May
18

Thus Saith the Lord

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Text: Psalm 119:9-16

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The Bible is a Book of Influence

Today marks a birthday of sorts:  almost exactly 400 years ago, the King James Version of the Bible was published. It was not the first time that the Bible had appeared in print; that honor belongs to the Gutenberg Bible, produced in the 1450s.  Though not the first English translation of the Scriptures, it is one of the most significant because of the influence it has had over the 400 years of its existence.  You might not realize how much this old Bible has on our modern-day speech:

  • · When people say they’re “at their wits’ end,” they may not know the source is Psalm 107:27
  • · Escaping by “the skin of my teeth” has its roots in Job 19:20
  • · To say that someone is “Salt of the earth” is to quote Matthew 5:13
  • · To say something is a “thorn in the flesh” refers to 2 Corinthians 12:7

Even if you’re a person who doesn’t read the Bible much (or even at all), you have still been affected by it!

Since the first printing of the King James Version in 1611, the complete Bible has been translated and published in more than 450 languages; the New Testament has been published in nearly 1,400 languages, and the Gospel of Mark alone has been published in more than 2,370 languages.  With all of the translations of the Bible now available, the Word of God reaches more than 90 percent of the world’s population. Biblestudy.org estimates that as of 2007, 7.5 BILLION Bibles have been distributed around the world since the first Bible was printed in 1456. That figure increases by about 100 million every year.  It’s not hard to say that the Bible is very important to many people.

The Bible is Made to be Read

There are a lot of Bibles out there – according to various studies, each American home has between three and eight of them – but a lot of people don’t know what’s in their Bible!

Last year, the American Bible Society conducted a national poll to see how much Americans knew about the contents of their Bibles.  The majority of those surveyed misattributed a Biblical quote on poverty to such people as President Obama, the Dalai Lama, Oprah and Bono.

You have to ask yourself why this is so, in a nation where anyone who wants access to a Bible can have it without restriction.

The major problem is that though many own a copy (or more) of the Bible, most don’t read it enough to know that it addresses today’s most critical issues and helps answer life’s most relevant questions: whether poverty, politics, environment, ethics, revolution or romance, the Bible has answers.

God has been bugging me about this. If the people of the Church don’t know the difference between the words of Jesus and the words of a politician, a rock star, or a TV star… how will we ever communicate God’s truth to our world?

The Bible is OUR book!  Of course, it’s not the only thing we read – there is much to learn from the God-inspired teachers of Church tradition.  But they are no substitute for the Bible: the Book of the Church.

Are we going to be Bible OWNERS or Bible READERS?

The Bible is God’s Word for Everyday Life

What does it mean for us to take the Bible seriously, as the primary source of God’s Word to us? We can start answering this question by reading today’s text.

Let’s start with verse 9: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9, NIV84)

To begin with, we first have to understand what it’s meant when we refer to the Bible as “God’s Word.”

In the Hebrew, to be “pure” means “ justified or acquitted of a charge.” The English “word,” comes from the Hebrew word, dabar, referring to something that is spoken – the spoken word.

So, in verse 9, God says, “to be justified in my sight, you must live according to what I say.” In Hebrew, the spoken word has just as much effect as a physical action, just like in the beginning of the Book of Genesis:

“In the beginning,” says the book of Genesis, “when God created the heavens and the earth … God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light”. God spoke … and light was created, followed by water and sky and dry land and all the earth’s creatures.” (From Genesis 1)

When God speaks, it means life for the believer.  His Word has the power to accomplish whatever He intends because it isn’t only a word; it’s an act and a thing.

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV84)

The Word of God always accomplishes the Purposes of God.  God’s purpose? Listen to these words given by God to the Apostle John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1, 14 NIV84)

The Word actually is God, according to John, and in Jesus it takes human form and lives among us, to show us the love and the grace of our Creator. The Word isn’t only speech but is a flesh-and-blood embodiment of God’s will and God’s way.

The Bible Shapes Us As Children of God

How do we trust God’s word, and let it shape us into the people God created us to be?

We do this when we seek God with our whole heart, not just the portion that tunes into the worship service on Sunday morning.

“With my whole heart I seek you,” says Psalm 119, “do not let me stray from your commandments” (v. 10).

These commandments are designed to shape our actions on the school bus on Monday morning, in the sales meeting on Wednesday afternoon and at happy hour on Friday night.

“I treasure your word in my heart,” says the next verse, “so that I may not sin against you” (v. 11).

When we look forward with anticipation, we trust that God will keep the promise made through the prophet Jeremiah:

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

The Bible Shapes our Priorities

With the law of God within us, written on our hearts, we will know an intimacy with God that will give us a clear advantage in our ongoing struggle with sin. Our attitude toward God’s Word should always be open and forward-looking, trusting that the Lord will write the law on our hearts and shape us into more loving and faithful people.

“I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches,” says Psalm 119. “I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (vv. 14-16).

These verses echo the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount,

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

You can gain the whole world and lose your soul. This is the very real danger of storing up treasures on earth, “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).

Is your treasure a luxury SUV, a flat-screen wall-mounted TV or a diamond bracelet from Tiffany? If so, your heart will relentlessly pursue these dreams – and maybe even attain them. But what will you lose in the process?

Better to delight in God’s decrees and embrace the promise of the psalm: “I will meditate on your precepts, fix my eyes on your ways, delight in your statutes, and not forget your word.” This is the way of true serenity in this life, and everlasting joy in the next. By making God’s Word our treasure, we will put our hearts at peace.

King James wanted a translation of Scripture that would create harmony in his kingdom. He didn’t get it. But what he received was something far greater: a Bible that for hundreds of years made God’s Word accessible to countless millions.

It’s a reminder that God’s Word, whatever the version, can bring us peace and provide instruction on staying on the good path of right living.

Sources Consulted:

“What Matters More than Biblical Literacy?” Lamar Vest, writing for The Washington Post. http://bit.ly/kOGyao (September, 2010)

“400 Years of King James,” Homiletics, May 2011

The NIV KeyWord Study Bible (AMG, 1996)