The Greatest Commandment | Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

 

The mission and purpose of God’s people, the church, is clearly given by Jesus in His Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Of the four commands given, making disciples is the primary. We go into the world for the purpose of making disciples. We baptize believers into the church in order to make disciples. We teach one another every command of Jesus so that disciples are made. Making disciples of Jesus, therefore, must be at the heart of everything we do as a church.

The book of Acts gives us a further glimpse at how the New Testament church sought to make disciples: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They devoted themselves to the Scriptures, to prayer, and to community. It is my belief that a life molded by these values cannot help but obey the Great Commission. In our present text, we will observe particularly how a life saturated in God’s Word is essential to obeying the Great Commission.

Deuteronomy literally means “second law,” which is fitting because it is composed of the final sermons of Moses given to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land, and much of their content is reiterating the laws and commandments that God gave them forty years earlier. In the sixth chapter, we find our present text, which is one of the most important portions of Scripture. Called the Shema (the Hebrew word for hear), they essentially formed the doctrinal thesis of the Jewish religion, the central belief of their faith. Because of this, these verses were regularly prayed in both the morning and the evening and were often the final words upon the lips of dying Jews. Jesus, of course, affirms their importance by citing verse 5 as being the greatest commandment within the Bible. This text, therefore, is certainly worthy of our study and careful attention.

The general outline of the passage is: the central doctrine is presented in verse 4, the central command is given in verse 5, and proper application is given in verses 6-9.

THE LORD IS ONE // VERSE 4

Hear.

I am tempted to spend all our time with this one word, but alas, we shall not (today…). The importance of our text beginning with this word is multitude.

First, by being command to hear we must conclude that something is about to be said that is worth listening to. Something important is about to be communicated, so we would be wise to give our attention.

Second, we must remember who is commanding us to hear: Moses, the prophet of God, the vessel through whom God provided His holy law. Moses is such a dominating figure within the Old Testament that Jesus was prophesied to be a prophet like him (Deut. 18:18). This prophesy is the confirmed to apply to Jesus by how frequently their lives are paralleled. Both survived mass infanticide by an evil king, from which both found refuge in Egypt. Both were sent to rescue God’s people from slavery. Both issued the commands of God. And Moses is issuing those very commands here. He is speaking on God’s behalf, commanding us to pay careful attention to his words.

Third, because Moses is speaking the words given to him by God, we know that God not only communicates to us but actively entices us to listen to Him.

Fourth, God speaks this command to Israel, His people. God’s people should, of course, listen to their God.

This, then, begs the question: are you listening?

The reality of life is that we are hearing messages constantly. The entire field of business marketing is devoted to getting you to listen to a company’s message. People and devices are constantly vying for our attention, and we are largely influenced by the voices we are hearing. The Creator knows this, so He steps forward and demands our listening. As we will see, this God wants nothing less than to have our full attention. He requires it of His people. Why?

He is God. Two names are given here for the Creator of everything: the LORD and God. The LORD, in Hebrew, is God’s holy name, His personal name, while God is His divine title. Although we know that there is only one true God who formed the cosmos, people constantly worship other beings that they call gods. The LORD, therefore, is God’s proper name for clearly identifying the God of the Bible, which is why He specifies to Israel that He is their God.

This is intriguing because we might expect God to declare Israel as His people, as He often did. We would expect the Creator to brand them with His mark of ownership; however, He reverses the order. He calls Himself their God. He attaches Himself to them, not the other way around. I don’t think this observation is merely semantics for the sake of semantics; rather, this displays the kind of condescension that God shows repeatedly throughout the Scriptures. God does not treat us as nothing more than a pet or property. He doesn’t merely claim us as His own (even though that thought is no small wonder either!); He ties Himself onto us. Jesus is the most obvious example of this glorious condescension by literally becoming a human as we are human.

God, therefore, identifies Himself as being the God of Israel, but He also identifies Himself as being one. This means that God alone is God. Christianity is a monotheistic religion because we live in a monotheistic reality. There is only one Creator, and His name is the LORD. And He is our God. Other spiritual beings (i.e. demons) might establish false religions in which they are called gods, but they are not divine. The LORD is God, and there is no other.

Jews have rightfully identified this as being a cornerstone doctrinal statement, which specifies which God we serve. To affirm this declaration is to reject other views of God. For instance, we cannot properly believe that Allah, the god of Islam is the same as the God of the Bible because Allah is not the LORD. We serve the God whose name is the LORD, who attached Himself to the people of Israel, and who is uniquely God.

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT // VERSE 5

Following such a necessary declaration of doctrine, Moses then provides us with what Jesus calls the Greatest Commandment: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you might. Each command is contained within this one. Even the second command, love your neighbor as yourself, will naturally be accomplished if we truly love God as we ought. Therefore, if the aim of our life is to obey God, the process has been simplified tremendously. Obey this one command, and everything else will be naturally obeyed. How then should we obey it?

Moses explicates three realms of obedience.

First, we must love God with all our heart. In Hebrew, this refers not only to feelings and emotions (as we think of the heart today) but also to the mind alongside its thoughts, desires, and will. When Jesus added the mind onto this list, He was not adding a new concept but making the idea more explicit.

Second, we must love God with all our soul. Again, the Hebrew’s conception of soul differentiates from what is common to today. We tend to imagine the soul as metaphysical, akin or even conjoined to consciousness. While the Hebrews did conceive of the soul as being alive (perhaps even the lifeforce of a person), they also viewed the physical body as part of being a soul.

Finally, we must love with all our might. The word used here is often translated as very or much. For instance, it is used when God declared creation very good in Genesis 1. When used as a noun, the word implies might, strength (as it is said in the Gospels), force, or we might add, fervor or zeal.

Together these categories encompass the entirety of a person.

So how then do we obey the command?

Here’s an idea. Grab a piece of paper and write those three realms of life side-by-side. At the end of each day, think back over how much you loved God within those categories and assign a percentage value to your effort. Now strive each day to increase those percentages until you are living each at 100%.

If the previous paragraph didn’t raise a few red flags, your heresy alarm system might need some maintenance. Such a goal-setting mindset misses the entire point of this command. After all, what is the command again? To love God. While true love often requires us to act without emotional backing, love itself is an affection. Love is not simply an action that can be accomplished; it is the prime motivator behind our actions. We spend time with our spouse because we love them. We watch television because we love it. Even actions we dislike, we do out of love. We work a job we hate because we love what it provides for us (at least more than the alternative of not having an income). Because love is a motivation, while it is easy enough to do loving things, it nearly impossible to force ourselves to love something or someone. Yes, we can certainly stir up the flames of love, but can we actually create love? Can I force myself to love something that I am truly apathetic towards? Without outside intervention, I don’t think we can. Our loves proceed from our being, and so what we love is a reflection of who we are.

This command, therefore, is not so much about what to do as it about what to be. In order to properly obey this command, your love of God must become your identity. You love God with your whole person. Every thought, emotion, desire, intent, word, action, breath, and heartbeat come from your love of God. That is what the word all means, after all. Nothing lies outside of your love for God. Loving God is woven into each fabric of your existence.

Of course this means that we can never hope of obeying. Even if, by some miracle, we managed to love God with our entire being for one whole day, we’ve still fundamentally disobeyed. Not loving God entirely yesterday ruins an entire lifetime. The command says all, and everything less than that is disobedience.

But, you interject, God will judge me by my effort, not the result; He knows that I tried. But have your really? Might could also be translated as effort, so did you actually make every effort every moment of every day to love God? I don’t think so.

But, you offer again, won’t God show me His mercy by relaxing such an unattainable standard? For God not to demand obedience as the command is written would be for Him to lie. To command one standard but accept a lower one is dishonesty, and God never lies (Titus 1:2).

All of this means that you can never do enough to obey this command. More than that. You, as a person, are not enough to obey this command. The problem is not just your actions; it is you as a person. You are utterly incapable of loving God as He commands and deserves.

And I’m in the same boat.

We all are.

No effort will ever be enough because we ourselves are not enough. We each stand before God, disobedient to His commandments and deserving His just judgment.

Yet for all the insufficiency that mars our love for God, His love for us is more than sufficient. The glorious news of the gospel is that God extended His boundless love toward us, even when we willfully refused to love Him. Although we could never fully obey this command, Jesus did. He lived a life of total love for God, never once failing to glorify the Father in all things. Such obedience is a battle to even comprehend for us. Yet He obeyed perfectly, and then He willingly submitted Himself to die in our place. His undeserved death then became the payment of the penalty for disobedience for all who believe in Christ. For those who are united with Christ, we are now presented before God as if we have completely obeyed this command. Our status before the Father by the blood of Christ is as if we truly have loved God with all our heart, soul, and might for every single moment of our lives. Jesus Christ is our only hope. Without His righteous being imputed onto us, we are each guilty of blatant and continual disobedience, earning us the fury of God’s wrath, but in Christ, we are now children of God.

SCRIPTURE AND DISCIPLESHIP // VERSES 6-9

Verse 4 gave us the key doctrine, and verse 5 was the key command. These final verses show us how to apply them into our lives. Verse 6 is the backbone for the remainder of the passage, while verses 7-9 explain what that verse looks like when lived out.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. What words is Moses referring to? Of course, the immediate context is in reference to verse 5, but they also apply to the words of all of Deuteronomy and, then, to the rest of Scripture. But even if Moses only meant verse 5, we could not properly love God without keeping His entire Word upon our heart.

What then does it mean to keep the Greatest Commandment specifically and all of Scripture generally on your heart? As we said earlier, the heart in Hebrew entailed much more than just feelings and emotions; for them, the heart was always the center of thought and reason. Therefore, keeping God’s commandments on your heart is the same practice as meditating on God’s law, which the Psalms urge us to do. Because God is revealed through His Word, we must treasure the Word in order to properly love Him.

Verses 7-9 describe how to do this. First, Moses gives the command of discipling our children in the Word of the LORD. Notice how Moses describes the manner in which such teaching ought to be done: diligently. Just as the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, so Moses commanded the Israel’s to diligently teach their children God’s commands. Discipleship has always been God’s idea of expanding His kingdom in both Testaments.

While peer-to-peer or mentorship forms of discipleship are thankfully resurging today, we must never forget this ancient truth that, for parents, our children are our primary disciples. They must not be recipients of our secondhand efforts. They must be our first and most important ministries, second only to our spouse. While the community of the church can be lifesaving in childrearing, the God-given responsibility is upon the parents’ shoulders and no one else.

If that sounds intimidating, Moses continues in verse 7 to show how this is to be done. By stating two pairs of opposites (sitting-walking and lying down-rising), the prophet is emphasizing that all of life should be filled with discussion of the Scriptures. Tremendous benefit can be found in having a daily time of family prayer and Bible reading, but that is not enough. The goal is not simply to read the Bible at least once a day; the goal is the saturate life with it. That is how to disciple our children.

The great difficulty of saturating life with Scripture is that we tend to be very biblically illiterate. Living in the Bible Belt, this is especially tragic. Many people spend their entire lives attending church faithfully who still do not know the basic storyline of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They may know the Sunday School stories (Noah, Jonah, Daniel, etc.), but they do not know which books of the Bible focus on the period of the Babylonian Exile. They do not know the basic purpose behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians or why Revelation isn’t as scary as it seems (for Christians, of course).

By God’s providence, the tide is changing, but much progress remains to be made. In order to discuss the Scriptures with our children and the people around us, we must first know them, and we can only know them by first consuming them. This is why Moses tells the Israelites to bind these words to their hands, place them on their forehead, and write them on their doorposts. While many Jews have (and still do) take these commands literally, the prophet is simply commanding them to be remembered. He essentially saying: do whatever you need to do to keep God’s Word in your mind and heart.

Of course, the added depth of meaning to having them on your hand, forehead, and doorposts is that they are visible to others. The significance here is that as we saturate ourselves in the Scriptures, we will be marked by them. They will brand us in such an obvious way that we might as well have them glued to our forehead. The Bible-saturated life is easy to recognize and impossible to hide.

If we don’t have to literally bind Deuteronomy 6:5 on our hands, how then do we dive deeper into Scripture? How can we place it constantly before our eyes?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Read it for the story. One of the best ways to become more familiar with the Bible to read it, and particularly read it with the goal of first becoming familiar with the overall narrative. While the Old Testament can be quite intimidating, it’s story can be fully grasped by reading eleven books (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah), and the other twenty-eight books take place within the timeline of those. The New Testament typically isn’t as frightening, but if the complexities of the letters are an issue, try reading them an entire letter in one sitting (as their recipients would have read them), focusing on understanding the main idea. Reader’s Bibles can be a great asset in the endeavor to enjoy the story and message of the Bible. They remove chapters and verses so that it is easier to focus on the actual words. This also makes them ideal for a self-paced reading plan.
  2. Listen to it. I think audio Bibles are awesome. They might not be for everyone (I certainly go through seasons of use), but I’ve found them to be of great aid. While visibly reading the Bible is still ideal, listening is a valuable supplement (especially when remembering that most Christians throughout history only heard the Bible read on Sundays). Most Bible apps and websites have free audio to use, but my two favorite apps are Bible.is and Streetlights. Bible.is contains dramatized Bibles, which I’m a fan of, and Streetlights throws really great background music behind them.
  3. Pray it back to God. Reading the Bible is often be boring because we fail to properly interact with the Scriptures. Praying God’s Word back to Him is the easiest (and probably best) way of developing such an interaction. Plus, if the Bible is how God speaks to us and prayer is how we speak to God, this truly turns our reading time into a dialogue with God.
  4. Meditate on it. Meditation is hard because there are, at once, so many ideas of what it might look like as well as no ideas at all. So how should you meditate on Scripture? Having a time of silence to think through a portion of Scripture is one form; however, if you are like me, our distracted age has made maintaining internal trains of thought quite difficult. Journaling can remedy this problem. Follow a formula of questions (like from 2 Timothy 3:16) or simply ask a question about the text and attempt to answer it. Regardless of how it is done, think deeply about the text and keep thinking about it throughout the day.
  5. Choose a book to study in-depth. I know this is the polar opposite of the first suggestion but hear me out. First of all, I would not suggest this approach until you have at least read the entire Bible and have a basic understanding its whole. That said, every Christian should remember that Bible commentaries are not pastoral exclusives. Anyone can, and should, grab a biblically faithful commentary and have it aid you in a deeper study of God’s Word. Tim Challies (at Challies.com) and Keith Mathison (at Ligonier) both have lists of the best commentaries on each book of the Bible, which are invaluable resources. The Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series is easy to read and contain questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. Also listening to a sermon series or reading a book of sermons can be use in the same way.

The point of these suggestions is not a heap a new burden upon you but to give ideas for how to begin swimming in the sea of God’s Word. The more we see God in His Scriptures, the more we will love Him. And the more we love the LORD, the more we will saturate our lives with His Word. And the more our lives are saturated with His Word, the more naturally we will disciple those around us.

Brothers and sisters, it is a new year; take this season to renew your hunger for God’s Word.

Read the Scriptures.

Meditate on them.

Study them.

Pray them.

God is speaking.

Are you going to hear Him?

Are you listening?

 

Beware of Anything Beyond Scripture | Ecclesiastes 12:9-12

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Ecclesiastes 12:9–12 (ESV)

 

With verse 8 of this final chapter repeating verse 2 of the first chapter, the body of Ecclesiastes came to its conclusion. The remaining six verses compose the epilogue to this biblical work of philosophy. Throughout the entirety of the book, the under the sun perspective has been predominant, with glimpses beyond scattered throughout. If in our previous study the Preacher lifted our eyes toward the sun itself, he continues to raise our heads further in these verses. Verses 13-14 will entirely point us to the God who is above the sun, but verses 9-12 direct us to His means of reaching out to us under the sun: the Scriptures.

We now enter the epilogue of Ecclesiastes, which is the subject of much debate among theologians. One of the most common views is that the epilogue was authored by someone other than the Preacher himself. This seems accurate enough at first glance since whoever wrote these verses appears to be introducing the Preacher in 1:1 and is reflecting upon the Preacher’s words in the epilogue. The other primary argument is these verses are not nearly as bleak as the main body and generally do not have the same feel or aim. A prevailing theory is that if Solomon is indeed the Preacher then perhaps Hezekiah (who compiled many proverbs of Solomon, as seen in Proverbs 25:1) composed the epilogue and first verse of the book. This view certainly has its merits and may very well be true; however, I find no problem with the Preacher also being the author of the epilogue. First, writing about oneself in the third person was far from uncommon in the ancient world. Second, the epilogue is not a shift in style from the rest of the book; it is its conclusion. Verse 13-14 get explicitly targeted as being too God-focused for the rest of Ecclesiastes, but the entire book builds toward those closing statements. And like a skilled writer, the Preacher sowed the seeds for his conclusion throughout the book. For instance, he is not instructing us to fear God for the first time (5:7). In fact, recall that 5:1-7 is a miniature replica of Ecclesiastes’ structure, complete with a refrain and an epilogue that sheds new light on the previous verses as well. God’s judgment is also not new to the Preacher (11:9). Indeed, the bleak outlook of the entire book, the constant refrain for us to enjoy the life given to us, and the exploration of living under the sun have all been leading us to these final remarks.

As I said in the study of 5:1-7, I strongly considered opening Ecclesiastes with a discussion of its epilogue, and the Preacher (or whoever authored these verses) indeed intends for us to reread Ecclesiastes in light of its conclusion. But the necessity of rereading the book is the entire point. These words come at the end of the book for a reason. The author wants to us feel the beauty of lifting our face above the sun after having spent so much time under it. They are a breath of fresh air after swimming in the vanities of this life. But they also should impact how we reread Ecclesiastes. Or I should say, they necessitate that we reread Ecclesiastes. As a blatant member of the Bible’s wisdom literature, Ecclesiastes is meant to be meditated over as we mine it for the wisdom that God has spoken through it. Providing the epilogue as a new lens through which to read the book serves as an incentive to return to its words. I would go so far as to say that a failure to reread Ecclesiastes in light of the epilogue is a failure to understand the overall message of the book.

TEACHING KNOWLEDGE // VERSE 9

The epilogue begins by panning the camera back until the director is brought into the frame. Information on the Preacher has been scant throughout the book, and the end of the book does little to change that status. The Preacher has reminded us frequently of his wisdom, but now he points us beyond that wisdom. Besides being wise (or beyond being wise), the Preacher taught knowledge to the people, primarily through the use of Proverbs, which we have seen included in this book. There are two aspects of this verse that I want to comment on.

First, this is not saying that the Preacher went beyond wisdom into a higher level of some sort, nor that he left wisdom behind to move onto bigger and better things. Instead, Solomon not only accumulated wisdom; he also did something with it. Specifically, he taught knowledge and wisdom to others. This is important for two reasons: 1) knowledge is worth teaching, and 2) teaching is a form of loving.

Knowledge is worth teaching because knowledge is worth knowing. Christianity is a religion that gladly admits that we are ignorant of many details and contours of God because He is infinite and we are finite. Our knowledge is limited; therefore, we will always be ignorant of something. However, the Bible continuously rebels against the notion of willful ignorance, while wholeheartedly promoting the pursuit of knowledge. We see this in the cornerstone verse of Proverbs: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). Whoever fears God is ready and willing to learn, but fools openly reject being taught wisdom and knowledge. Fools fight at the notion that someone may know something that they do not.

Similarly, the LORD brings His condemnation against Israel in Hosea 4:6 stating, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Israel became willfully ignorant of God in favor of pursuing sin. In verse 10, the LORD warns that sin destroys understanding: “They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding.”

Now compare that despair of ignorance with Peter’s view of knowledge: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). God’s divine power places life and godliness in our hands through the knowledge of Him. Knowing God is how we experience the power of God, but willful ignorance of God is a foolish sin that ends in damnation. Eternity, therefore, hangs upon the knowledge or ignorance of God. Is knowledge not worth teaching!

If knowledge of God is the means of receiving God’s powerful gifts of life and godliness, then such knowledge must be taught. And beyond the bare necessity of teaching the knowledge of God, such teaching is also a supremely loving act. If, as we studied in the previous text, God is the being of the greatest worth and value, then the act of introducing someone to God and His character is an act of great worth and value. If the greatest commandment is to love God with the second being to love our neighbors, then teaching our neighbors the God who is altogether lovely is a display of love of the highest order.

Unfortunately, we tend to place the meeting the physical needs of others on a higher plain than their spiritual needs. The Apostles, in Acts 6, did not fall into that trap. They rightly delegated the distribution of food to the church’s widows in order to focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer. Of course, none of this is to say that physical needs are of no value. They certainly are! But feeding upon the Scripture is eternally more important than feeding upon bread. Often it is said that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care, but, as Christians, we ultimately long to show how much we care by showing people the God we know. Along these lines, the Preacher was too loving to keep his wisdom and knowledge of God to himself, so he taught others.

Seconds, notice how Solomon taught others: weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher poured himself into the work of collecting words of wisdom. With great care, he weighed proverbs, scrutinizing them in order to be sure of their wisdom. He studied them, reading them backward and forward, meditating on them day and night, taking them to heart, and applying them to his own life. He arranged them, gathering them together so that others might be able to study them as well. The emphasis of these three verbs is the great care with which he compiled his words of wisdom. There was nothing frivolous or half-hearted about his task. He poured heart and soul into his work, for the purpose of teaching others. To the weariness of his own flesh, he studied for the sake of others.

Why did he put so much work into words that many people will dismiss before they ever even read? The next two verses give us that answer.

WORDS OF WISDOM, TRUTH, & DELIGHT // VERSES 10-11

Within these two verses, Ecclesiastes explicitly places itself into the category of biblical wisdom literature. The word uniting 10 and 11 is words. Verse 10 states that the Preacher sought (a great summary word for the great care taken in verse 9) to find words of delight and that he accurately wrote words of truth. Verse 11 then gives us two functions of these words of the wise, as well as their ultimate source.

Let us begin by noting that the words of delight, words of truth, and words of the wise are all the same words, the collected sayings. But which words are these exactly? There is a triple layer of application here. First, these words refer to the book of Ecclesiastes directly. Second, they are also, broadly, the collected wisdom literature of the Bible. Third, they are, in the most general sense, the full text of Scripture. These three concentric circles must be understood and remembered as we look at how they are described, applied, and given, but for greatest scope, we will primarily speak of them as all of Scripture.

Scripture Is Wise, Truthful, & Delightful

Three descriptions are then given of the Scriptural writings.

They are the words of the wise. Since true wisdom comes from the fear of God, these are the words of God-fearers who are teaching us about the God whom we must fear.

They are words of truth. If is truly the Creator of all things, He is also, then, truth. If He authored reality, then all truth derives from Him because He is the greater Reality behind all of reality. Words are true indeed that direct us to He who is truth.

They are words of delight. Since the immediate application is upon Ecclesiastes, this might be a tough pill to swallow. Delight is not likely the first word that comes to mind when thinking about this book, which has repeatedly reminded us of death’s inevitable arrival. Of course, we shouldn’t exclude other books and passages of Scripture from this thought either. We do not often read the Bible’s genealogies while praising God that they are “more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold” (Psalm 19:10). Nor do we read passages like, “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat” (Leviticus 11:13-19), and rejoice that those words are “sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honey comb” (Psalm 19:10). Yet if Scripture is the written Word of God (as verse 11 will affirm), they are delightful because the Creator Himself has spoken to us! Especially as Christians, who now call God our Father because of the cross and resurrection of Christ, we should delight in the words of our Father.

Two functions of Scripture are then described in verse 11.

Scripture Goads Us

They are like goads, which resemble fire pokers and are used to goad (which is where that verb derives from, by the way) oxen into continuing the work of plowing. The words of Scripture, therefore, prod and guide us. They are pointed and sharp to move us into action. Like a goad, they hook and pull us toward one direction or the other in order to keep us along the right path. Truly the Word “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). If the gate is narrow and the way hard that leads to life, it cannot be traveled except by the guidance of God’s Word. Put simply, a Christianity that is not guided by the Bible is not Christianity.

Scripture Secures Us

They are also like nails firmly fixed. Securely fixed nails accomplish their purpose of holding the nailed item in place; likewise, the words of the Bible secure us to the God who spoke them. Psalm 119:9-11 declares that the young man is able to keep his way pure by guarding it with the Word of God, storing it in his heart so that he might not sin against the LORD. With the Scriptures, we could not know and follow Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Scripture Comes from One Shepherd

Finally, all Scripture comes from one Shepherd, God. Philip Ryken comments on this phrase:

This makes Ecclesiastes 12:11 an important verse for the Biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture (see also 2 Peter 1:21). Ecclesiastes is the very Word of God. The Preacher’s words are not merely the musings of some skeptical philosopher; they are part of the inspired, infallible, and inerrant revelation of Almighty God. Therefore, it is not enough merely to admire their artistry and respect their integrity—we must also submit to their authority. As the Shepherd of our souls, God uses this book—as he uses everything written in the Bible—to prod us into spiritual action. (278)

The Bible contains wisdom because it is the Word of God. The Bible is true because it is the Word of God. The Bible is delightful because it is the Word of God. The Bible is able to guide us because it is the Word of God. The Bible is able to secure us because it is the Word of God. If the Scriptures are not breathed out by God, they are simply another book to read, but if they are God speaking to us, there is nothing more important for us to read, study, memorize, and meditate upon.

BEWARE OF ANYTHING BEYOND SCRIPTURE // VERSE 12

Verse 12 begins with the phrase, my son, which should immediately bring to mind the first nine chapters of Proverbs. The introductory chapters of Proverbs were written by Solomon to us, the readers, as if we were his son to whom he was imparting fatherly wisdom and warnings. If Solomon did write this verse, then it is a very fitting return to style. If it was written by another author, then it is purposely connecting itself to the rest of the wisdom literature and Scripture.

His warning to us, as though we were his child, is to beware of anything beyond the Scriptures. He explains that the making of books will not end until the world does and study requires a physical tax upon the body, so focus your reading and studying upon the Book. This is not to say that other books do not contain truth. They often most certainly do! Many books outside of Scripture are worth reading, but even among the valuable books, too many exist for anyone to read. And the list only continues to grow. We cannot allow ourselves to be caught in the current of studying and reading other things more than Scripture.

Sadly, few today are in danger of over-reading or excessive studying, at least in the traditional sense. Even with the information of the ages available at our fingertips, most of us seem content to outsource our thoughts onto various screens, while we watch upon those screens frivolous entertainments that do nothing to benefit us. The author is warning us against the dangers of reading and studying to find eternal truth outside of Scripture, but one of the most dangerous lies in circulation is that entertainment doesn’t influence us with teachings that contradict the Bible. Every book, film, television series, or any other media teaches something as truth. Discovering whether or not that truth aligns with the Bible is our responsibility as Christians. Philosophies are often hidden, and the same empty deceits that the Colossians fought against still abound today (Colossians 2:8). I don’t argue that we should become Amish and shun entertainment, but we must become more media literate that we may be able to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

One of my favorite television series is The Office. Watching the entire series is a 100-hour commitment while reading the entire Bible takes around 70 hours. Could our deep cultural literacy be a primary factor in why so many Christians are biblically illiterate? Entertainment itself is not a sin, but O how easily it distracts us from the eternal warfare that we walk in day by day!

Ultimately, to turn away from Scripture is to declare self-sufficiency. Whether we turn to another religious philosophy or whether we hide our thoughts in a mindless Netflix binge, the outcome is still the same: we claim our independence from God. The Word of God alone is our guide and our security. The Scripture alone reveals to us the knowledge of God. To reject God and His Word is to reject the fountain of living water, the bread of life, good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.

Does your vision of Scripture align with the vision found here in Ecclesiastes?

Do you come to the Scriptures for wisdom and knowledge, or do you seek other counsel?

Is the Bible the final and supreme truth to which you hold, or do you blatantly or subtly follow other ideas and philosophies?

Do you delight in the Word, or do you view reading it as a lifeless chore?

Do you allow the Scripture to goad you, or do you careful interpret it to only say what you want it to say?

Is the Bible your security, or do you turn to other things to anchor you?

Do you study the Word in order to know the God who spoke it, or do you read it as a self-help or therapeutic book?

In what things do you saturate yourself? What do you “study”? What do you give your time to more than Scripture?

Biblical Wisdom

The Heart of Wisdom | Proverbs 4:20-27

My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.

Proverbs 4:20-27 ESV

 

Within these verses, Solomon dives into the heart of wisdom. While we have already been given the command to write these words of wisdom on the tablet of our hearts, he now commands us to keep (or guard) our heart vigilantly because from it flow the springs of life. Solomon gives this command because he knows that our heart is the core of our identity. If our heart is wise, our actions will be wise, but if our heart is foolish, everything we do will be foolish.

UNDERSTANDING THE HEART // VERSE 23

For reasons that I hope to make clear throughout this study, I believe that this verse is the central thought of our text; therefore, we will apply our focus here first and then move to the surrounding verses as they provide application for observing this verse. Solomon provides us here with a command followed by his reasoning behind the command: Keep you heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

In order to understand this command, we must first know what is the heart. Biblically, the heart refers to far more than the primary muscle of our circulatory system; it is core of our identity. Who you are in your heart is who you really are. It represents the fundamental sense of you being you. Proverbs 27:19 shows this thought by saying, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.” Knowing a person’s heart means knowing them fundamentally.

Obviously, this concept elevates the heart’s importance significantly, and it is why Solomon tells us to keep our heart with all vigilance. Keep here could also easily be translated as guard or defend. Vigilance is actually another form of the word used for keep in verse 21, and it often means to imprison, confine, or guard. It carries here the idea of guarding more than anything else, watching supremely and vigilantly. The idea is, then, that we must guard the heart with greater vigilance than we guard anything else. The NIV’s translation truly does capture the intension of this verse: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

But why do we need to vigilantly guard the heart? Springs of life flow from the heart. The metaphor here implies the imagery of a reservoir with many springs flowing from it. The heart is the great reservoir of life. Everything we do is rooted in our heart. Our actions are molded by our inward character. Jesus supports this understanding in Matthew 15:18-19:

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

The principle here is terrifying. We like to assume that we are good people who occasionally do bad things, and even then, we convince ourselves that our intensions are generally pure. Sin, therefore, is simply a problem of behavior. But Jesus shatters this thought by stating that we do bad things because we have bad hearts, and if our heart is bad, we are bad. Sin is not a behavioral issue; it is a being issue. We are not righteous people who occasionally sin. We sin because we are sinners. Our heart is corrupt, so there is no aspect of our being that escapes corruption, behavior included.

Proverbs even goes so far as to portray sin as destroying the heart. Throughout the book we are told that fools lack sense. The Hebrew word for sense is the same word used for the heart. The adulterer’s lack of sense really comes from having a sin-strangled heart (6:32). The fool lacks sense because sin is killing his heart. Sin is actively trying to pull us into the grave, both now and in eternity. Thus, to neglect guarding the heart means that we will die for lack of discipline, being led astray by our folly (5:23).

All of this provides us with a few questions and problems to address through the rest of this sermon. If the heart is so important, how then can we guard the heart? If our heart is defiled, how can we have life at all? What role does obedience play in keeping the heart?

HOW TO KEEP YOUR HEART // VERSES 20-22; 24-27

Now that we have briefly covered the necessity of keeping our hearts, let us now dive into the question of how we ought to do so. Fortunately, Solomon does not give us a command without further instruction. Verses 20-22 and 24-27 provide a snapshot for how to guard our hearts.

At first, verses 20-22 appear to be restating the same command that Solomon has given at least once each chapter thus far: pay attention to what I am teaching you. Yet the brilliance of this God-breathed poetry is that the command takes on a new significance when it is viewed in light of verse 23. For instance, verse 21 tells us to keep these words in our hearts, just like Proverbs 3:3 told us to “write them on the tablet of your heart.” Both verses urge us to take God’s wisdom to heart, but now we learn that doing so is a way of guarding one’s heart.

Of course, the idea of filling our heart with God’s Word is not a Proverbs exclusive. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist understood that sin has the power to corrupt and eventually kill our heart; therefore, he resolved to fill his heart with God’s Word. The Scripture is powerful for teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us in righteous (2 Timothy 3:16). Each of these furthers our growth in sanctification, as we mortify sin and submit to God’s will. Sin is death, but God is life. And we know God through His Word. As we seek to guard the fountainhead of our life (the heart), why would we not soak ourselves in the Word of the Author of life? A failure to keep God’s Word is a failure to guard our heart.

Next, verses 24-27 shows that we can only guard our heart through our physical actions. These verses focus on three parts of the body: the mouth, the eyes, and the feet. With our mouth, we are commanded to avoid devious talk. With our eyes, we are told to keep our gaze directly forward. And with our feet, we are urged not to swerve off the path. What do these directives mean?

We’ve already said that the heart holds influence over our actions, but the reverse is also true: our actions influence our heart. For the past several decades, there has been much talk concerning the desensitizing of children, whether through comic books, video games, television, music, or movies. This debate is no longer relevant because we have already become significantly desensitized. A present example is the shocking number of Christians who happily watch A Game of Thrones despite the copious amount of nudity therein. Issues like nudity should be evidently sinful.

But there are certainly many issues where Christian liberty becomes a matter of each individual’s conscience, yet the exercise of freedom must never undermine or override our pursuit of holiness. Secular media is not innately sinful, but it should be consumed with wisdom. Solomon warns us to control our bodies because our heart follows close behind. As followers of Christ, we should ask this question about everything that we do: Am I glorifying God in this? John the Baptist desperately wanted to look more and more like Jesus (John 3:30). Does your life reflect this goal as well? Peter calls us strangers and exiles in this world, but how are we any different from the world if our eyes watch the same things, our mouths talk the same way, and our feet go the same places? Without taking a nosedive toward legalism, we must reclaim a hunger for holiness, for Christ to be increased while we decrease.

The early church knew this well. They were often exposed as being Christians because they refused to participate in civil events, such as parades and sporting events. Nearly everything in Roman society involved worship to the Roman gods, so Christians lived as strangers and outcasts of society. They were noticeably different from the world around them, which led many to arrest and eventually martyrdom.

A Christian who looks and acts identical to the world has reason to question the validity of their salvation. As we studied last week, this process of sanctification may happen slowly, but the disciple of Christ should continuously be growing toward resembling the image of Christ. Therefore, show me a Christian who spends little-to-no time in the Scriptures, prayer, or community with other believers, and I will show an apostate in training. We cannot spend our days in fellowship with darkness and expect to have communion with the Light. Vigilantly guarding our hearts means vigilantly guarding our actions.

Does your mouth encourage and love others with the Scriptures, or do you backbite and gossip? Your heart will follow your mouth. Are your eyes delightfully fixed upon God’s Word, or are they glued to lesser, even sinful, things? Your heart will follow after your eyes’ gaze. Are your feet walking into community with brothers and sisters in Christ, or are they pulling you away toward the foolishness of this world? Your heart treads down the same path as your feet.

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF OBEDIENCE

Both keeping ourselves to God’s Word and living in obedience can be summed into what Jesus calls the great commandment: “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The point of those ALL statements to cover all the bases. The entirety of your heart should be committed to loving God. Your soul has no higher task than devoting itself to loving God. Your mind is to be fixated upon the loving Him more and more. And every ounce of strength in our bodies should be spent in love of God. That covers every aspect of your identity. Every thought we have should love God. Every book we read, every movie or television show we watch, every morsel of food we eat, every drink we consume, every word we say, every emotion we feel should all be done as a way of loving God. I know this is a lot to consider, but please don’t shy away from facing this truth head on: even good works are sinful when they are not done in order to love God. Paul is referring to this principle when he says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Or similarly, he gives a positive command in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Therefore, if we do anything that is not done in faith for the love and glory of God, we sin. And remember, sin kills the heart.

I present those three Scriptures in order to show the impossibility of obedience. We cannot do ALL things to the glory of God. We cannot do ALL things in faith. We cannot love God with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength. These are impossible demands that we never satisfy for even a moment in time. We are entirely incapable of the obedience that God commands.

So essentially this is our problem. Sin kills our heart, so we must flee from sin and obey God. But true obedience must be with all of our heart, and we are incapable of obeying with all our heart because our heart is already marred by sin. Thus, our heart continues to sin, and we continue to disobey God. It is an endless cycle of sin, disobedience, and death. This is why the Old Testament’s promise of a new covenant is so significant. Hear how Jeremiah and Ezekiel describe the new covenant:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: 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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Ezekiel 36:22-32 | “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

Notice that both texts concern themselves with Israel’s inability to obey God’s commandments. Especially through Ezekiel, God goes through great lengths to assure the Israelites that He is not saving them for their own sake but rather for the holiness of His name. But the beauty of these texts is how God resolves to respond to their inability to obey. The Israelites could not love God with all their heart because their heart was already marred by sin. The LORD, therefore, declares that He will give them a new heart and cause them to “walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27). They could not obey God’s Law, so He intervenes by writing it onto their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). This New Covenant was established by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20).

This is the good news of the Jesus’ gospel. We cannot obey God, but Jesus obeyed His Father for us. We deserved God’s eternal wrath in punishment for our sins against Him, but Jesus absorbed all of His wrath in our place. Our heart is desperately sick with sin, making it impossible to both guard and repair, but the Father gives us new hearts in Christ.

This is also why the gospel is described as both peace and rest for Christ’s followers. We no longer labor under the weight of impossible obedience. Jesus labored for us, and now we have rest knowing that we are at peace with God. We are no longer children of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and alienated from Him (Colossians 1:21), but in Christ, we are children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17). In fact, Paul explicitly states that only the peace of the gospel will truly guard our hearts:

Philippians 4:4-7 | Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be know to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer is an exercise of our right and privilege as children of God. We pray because it is only natural for children to cry out to their father (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). We reject anxiety and bring everything to the LORD in prayer because Christ is our high priest who urges us to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Prayer is our new heart’s native language. Because our ability to pray was bought with the gospel, prayer brings with it the peace of God found in the gospel, and it is this peace that will guard our hearts. But they are only guarded in Christ Jesus. Outside of Christ, our hearts are dead in sin, but in Christ, they are alive behold to the excellencies of His marvelous light. We cannot keep or guard our own hearts. We must rest entirely in the finished work of Christ that reconciles us to God and grants us “peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

8 Tips for Reading the Bible

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40 ESV

It is safe to assume that few people have much experience in reading ancient documents like the Bible; therefore, in concluding this series, I hope to provide some advice on how to read the Bible.

First, it is important to understand that the entire Bible has one great theme: Jesus Christ. Even though He is never mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Jesus is the center and purpose of all Scripture. In fact, He said so Himself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).” In that context, only the Old Testament had been written; therefore, Christ explicitly stated that the Old Testament is entirely about Him.

Second, consider the genre. Though the Bible is a united book, it is also a library of books. Books like Genesis, Samuel, Matthew, and Acts are narratives. They tell history and should be read as such. Psalms and Proverbs are collections of poems and wisdom respectively, so they are unique from the other books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a philosophical treatise. Song of Solomon is an epic love poem. Romans and Hebrews are letters systematically explaining the gospel to western and eastern mindsets respectively.

Third, love it, memorize it, and meditate on it. If anything could be said about reading the Bible, fill your life with it. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible, and it is dedicated to declaring the excellence of the Scriptures. As you read, pray that God would give you delight in His Word. Make an effort to store it in your heart by memorizing it. Do not read for a few minutes and go on with your day. After memorizing, meditate upon the Word. Roll its words around in your mind, thinking deeply upon God’s thoughts.


Because the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, we should strive to know and understand it more and more. From a human perspective, the Bible is gigantic, so it can be quite intimidating to begin reading the Bible. Here are some suggestions for how to begin your journey in the Scriptures.

First, resolve to read the Bible every day. Even if you find yourself not understanding much, continue to read it. The more time you spend with the Bible, the more you will learn.

Second, begin with the New Testament. The entire Bible is crucial for us as God’s people, but some books are easier to read than others. Start with the New Testament, reading the life of Jesus, the history of the church, and the letters of the apostles.

Third, ask questions about what you’ve read. Paul’s list of the profitability of Scripture from 2 Timothy 2:2 is a good guide. If the Bible helps us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness, ask those types of questions. What does this text teach me (about God, humanity, sin, etc.)? Does this passage reveal any sin or faults in my thinking? How might God use this text to correct me? How might He use it to train me toward righteousness?

Fourth, buy a good study Bible. There are many good study Bibles in book stores, but the best currently is the ESV Study Bible. Study Bibles provide comments, notes, articles, and other resources side-by-side the Bible to help you better understand what you are reading. Other study Bibles worth considering are: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, the John MacArthur Study Bible, and the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.

Fifth, and most important, pray for God to help you understand His Word. This literally cannot be overemphasized. There is no commentary, study Bible, or sermon that will ever replace the heart transformation of prayerfully reading God’s Word for yourself.

Preach the Word!

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV

I’m not always a big fan of chapter divisions in the Bible.

Yes, they are helpful for finding passages quickly, but they can sometimes hinder our proper understanding of the Word by causing us to subconsciously separate connected thoughts. The first four verses of 2 Timothy chapter four is one of those cases. Paul did not originally write this letter to Timothy with chapter divisions or verse numbers. He just wrote a letter, and if we read it like a letter, we will quickly realize that he is applying the truths that he stated in verses sixteen and seventeen of the last chapter.

Because all Scripture is inspired, profitable, and sufficient, Paul commands Timothy to preach the Word, but the command is not alone. The apostle prefaces his charge to his disciple by declaring that it is being made in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. He does this to emphasize the divine element of the command. It is not Paul’s idea for Timothy to preach the Word; it is God’s. Paul is simply the messenger.

Because God is driving the command to preach, we must not take preaching lightly. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort should immediately call to mind the profitability of Scripture. Though we can (and should) allow the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct, and train us individually, the primarily vehicle for profiting from Scripture is through hearing it preached.

The regular, faithful preaching of the Scriptures should be a key focus of all followers of Christ. Since through preaching we are taught the sufficient, profitable, and inspired Bible, we are able to rightly call preaching the Word a means of communal discipleship. By hearing the Word preached, we learn more about the God who authored it, and we learn how to better follow Christ. Preaching makes disciples, and disciples of Christ should love to hear the Word preached.

Unfortunately, many people prefer to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” turning away from the truth and chasing after myths. There are many false teachers who improperly use the Bible to tell people what they want to hear, and in many ways, they are judgment of God. We must be careful not to assign the blame entirely to false teachers. They only exist because people want to follow after lies. False teachers give the people what they want, and if we are not wary, we can become our own false teacher. Many claim the name of Christ, but never attend church because they believe that they can read the Bible and know God themselves. Though avoiding community does not guarantee false doctrine, it almost always leads to it. We are not meant to follow Christ alone, and we are not meant to interpret the Bible alone. When we read the Bible entirely apart from other believers, we risk avoiding what we do not want to hear. We, in essence, become our own false teacher. We need to hear the faithful, expository preaching of the Word. We need to be in a congregation with other believers, where we have elders who hold firm to the trustworthy Word, instructing sound doctrine and rebuking false doctrine. (Titus 1:9)

But the work of interpretation is not entirely upon the preacher, the congregation of believers must also hold the him accountable to sound doctrine. In Acts, Luke writes this about the Bereans in this way:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Notice that Luke was not annoyed or offended that the Bereans fact-checked everything that him and Paul preached to them; instead, he commended them for doing so! A pastor whose heart is to see the congregation grow in their love of God and His Word will likewise rejoice to find the church daily searching the Scriptures to make sure that his preaching is correct.

For these reasons, regular attendance of the Sunday morning worship service is one of the primary expectations of a member at Western Meadows. Because we value the Scriptures as God’s Word and value making disciples as Jesus command to every believer, followers of Jesus Christ should desire to sit often under the proclamation of His Word.

Sufficient: completed & equipped by the Scriptures

that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:17 ESV

Though Paul does not use the word, sufficient well describes the message of verse 17. Once we know that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for us, we are now ready to learn that it is sufficient for bringing us to completion and equipping us for every good work. Let us, therefore, examine these two effects of Scripture more closely.

First, all Scripture is sufficient for completing the man of God.

What might Paul mean by becoming complete? His letter to the Philippians might offer us a clue: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) Since day of Jesus Christ is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, Paul encouraged the Philippians that God who first saved them would complete their salvation on the last day. This verse contains allusions to the entirety of the salvation, which occurs on three fronts: past, present, and future. First, our salvation occurs in the past through what is called justification. When justified, God imputes the righteousness of Christ onto us, legally declaring us to be righteous. Our salvation is also occurring in the present through the process of sanctification. Being sanctified means continually growing conformity to the image of Christ, everyday walking closer to Him. Our future salvation is called glorification. Upon our death or Christ’s return, God will give to us a glorified body that is no longer corrupted by sin. Justification destroys the legal power of sin over us, sanctification is our present and continued battle against sin, and glorification is how God grants us final victory over sin. Bringing God’s first work to completion means that God will be faithful to carry us from justification to glorification. And God uses Scripture to do so. It is through God’s Word that the man of God becomes complete, not apart from it. We need His inspired Scriptures to continue forming us into His image.

Second, all Scripture is sufficient for equipping the man of God for every good work.

Though good works do not save us, God still desires for us to be a people of them. The beauty of the gospel ought to produce within us the hunger for good works. For example, elsewhere Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14) He also claims that God created us “for good works” and ordained for us to walk in them. (Ephesian 2:10) Of course, James also famously stated that “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) The point is that good works are still important for God’s people, and the Scriptures are meant to equip us for them.

Paul writes a similar thought about God’s giving of leaders to the church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12) The work of ministry ultimately belongs to every Christian, and God gives each congregation leaders to equip the saints for their task. Since we know that we have each received the call to make disciples, we also realize that God provides church elders to equip the church by instructing them in the Scriptures. The Word is sufficient for equipping us to make disciples.

All Scripture Is Profitable

All Scripture is… profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV

After informing us that all Scripture is inspired by God, Paul lists the second truth about Scripture: it is profitable. When it comes to owning a business, profit is great. Making profit is the only means of sustaining a business. When Paul speaks of Scripture being profitable, we could also use synonyms like helpful, valuable, or advantageous. In essence, we need Scripture, and we should want it. It is beneficial to us.

Why is Scripture profitable to us?

Paul gives us four answers to that question.

First, all Scripture is profitable for teaching.

This is the same root word from which we get the word doctrine, which are the teachings of Scripture. As noted previously because the Scriptures are the revealed Word of God, they primarily teach us about God. We come to the Scriptures in order that we may know God. If He is the one who breathed them out, He did so that we may know Him.

It is pretentiousness of the highest order to claim to know God without reading His Word. We cannot be a people who know God if we never hear what He has to say about Himself. If we speak of God without the teaching of Scripture to guide us, we either put words in God’s mouth or we create for ourselves a false god within our own imagination. All Scripture is profitable for teaching us what God is like.

Second, all Scripture is profitable for reproof.

This is not a fun one at all. Reproof literally means to convict us of sin or to show us our faults. To be honest, it is not my default setting to ask God during my devotion times, “Lord would you reprove me through Your Word this morning? God, please speak to me here and show me the areas of my life where I am wrong.” My natural inclination is not to pray things like that. Yet Paul is listing reproof as one of the chief benefits of Scripture.

In the book of Hebrews, we find reproof to be part of the God’s discipline process: “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.’” (Hebrews 12:5) In fact, God sees this discipline as so necessary that He establishes it as one of the primary responsibilities of church pastors: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9) God as our Father rebukes and convicts of sin, and He places church leaders in place as instruments to do so as well.

Many of us have false views that have come about through human tradition. Angels are a great example. While statues of angels as chubby babies are quite popular, the biblical truth is that angels are terrifying. Nearly every time someone in the Bible meets an angel, they need to immediately be told not to fear. Angels are not cute and cuddly. They are glorious and frightening. It is, therefore, important that we allow Scripture to combat our false thinking. If we do not allow Scripture to reprove us, we will never reap the benefits of the next point.

Third, all Scripture is profitable for correction.

You cannot be corrected of something until you first become aware that you need correcting. Reproof and correction go hand-in-hand. Correction literally means to be straighten up again. Imagine a picture frame that has fallen over and needs to be set up again. That is the notion of correction. In many areas, we are wrong, and we need to be corrected.

If we truly value the Scriptures as God’s Word, we will humbly approach them, asking the LORD to show us our errors and how to correct them. The LORD will never leave us with the conviction of sin alone. He will always provide in His Word the means of correction.

Fourth, all Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness.

Hebrews 12 translates this word as discipline. God lovingly disciplines us toward righteousness because we are His sons and daughters. Likewise, Paul uses this word in Ephesians 6:4, where he charges fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD. Anyone with any degree of serious commitment to sports knows the value of training. Without the repetitive conditioning of the body throughout the week, no one would be able to play their best in an actual game. Training is not always pleasant, but it is necessary.

The goal of the Christian is to be holy as God is holy. We desire to live a righteous life in the likeness of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist’s prayer must be the prayer of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Everyday we should long to be conformed ever more into the image of Christ. Scripture is the vehicle for this process. The Bible trains us toward being more and more like Christ.