[Look at the great song at the end of this post along with additional resources!]
A young man visited our worship on Sunday. His mother-in-law was baptized into Christ a few months ago, and she has tried to get him to come to worship ever since. He is hesitant. He is very happy attending a Bible fellowship church. Yet, to appease his mother-in-law he worshipped with several “churches of Christ” in the area. When he enters our assembly he lays it on the line, “I’ve been to several churches of Christ in the last few weeks.” he said, “I have heard stories, psychology and jokes, but very little Bible. What will I hear from you today?” My heart broke over the state of God’s people, and my heart rejoiced to find a young man who said, “Give me the Bible!”
We live in a culture that is much more interested in story than in Scripture. We enjoy the performance more than the persuasion. We like to talk more about ourselves than about God. Yes, I am painting with the broad brush of generalization to capture the landscape of our generation, but God’s people must not imbibe this attitude!
Without apology we ought to showcase our love for God’s word in our congregational worship and individual lives. Israel’s worship was punctuated with bold affirmations of how they valued God’s word. “Oh, how I love Your law! …I love Your commandments more than gold…they are sweeter than honey…my delight… and my meditation day and night” (Psalm 119:97, 127; 19:10; 1:2). Would an unbiased observer conclude we love the word of God like that by the way we worship?
There are a couple of mistakes in thinking that lead to worship devoid of Scripture. One mistake has to do with the focus of our worship; the other with the source of our worship. (Yes, this section is for those who teach, but it’s also intended to create a certain expectation in those who hear.)
Mistake #1: Focus On Me Rather Than God. I’ve learned a long time ago that “How To…” sermons create more interest than “God Is…” sermons. Why is that? Could it reflect a misaligned approach to Scripture where, “What is in this for me?” becomes the guiding principle? Yet, Scripture is fundamentally about God. He is the central character in every story, the source of every promise, and the motivation and model behind every command. Until we get our understanding of God right we cannot live right!
This is why the Epistles, as practical as they are, begin with long explanations of the character and work of God. Just think of Romans. Eleven chapters of “God is…” before he ever turns to “Now you…” with any prolonged attention. Even the most famous “How to…” pamphlet in Scripture, the Ten Commandments, is not rooted in what we “shall and shall not do,” but rather in who God is, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 20:1). It is only when we focus on the God of grace and power that we will have the inclination to heed His challenging commands.
Oh dear friend, never tire of extolling the character of God. Do not give in to the pressure to present “self-help seminars” intended to help people achieve their dreams. If a lesson does not primarily communicate that we are to “do all to the glory of God” we have missed our mark. Worship structures which are aimed at our emotions and diminish our attention to God’s word will create a religious environment in which self is the center of gravity. Yet, every spiritual revival in Scripture began with a greater attention to hear God’s word and increased opportunities to study it. God is the focus of what we do.
Mistake #2: Source From Men Rather Than God. The words of the apostles were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and yet when they spoke to God’s people their lessons were rooted in Scripture. Every indictment of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 arises from what was spoken by the prophets. The story of God’s work in history was the basis of Stephen’s stirring message before the Sanhedrin and Paul’s powerful preaching before the synagogue in Antioch (Acts 7:1-53, 13:16-41). It was Paul’s custom to reason with people from the Scriptures in order to show that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17:2-3). If you take the Scripture references out of books like Matthew, Galatians, and Hebrews they nearly vanish away.
I am aware that when Paul spoke to pagan crowds he didn’t use much Scripture and quoted from contemporary sources (Acts 17:22-34). They didn’t know or care about God’s word. This makes me even more concerned about the absence of the Scriptures in our day. Are we growing more pagan? Are we more impressed with the wisdom of men than the power of God?
This is a particular challenge when we talk about marriage, raising children or finances. We are tempted to appeal to the “experts,” the “gurus” and the psychologists, and then we slap on a verse or two to give it a religious ring. Yet, does not the Bible contain “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3)? I am not saying that a gospel lesson must have 20 plus Scripture references! I’m suggesting we must consider what is driving our message.
When I first started preaching I was told to choose a topic and outline what I wanted to say about it. Then I was to get a concordance and populate my sermon with as many references as possible that would validate the points I had chosen. The result was a bland sermon that was limited by my own experience and imagination. I have come to believe that such preaching is rooted in the wisdom of men rather than the word of God. It is extremely vulnerable to traditionalism, selfish agendas, arrogance, and does little to transform the heart of the hearer.
Our message should arise from the text. Whether the approach is topical or expository we must communicate the Author’s intent. Our message must be driven by the weight of Scripture, and our outlines shaped by the structure of the Biblical text. The result will be a worship that is truly God centered and has the power to change the heart.
Let us unabashedly declare our love for the word of the Lord. Let us show our passion for it by how we read and listen to its message. Here are a few suggestions for holding up the Scriptures in your life.
Pick the passage that drives your passion. What Bible verse fuels your interest? What verses keep you going at work? What passage keeps you motivated as a father, mother, husband or wife? What verse makes you such a productive single person? What text strengthens you to keep serving as an elder, deacon or preacher? Memorize a motto passage. Write it down. Put it where you and others can see it. I wonder, do you have a passage that drives your passion? If you can’t think of one it might be that your passion is motivated by something other than the Lord!
Start with the Word not your wants. The Bible is not intended to be a fortune cookie you keep opening until you find the saying you like. Don’t go to a passage, especially a familiar one, with preconceived ideas. Don’t go to the word to validate your conclusions, but to form your decisions.
Cheer for the Scripture! Train your heart to rejoice with rapt attention when Scripture is read. When the Bible is read publicly audiences are easily distracted, but when the speaker says, “I read a story about Abraham Lincoln…” every head in the room pops up in eager anticipation. Stories are powerful tools of communication, and they have their place. However, shouldn’t the sound of our Savior’s voice be especially sweet to our ears (John 10:4)? When Ezra read the word of God the people stood up with respect (Ezra 8:3-5). When the Scripture is read stand up on the inside, open your eyes, turn your head, tune in your heart. Cheering for the Scripture is the first step in being changed by it!
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
A Song: Favorite Hymns Quartet: Thy WordUsed with permission
Words cannot express the powerful effect R.J. Stevens, Tim Stevens, Don Mullins, Dane Shepard, and Hugh Bozeman have had on my faith. The songs they recorded have instructed my mind and filled my heart with worship more times than I can count. Thank you brothers! You can find more songs at: http://www.rjstevensmusic.com/
A Sermon: A Good Servant of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 4:1-16)
Here is Paul’s instructions to those who would handle the Word of God.