giving me, or am I trying to use my own?  Am I shooting a howitzer, or a cap gun?  You may tell yourself you believe the Bible’s powerful.  But I’ll tell you what you really think by what you use when you’re out there on the front lines.  Will you use yourself, or will you use the truth?

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