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The Christadelphian | November 2010

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial The joy and rejoicing of my heart
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Time and chance” | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • The Bible 4 Life 4 – Our precious heritage | Mark Sheppard
  • “… and was refreshed” | Tom McCarthy
  • The last voyage
  • Submitting to elders | Terry Fearn
  • Book review: A Bible for the people? | (The People’s Bible) | Michael Ashton
  • Workers together 2 – Paul with Barnabas and Silas | John Boulton
  • Ezekiel – prophet to the exiles 11 – Then the nations will “know that I am the LORD” | Andrew E. Walker
  • Amos, the herdman of Tekoa | Dudley Fifield
  • The power of music | Sally Wright
  • Finding an outlet | Michael Owen
  • Signs of the times Short memories | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Israel and their land “A pricking brier” | Geoff Henstock
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Editorial

The joy and rejoicing of my heart

IN describing what makes Christadelphians distinctive, we usually start by explaining our attitude to the word of God. We also refer to the inspired scriptures in our formal statements of belief as “the foundation” of our faith, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Indeed, a few verses earlier the apostle calls it “the word of faith”, because it produces faith (verse 8). For that reason, we ought primarily to be a Bible-reading community, and to that end our practice of daily Bible reading is vitally important (see article, page 407). When faith comes under attack, the primary antidote can be found in God’s word, and we should be even more diligent in our recourse to its inherent power.

But we cannot claim to be a Bible-reading community if the only time we read the scriptures systematically is when we meet together. For that claim to be true, scripture must be the daily spiritual food of each lone disciple, and the central focus in every marriage and family. This attitude to the word of God has sometimes been criticised as suggesting that we are book-worshippers. This is unjust, for we reverence the scriptures because they contain God’s words, and explain His purpose in the Lord Jesus Christ: they are the only complete revelation of His character and purpose. In the absence of the Bible we would not know how to worship, or who to worship. The words are obviously not greater than their Author, but they are great because God is their Author.

“Your words were found”

Nor should we ask which is more important: reading God’s word or communicating with Him in prayer, for we cannot pray properly if we are ignorant of God’s ways, and we shall not learn His ways without prayerfully considering His word. Instead, our attitude should be modelled on that of faithful characters, such as the prophet Jeremiah who famously wrote: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16).

If Bible reading becomes a chore, or even if it is something done just out of habit, rather than a habit formed out of deep need, we cannot honestly adopt Jeremiah’s words and make them our own. But if we do turn to scripture as eagerly as to natural food, so that our spiritual life is properly sustained, then we need wholesome portions – not gobbled down so fast that it leads to indigestion, but carefully considered as it was in Nehemiah’s day, when “they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). Even when reading alone it is good practice to consider how the essential message could be conveyed to someone else. If we cannot explain a passage simply, it is likely that we do not properly understand it.

A healthy, spiritual diet

While considering that God’s word is spiritual food, some words written by the apostle to the Hebrew believers come to mind. He was pressing the importance of steady and consistent spiritual growth, and the need to move on from elementary principles. But at the same time he warned about the responsibilities that flow from a deeper knowledge of God’s purpose: “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance” (Hebrews 6:4-6). For the apostle, reading the scriptures was ‘tasting the good word of God’ – wholesome food for a healthy spiritual diet, starting with milk, and moving on gradually to solid food, described elsewhere as “the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

When James wrote about the vital importance of the word of God, he was inspired to use a different metaphor: not now likening the reading of scripture to a healthy meal, but based on the Lord’s parable of the sower, to good ground receiving precious seed. He uses horticultural imagery to convey his message: “Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The disciple who reads carefully nurtures the message so that it affects his or her life to the extent that it will produce “the fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9). The word of God, like an “incorruptible seed” (1 Peter 1:23) can grow in a disciple’s heart, stimulating and moulding the thoughts so that what is developed is the mind of Christ. To the extent that his mind is formed in us, it will be seen outwardly in actions that are motivated by love.

These two different metaphors explain the outcome of careful devotion to God’s word – an inheritance among those who are sanctified, and lives that display divine characteristics. But these results do not arise automatically from reading; they depend on how we apply ourselves to God’s word. Jesus commended the Jewish rulers of his day for searching the scriptures. Their problem was that they were blind to the testimony contained there pointing to the Lord’s life and mission (John 5:39). Their failure to appreciate its true message must not be turned by us into an excuse for not searching God’s word, for the wonderful example of believers in Berea shows that this must be a task to which we devote ourselves daily: “they received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). In Acts a different Greek word is used to describe the action of the Bereans from the one Jesus used about the Jewish rulers. The searching Bereans were like detectives, following every lead and considering every clue; the rulers’ search was more in the nature of a general enquiry.

What can be discovered by careful and diligent searching of God’s word is the complete integrity of the message, despite its being recorded by many different writers over many centuries, and thus without any possibility of direct collaboration. As they are examined the smallest details are found to validate the overall message. We soon accept, therefore, the truth of the apostle’s comment, that these are not “words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13). Indeed, we soon discover that by carefully comparing one passage with another, the message of each is greatly enhanced; and the more familiar we become with the scriptures, the more we shall become alert to different writers echoing thoughts and words written under different circumstances and in a different age.

The true word in the right way

Furthermore, the impact of such investigations is that the enquirer’s mind becomes enmeshed and enriched by the message, so that the spiritual mind feeds on spiritual words. Only a spiritually-directed mind can properly appreciate spiritual truths: “for those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:5,6).

The difference between man’s words and God’s words is the difference between darkness and light, between strife and peace, and between confusion and clarity. If it is properly approached, its message is clear and unmistakable. By “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), it will separate truth from error, and reveal the straight paths of God’s will and purpose. Appearing only here in the scriptures, the word Paul uses means literally ‘to cut straight’, and is translated in slightly different ways in some versions: “accurately handling” (NASB), “rightly explaining” (NRSV), “giving the true word in the right way” (Bible in Basic English).

The apostle confirms here the importance of being true to the message of scripture. Elsewhere he tells Titus to instruct elders in the ecclesia to “hold fast the faithful word (i.e., the word of faith)” (Titus 1:9). The idea here is of clinging onto the only secure support that is available. It conjures in the mind a picture of a person in dire straits whose only hope rests with being supported by something that is securely fastened, and will not move. In all the storms of life, the hope rooted in the scriptures, “we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19).

“Preach the word!”

But Paul does not only explain the importance of “holding fast” to God’s word. Writing to believers in Philippi, he told them that in holding it fast they were also to “hold it forth” or “hold it out” (Philippians 2:16), because it is “the word of life”. Centred on God’s purpose in Christ, the Bible message leaves us in no doubt that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We cannot, we dare not, keep this great truth to ourselves; it is imperative that we “hold it forth” so that others also can have hope of salvation. Details of the Lord’s work were recorded, explained John, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We should therefore, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Returning to where we started, we preach the word because we believe it! To us it is indeed “the word of faith” – a message that creates faith and trust in those who read it carefully, acknowledging it to be God’s word, and therefore also a word in which we can have complete faith. There will be parts that we do not fully understand, and aspects that will only become clearer through further meditation and thought, but every day as we read there will be confirmation that what we hold in our hands is the word of God Himself, generously revealed to men and women so that they can learn of Him, come to love Him, and try to be more like Him.

 

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