By Charles Price
Now let me read to you from Psalm 119, and if you have got your Bible and would turn to Psalm 119, I am not going to read the whole psalm because it has 176 verses in it. But I am going to read to you from Verse 97 down to Verse 105.
Psalm 119, and I will read just one section and you will notice a recurring idea that comes in all of these verses. And it comes in all the verses of the whole psalm in fact.
But Psalm 119:97 David writes,
"Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
"Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.
"I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
"I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.
"I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word.
"I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.
"How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
"I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path."
And the next verse is going to be our text for this morning, which sums up those earlier verses:
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."
Keep your Bible open. We have been talking in recent weeks about living in the will of God. The first four weeks we talked about the big picture issues of the will of God and then last week we began to explore the issues of personal guidance.
We talked then about what we called vision. Paul said to King Agrippa, having told his story of meeting God, meeting Christ, on the Damascus Road, and the Lord telling him what his life would consist of, he said, "I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven."
And we talked about this vision from heaven, not only experienced by Paul, but many others, where God put something into their hearts, some desire, some direction, and they began to follow it and live in the good of it.
Well that's what we talked about last week, but if you were only here last week - and obviously you weren't - if you were here last week, you are here today, but if you were only here last week and you heard that message in isolation, it could be dangerous for you because although vision may come from God, and does come from God, it comes largely through subjective means. By subjective I mean from inside our own hearts, our own desires, our own feelings, our own sense.
We talked about Psalm 37:4:
"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."
Not meaning He will give you what you want, but your desires - the desires of your heart - will be God-given desires. And we talked about that in various ways.
But there is a problem with that. The problem is, as Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 17:9,
"The heart is deceptive above all things."
So although God does put desires into our hearts and they can be well conceived and come from heaven, at the same time there is always a danger that our hearts are being deceptive and we are being misled.
And therefore the subjective guidance of God in the heart must come under the objective guidance of God in His Word. And by objective I mean, of course, that which is outside of ourselves. In this case, the external revelation of the Scriptures that we have and hold in our hands that is God's revelation to us.
And so this morning I want to talk about the will of God and the Word of God. Hence my text:
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, as I said just now; it has 176 verses. And if you read it carefully, you will discover that 171 of the 176 verses refer directly to the Word of God. It uses different words like law or precepts or ordinances or commandments or promises or statutes or testimonies or simply "Your Word."
And of course when David wrote this, because he wrote halfway through our Old Testament, all he had of the Word of God would be the books of Moses that we know as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, maybe some of the other books that follow that: Joshua, Judges, and so on.
That was his own experience recognizing that this is not the words of Moses; these are the words of God given to us. And therefore we can safely project this statement onto the completed Scriptures in their entirety.
And when he says,
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"
As we understand that, it includes the whole of the written Word of God.
And so on the one hand, David talks about the subjective desires of the heart in Psalm 37 ("Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."), this same writer, David, later in the Psalms, talks about the objective authority of the Word of God.
And this stands authoritative over the subjective sense of our own hearts. We know that because David talks in 1 Chronicles 22 about what happened when his heart and the Word of God came into conflict. And when they came into conflict, the Word of God won over his heart.
Let me read you what it says - 1 Chronicles 22:7
"David said to Solomon: 'My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God.'"
By that, he meant the temple. God gave to Moses a tabernacle, which was mobile. And when they eventually settled in the land, they put up a permanent structure in a place called Shiloh. But now David had in his heart to build the temple, the permanent place where God's presence would be known in Jerusalem.
He said, "That's what I had in my heart, but the Word of the Lord came to me." And what came to him was in contradiction of what was in his heart.
"The word of the LORD came to me... 'You are not to build a house for my Name...But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest...His name will be Solomon...He is the one who will build a house for my Name.'"
So David says there that "My heart said one thing but the Word of God said another thing. And when that happened, the Word of God took priority over the desires of my heart."
So the subjective process by which God leads us is important, as we talked about last week, but it must be subjected to the Word and authority of God.
Now we know a lot about David. And it is always good to begin, you know, the man who wrote it, try to understand why did he write it, what was his experience in what he was writing.
And we know a lot about David. He was on the throne for 40 years and the whole of 2 Samuel is about David, the whole of 1 Chronicles is about David. Some of 1 Samuel is about David. So we have a lot of information about him.
And we have a number of times when David made decisions. And interesting, when he made decisions, you have a recurring phrase that comes 8 times where it says,
"David inquired of the Lord, David inquired of the Lord, David inquired of the Lord" - 8 times.
That begs the question how did David inquire of the Lord? And in Psalm 119, you have got these kind of statements - I will read some of them - where he says,
"Your statutes are my delight. They are my counsellors."
"I have set my heart on your laws."
"I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." (I think that is a great verse.)
"Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain."
"I will always obey your law, forever and forever."
"I have turned my steps to your statutes."
"I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands."
And you have got about 171 verses of the 176 saying similar kinds of things.
So when David inquired of the Lord, it doesn't mean he went up a tree and sat with his eyes closed and said, "God, I am inquiring; just show me...."
He says, "No, I got out the Word of God and I looked into it, I delighted in it, I set my heart on it, I obeyed it, I turned my heart towards it, I followed in its steps. I did not delay to obey." Those are just some of the statements that he says about his response to the Word of God.
And that's why it is so important to talk about this, if we are talking about living in the will of God, that you cannot live in the will of God unless your mind, your heart, your life is being fed by the Word of God and that this has authority in your life. You cannot live in the will of God apart from that.
90% of the will of God for your life personally is actually in this Book. When I say 90%, that is not a scientific number, but I could say 95% - I am just saying most of it is in this Book.
And that's why we have to become men and women of the Scriptures. And our Christian lives become extremely vulnerable when Bible reading and Bible study and Bible meditation is edged out because we feel so busy or we feel so pressured or we feel so tired. And it's an easy thing to come home and just switch on the TV and waste a few hours that way. And we never get around to spend time in the Word of God.
When David wrote about guidance in Psalm 119, one of the things he said in Verse 133 is,
"Direct my footsteps according to your word."
But what if you don't know His Word? Well then He is not going to direct your footsteps.
And so I want to spend these minutes this morning talking about reading the Scriptures, obeying the Scriptures, understanding the Scriptures.
There are some bad ways to read the Scriptures and there are some good ways to read the Scriptures. And I am going to give you three - two of them are bad and one of them is good. And the two that are bad are very popular ways of reading the Scripture and that's why I am going to mention them to you.
The three ways I am going to talk about are reading the Scripture remedially (I'll explain what I mean), reading it randomly (I'll explain what I mean), reading it rightly (I'll explain what I mean.)
When I say reading it remedially, this is a bad way to read the Bible, sometimes we read the Bible a bit like a medical textbook - we read it for therapeutical purposes. That is, I've got a problem; I want to fix the problem; let's see if the Bible says something about it.
And we see the Bible as a sort of self-help manual for living our lives well. Or we see it as a technical manual for repairing broken things in our lives. We see it as a handbook on psychology rather than on theology; in other words, this is about me rather than about God.
And you say what's wrong with reading the Bible that way? Well, what's wrong is that we have changed the focus of Scripture from being about God to being about me.
You see, it is not a book about self-help; it's a book about how God is our refuge and our help. It's not a book, a sort of an owner's manual to help us live our lives well; it's about Christ being Lord of our lives and living in the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
It's not about how to repair things that are broken; it's about how that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and our Sanctifier. And the subject of Scripture is God at work in His Son Jesus Christ through His Spirit.
Yes, the end result is the transformation of the human heart. But if you read it like a medical textbook (how can I fix this and fix that?) you become disappointed because it is not about that. It's about coming into such a relationship with God that His very presence in our lives, His activity in our lives, is what changes and transforms us.
So we can read it well meaningly as a book about remedies, fixing problems, and we miss the central aspect - it's about spiritual life. It is about walking by faith, not by sight. It's about trusting in the Lord with all our hearts. (These are quotations). It's about loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength. It's about seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Do you know what happens then? All these things - what are these things? Read the context in Matthew 6 when He says that - all these things; worry about food, about clothes, about length of life, about getting your life right - all of these things will be added to you when the focus is not getting these things fixed; the focus becomes seeking God and His righteousness.
So we can use the Scripture remedially; by that I mean we can use it as a manual of self- help to get myself sorted out. And a lot of people do. And they will pick a verse here and a verse here and a verse there and a verse over there, put them together and see it as a bit of medicine.
But the supreme theme of Scripture is God Himself and I will say a bit more about that in a moment.
Secondly, we can use it randomly. That is, sort of almost like a Russian roulette approach where you need a bit of guidance so you kind of just open your Bible and hope you have got something.
It says, "I will bring back my exiled people." Well, maybe that means I am supposed to go back to England, does it? I don't know.
You see, you can do that - I just opened that at random there.
I heard about someone - well I know people who kind of say, "Well Lord, please guide me," and they just randomly read something and hope that something will turn up.
I heard about a guy who did that one day - opened his Bible, put his finger down; it landed on Matthew 27:5 and it said, "Judas went out and hanged himself."
Well he didn't like that so he kind of closed the Bible, opened it again and put his finger down. Luke 10:37, "Jesus said unto him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
That's no good either so he opened it again - closed it again, opened it up, put his finger down and this time: John 13:27, "Whatever you are about to do, do quickly."
Now it is very true that God sometimes gives us a word seemingly randomly but I want to say to you it is most reliable when it comes within your normal reading of Scripture. You know, my Bible is falling apart but most Bibles come with a kind of black; looks like a bit of a bootlace. Mine had one; it's probably worn out.
And you know, it's good to read and then when you finish, just put the bootlace back in there and next time, find where it is and start at the same place. That is the most likely time God will speak to you - not when you go hunting around randomly looking for an odd verse here and an odd verse there.
I actually heard about - well I didn't hear; this guy told me himself that he was looking for guidance and so he said, "Lord, just lead me to some passage." So he read a passage and that didn't help so he read another one and that didn't help. And eventually he said, "I found a verse that confirmed what I wanted to do."
Well, if you look long enough, you will find a verse that will confirm what you want to do.
But David says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet; it's a light to my path."
So if we can read it remedially and randomly, and those are ways that are not healthy, let me talk about reading it rightly.
And what I am going to share with you in the next few minutes is more like a seminar than a sermon, if there is a big difference there. But I want you to listen very carefully because I think this could be one of the most important things that I say to you when it comes to knowing and discerning and obeying the will of God in your life.
How do I read the Scriptures well? You know when we communicate; communication is broken up into units of thought. As I talk to you now, the first unit of thought is a word - I am using words.
But words on their own need a context so the word becomes a sentence. So I am speaking in sentences - about 10 words or whatever it is to a sentence. And that sentence makes sense because it is part of a subject and that subject makes sense because it is part of a context, and so on.
Well so it is with Scripture. And I want to suggest to you that the Bible, or that reading the Bible, is helpful if we understand it as being made up of 7 units of thought - 7 units of thought.
A little bit like a Russian doll. Do you know what a Russian doll is? This is one. My wife was in Russia and she came back with this.
A Russian doll is made up of a series of dolls that all sort of fit inside each other and the way in which I want to suggest is the right way to read Scripture is to discover that there are units of thought and truth that all fit together inside each other, starting with the smallest.
(Can you see those? Probably not. Let me try very delicately without knocking them off the edge. There we are. They can't wave - sorry - but let me find another one. There are in fact I think - there's a reason for all of this in a moment - these are too small to stand up. And this is the last one I think. No, it doesn't open - tiny one.)
Now what I am going to do is show you 7 units of thought in Scripture where understanding the first one and then the first one (I'm not good at these things) has to fit into the second one and the second one into the third one, into the fourth one. This is, I suggest to you, the safest way of understanding Scripture.
And to help you, we put in the bulletin a sheet of paper which has these seven things I am going to explain. And the reason it is in your bulletin is so that you can take it home, stick it in your Bible, keep it, refer to it, and hopefully it might be helpful to you in your own reading and studying of the Scriptures.
The first unit of thought in the Bible is the sentence. That little one here represents the sentence. That is the smallest unit of thought in the Scripture.
Never build anything on part of a sentence.
Now I have heard things quoted that are only half a sentence. And it may mean something totally different when you have the whole sentence.
For instance, did you know that 15 times in the Bible it says, "there is no God" - 15 times you will find that in the Bible. So an atheist has at least 15 texts to make his point from in the Bible.
One of them is in Deuteronomy 32:39 where it says,
"There is no God..."
But that is only part of the sentence. If you read the whole sentence it says,
"There is no God besides me."
That changes the meaning totally.
Naaman - do you remember Naaman, the Syrian leader who developed leprosy and had a servant in his home who was a Jewish girl who was part of the exiled people? And she said, "There is a man back in Israel who could heal you of leprosy. His name is Elijah." Went down there and Elijah said, "Go and wash in the river Jordan seven times."
And he wondered, "Why do I have to go in the River Jordan? It's a dirty river; why don't I go to one of the big rivers back at home?" But he eventually went and one, two, three, four, five, six times; nothing happened; seven times and he was healed. And he came out of the river and he said this:
"Now I know there is no God in all the world..."
Is that what he said? Well, those words are there. But no, what he did say was this:
"Now I know that there is no God in all the world except the God of Israel."
Now that changes the meaning doesn't it?
So if you take part of a sentence, you are playing a dangerous game. The first unit of truth is the whole sentence.
There are a couple of times it says,
"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God."
That's not a very good verse for an atheist. He can quote the last part, "There is no God," but not "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God."
I had a book at home. It's a book on Bible study and it's called "Search the Scriptures." And underneath the title, on the first page - when you get into the book, on the first page, the title again: "Search the Scriptures". Underneath it: John 5:39.
It's a quotation from John 5:39 but actually this is a good book about searching the Scriptures. But when Jesus said, "Search the Scriptures" in John 5:39, He was actually criticizing the Jews for doing it because He said,
"You search the Scriptures - you diligently search the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. But these are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."
So you are saying you search the Scriptures and what it does, it makes you Pharisees because you think studying the Scriptures gives you the rules to live by. So He criticizes them for searching the Scriptures.
But the title of this book was a very positive thing but it had taken it right out of context because it took out three words out of a long sentence.
So never take words out of their sentence. The sentence is the first unit of truth. Now this sentence - that's the sentence, the first unit of truth - has to fit into a context, the second unit of truth, which is the paragraph that the sentence is a part of.
It's not the verses either side. Chapter and verse divisions are very helpful to us for navigation. When I say I want to read Psalm 119 Verse 97, most of you are there very quickly because you can navigate through those divisions. But they are not part of the inspired text and sometimes they end one chapter and start another at exactly the wrong moment it would seem to me. They are not divisions but rather the sentence exists within a paragraph.
And so once we get the sentence, we ask what is the paragraph about? So for instance, here is a full sentence. There is a very popular verse - Philippian 4:13,
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
What does that mean? "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Does that mean that I can jump over the moon? Does it mean I could say to you, "Come up here and sing a solo because here's a promise: you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you." I don't think so and I wouldn't like to try - you wouldn't like me to sing a solo on the basis of this verse - I have a very moving voice and everybody moves when I sing.
What does it mean, "I can do all through Christ who strengthens me?"
There is only one way to answer that question: have a look at the paragraph. And what it says in part of the paragraph is,
"I know" Paul says, "what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me."
He is writing this from prison and he is saying, you know, "My life has been a roller coaster of sometimes everything is good and I have plenty and sometimes everything seems bad and I have nothing. But whether it is good or bad, whether I have plenty or nothing, whether I have a bed to sleep on or I don't have a bed to sleep on" (elsewhere he talked about that), he says, "what I have learned is this: that Jesus Christ is sufficient in any circumstance."
And that's the meaning of that verse, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Not, "I can do things that I am not gifted for," but "I can live in any context, in any environment, under any pressure, because Christ is my strength."
In that same chapter, Philippians 4, a bit later, Verse 19, another great verse.
"My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."
That's a great verse to stick on a calendar, stick on a painting up on the wall.
"My God will meet all your needs."
It's a full sentence but it fits into a paragraph and the paragraph is Paul saying that "you, Philippians, cared about me when nobody else did. And when I was in need, you sent me what I needed and I have received ample from you, he says. They are fragrant offerings, acceptable sacrifices, pleasing to God. And my God will meet your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus."
Now he says, "You have met my needs and therefore I know this: my God will meet your needs."
Don't take this out of its context and say, "Hey, Christian, just claim this one: My God will meet all your needs" if you are not actively involved in meeting the needs of other people. That's the context; that's the paragraph.
So the sentence fits into the second unit of truth, which is the paragraph, and that then fits into the third unit of truth, which is the subject. What exactly is being written about in this passage?
You know the Bible is not a book of verses any more than William Shakespeare wrote lots of quotations. Now there are lots of quotations from Shakespeare, but Shakespeare was writing plays. So if you want to understand the quotation, good as it is...
To be or not to be, that is the question.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, lead onto fortune
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
If you take some of those quotations, you say, that's a great saying, but what is the actual story this is part of? It has much more meaning.
Now when it comes to Scripture this is its only meaning. So the third thing is what is the subject, the theme, the topic that is being written about?
Let me give you an example. If I ask you what is 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 about, what would you say? Love, there you are.
Well, of course, 1 Corinthians 13 is probably the greatest statement of love anywhere in all of literature.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
That is the most beautiful statement of love anywhere in literature. You hear it read at weddings. But when Paul wrote that he didn't sit down and say, "I think I'll write to the Corinthians about love." You see 1 Corinthians 13 comes after 1 Corinthians 12 and before 1 Corinthians 14 (you'll see that I am smart).
What is 1 Corinthians 12 about? Anybody know? Spiritual gifts.
What is 1 Corinthians 14 about? Anybody know? Spiritual gifts.
What did you think 1 Corinthians 13 is about? It is actually about spiritual gifts because in writing about spiritual gifts, the ways in which God gifts us and enables us to serve, he then starts what we call Chapter 13.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels"
(Speaking about the gift of tongues there)
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
So he explains the love with which those gifts are to be exercised. And then he finishes it by saying,
"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy."
And he goes on with the theme there.
And so what Paul is doing is saying, "I need to write about spiritual gifts to the church in Corinth because they are getting a bit confused about this."
And in the course of writing he says, "And whatever else you know, remember this: the spiritual gifts are only able to be exercised in the context of love. You serve each other in love. You don't stand up arrogantly and show off a gift over against somebody else's seemingly inferior gift. No, your gifts are exercised in love. And this is the kind of love."
So actually he is talking about spiritual gifts. He is talking about how the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to function.
So what is 1 Corinthians about? It is about how the church is supposed to function. Now there are some brilliant things about love in the middle of it all, but that is not what Paul was writing about.
And so you get the sentence and you put the sentence into the context of the paragraph and you put the paragraph into the subject. What is the subject? The subject here is spiritual gifts.
I haven't time to give you other examples of that.
But then when you understand the subject, you take that and you put this into the context of the book. Which book is this I am reading this in? Because we need to ask about the books of the Scripture - what is the book and why was it written?
So here, for instance, is a wonderful statement that most parents have thought about:
"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."
Don't think that that statement is a promise. I have met people who say, "We are claiming this promise:"
"Train up a child in he way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."
No, it comes in the book called the Book of Proverbs - not the Book of Promises - the Book of Proverbs. And it is a book in which Solomon put together - mainly Solomon - reams of proverbs. He wrote many proverbs himself.
These things are proverbially true. That is, normally you train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he won't depart from it. But you cannot guarantee that. It's not a promise to you. Because Proverbs also says a man can have a fool for a son.
Now if that came up in the middle of Ephesians you might say, "Wow, this sounds like a promise." And you might well be able to say that it is, but not in the Book of Proverbs. It doesn't claim to be a promise; it claims to be a proverb, and that's different.
What about the Book of Ecclesiastes? Let me just read you a verse that somebody read to me years ago. I hadn't been a Christian very long and I was shocked to find this verse in the Bible.
Ecclesiastes 3:19, and it says,
"Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. They all go to the same place; they all came from dust, and they all return to dust. Who knows if the spirit of man will go upwards and the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"
I remember thinking, is that in the Bible? Well, you say, which book is this? Well, it's in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Well, what is Ecclesiastes all about?
Well you go back to the beginning; it tells us that
"The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem"
And I know people argue about who the author of this book is, but let's say Solomon; I think it was probably Solomon. And having introduced himself, he then takes a deep breath and says this:
"Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."
(That's a good memory verse!)
And if you go through the Book of Ecclesiastes, you discover that 35 times in this book he says it is meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless! Well what in the world are you talking about Solomon? I mean, what's gone wrong? You wrote that beautiful Book of Proverbs.
In fact I have a theory that Solomon was his best when he wrote Proverbs and then he wrote this beautiful love song, the Song of Solomon. And then he got married and he got married to about 700 women plus a few spare women on the side and they so turned his heart, he ended up writing Ecclesiastes. This is written out of depression!
No, this is a man writing and he explains why, in Verse 3,
"What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?"
And if you read the book, you find that thirty times his expression 'under the sun' comes up. What is he talking about? He is talking about a humanistic perspective on life. If you live under the sun you can't see further than the end of your nose; this is what life looks like: animals and people have no advantage over each other. They all go to the same place. They are born the same way, they eat the same way, they sleep the same way, they mate the same way, they die the same way; they go to the same place. It is utterly depressing - meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless; everything is meaningless.
Another phrase that keeps cropping up in this book is 'like a chasing after the wind', finding meaning is like trying to go out into a wind and get some wind into a bottle and somehow put the top on, come home, take the top off and hope some wind will come out. No, you have lost it.
Until he gets to the last chapter and he stops and he says, "Life is so utterly meaningless; what about, as an alternative, when you are young, remember your Creator in the days of your youth."
And then he says, "But here's the thing that is important: you can know God and you can bring God into this broken, meaningless, utterly meaningless world.
So when you read these first chapters of Ecclesiastes, this is a true record of what a man is saying living under the sun from a humanistic point of view.
Now if this came up in the Book of Romans, you would have a real problem. ("What is Paul teaching?") But it is in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
So the fourth Russian doll that the sentence has fitted into the paragraph, which is fitted into the subject, which is fitted into the book; what is the book about?
So when you read the Prophets you need to say, "Where was, let's say, Jeremiah when he wrote all this? What was going on in Ezekiel's world when he wrote this? He didn't understand what he was saying.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, did he have any experience with the Ephesians before he wrote that letter, and if he did, what kind of experience was it? Why is he saying what he is saying? And so you ask, what is the book and understand the book that the truth is in.
And then the fifth doll you put all that into is what is the Testament that this book is in? Is it in the Old Testament or is it in the New Testament?
Now they are both inspired by God but they are different. The Old Testament is a Jewish book. The focus is on God setting apart a nation of people for Himself and giving them the Law and giving them the covenants and giving them the temple and giving them the promises.
And the story from Genesis 12 (prior to that you have got the creation and so on), but now from Genesis 12 onwards when God met with Abraham, you have got the story of a people and a place and a purpose. And the whole Old Testament story is about keeping the people in the right place for the right purpose.
If you get the people in the wrong place, the story grinds to a halt and has to be started up again. That happens several times - Egypt, Babylon, etc.
So the story of the Old Testament is keeping those three in the right place - the people, the place and the purpose. But it was all leading to the purpose.
Whereas the New Testament - the Old Testament is a Jewish book - the New Testament is a Christian book. By that I mean it is a new body that comprises the Jews of the Old Testament and the Gentiles. It's a global story now.
The New Testament Gospel is a fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham, to his nation, and in particular - and Paul is very particular about this - to his Seed (singular), the Seed of Abraham which was Christ who would bring people into reconciliation with God.
And therefore the Old Testament, when you read things in the Old Testament, they are about the Jewish people preparing for the coming of the Seed (Christ the Messiah) who would transform everything.
So you don't just have the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament - it starts with the Ten Commandments - you have got 613 commandments in the Old Testament. And they begin with the Ten, which are the moral law.
Now the moral law of God reveals His character and is for all people at all times.
And then, after the moral law, you have got the ceremonial law. God then talks about a temple or a tabernacle, about priests, about sacrifices, about blood, about burnt offerings and sin offerings and about forgiveness.
And you find the ceremonial law, books like Leviticus and much of Exodus, which tell us how a person can approach God on the basis of blood - you have got lots of that. We don't practice that today (I'll tell you why in a moment in case you don't know.)
And then after that you have got the civil law. In other words, the moral law tells us what we are supposed to be. And that exposes that we are not what we are supposed to be, that we are all sinners.
So the ceremonial law, carried out in the temple, is about how we can be reconciled to God.
And the civil law: about how the people are then to live according to God's ways.
But now all of that is a temporary preparing for the coming of Christ who satisfies the demands of the ceremonial law in Himself. He became our sacrifice for sin, and as a result, puts the Holy Spirit into our hearts to equip us to live the quality of life we are supposed to live - not according to law now, but according to the Spirit.
And so we don't carry out capital punishment for adulterers, which Leviticus talks about, because whatever else the Old Testament tells you about God, it tells you God must punish sin. And you see how He does it.
You get to the New Testament and you discover this: that God has punished sin. That's what the cross is all about. And we instead can know freedom and forgiveness.
So you ask, which book is this in?
So if you read the Book of Leviticus and say, you know, say adulterers should be stoned, you don't say, "Oh well, we are Christians; we should stone adulterers." You say, "Which book is this in?" It's in the Book of Leviticus. Which Testament is that? Well it's in the Old Testament. I see, so that is part of the preparation for the coming of the fulfillment of all that speaks about in the New Testament.
And sometimes you come across things in the Old Testament that really cause us difficulty. David, in Psalm 51, cries out to God and says, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me."
You say, does that mean you could lose the Holy Spirit?
Well, this is in the Old Testament. This is David. He has just committed adultery with Bathsheba. He has just confessed his sin and he cries out to God, "In Your anger with me, please don't take Your Holy Spirit from me," because he saw exactly that happen to Saul the king before him. The Holy Spirit left him and an evil spirit came into him. And David said, "Don't let that happen to me."
Because in the Old Testament, before the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit came and He went, and He came and He went. But now, after Pentecost, He came to stay. And the New Testament tells us we have been sealed forever by the Holy Spirit for the Day of Redemption.
And so don't take a verse like Psalm 51, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me", and say, well that means you can lose the Holy Spirit. No, you come to the New Testament and say, what does it teach me now about the New Covenant and the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives now?
And then you put that fifth unit of thought - the Testament; is it Old or New - into the sixth unit of thought, which is the whole Bible, because the whole Bible is, of course, one revelation. And we have to interpret the Old by the New and the New by the Old.
When I was in Sunday school we learned a ditty - I don't know if you know it - it was very helpful (not at the time; I didn't know what it meant at the time, but since it has been helpful.)
The New is in the Old contained
And the Old is in the New explained
Have you heard that one before?
The New is in the Old contained. Jesus only ever preached from the Old Testament because it was the New Testament truths are contained there if you know how to find them.
But the Old is in the New explained. So they all fit together as one unit.
And when theologians talk about progressive revelation - that is, there is so much that is known and is added to. And Scripture is a progressive revelation written over many hundreds of years. The progress is not from part truth to whole truth; the progress is from promise to fulfillment.
So you say, is this in the fulfillment part of the Bible? (That's the New Testament) Or is it the Promise, the anticipating part (the Old Testament)?
And that's why in 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul makes this great statement:
No matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ.
So you go back to the Old and you see the promises God is making. How are they fulfilled? In Christ.
And if you detach a promise from its fulfillment in Christ, you probably have not understood the promise.
And then the final unit of truth into which it all must fit, the final seventh unit of thought is Christ Himself because in the New Testament a marvelous thing happens to the Word. The Word became flesh. And Jesus said, John 14, "I am the truth." Not "I am the preacher of it", but "I embody it."
And the whole of biblical truth finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. That's why no matter how many promises God has made; they are "Yes" in Christ.
There is a saying we have in Europe, and I guess it is known here: "All roads lead to Rome."
Well all Scripture leads to Christ. That's when Jesus criticized in John 5,
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you have eternal life. But they bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me. All the Scriptures lead to me. All roads lead to me."
On the road to Emmaus Jesus met two disillusioned men after His crucifixion and they didn't know who He was and He began to explain to then what had gone on. It says,
"Beginning with Moses and the prophets he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning Himself.
So He took the Scriptures and said, "Look, this is all about Me, this is all about Me, this is all about Me."
And that's why every time I preach I have two questions I ask myself in the course of my study. And the first question and the most important question I always ask is what am I saying about Christ? What am I saying that requires God to make it work?
If I am saying things to people that doesn't need God to make it work, I am not teaching the Word of God, because it leads us back to dependence upon Him, because He is the ultimate exegesis of all truth - "I am the Truth."
We haven't time to say more about that.
Now you say, is this a sidetrack from talking about living in the will of God? No, it's not. This is how we live in the will of God.
"Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
And therefore if we are going to know the Lord leading us and guiding us, we have got to be people of this Book, we have got to be people who - I was going to say, take the time; the better word is probably who make the time to read it. Not for information merely, but that through the written Word we get to know the living Word and knowing the Living Word - it's not just truth; we have to then obey in some legalistic fashion. It is truth, which works out as the Spirit of God works in us.
Charles Spurgeon, great preacher in the 19th Century said of John Bunyan, the author of "The Pilgrim's Progress", he said,
"Prick John Bunyan anywhere and you will find that his blood is Bibline. The very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text for his soul is full of the Word of God."
And I just read that a few days ago actually and thought that's such a, such a wonderful statement. Would that God would make our hearts and our blood Bibline, not because the Bible is itself the end; it is that the Scriptures reveal to us God - He is the end.
So David says in his life and work, "Your Word is a lamp to my feet, Your Word is a light to my path." The feet shows me where I am, the light to the path gives me some sense of where I am going.
He says in that psalm, "Direct my footsteps according to Your Word."
And I want to say to you this morning as I close - and forgive me for having been a little longer; I didn't realize until I looked up when I was at the sixth point and still had the seventh one to go. But forgive me.
But unless you and I are going to take this Book seriously as the source of our spiritual feeding and sustenance and direction and guidance, you can be a Christian but you will wallow around in the shallows of it all.
You will be the easiest prey in the world to be diverted and taken off on some tangents. And there is lots of stuff around today that will pull you in a multitude of directions away from what is true.
And sadly so many Christians are getting sucked away in these directions because they do not know the Word of God and they do not know the error of what they hear. They like the sentiment of it but they don't see the erroneous nature of it because they do not know this Book.
I was delighted when earlier this year we ordered a thousand copies of a daily Bible reading program, stuck them in the Welcome Centre; they all went. We got another thousand and most of them went as well. And we have on order another two thousand that will be here in December because when we start the New Year, we would love for you - that's a good time to start - don't wait till then, to help you. It gives you a way of reading the Bible through in a whole year or over 4 years.
And there is no virtue in racing through something just to get it done; you want to read it, to meditate on it. But I hope that if you have not gotten into the habit of daily reading the Word of God that you will do so. You cannot sidetrack that discipline and grow healthily in your spiritual life.
Well let's pray together. Father we thank You that Your Word has given to us what You need us to know. It is the voice of the Spirit of God, inspired by Him. It is affirmed by Him in our own hearts as we read it. And we thank You that You equip us to live in the good of it. We pray, Lord, You will make us biblical people, You will make this church a biblical church and through the written Word, we will be a Christ-centred people and a Christ-centred church, enjoying all that You want to do in us and through us as we know You and understand the revelation You give to us. Thank You for Your Word, thank You for the free availability of it to us and give us an appetite for it we pray. In Jesus' Name, Amen.