Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:17-18
The Consumer Electronics Show gave an award to a Bluetooth-connected water bottle. Its built-in speaker plays music, takes and receives phone calls, and offers caller ID. It also recognized a countertop dishwasher that requires no plumbing connections; you load your dishes, add a gallon of water, and turn it on. And a laptop computer with a keyboard that turns into a writing pad.
Of innovations there is seemingly no end. But nothing humans can invent compares with the words in that ancient book we call the Bible. Its truths are ancient and yet more relevant than tomorrow’s news.
One of the greatest challenges America faces today is our declining experience with God’s word. Only 35 percent of us read it even once a week.
In the 1960s, Americans began rejecting the concept of absolute truth and biblical authority. A smaller percentage are church members than ever before. Should we be surprised by the epidemic of substance abuse, loneliness, pornography, broken families, crime, and suicide that have resulted?
I’m convinced that the single greatest key to experiencing God’s power and purpose is meeting him in his word every day. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Jesus says about the relevance and transforming power of God’s word in our lives today.
Value the word of God
Jesus continues the most famous sermon ever preached: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17a NIV). “Do not think” is very strong in the Greek, literally “Never think that . . .” “That I have come to abolish”—to deny the divine authority, to demean. “The Law or the Prophets”—the entirety of God’s word to this point.
Our Lord goes even further: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
“Truly I tell you” translates a phrase known to be used only by Jesus in all of ancient Judaism. It means literally, “I guarantee you this . . .” “Until heaven and earth disappear”—when time ends (Revelation 21:1).
“Not the smallest letter” refers to the Hebrew “yod,” the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. “Not the least stroke of a pen” refers to the points on a Hebrew consonant. We would say, “not the dotted i or the crossed t.”
“Will by any means disappear”—this is the double negative, will “no, not ever disappear.” “Until everything is accomplished”—until the Bible does its work, fulfills its purpose. More of this in a moment.
For now, make this decision: value the word of God, for its work in our lives is miraculous.
- It keeps us from sin: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
- It guides our lives daily: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
- It brings us joy: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8 NIV).
- It gives us hope: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
God wrote a book. Value it, for it is his miraculous gift to us. J. I. Packer calls it “God preaching.” Augustine describes it as “love letters from home.”
Value it today, if you want God to use it to give your life true success.
Study the word of God
Next, study it. Every word, “the smallest letter” and “stroke of a pen” is the word of God. And so it deserves not only our affirmation but also our study. But we must know how.
I still have my first Bible—a red Gideon New Testament I received in the fifth grade. I valued it so much I carried it in my jeans pocket, which is why it is so tattered today. But when I began reading it, I found the “begats” of Matthew 1 and got no further. I valued the Bible but didn’t know how to study it for myself. We need to do both.
Begin by deciding to meet God in his word every day. Set a place and time as your appointment for the Bible. Purchase a study Bible—several are very good; the ESV Study Bible is my personal favorite. Get a notebook to serve as your journal. And begin—with the Gospel of John if you don’t have another place in mind.
As you read, seek to know the author’s intention. I told hundreds of students at Southwestern Seminary, “The Bible can never mean what it never meant.” Your goal is to learn what the Bible means to say, so you can relate this intended meaning to your life.
To do this, first pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study. Then ask foundational questions. If you begin with the Gospel of John, ask who wrote it. (John, Jesus’ beloved disciple and best friend.) To whom and why? (People who needed to know why Jesus was and is God.) When? (After the other Gospels had been written, to give his interpretation of Jesus’ life and meaning.) Any good study Bible will give you this information.
Now ask four crucial questions as you study:
- What does the text actually say? Know the grammar, the meaning of the words you are studying. As an example, I’ve given you this today with the words of our text.
- What does history reveal? Know the culture and times which explain the text.
- What theology is taught? Learn what the text says about its intended theme, whether it is teaching about God, salvation, sin, the future, etc.
- Finally, what practical action is required? What does this text want you to do, now that you’ve studied it?
Write these truths down in your journal as you learn them. Ask the Spirit to relate them to your life, and he will. And God will use this book to lead you to true success.
Find Jesus in the word of God
Why? Because this is his definition of success: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). You are a success with God to the degree that you are like Jesus. And studying the Scriptures is how this happens, for each of us.
This is why Jesus said of the law and the prophets, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” “Fulfill” means “to complete” their purpose. And this is his purpose: to make us more like himself. This is success with God, the only kind which matters ultimately and eternally.
Then we can know Christ intimately and represent him to our world. Then we can be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Then we can reflect his light to our dark world. Then we can be the presence of Christ today.
Then we are successful with our lives. You’re not finished with the word of God until you’re more like the Son of God. When did this last happen to you? When will it happen next?
The Bible available to you today is a miracle. Now let it do its miraculous work in your life. Start today.
When I was a missionary in East Malaysia during college, I was honored to distribute paperback New Testaments in the Malay language to the people. I will never forget an elderly woman who took her copy of God’s word in trembling hands and held it to her heart. It was the first copy of Scripture she had ever owned. As tears streamed down her face, I thought of all my Bibles at home gathering dust.
When we love God’s word as she loved God’s word, our lives will never be the same. This is the promise and the invitation of God.