Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 9
The Vital Value of Understanding The Word of God
Read: Acts 8:1, 4, 5, 26-39
"Understandest Thou What Thou Readest?"
We have called these meditations 'Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life' which means that we are seeking to get to the real foundation and nature of the Christian life, to understand what the Christian life is meant to be. Whatever may be the argument (and I am quite conscious that much argument might arise out of what will be said here, for very much argument has already circled around this question), it will always return to one matter, and it should be that one matter that governs and influences the argument. The one matter is the question of absolute satisfaction with the Christian life.
If you are perfectly satisfied with your Christian life, if you are satisfied that Christianity as it is in this world today is an absolute satisfactory thing, then there is no point in a book as this. But if we are not wholly satisfied with our Christian life - that is, if we realize the need for something more, something fuller; if we feel that, speaking quite generally, Christianity as we know it in the world is not quite what it should be; if we deplore all these disruptive elements, all these divisions, all this atmosphere of suspicion and criticism, and so on - if we feel like that at all, then we are surely under the necessity of trying to find out the better way, the remedy. It is incumbent upon us to seek to discover the cause of the much disappointment which exists in the hearts of so many Christians, disappointment with Christianity as we know it.
Do we, in the first place, find some explanation in the matter of our first consideration: an adequate apprehension of Christ? May not an inadequate apprehension of Christ lie at the root of much disappointment and many conditions which we deplore?
Do we, moreover, find some explanation in our second consideration: Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? May it not be that some misunderstanding, some confusion,some uncertainty about this matter of the indwelling Holy Spirit, with all that that ought to mean, lies at the root of many of our trouble?
And now, thirdly, may it not be that the state of spiritual weakness, defeat, uneffectiveness, unfruitfulness, and many more positive elements which are quite unsatisfactory, can be traced to this: not really understanding the Word of God? We must now investigate this question. Let me say that we are not setting out to prove the inspiration of the Scriptures. That is assumed. What we are concerned with is to emphasize and explain the necessity for understanding the Scriptures. We underline the word understanding.
Stopping Short With the Bible
For a large majority of Christians, the Bible is a book of passages to comfort them in time of trouble, to encourage them in days of depression, to give them promises for the future when the present is difficult, or to help them to decide their course in a time of perplexity. In a word, the Bible is for many a matter of the personal day-by-day life in seeking to do God's will. We open our Bibles perhaps in the morning, to get something to help us for the day - a promise, a bit of comfort, a bit of light, just something to help us through; and we do that every day. Perhaps we do it a little more diligently when things are a little bit more stressful; when things are not like that, perhaps we are not so diligent about the Word! Forgive me if that is a misjudgment, but I think that for many Christians the Bible resolves itself into that, and no much more.
Now do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that that is wrong - that the Bible is not for that. It is for that! That is right and good, as we all know. But in this matter, as in many other matters, we stop short.
In the matter of salvation, for instance - our own as well as other people's - we so often stop short, as though that were an end in itself. Get people converted, get them to make a decision for Christ, get them to come to the Lord - put it how you will - and that is that. It is all done. Get on with others. Salvation is an end in itself. And yet, that is only the first step on a mighty highway of ever greater fullness.
In the same way we stop short with our Bibles. In these quite valuable, profitable and necessary things which I have mentioned, we fail to recognize that the Bible is not ultimately for that. If the Bible gives us comfort, gives us light, gives us guidance, gives us hope, gives us some uplift, on occasions, in the thought of God that is all related to something infinitely more. It is related by God to a vast, eternal purpose. You are to get your guidance, your help, your comfort, your light, your promise, whatever it may be, not just for the day or the hour or the moment, in order to get you over the stile that is immediately before you. It is intended by God to get you on the way of a great purpose which has been formed by Him in Divine counsels before this world was. The Word of God is a vastly greater thing than a set of encouraging sayings, comforting words: there is a purpose behind the whole, and every part, in the intention of God, relates to something more than itself. That we must recognize before the Bible can really become alive.
Eternal Design and Central Person
All that is in this book of one piece. It is linked up with one great eternal design, which relates, not to so many individual Christians as such, but to a whole, corporate Body, chosen by God in Christ before the foundation of the world. It is only as we come into line with this that the Bible will really fulfill its purpose in our lives. Otherwise - well, we may go through a day helped by something that we read, a promise or a word of comfort; it may help us very blessedly over today - but is that all? Surely there is more to it than that! Individuals will only become enlarged unto all the fullness of God's purpose as they come into relationship with one another in that purpose: and the Bible is for that.
Yes: every promise, every bit of comfort, every bit of exhortation or light, is an integral part of a great design - and that design is central in one Person - God's Son. If any part of the Scriptures fails to lead us into some greater knowledge of the Lord Jesus, it has failed of the very purpose for which it is there! You see, we are in keeping with our passage: "Understandest thou what thou readest?" Where does the answer lead you? It leads you to Christ. The understanding of the Scriptures is a matter of bringing us to understand Christ. The answer is found in a Person.
Now we must recognize that in this matter of knowing the Word of God, knowing the Scriptures and understanding what we read, there is a factor which is "extra" and "other." That comes out very clearly in the instance before us. This incident in which we have our question is "bigger than itself." In itself it provides us with all the factors that we need for our consideration. But it is representative of a far bigger situation than itself - a situation which has a very large place in the Word of God and in Christian experience. "Understand thou what thou readest?" This is a very pertinent and proper question. It really implies no lesser questions than these: "Does the Bible live to you> Is the Word of God a mighty dynamic in your life? Is it the voice of God to you? Is God all the time speaking by this to you?"
Let us look at this incident, which will itself lead us out into the larger consideration. Firstly, we will look at the man who, I think we can say, is the occasion of what is here - the Ethiopian. Then we will look at that which met his need, and then at the implications of bringing these two together.
(continued with # 10 - A Man In Need)