The Word of God has a history. Throughout history people have been greatly divided in their assessment of the value of the Word of God. Some have said that the Bible is divisive, destructive, and diabolical. There are others who have greatly revered the Word of God and held it in the highest esteem and admiration. There are those who have believed that the Bible is a noose around the neck of people who desire to live with no boundaries. There are others who believe that the Word of God brings freedom to those who are enslaved by sin. Some people have held that God’s Word is a negative influence upon the young. At the same time there have been those like Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” (Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919)
The Word of God has survived dictators bent on its destruction. The Word of God has outlasted efforts to abolish its influence on society. Churches have been torn down or converted into government buildings or museums, followers of Jesus have been martyred in a myriad of ways, and the Bible has been burned and banned throughout the ages. Today, Nero is dead, Stalin’s statues have been torn down in the Soviet Red Square, but the Word of God is still living and active and transforming lives in every corner of the globe.
There have been those who have tried to pigeonhole the Bible as the book of the West, the book of the prosperous, or the book of those who hold the power. Karl Marx once said, “religion is the opiate of the people.”
During this month, as we celebrate “Black History,” you need to know that there have been times when the Bible has been misused by those who wanted to hold onto their power. In our countries history there was a time when the Bible was a demonic tool in the hand of white slave owners to hold back the slaves and keep them subservient and impoverished. Many misguided, self-centered slave owners misused the Word of God for their own self-interests. At the same time, there were those like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and a legion of others who knew that the truth will set you free! The Word of God was their strength and inspiration for bringing about freedom for all people.
There are still those around the globe today who say that the Word of God and Christianity have no relevance for those in impoverished countries or those from other faith backgrounds, but Henry Van Dyke once wrote,
Born in the East and clothed in Oriental form and imagery, the Bible walks the ways of all the world with familiar feet and enters land after land to find its own everywhere. It has learned to speak in hundreds of languages to the heart of man. It comes into the palace to tell the monarch that he is a servant of the Most High, and into the cottage to assure the peasant that he is a son of God. Children listen to its stories with wonder and delight, and wise men ponder them as parables of life. Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)
Today, as I stand before you, the Word of God has had a greater influence in cultures and individual hearts than any other book in the history of the world. It has touched the hearts of young and old, black, brown, yellow, red, and white, men and women, rich and poor, the uneducated and those with a multitude of degrees, those who live under restricted governments and those who walk in the flowering fields of freedom.
Because of the Bible’s influence orphanages have been established to care for children, hospitals have been created to care for the sick, food has been prepared to feed the hungry, clothes have been gathered to clothe the naked, colleges like Yale and Harvard have been founded to educate the young in the ways and will of God, and churches have been established to nourish lost and hurting souls.
As we sit here this morning in this land where there are multiple copies of the Bible for every man, woman, boy, and girl – there are legions of dedicated men and women scattered throughout the world who are working feverishly to translate the Word of God into the native tongue of villagers, tribesmen, and urban dwellers in remote corners of the world.
The Wycliffe Bible translators, the world’s greatest single effort to translate the Bible into the language of every person, reports that the Word of God has been translated into over 530 languages. Currently, Wycliffe missionaries are working on another 1,023 languages in which there is no complete translation of the Bible. The people of the Wycliffe Bible translators have 5,318 personnel and another 432 men and women who are training to hit the mission field, learn the language, and translate the Bible into the tongue of those they serve. What drives these incredibly talented men and women to leave the comforts of America and head out for years of struggle and tedious translation in villages? Let me give you an example as I share with you one of their stories of the power of the Word of God to transform lives.
For a Vietnamese soldier, confiscating Bibles is routine. It is his duty to enforce the law of the communist government, which forbids the possession of Bibles. One day Thanh Nguyen, a dedicated officer, saw a woman reading a Bible. ‘Give us your Bible immediately, and renounce its teachings!’ he ordered. The woman rose to make eye contact with Thanh, clutched the Bible to her breast, and offered no reply. Thanh decided to use force. Upon his order, his soldiers began to stab the woman with their riffles, bloodying her face. Still she refused to surrender. They slapped her again and again, and smashed their fists into her head and stomach. Finally the Bible fell from her limp, bloody hands- but only after she had died. Thanh picked up the Bible, wiping the dust and blood from its tattered cover. He could not understand why anyone would die for a book. As the officer in charge of the incident, Thanh kept the Bible – and he began to read it. He learned of the sacrifice of Christ from verses like 1 Peter 2:23-24 – “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.’ Through reading about the suffering Christ, Thanh began to understand why the woman would endure such a terrible beating. He prayed. ‘Jesus, now I know that you died for me! Please forgive me for hurting your people. From now on I will love and protect them.’ Thanh now teaches his fellow believers in Vietnam how to stand firm in the face of persecution. (Wycliffe Bible Translators)
How can a book, imbedded in a human heart, provide such power for one facing execution? Oh, the reason my friend is because the Word of God is not just any book, not merely a book at all, but much, much more. Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica and praised God for their understanding of this fact. Paul writes,
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (! Thessalonians 2:13 NIV)
The Bible is not merely a book, it is the book, the Word of God sent from the hand of God to the anxious hearts of humanity to bring salvation, direction, consolation, conviction, correction, and education in the ways of God.
There is no other book in all of human history that addresses the deepest needs of our lives with such power and relevance. Yet, as I have spent the last five minutes extolling the glory and the power of the Word of God, no other book in America is collecting as much dust today as the Word of God. An anonymous author once wrote an article entitled, “The Diary of a Bible.” It reads as follows:
Jan. 15 — Been resting for a week. A few nights after the first of the year my owner opened me, but no more. Another New Year’s resolution gone wrong.
Feb. 3 — Owner picked me up and rushed off to Sunday school.
Feb. 23 — Cleaning day, dusted and put back in my place.
April 2 — Busy day. Owner had to present the lesson at a church society meeting.
Quickly looked up a lot of references.
May 5 — In Grandma’s lap again, a comfortable place.
May 9 — She let a tear fall on John 14:1-3.
May 10 — Grandma’s gone. Back in my old place.
May 20 — Baby born. They wrote his name on one of my pages.
July 1 — Packed in a suitcase — off for a vacation.
July 20 — Still in the suitcase. Almost everything else taken out.
July 25 — Home again. Quite a journey, though I don’t see why I went.
Aug. 16 — Cleaned again and put in a prominent place; the minister is to be here
Aug. 20 — Owner wrote Grandma’s death in my family record. He left his extra
pair of glasses between my pages.
Dec. 31 — Owner just found his glasses. Wonder if he will make any resolutions
about me for the new year.
From studies I have read from the Barna Research Group, I am convinced that there is not much Bible reading or Bible study going on across America today. People are finding time to read the latest New York Times Best Seller, their favorite author, website, or morning paper, but there are precious few Bibles being cracked open and read each day. You may say, “How can you know that? If the Bible continues to be the most widely sold book in America then people must be reading it.” I would disagree and allow me to show you the evidence.
A few years ago the Gallup organization polled Americans and asked them some basic questions about the Bible. Here are their findings.
? 60 % of Americans had no clue about “the Holy Trinity.”
? 66 % couldn’t identify who delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
? 79 % were unable to name a single Old Testament prophet.
? When people are questioned about the Bible on radio or television, it is remarkable and disconcerting to see their complete lack of knowledge on the subject. Some are almost as confused as the little boy who wrote on his test paper that “the epistles were the wives of the apostles, and that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.”
With such transformational power, inspirational motivation, and moral direction at our disposal you have to wonder why more people don’t take the time to dig deep into God’s Word? I have talked to many people, and heard stories of many others, who neglect the study of God’s Word because they just don’t understand. They have either never taken time to read God’s Word in any systematic, consistent way, can’t see how such an old book could be relevant for modern times, or they began reading the Bible and couldn’t understand what they were reading.
I have to believe that there are many here this morning that can relate to what I am talking about. Some of you grew up in church and you’ve heard the Word of God read and taught, but you have never really read it for yourselves. There are others here who decided that you were going to read through the Bible and you did for a while, until you came upon a section that you just couldn’t make any sense of — so you quit. You probably started in Genesis and read all about the Creation and were mesmerized, but then you came upon an endless list of genealogies and you got bogged down in the “begats” of the Bible. There are others who haven’t really read the Bible at all. You just don’t want to waste your time on something so old and supposedly outdated.
If you are one of those people then I want to take you on a journey this morning. I want to show you the blessings that are in store for those who will take the time to consistently read God’s Word in its entirety, seek to understand it prayerfully, and apply it daily. There are so many places I could take you in God’s Word this morning, but for the sake of time I want to ask you to turn with me to Psalm 119 as we examine the a few of the blessings of God’s Word for those who will read it.
The great Bible teacher and pastor, Donald Grey Barnhouse once said, “If I had only three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying and preparing.” Let’s study God’s Word together for the next few minutes and seek to understand what Dr. Barnhouse was talking about.
In the 176 verses of Psalm 119 we find so many applications of God’s Word for all of life. I want to lead you to a few of these treasures this morning. First of all, you can know that our devotion to reading God’s Word from a prayerful posture will show us how to keep our lives out of the ditch. Take a look at these powerful verses of encouragement concerning moral guidance for our lives.
God’s Wisdom For Staying Out of Trouble
104 I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. (Psalm 119:104 NIV)
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. (Psalm 119:133 NIV)
59 I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. 60 I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. (Psalm 119:59-60 NIV)
The promise of steering us away from “every wrong path,” “directing our footsteps,” and “turning our steps back” is not just for adults. The Word of God provides the best counsel for young people as well. Psalm 119:9-10 says,
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. (Psalm 119:9-10 NIV)
With the many temptations and opportunities for young people to make decisions that could negatively affect the rest of their lives, it is vitally important that the Body of Christ keep the Word of God before our kids every day.
God’s Word is not just preventive medicine, for helping to show us the pitfalls on our paths, but it is also the greatest resource for imparting wisdom to all people. I mentioned to you earlier that Theodore Roosevelt once said that a thorough knowledge of God’s Word is more valuable than a college education. I am all for gaining an education. I know that acquiring a college degree will pay greater dividends financially than a thorough knowledge of God’s Word, but a college education doesn’t make us moral, kind, caring, humble, or passionate about the things that matter most in life. God’s Word will lead and guide us, educate and inform us, but most importantly it will transform us from people who are wise in the ways of the world into people who desire to live out the will of God.
Godly Wisdom for Living
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105 NIV)
129 Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129-130
97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. 98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. 100 I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. (Psalm 119:97-100 NIV)
Did you notice that God’s Word sheds light upon life, upon the path that we walk in this life? It is not enough to walk; we are called to walk righteously. It is not enough to react to the situations of life; we are called to react in a Christ like manner. It is not enough to speak and to offer counsel; we need to offer godly counsel to those around us and speak words that edify and build up rather than demolish and tear down.
God’s Word offers us wisdom that cannot be gained in the halls of higher education. God’s Word will illuminate the way before us so that we can live in freedom, freedom in Christ, as we go through this life.
Another important blessing that God’s Word provides for us is comfort, consolation, and hope. God’s Word has been tested and proven to provide comfort and consolation for multiplied millions who have suffered pain throughout the ages. In times of war God’s Word has brought peace to war torn hearts. In times of persecution God’s Word has brought confidence in the One who suffered persecution yet had done nothing wrong. In times of sickness and disease God’s Word has brought the reminder that this life is not all there is. In times of dashed hopes God’s Word has never left anyone hopeless who would seek Him with all of their hearts. God’s Word is a comfort to those who are hurting. Listen to these comforting passages from Psalm 119.
God’s Comfort For Living
28 My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. (Psalm 119:28 NIV)
50 My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. (Psalm 119:50 NIV)
76 May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. (Psalm 119:76 NIV)
89 Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. 90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. 91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. 92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. 93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. (Psalm 119:89-93 NIV)
The Psalmist writes, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” God’s Word has comforted men and women, boys and girls, those who were educated and uneducated, and those with great wealth as well as those who prayed for their daily bread?and really meant it. God has never failed to honor His promise to draw near to those who are broken hearted. The great preacher, Peter Marshall, once wrote,
God does not leave us comfortless, but we have to be in dire need of comfort to know the truth of his promise. It is in time of calamity . . . in days and nights of sorrow and trouble that the presence, the sufficiency, and the sympathy of God grow very sure and very wonderful. Then we find out that the grace of God is sufficient for all our needs, for every problem, and for every difficulty, for every broken heart, and for every human sorrow. (Peter Marshall 1902-1949)
Let me share just one more of the great benefits of God’s Word for you and me if we will seek Him with all of our hearts as we study His Word. First let me ask you a question: “What do you do when you come under attack? How do you respond when someone in your office has it in for you? How do you react when there are people who are talking behind your back and telling lies about you that you know are not true?” Do you retaliate? Do you begin to tell your own stories? Do you go to all of those who you think might have been infected with the disease of slander and try to set the record straight? Or do you sit back and in peace knowing that the Lord is your defender? Listen to this wise counsel as to what we should do when we are slandered.
God’s Wisdom For Those Under Attack
23 Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees. 24 Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors. (Psalm 119:23-24 NIV)
78 May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts. (Psalm 119:78 NIV)
165 Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:165 NIV)
I have learned from personal experience that chasing those who desire nothing more than to damage us or malign our character will only wear us out. God is our defender, He will preserve our character, if we will keep our hearts set on Him and our faces buried in His Word.
We could spend the rest of our lives in Psalm 119 and never exhaust the precious gold mine of wisdom, counsel, and encouragement that rests in its passages. To read it once and turn away confident that we understand is to not understand the riches of God’s Word. The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”
The key to unlocking the great truths and limitless power of God’s Word is not the amount of time that we spend in its pages, but the eyes through which we see its truths and the preparedness of our hearts. God’s Word is only understood as the Spirit of God opens our eyes to understand and plants its truths deep in the fertile soil of our hearts. We have no access to the Spirit of Almighty God unless we have received God’s Son, Jesus, as Lord and Savior of our lives.
I want to invite you this very morning to humble yourself before the Lord, confess to Him your sins, and ask Him to come into your life as Lord and King. Won’t you do that at this time?