(This is the 6th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "How do we know whose interpretation of the Bible is correct?")
Take the Word For It

 

          Take my word for it.  Don’t those words themselves make you a little bit nervous?  It is almost as if the phrase prompts an internal reaction of, “Why do I have to take your word for it?  Don’t you have something to show me?  Some sort of reason?”  If a sales person tells us, “This car was only driven to the food store and back.  It’s in pristine condition.  Take my word for it.”  Doesn’t an alarm start sounding in your mind?  I need to check this somehow.  Or someone tells us, take my word for it, this movie is worth every dime that you pay to go see it.  Do we immediately take them at their word, or do we want some more information, some more reasons why we can be sure that’s a true statement.  We have been burned before and while it may be a friend or family member, we want a little bit more than just, “Take my word for it.”  Do you ever feel like religiously, the landscape of churches is simply a whole bunch of different people saying, “Take my word for it.  This is what is true.  Trust me, that we have what is right.”  The person who asked our question today seems to be thinking this through.  Why are there so many different ideas out there?  Why are there so many interpretations?  And because of all those interpretations are we left with finally having to say, well I am going to take this person’s word for it and not this one’s?  Today we find the answer to dealing with all the different interpretations.  Today we are going to take the word for it.

          One thought that we need to have in mind before we undertake our question this morning, is to realize that the Bible does have a specific meaning.  This is a point that we can agree with and still have some wrestling to do.  When the authors of the books of the Bible wrote their books and letters, they had a meaning in mind.  Paul or Moses or any other writer did not think, “Well, I could mean this or I could be writing that.  I better leave this point open for the reader to decide.”  No, they wrote to convey a meaning.  If I said to you, “I painted in the house,” I could mean I was painting the walls in a house.  I could mean I was painting a picture inside the house.  I could mean I filled in the drawing of the house on a piece of paper with paint.  It’s an unclear statement by itself, but I obviously know what I mean as I say that, and hopefully I am speaking in such a way that the meaning is understood by the one I am speaking with.  The authors of Scripture had a meaning in mind as they wrote the words that we have preserved today.  Now that doesn’t mean it is always easy for us to know what they meant immediately.  We are separated by a lot of time and culture from some of them.  So what can we do to figure out what they meant by what they wrote?  We look at the whole context of what they were writing.  That helps us understand what the author means.  If I just got done telling you about an art class I took on landscapes and I said I painted in the house, you would know I meant on a canvass.  With the Bible, we are wise to let the other parts of Scripture help to guide us to understand an author’s meaning.  We let Scripture help us understand Scripture.

          The reason that I highlight this truth for you is we are going to quickly throw away some false notions.  The idea that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say is a common accusation today.  It’s true you can do that, if you are willing to ignore the context of a certain passage.  If you ask what the author means, you can be fairly certain of what he does or doesn’t mean.  Also, the idea that there are countless interpretations of Scripture that are all valid.  We don’t deny that there are many Christians who have different interpretations of Scripture.  We don’t say they aren’t Christians.  But we do say that the Bible has one meaning and if we have a difference, we need to ask whose teaching is accurate and whose isn’t.

          That gets us into the heart of this question.  Whose word is right?  Whose understanding of the meaning of Scripture is best?  To answer that question, we need to look very closely at what this word we have really is.  We are going to make sure that we are taking the word, and not cleverly invented stories.  That was the struggle facing Peter it seems.  He makes his case regarding what he had been teaching.  “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”  Peter essentially says to his readers, “Hey, this is not stuff we made up.”  This is not our words or interpretations.  This is the truth of what we saw and heard on that glorious mountain top.  When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured in his glory, they knew what they were seeing.  They knew what they heard when the Father gave Jesus his approval.  Peter says to these people, this is what we saw.  Peter could tell them that he had seen the source of their teaching.  There was no matter of anyone’s interpretation getting in the way.  He knew his teaching was accurate.  He went right to the source.

            But isn’t that where our struggle comes in?  How do we recognize the difference between the truth and cleverly invented stories?  We aren’t Peter.  We didn’t stand and see Jesus glorified or hear the Father’s voice.  For that matter, we didn’t see any of the events Scripture writes about.  We haven’t had Paul tell us what he meant by his word choice.  We can only read what the prophets saw and taught.  So how do we tell the two apart, clever story and truth of God’s Word?  We could spend a sermon’s time today examining certain teachings and discovering where they are more story than Scripture.  There is a time and place for that.  It isn’t here and now.  What you and I are wiser to do is ask, “How do I know I am not the one who is inventing stories?”  How do I know that my understanding of Scripture is true and accurate?  If we are really asking this question today, shouldn’t we be unafraid to evaluate our understanding of it?

          Before you and I begin exposing others invented teachings propped up by out of context Scripture, we are wise to note the temptations and dangers that confront us as much as anyone else.  We started by saying that Scripture is clear and has a single meaning.  Where then do all the problems arise?  With those interpreting it and that includes you and me.  We have a sinful nature, that tells us that we want to hear is far better than what the Word really says.  And if the word gets in the way of what we want, we should look for another way to understand it.  You and I are more affected by the world around us than we recognize.  A world that tells us what is really wiser than what this simple book has to say.  A world that tells us what is more enlightened or fair than old teaching.  We need to update this stuff to be in line with what we know now.  We need to invent some better truths.  And finally, not to be dismissed the same one who told Eve, you certainly won’t die, is still ready to whisper into your ear, God certainly can’t mean that.  It’s so unloving.  It’s not good what God is telling you here, he must mean something else.  If we want to evaluate interpretations of Scripture, we had better start with the one that we hold. 

          And what is the easy answer to this question?  Who cares!  Eh, everyone is going to find their own meaning.  It really doesn’t matter if someone teaches this and I teach that.  I can’t believe we have heard a sermon that is only focused on how we understand the Bible.  How unpractical?  That last statement is intended to convict you, but first it nailed me.  Is it worth preaching on all of this?  Some people there won’t see any value to this.  But realize how very important all this is.  We are talking about the basis of your faith.  What it is you believe and how it shows in your life.  Are you going to simply say, “I’ll take someone’s word for it?”  Or do you care enough to actually ask, what does God really say to me.

          Because you and I can find the answer to that question.  We might feel like the further we get away from when these words were written the less hope we have.  But look at how Peter views it.  “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  Where does Peter point our attention?  To the word made more certain!  This is coming from the guy who was there on the mountain.  One who heard the Father’s voice.  But instead of all that he says, the word of the prophets had been made more certain.  Listen to it!  It is a light that shines into the dark places.  The word is what reveals cleverly invented truths.  The word is what shows the truth.  It is the light that shines to reveal what God’s will really is.  It is the light that keeps us in the light of the morning star.  Return to the word for certainty in what you believe.  The word shows us how sin and our enemies have redirected us from the truth.  We do take the word for what it is.  The very words of God.  Not thought up or put together by men, but rather the Holy Spirit’s gift to us as he carried the human authors along.  This word is what reveals truth.

          So take it.  Grab this word for yourself and others.  Don’t think that once you have tasted it you are done.  Peter says, “I will always remind you of these things, even thought you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”  Peter encourages you and me to keep remembering this word.  To not let time and schedules cause us to let the word lay fallow in our lives.  Then we will begin to lose the brightness that we now enjoy.  The light that is ours through this great heritage of Scripture.  Make this light your own.  No more settling for this is what my church teaches or this is what my pastor preaches.  Instead this is what the light of God’s Word reveals and I go to this church or listen to this pastor because that is what is taught there.  No more settling for saying the word could mean this or this or this, but instead, return to the light and find out.  Seek the truth where it may be found.  Make it your own, and give it to others.  Teach it to your children, that they may see the Word for what it is.  The light of God’s truth.  Bring them to Sunday school to hear the truths revealed in that word, not the stories invented by men. 

          Why is this so important?  Peter tells Christians in the prior verse.  “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.  For if you do these things you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  You will know what your hope is based upon.  It is based on the word.  And not the word that someone has to convince you is the truth.  Your hope and faith will be based on the unfailing word and nothing else.  The word that prepares you for when you set aside this earthly tent.  The word that testifies to the Light of the World that shines into the darkness of our own interpretations and ideas.  Take this word for what it is.  The testimony of God about Christ that makes you wise for salvation.  Amen.