The Pattern of Sound Words

I just listened to a sermon which the preacher began by reading 2 Timothy 1.13:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

He then proceeded to tell the congregation they should hold fast to the Bible patterns of…

  1. The Name of the Church
  2. The Organization of the Church
  3. The Activities of the Church, including…
    • Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and only on Sundays
    • Singing without instrumental music
    • No Church-sponsored Orphans’ Homes
    • No Church-sponsored Widow’s Homes
  4. The Five-Steps to Salvation

I’m sure I missed a few things, but those I remember.

What troubles me is that his beginning verse contextually has nothing to do with any of those issues. He committed a classic blunder by reading a passage and then going wherever he pleased with it, completely disregarding the context. This sort of slipshod treatment of Scripture leads to a watering down of the word and really tends to obscure the truth God has set forth.

We should demand preachers and teachers keep verses in context. That is not to say everyone should read the entire chapter every time, but certainly teachers must do their homework and understand the meaning and purpose of the text before presenting it as God’s word!

If we read 2 Timothy 1.13 in it’s immediate context, we find the “pattern of sound words” has to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1.10). It has to do with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. It has to do with the grace of God and sharing in the sufferings on behalf of Christ (2.1-3). It has to do with dying with Christ (2.11) and enduring (2.12). It has to do with unity (2.14ff) and holiness (2.22ff).

I recommend preachers actually preach the word itself instead of “choosing a passage and then going everywhere preaching the gospel” (as one sarcastically remarked). If you don’t understand the context of the passage, you may end up harming your hearers. At the very least, your lessons will lack meat. At worst, you’ll end up preaching entirely your own thoughts and not the thoughts of the Lord. Those who study God’s word will stop listening to you.

It there a place for preaching on all those topics above? Certainly! If the Bible talks about it, we should teach about it. But allow the Scripture to lead!

This preacher missed many deep truths to be found in 2 Timothy because he wanted to preach on certain pet subjects. I hope he one day gets around to preaching on what 2 Timothy 1.13 is really about! It’s ironic that he so abused a passage on sound words.

Does Bible Study Make You Feel Guilty?

The preacher hammers the importance of daily Bible study, and most of the church sits feeling condemned, inadequate, and guilty, because we sure messed that up last week!

Does Bible study make you feel guilty?

It’s actually not the study itself, but our failures along the way. We make commitments (or at least have a vague idea of what we ought to do) and end up not fulfilling them. We don’t hit our targets, don’t actualize our vision, don’t work the plan perfectly. And our hearts condemn us.

It’s as if we feel that God accepts us on the basis of whether or not we hit our targets for the day.

I have this feeling that God wants me to spend some time in the word today (a minimum of 15 or 20 minutes?), and I never got around to it. And I missed yesterday, too. The days pile fast and guilt grows. I’m failing God, myself, my family, my church. I can’t let the church know I’m a failure at this because this is what being a Christian is all about, right? If I’m not in the Bible every day, they might think I’m not really a Christian–or at least not a serious one. I’ll tell everyone else they should be reading the Bible every day, I’ll put on a face like I’m getting it done, and I’ll continue to feel bad every week when I don’t make it.

Have you ever felt this way?

Trade Law for Grace!

We feel like this when we still place ourselves under law. When we don’t understand why Jesus died for us in the first place, we can get the idea that God is pleased with us when we have our act together and displeased when we don’t get the works in we feel we should. As if our works keep us holy and in His grace.

Get this, Brothers and Sisters: as many of you as have been baptized have put on Christ, you are one in Christ Jesus, and you are sons of God through faith (Galatians 3.26-4.7). Because you are sons, you are heirs alongside THE Son, Jesus. You inherit eternal fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! God adopted you into His family while you were spiritually immature and broken–and He continues to cover you by the blood of His Son while you grow in Christ. You have freedom in God’s house even while you are not perfect! God does not accept you on the basis of what you do for Him, but on the basis of what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross. Nothing you do for God now will make you more holy, more righteous, more acceptable to Him–you are totally accepted right now in Christ Jesus!

So don’t feel condemned and guilty when you don’t get the works perfect. Keep loving God; keep loving your neighbor; keep loving your family. Keep striving to know and understand more, but don’t feel like you have fallen out of God’s favor when you fail.

In God’s grace is an amazing freedom–including the freedom to fail and keep right on going. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).

Being under a heartless law system stifles growth and kills the spirit. But being under the grace of a kind and loving God provides and promotes an attitude of steady joy in the face of all our failures. I hope you and I forever revel in that joy!

Interestingly, those with the perspective of grace find their Bible study becomes even more frequent and fruitful!

Christian Habits: Dwelling on the Word

When we were of the world, we thought and acted like them, but now that we know Christ (or rather are known by Him) our habits have changed (and are changing). You must be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12.2), an inward change which results in a new lifestyle.

Take the apostle Paul for example. After fighting tooth-and-nail against the Christian “sect” (as he saw them), Christ knocked him into the dirt and showed him how much he would have to suffer for Christ. Immediately he reversed course, as he began to publicly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, reasoning with anyone who would listen. One day he killed Christians; the next he loved and joined them.

So it is with all Christians–there is a definite change in our habits. One day we are of the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2.2); the next we are falling on our knees praying to Jesus as Lord and King, submitting to His every command. One day we wonder what this whole “Christianity” thing is about; the next we cling tightly to our Bible, knowing it is the inspired and holy word of God.

Not everyone’s conversion feels quite so dramatic, but we must understand the change involved in stepping from the world into the family of God.

One of the first signs of a changed heart, a converted mind, a reborn soul is that intense love for God’s word as absolute, bedrock, divine truth. Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians:

Eph. 1.15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

Paul wanted the Christians to know certain things about God and about their salvation. How would they come to know these things?

Eph. 3.3 …by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

Through the Holy Spirit, God made known to Paul the mystery of the gospel. Paul wrote it down, and he preached and taught that gospel. Those are the means by which God chose to continue revealing the gospel of His Son–through the reading and teaching of Scripture.

God put the church together in great part to give us an environment which fosters growth in the word.

Eph. 4.11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

All those gifts God gave the church in verse 11 have to do with teaching and preaching at some level–the passing along of God’s word. Notice the benefits of staying in the word and continuing in a steady teaching / learning environment:

  • You will be built up in Christ
  • You will attain the unity of the faith
  • You will come to know the Son of God
  • You will grow up in Christ
  • You will take part in the growth of the whole body of Christ, the church

Every Christian should habitually be in the word, whether it’s listening to the Bible read or taught (by a competent teacher!) or reading and studying for himself. Is your life characterized by a love for the word and a continual hungering and thirsting for righteousness?

STAY IN THE WORD!

He Saved Us: Block Diagramming Titus 1.1-4

Have you ever heard of block diagramming? Here’s a small demonstration using Titus 1.1-4 as an example:

Block diagramming is a method of writing out the verse in such a way as to expose the meaning more clearly–in visual terms. You can see that most of the passage above is concerned with introducing the author of the letter–Paul. In fact, the first four verses of Titus do not compose a complete sentence but an elaborate salutation.

Paul wants his readers to know two things about him: (1) he’s a bondservant (slave) of God and (2) he’s an apostle (one sent out) of Jesus Christ. Throughout the letter Paul overlaps the names of God and Jesus, treating them with exactly the same reverence, honor, and respect.

Paul serves as an apostle (1) in order to build the faith of God’s elect and help them see the truth. The truth is not merely an intellectual exercise; it has to do with godliness, which is a life-attitude of thinking and acting toward God. This letter has a lot to do with explaining godliness.

Paul also serves as an apostle (2) standing upon the hope of eternal life. That eternal life is a major core teaching of the gospel. Paul says God (a) promised it before time eternal and (b) manifested it through the apostles’ preaching.

By repetition, Paul introduces a major theme of his letter: God is our Savior; Jesus is our Savior.

Oh glorious truth:

HE SAVED US!

Deductive vs. Inductive Bible Study

Scientist“Method” comes from joining two Greek words: meta (with) + odos (road or way). This gives the rough meaning of “going with the way” or “a way of going.” A couple of methods of studying are deductive and inductive. You already do both of these.

Deductive Study

Deductive study is a “top-down” approach which begins with a stated “truth” or proposition and then moves down to examine the proofs. A deductive student starts with a proposition (“truth”), and examines all evidence to see if it really proves true. She starts with a view of the whole puzzle and then examines the parts.

For example, you might study birds. You read the definition for bird: “any warm-blooded vertebrate of the class Aves, having a body covered with feathers, forelimbs modified into wings, scaly legs, a beak, and no teeth, and bearing young in a hard-shelled egg.” (dictionary.com). Then you show how this definition is true as you examine storks, eagles, kingfishers, parrots, finches, etc. Each individual bird representative should fit the definition. If we find one bird which does not fit, we either must change the definition to include the difference we discovered or reclassify the “bird” we’re studying as something else. In this way we deductively study birds, but in order to do it someone had to supply a working definition before we started.

Be aware that too much deduction can land us in trouble. The Pharisees argued deductively that their fellow Jews should follow the traditions of the elders. Why? Because they believed those traditions were truth, just as Scripture was truth. Deductively, they assumed the traditions to be true, and they taught and preached to defend those traditions. We can fall into the same trap, if we’re not careful.

Inductive Study

Inductive study is a “bottom-up” approach which begins by examining individual facts or pieces and moves up to formulate more general propositions and conclusions. Scientific discovery is based on observation, interpretation, and application—the examination of how the parts relate to the whole. This form of study begins with the puzzle pieces and attempts to put the puzzle together.

EmuIn keeping with the above example, you might study animals and write down things you notice. Soon you discover that many animals bear live young and many others lay eggs, so you divide your animal list into those two categories. Among the egg-layers you discover that some eggs hatch in water and others on land, so you divide the animals that way. Among the eggs laid on land, you find some animals grow up to have feathers and others to have scales or some other skin, so you group all the feathered into one class. Eventually, in this way you end up working your way towards a definition which fits all feathered, egg-laying animals. You might say, at first, that all egg-layers with beaks or bills are birds…but then you run across the platypus and must readjust. You then say all egg-layers which have feathers and fly are birds…but then you run across penguins and ostriches, and adjust your definition again. Inductively, you are working from the details and forming a general definition for “bird.”

While usually more rewarding, inductive study is often more demanding than deductive because the inductive student must constantly compare, evaluate, and associate things together and think in order to formulate conclusions. When you study Scripture inductively, you have to think! The intensive cognitive component to inductive study discourages many would-be students from mastering this method. But be encouraged! After you practice a while, you’ll find it much easier.

The solution to destroying some of our own Pharisaical traditions is in the inductive study of Scripture. Instead of coming to the Bible to prove a truth we think we know, we come to Scripture to examine it carefully and see what it teaches us to do. Do you see the difference?

Inductive study asks lots of questions, following in the steps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, who often led His learners through careful, intentional interrogation (i.e., Matthew 6.25-34; 7.3-4, 9-10, 16). Often when the Jewish leaders challenged Him, He would ask a simple question which confounded them and exposed their ill-intentions (i.e., Matthew 21.23-27, 28-32; 22.23-33, 41-45). We must learn to ask many questions of God’s word in order to draw out the meaning.

Any questions?