|The Word of God
August 8, 1999 / 2 Timothy 3:16-17
A strange thing happened to Cindy and Carl on the way to church last Sunday. They realized that their culture was bombarding them with messages diametrically opposed to everything they were about to celebrate in worship.
They were eating breakfast with the kids, making conversation around the table, and simultaneously glancing through the newspaper looking for a bargain on a computer. "Dear Abby" caught Cindy’s eye, and she read the morning column aloud. A reader’s letter said:
Your answer to the woman who complained that her relatives were always arguing with her about religion was ridiculous. You advised her to simply declare the subject off-limits. Are you suggesting that people only talk about trivial, meaningless subjects so as to avoid a potential controversy? . . . It is arrogant to tell people there are subjects they may not mention in your presence. You could have suggested she learn enough about her relatives’ cult to show them the errors contained in its teachings.
Abby’s response was this: "In my view, the height of arrogance is to attempt to show people the ‘errors’ in the religion of their choice."1 So Carl and Cindy had a brief conversation about their decision last fall to ask Carl’s younger sister to steer clear of an Eastern cult on the UT campus that had been recruiting her. In spite of the newspaper advice column, they were still convinced it had been the right thing to do.
After his shower, Carl clicked on the TV set in his room while he finished getting dressed. A Sunday morning news program was giving Reggie White, Chuck Colson, and the Southern Baptists down the hill for their "ignorance" and "homophobia." One of the talking heads dared to say that the Bible was clear on homosexuality and that some people still believe it to be the Word of God. Another responded by saying, "This is the twentieth century. Get with it. Besides, the Bible is about love." Just at that point, 13-year-old Carl Jr. walked through the room. "That’s what most of my friends say about homosexuality," he said. He didn’t wait for his Dad’s response. He just kept on walking and turned on another TV in the den.
Carl glanced in Cindy’s direction, sensed the need to say something to their son about their view toward some things, and followed him into the den. But the music was so loud that Carl Jr. didn’t hear him. As he watched the bright, flashing images of gyrating bodies, he felt less concerned about his son’s attitude toward homosexuality than the heterosexual images and messages he was soaking in from his favorite MTV videos. What a morning. What loud-and-clear messages. What a challenge to one family’s faith and values.
With everyone finally dressed and in the car, Cindy — reeling from everything that had happened — decided to put the radio on a familiar "oldies" station. She felt some degree of comfort to hear a familiar voice without the fast-paced images of MTV. It was Whitney Houston:
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all2
Beautiful voice. Powerful song. But still another confusing message. Loving myself is the "greatest love of all"?
A Strange New World
When people walk in from such a Sunday morning, sit down in Bible class or worship, and hear verses like the ones I am about to cite from Scripture, it is no wonder they sense a "disconnect" between their world and the world of the Bible. Some Bible passages are very exclusive about Jesus as the only Savior. In spite of Abby’s comments on what constitutes "arrogance," the New Testament still says:
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, NRSV).
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
And there are texts about moral absolutes. They name certain behaviors that are outside the will of God and announce their consequences.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21, NRSV).
From the perspective of a biblical world-view, the great challenge is not to love oneself more but to love God more — and self less.
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt. 22:36-40).
The Lost Notion of "Truth"
Our world has thrown out the notion of truth. At least, it has thrown out the notion of objective truth. Oh, it can still speak of your truth, my truth, and their truth. But it typically refuses even to entertain the notion of an absolute truth that is equally legitimate, equally obligatory for all persons. So easy abortion is a legal "right" rather than a moral wrong, and homosexuality has been legitimated as an "alternate lifestyle" rather than a degenerate lifestyle. "Do whatever is right for you" may be the counsel of our generation, but it is not the call of a Holy God to his people.
Because Jesus Christ is the Son of God and because the message he brought humankind is true, all other modes of thought, philosophies of life, and ethical norms have to be evaluated in light of Jesus’ example and the teaching of Scripture. Anything that sets aside his authority, example, and words is false.
We must get over our shrinking reluctance to confront Postmodernism’s secularism, egoism, and relativism. We must lay bare the false assumptions of this world’s confused thinking that lead deeper and deeper into the darkness. We must not only talk among ourselves but engage in meaningful dialogue with unbelievers. The world must hear a reasoned apologetic for the Christian faith coupled with a lived demonstration of its ability to give meaning and joy to human life.
The world recently watched in stunned incredulity as a devastating tragedy unfolded before its eyes. Thirty-nine-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn, and his wife’s sister Lauren Bessette died in the crash of Kennedy’s private plane. Although the investigation is not complete, it seems fairly clear what happened on the night of July 16, 1999.
There was a thick haze in the night sky as the plane prepared to land at Martha’s Vineyard. Wrapped in darkness out over the ocean and with the haze blocking out stars, city lights, and what little moonlight would have been available to mark the horizon, Kennedy apparently fell victim to what pilots call "spatial disorientation." It is a sort of vertigo in which one loses all sense of what is up, down, or level.
"It happens to all of us," one experienced pilot is quoted as saying. "You think the airplane is doing something it’s not. You think the plane is turning right, but it’s turning left." In the split seconds before Kennedy, his wife, and sister-in-law died, he must have been totally confused. The reactions he made to what he was sensing apparently too him and his passengers into a near nosedive into the ocean. Without proficiency in flying by his instruments, he was depending too much on his confused impressions.
Here is a Bible verse that comes to mind: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Prov. 14:12). So often there are conflicts between our personal feelings on one hand and the Word of God on the other. Or perhaps the conflict is between one’s cultural paradigm and the Bible. We feel or have been influenced to think that a certain thing is all right, so we excuse ourselves from some clear teaching of Scripture. We know what the Bible says, but we allow ourselves to be disoriented by the darkness around us. We trust our feelings instead of relying on the objective guidance of the Word of God. Flying blind in one’s spiritual life has disastrous consequences. You need the direction, guidance, and wisdom of the Bible to keep your life on course.
Isaiah 55:8 contains this note of warning to all of us: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord." So we have to be very careful against the temptation to impose our thoughts and feelings on God. We don’t judge him but will be judged by him.
We dare not follow the spirit of our age, our feelings, or even a biblically illiterate conscience. We must learn and follow God’s thoughts and ways. And the primary means to that is to be a serious and consistent student of Holy Scripture.
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 (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Christians have made this claim less than plausible because of our arguments and divisions over matters of secondary importance. We must stop fighting one another over the second- and third-order issues of our personal convictions and denominational distinctives in order to stand united on the first-order truths of historic, orthodox faith. Jesus himself said that the unity of those who believed on him through the apostolic witness would itself contribute to bringing the world to believe on him (John 17:21).
Confronted by naturalistic anti-theism, New Age pantheism, ethical nihilists, and faith-destroying cults, Christians no longer can afford the luxury of sectarian rivalry. The things that unite us — the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, Christ's saving death, mankind's justification by grace through faith in Christ, serious discipleship, and coming judgment — must be greater than the things that divide us.
The great challenge to this generation of believers is to offer a world in bondage to Satan's lies a counter-culture of truth. Our message from Scripture must be strong enough and articulate enough to counter the messages from print, TV, movies, and music that are anti-Christian. But people who are not immersed in the Word of God with daily reading, prayerful study, and obedience will not be able to bear witness to its message with any positive effect.
One of the things that makes Christians strong is the Bible. So treasure it. Read it. Enter its narrative with your own personal history. Make God’s thoughts your thoughts and his ways your own as you imitate Jesus and live under his authority. Make no apologies for committing yourself and your family to a lifestyle that builds on its rock-solid authority as the Word of God (cf. Matt. 7:24-27).
1From an actual letter and response in the syndicated "Dear Abby" column quoted in Dennis McCallum, ed., The Death of Truth (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), pp. 199-200.
2"Greatest Love of All" from the album Whitney Houston (1985).
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