Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Supremacy of the Word of God

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:13-15)

Paul charged Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching. Paul's charge has one important purpose, which we can find in Ephesians 4:11-13: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The building up of the church of God is the single aim of Paul's charge to Timothy. Timothy has been given the gift of the Spirit. This gift is not for the satisfaction of one's ego, or what Abraham Maslow called as self-actualization. The gift given to Timothy carries a heavenly purpose, which is to build up the body of Christ. This is serious business. It is not just a simple task a director of a company gives to his employee. This is the task given by the God of heaven and earth to his child to shepherd his people.

There are three important tasks Timothy was to do in Ephesus. These tasks had something to do with his gifts that God gave him through a prophetic message - through the blessings of the elders. Timothy was to be diligent in doing all three: 1) public reading of Scripture, 2) preaching, and 3) teaching. The order Paul arranged in the charge is important to heed, because through the order we know the important clue of what to read, to preach, and to teach. Paul did not advice Timothy to publicly read any book, but the Scripture. Paul did not advice Timothy to preach any message, but the message from the Scripture. Paul did not advice Timothy to teach any subject, but only what is taught in the Scripture. The question is why? Why the preaching and teaching of the Scripture is necessary for the building up of the body of Christ?

The key is in Matthew 5:17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, 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. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus emphasizes in this passage that the Scripture is much more valuable than the entire world. The world may pass, but the word of God will stand forever. Moreover, the word of God sustains our spirits, “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). We are created in the image of God, and the perfect image of God is Jesus Christ, who is the Logos, the Word. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15-20). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3). Thus, in the very core of our being lies the pattern of God's word, which can only be nourished and nurtured by the word of God. Since the beginning of time, humans never tire of the search for meaning. And the way we search meaning is by dwelling in words. There is somehow a mystery surrounding words. No animals may speak words like we do. We struggle, meditate, reflect, upon words. If we ponder further, words are magical. They can build our strength, but they also possess the power to destroy. A great hero with unsurpassed physical prowess may be conquered by mere words. Example? Easy... Samson! Over the ages, humans are thirst for words. We look for THE WORD, but we cannot find it anywhere else except in the Scripture. Our construction requires us to listen and speak of words. Words live in us, and our soul demands it. Imagine we live in a world without words... Mute... Silence... Can we live? Words are within us. If we carefully search within and diligently analyze our being, we cannot escape the fact that we have in us the pattern of the word of God. Our genetic makeup is remarkable. Within our DNA we will find written codes, information that construct us they way we are. And the length of information in our DNA, if written, is about 600 thousand pages. Or there are 600,000 pages long of the written words within our DNA. From the theological perspective, I would say that they are the words of God written all over our construct. Since we are created after the perfect image of God, who is Jesus Christ, the Logos, the Living Word of God, then without doubt our very being is constructed by words of God. Therefore, logically and necessarily, humans can never live without God's word. Just like bread sustains our physical body, God's word sustains our spirits.

After the Fall, humans no longer search for the true words of God. We have been confused of who we are. Not only we cannot recognize the written words in us, but also we cannot recognize THE WORD, who is the true pattern of our being. We still long for words, but we cannot find the right one anymore. Just like a computer program is disrupted by a virus, in which the written codes that order the program to behave in a certain way is being redirected by the virus to behave differently. The virus prompts the program to stray away from the original design by the programmer. So the programmer must come up with an anti virus if to make the program works accordingly. God sent Jesus Christ, who is the anti virus of our sin. Sin has been infecting our core being and redirects our image to behave differently from the original plan. So, THE WORD came to purify the written words in us in order to guide us to behave according to the original pattern. Only by shedding his blood on the cross can Jesus re-formats our infected image in order to be restored into God’s original intention. After the atonement by Jesus Christ, we may receive his salvation. Then the nourishment of our restored image can only be done by God’s every word that comes from his mouth. And, only the word of God can keep us from straying away. God's word is the standard of whether we behave accordingly or not. Jesus Christ is the ultimate standard of how we should live. So, again, no human, be it from the original plan or from the present status, can live without God's words. Jesus sacrificing himself by pouring out his blood to us is necessary. We know that in blood is the life of all living being. If our being is depraved, then the blood in us is depraved. I’m talking beyond the physical blood now. The pure blood of the original pattern of the true image of God, who is Jesus Christ, is desperately needed to purify our nature. So, we now have the blood of Jesus Christ running through our veins. We may live with God the Father only because the blood of Jesus is in us. The implication is that we are now brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, since we all have the same blood type. The blood of Jesus Christ is loaded with the word of God, for he is the WORD himself. Jesus, the Logos, said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:5-8). So, our very creation is in Jesus Christ, the Logos, and our re-creation is also in Jesus Christ, the Logos, which makes our construct inseparable from God’s word. How much more, in our re-creation, Jesus himself lives in us – through his blood.

If a teacher is to teach, he needs the content of his teaching. If the content of, say, math, can satisfy one's soul, how much more the content of the Bible, which is the very word of God himself. Our soul is created to match God's word. Our soul cannot live without God's word. Non-Christians don't understand this. In fact, many Christians don't get it either. But Jesus' words stand, that man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God. Analogically, parents always want their kids to be healthy. In order for their kids to be healthy, they need to carefully provide good intake of food. So, parents will sort out the content of their kids' food. Wise parents will not allow their kids to eat junk food. Wise parents know that junk food will destroy their kids' body and health. Parents will strive for healthy and nutritious food for their kids. Therefore, the content for teaching one's spirit cannot be junk words. Only the word of God has the necessary nutrition our spirit needs. Especially, with the knowledge that is now revealed in us that we are restored in Jesus Christ through his blood, which makes us alive again. To sustain our new life, God’s words are the necessary food.

Jesus commanded his disciples, and that include all of us who dare to identify ourselves as Christians, to teach everything that he has taught us. Before one can teach, he has to learn. Thus the study of God's word is a necessity. Before one can teach math, he must first learn math. Only after one masters the subject to be taught then he may teach. None would want to be taught by someone who is ignorant. Christians are given the secret of God's word, and we are to pass it on to all nations. Jesus told his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus wants all nations to live, and the only food that can give them life is God's word. God's word is truth, and the truth will set whoever takes it free (John 8:32). Free from sin, free from death. God's word brings life.

Jesus did not let the disciples stay clueless in interpreting God's word, but he carefully and patiently explained the true meaning of the Scripture to them. Remember what happened to the two disciples walking down the road to Emmaus? “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. …. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:25-27, 32). The disciples felt alive afterwards. The Scriptures were written for the purpose of being read. Jesus read the word of God from Isaiah when in the synagogue, and he explained the meaning, which brought life to all the hearers (Luke 4:16-22). In fact, when he was tempted, the word of God was his sole defense (Matthew 4).

The word of God is indeed the foundation of life. “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Jesus' words are the words of eternal life. Anyone taking in God's word will live forever. But who may understand such mystery if there is nobody preaching it? The Apostle Paul argued, “’Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” …. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-15, 17). The word of God is the source of life. Don't you remember that when God spoke the world came into existence? And when the Son of God was on earth, he claimed that he was the life! Jesus was the Logos, the Word. We all need God's word. Paul knows this and that's why he charged Timothy to preach it. Without the living word of God we all die. God's servants are responsible to feed his people (cf. John 21:15-17). Paul was entrusting Timothy with God's people. They needed to be fed, and the only nutritious food was God's word.

Timothy, therefore, must devote himself in his study of God's word. Only then could he read God's word in public, preach it, and teach it to be put into practice by his people. Now, the implication to all of us today is that we are all charged with the same responsibility, that is to read, preach, and teach God's word. Consequently, we must study God's word. There is no excuse. We should never say because I'm not a pastor, or an evangelist, or a seminarian, then I do not study the Scripture. If the command of Jesus Christ our Lord applies to us to disciple all nations, then it is imperative for all of us to devote ourselves to the study of the Scriptures.

Listen to what Paul said in Philippians 3:8-9: "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that from God and is by faith." Nothing is more important than the knowledge of Jesus Christ. For knowing God and Christ means eternal life (John 17:3). Through what one may know God? We all know the answer, through God's word. No other knowledge can bring us salvation. No other knowledge can bring us eternal life. Only through the knowledge of God, which we may gain through his word, may we have eternal life. No wonder Paul boldly claimed that all other things he considered rubbish compared to the knowledge of Christ. No wonder, Paul commanded Timothy to devote himself to the ministry of God's word. Nothing is more important than this.

When the Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus Christ, he speaks of God's word. He teaches God's word (John 16:13). If we examine our purpose of life and be honest about it, ask yourself: what is more valuable than proclaiming God's word? We may be great physicians, but a preacher of God's word is greater than that. Jesus was a living proof of that. He did not come to the world to be a physician, although certainly he is the greatest, but his purpose was to preach and teach God's kingdom. We may be great politicians, but we can't be greater than a teacher of the word of God. Jesus, again was a living proof of it. Only a few months in the public ministry, and people wanted to make him king. But Jesus did not come to claim the physical throne, so he withdrew. Know that Jesus never withdrew himself from preaching and teaching the word of God. We may be great professors of certain subjects, but we will never surpass God's servant who preach and teach his word in greatness. Jesus was also a living proof of it, for he was the only person on earth who possessed the ultimate knowledge of all things. Yet he did not claim the place among scholars, even though no scholars could ever come close to his wisdom. He was content of being a simple rabbi who teaches God's word without any claim to honor and prestige. We may be very successful businesspersons, but even the smallest preacher and teacher of God's word are greater than that. Jesus was a living proof of that. Jesus was the most successful businessman ever lived on earth. His business was the soul of man and he gains 100 percents of what he set out to do. Jesus claimed: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled” (John 17:12). No other businessman has ever achieved 100 percent of his goals. Who can compare to Jesus in business? Nada! Yet Jesus did not call himself a businessman, instead he called himself a teacher, for he did not call employees, he called disciples.

Of these important matters, Paul exhorted Timothy to be diligent (1 Timothy 4:15). No laziness is to compromise the ministry of God's word. If you understand the seriousness of this task, you will understand why diligence is necessary. Underlying Paul's charge to Timothy is the importance of God's word in life. Paul did not tell Timothy to preach and teach philosophy or any other subject available that might attract many minds in the Greek community. But Paul pointed Timothy to the Scriptures, even though Paul knew clearly that "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (I Corinthians 1:22-23). The Scriptures are not a popular subject matter demanded by the market. The risk of preaching and teaching God's word is so great, for the preacher and teacher might get killed. Yet Paul told Timothy to do so. The question for us is: Would you do it? Would you "waste" your time to study God's word? Would you "waste" your life to preach and teach his word? If you are ready to answer no, let me remind you of his words: "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). And also be reminded of his life that he gave for fulfilling God's word.

Amen and Amen and Amen!

* The Business of Christian Education XXVIII

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