When I visit someone’s HOME for the first time one of the first THINGS I look at is their bookshelf or shelves—and it’s not just because I like books. No—I look there because you can tell a lot about a person from the books they keep in their library.
- If you look carefully you can see if they have children and how old they are.
- You can tell if they like to cook or garden or travel.
- You can tell if they are sci-fi fans—or history buffs.
- You can even get a hint as to where they are spiritually.
Our books tell a lot about us, don’t they? Plus. those volumes can be great conversation starters!
Well, let’s say you decide to take this year’s neighboring theme seriously. You think of the people who live near you or go to school with you or work with you and you say to the Lord,
“Yes! I’ll be their neighbor!” So, you invite a neighbor to your home for dinner or something. Like me, your neighbor looks at your bookshelves and notices that you have a Bible. Would you be prepared to deal with the conversations that observation might bring about? I mention all this because my prayerful plan for this sermon is to help with that kind of thing.
So—here’s the kinds of questions that might come up if your neighbor sees a copy of the Scriptures on your bookshelf or coffee table. Depending on their background—they might ask:
(1) What exactly is the Bible?
What would you say? And that question might come up. For too many people—our neighbors included—the Bible is just a fixture—they probably own one themselves but there’s a good chance they don’t know much about it—especially if they come from another faith background.
So, I suggest that the first thing you do is take your Bible off the shelf—dust it off—and open it to the table of contents. Use that page to show your neighbor that the Bible is not just one book. It is actually sixty-six books joined together into two parts—and bound together in one cover. The first part—the OLD TESTAMENT is made up of 39 books. The second part—the NEW TESTAMENT is made up of 27 books.
Tell your neighbor they are bound together—because they combine to tell a story—THE story—the greatest story ever told. Make sure they understand that you’re not saying the Bible is a story in the sense of being a fable—no, this story—THE story—is true. As 2nd Peter 1:16 says, “We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Tell your neighbor the Bible is the true story about, well EVERYTHING:
- How the world was created by the one true God—a Being of limitless power and love.
- How He created people in His image—and gave them everything they needed to live and enjoy a wonderful life.
- The Bible tells how the first people broke God’s one rule—
- How that act of disobedience separated them from God.
- How all the problems we face today stem from their actions—because like our ancestors we break God’s rules.
- The Bible tells about God’s plan to fix things—how God worked to make it possible for us to get back what was lost.
Basically, the Bible is the story of God’s plan to save us from ourselves. You might even invite your neighbor to read THE STORY—that condensed Bible we read together a few years back. It does a wonderful job of showing that the Bible is indeed a Story—THE Story.
Here’s another question that may come up.
(2) Who wrote the Bible?
Tell your neighbor that God did—but He used people to put His words on paper. Specifically, he used forty-five very different individuals. At this point it would be good to can give your neighbor some examples. With the Bible still open to the table of contents tell them Moses wrote the first five books. Point to other books on the page and tell them David wrote the Psalms. Isaiah wrote Isaiah and Amos wrote Ruth—I’m kidding—just seeing if you are listening! No—of course Amos wrote Amos! Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Philemon didn’t write Philemon—Paul did—and he also wrote Philippians, and Colossians etc.
These are some of the forty-five different people who wrote the sixty-six books of the Bible—but each of these different people had one thing in common. They were inspired to write every word by God Himself. As 1st Peter 1:21 says, the words in this book did not have their “…origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, this isn’t just another book. This is God’s Book. God is the Author. If your neighbor gets a funny look on his or her face—something that makes you think they question this—tell them to hang with you a moment—that you have somethings to share that will help them understand.
First, underscore the fact that the writers God used were indeed very different individuals. There were Kings like David and Solomon, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, farmers like Amos, fishermen like Peter and John—Luke was a physician, Paul was a pharisee. There was even a guy who worked for the 1st century version of the IRS—I’m referring to a tax collector named Matthew.
Next, let them read a few excerpts—so they can see that the books read differently—because they were written by different kinds of people—people with different writing styles. Let them read a little of John’s epistles—and then Paul’s letter to the Philippians—and they will see this.
Here’s something else you need to tell your neighbor. Most of the guys God used to write His book didn’t know each other—they couldn’t because the Bible was written across a period of 1500 years—and in places all the way from Babylon to Rome. None of these guys knew that the books they were writing would be combined into one book—but their writings carry the same theme—God’s redemptive plan to save people like you and me.
It’s like a puzzle where each piece is made by a different person independent of the other piece-makers—but when you gather the pieces together—they fit—they make a beautiful picture. I mean, when you gather together all these books written across the centuries by different people they tell a complete story. If someone should read the New Testament without a knowledge of the Old they would ask, AWhat came before this?@ If one should read the Old Testament without a knowledge of the New, he would ask, “Where is the rest of this story?”
When properly understood no book contradicts the others. No book adds to previously written truth except to enlarge upon it or explain it. The only explanation for this is the fact that as I said, each writer was inspired by the same Source—God—through His Holy Spirit. As it says in 2nd Timothy 3, “All Scripture is GOD-BREATHED.” It’s obviously NOT just a book.
Here’s an illustration to help your neighbor understand that God wrote this book—using different people. Years ago, when we started talking about building the ROC—we hired an architect. We got a couple concept ideas and then settled on one and he drew up the plans for the final design. He knew exactly what the end product was supposed to look like. Then we got a contractor—who hired sub-contractors all to do the bidding of the architect as to plumbing and electrical and basketball goals and the hardwood floor. Now, let’s suppose for just a minute that this architect hired two plumbing contractors. He set one of those plumbing contractors to work, building the women’s bathroom—and hired another plumbing contractor to begin build the men’s restroom. Now, let’s say one of these plumbing contractors, based on his background, methodology, and schooling, liked to install toilets first and then the sinks. The other plumbing contractor based on HIS background preferred to install sinks before toilets. And so, they got to work installing these bathrooms very differently—but at the end of the day, both bathrooms are exactly as the architect has designed it, because the architect is the master contractor. The architect is the one that stands over the product to make sure that it reflects exactly what he or she has designed. Well, God is the master architect of Scripture. It comes from His heart, and He specially directed and moved in the lives of each of these forty-five writers—and, by His Holy Spirit, protected the words that they scribbled down—so that those words are still to this day truth without mixture of error. I mean, in the end those words written in each of the sixty-six books reflected exactly what God had designed. At that point another question may come up in your conversation:
(3) Who decided what books should be included?
They may wonder, “Why sixty-six? Why not sixty-seven or sixty-five?” “How did they know which books God wrote?”
And people have wondered about this for a long time. You may remember that Thomas Jefferson actually cut out the parts he didn’t think belonged. And back in the ‘80’s there was a group of pseudo-intellectuals who, like Jefferson wanted to remove some parts. I’m referring to the Jesus seminar and they would meet and vote by placing a marble in a bowl—vote as to which parts Jesus said.
These days some people are saying that false books like The Gospel of Mary and The Gospel of Thomas should have been included. What about those books?
At this point I would take your neighbor through a quick history lesson—beginning with how the Old Testament came to be.
As I said earlier, God used Moses to write the first five books of the Bible. Exodus 24:4 says “Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” Moses’ writings were preserved in the Ark of the Covenant. So were the books of Joshua and Samuel. We know by reading the book of Daniel that Jeremiah’s writing had been preserved. Ezra had a copy of the Law of Moses and the Prophets who had served God. I’m saying that as time passed God inspired the writing of each book—and it was preserved and revered by the people as God’s Word.
As each prophet wrote—the books that would become the Old Testament grew and as it did this collection was given different titles—titles like “Moses and the Prophets” or “The Law, Prophets and Writings.” Jesus Himself referred to the Old Testament just prior to His ascension when He said, “All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) I mean, it wasn’t called “The Old Testament” until much later. Basically, the Old Testament grew—as God’s story unveiled itself—God’s working in and through people was recorded—written down from the days of Moses—and then the founding of the nation of Israel—through the prophets who spoke for God—-all the way to one named Malachi in 400B.C. who God used to write the 39th book of the Old Testament.
Understand there was widespread acceptance of these books as God’s Word in 400B.C. One proof of this is the fact that thirty-six of the Old Testament books are referred to in the New Testament. If you have a Bible where—as you read the New Testament you come across a passage that is in all caps—that means those words are a direct quote of the Old Testament.
Every tenth recorded saying of Jesus is a direct quote of the Old Testament. In Luke 16:17 Jesus was affirming these 39 books when He said, “It is easier for Heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest detail of the Law to be done away with.”
Now—people can’t do anything without a meeting—so there was one—a council of Jewish Scholars in a place called Jamnia in 95AD and the Old Testament was on their agenda—but they didn’t ratify the Old Testament. They just agreed on the books that were already widely accepted as being God’s Word. To show that this is the way it was—tell your neighbor there was an amazing archaeological find in 1946 in the desert of Qumran. A shepherd boy threw a rock into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery and in this way found the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were written on papyrus and leather—and even copper and they were found carefully preserved in clay jars. These jars had every book in the Old Testament except for Esther—maybe that’s the one the kid broke when he threw the stone! Just kidding—these scrolls had been written LONG before the council of Jamnia—copied over and over again to preserve them. The oldest ones found were written as early as 150B.C. So, the Council of Jamnia did not declare the 39 books of the Old Testament to be God’s Word. They didn’t decide and grant authority to any of those books. No—they were already authoritative. In fact they were the moment God inspired the writing of each word.
Think of it. When Michelangelo crafted the Sistine Chapel, when did the Sistine Chapel become a masterpiece? Did it become a masterpiece the moment that it was painted, or did it become a masterpiece later, once people saw it? It was a masterpiece the moment it was painted. It just took people a while to recognize it’s worth. And in the same way, the moment that God spoke the Scriptures to human beings through the Holy Spirit, those words were authoritative. The councils that followed later simply needed to discover that.
Well as I said, the Old Testament ends with the book of Malachi—and then for 400 years nothing was written. God did not call any prophets—He inspired no writing. This shouldn’t have been a surprise because God had foretold this. The Prophet Amos—the guy who wrote which book? RIGHT—AMOS! Just making sure you are still with me. God used Amos to warn His people of this time. In Amos 8 it says, “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” God used Malachi to say that this famine would not end until another prophet came a prophet who would speak in the spirit of Elijah. (Malachi 4) Who was he referring to? RIGHT! John the Baptist! Not John the Methodist of John the Presbyterian—John the Baptist! So—tell your neighbor he or she should come to OUR church—again—just kidding. History lessons are cool—but sometimes dry—and so humor helps us keep paying attention!
Anyhow—as prophesied—with Malachi the Old Testament comes to an end and for 400 years everything goes silent. God doesn’t speak, there is no prophecy that is given, there is no revelation that is revealed. That’s the END of the OLD Testament.
Okay—part two in our history lesson. The 27 books that make it up were written during the last half of the first century—and they were accepted as God’s Word in the same way as the books of the Old Testament. As God inspired each to be written they were circulated between churches—members were instructed to read them and give them authority. Paul wrote the church at Thessalonica and said, “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.” (1st Thess. 5:27) He wrote to the Colossians and said, “When this letter is read among you have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans.” (Col. 4:16) John promised a blessing to all who listened to the book of Revelation read (Rev 1:3) Each writer obviously believed their words were from God and should be read by all Christians—so a round-robin circulation deal took place.
We see this conviction that their writing was inspired in the way they referred to each other’s work. In Galatians 1:11 Paul says that the things he teaches were not from man but were a “revelation of Jesus Christ.” In 1st Timothy Paul refers to the gospel of Luke as being “scripture.” In 2nd Peter 3:15 – Peter confirms that Paul=s writings were God=s inspired words when he said: “Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” Obviously, the writers and readers who made up the early church recognized a growing body of literature as the inspired Word of God. Well, by the end of the 1st century all 27 books in our present New Testament were written, had been circulated and accepted by the church. They were ratified by a council that met at Hippo in 393AD and the Council of Carthage in 397. But like the council of Jamnia—these councils neither added nor subtracted books. They simply approved the list of 27 that had already been recognized by the early church.
There were certain criteria used by the Council of Carthage used to affirm or recognize a book as God’s Word. For example, it had to be written by an apostle or prophet of God. It had to be correct historically. But the main thing is—as I said, it had to have enjoyed widespread acceptance among the churches. Christians—who like you and me KNEW Jesus personally—had to express their conviction that this was indeed God’s Word. Here’s another question that may come up.
(4) What about books like the Apocrypha?
And, as I said earlier, there were other books that were excluded from the Bible. For example, there was The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas and others. They were excluded because it was obvious they were not reliable. Christians rejected them as false.
They were obviously not inspired—no—they were written to espouse some of the “cleverly devised fables” that Peter referred to. And, they were written too late—between 150 and 200AD—so they couldn’t have been written by Mary or Thomas or Judas. In other words, they were fakes—written to support some political or theological agenda. Plus, their teachings contradicted the teachings of the other books. Perhaps the most well-known EXTRA books—form what is called the Apocrypha—books that are in the Catholic Bible. They were written during that 400 years of silence I mentioned—and that in itself should tell you they are not God’s Word—because God had foretold this was a time when He would NOT speak. Plus, neither the Jews nor the non-Jews who lived during that time gave those apocryphal writings the same authority as Scripture. Neither Jesus nor any of the other New Testament writers ever refer to the apocryphal writings. Those books also teach contradictory doctrines like—you can be saved by works not faith, and that there is a purgatory, and soul sleep, and that our souls existed before we were born. So, at the Council of Carthage when the canon was collated and brought together and somebody raised their hand and said, “What about all of these apocryphal writings written between the giving of the Old and New Testaments?” the response was, “Those are interesting books, they’re helpful in understanding history, but they do not contain the same weight of authority as the Scriptures—so no.” So the only books that belong in the Bible are the 66 we have.
Here’s the most important question about the Bible.
(5) What do you do with the Bible?
Well, point out that we call the books that form the Bible the “canon” and this word means “rule” or “measuring rod.” In other words, the Bible is authoritative—we measure our lives by it. We live according to its teaching—because these are God’s Words to us. We believe that since God inspired the Bible, then it has authority over me. I submit my life to its teaching. Some people view the Bible is just a document—an ancient, irrelevant book of fables and myths that people who’ve got nothing better to do read on occasion. That’s their opinion of the Bible, and so the Bible has no bearing on their life. The Bible is under them. But as growing Christians we put the Bible over our lives. If I want to live one way—and God’s Word says live the opposite way—I go with the Bible.
Here’s an example.
The world of today says that when a young man and woman fall in love first they move in together—they may even buy a home together. Then—if things work out—they get married.
That’s not how God says it is to be done. In the Bible God clearly says marriage first—then the marriage bed. So, people who SUBMIT their lives to the teachings in God’s Word—do it HIS way.
The world says put yourself first—but God says NO. God says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” So, people who SUBMIT their lives to the teachings of God’s Word put OTHERS first. They sacrifice to help others in need.
I could go on—but you get the point. Since we believe the Bible is God’s Word—we let it guide our actions and inactions. We pattern our lives after its teachings.We live in submission to it.
Quoting 2nd Timothy 3 again, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”
We have learned that if you live in submission to the Word of God—in your finances, in your relationships, in your business—you’ll discover all the blessings that God has for you in your life. Chip Ingram said this: “Surrendering to God is the channel in which God’s blessings flow.” And it is! We submit ourselves to it—we give it authority—because experience has taught us that the Bible is precious—invaluable.
The Pony Express was created in 1860 to move mail across the United States from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California (2,000 miles away). The Express was designed to be completed in 10-mile legs, because it was understood that that was as far as a horse could gallop; at full gallop, a horse could go no further than 10 miles. So, a rider would ride his horse for 10 miles and at the next stop would dismount and get on another horse, ride another 10 miles, dismount, and so on. A rider would complete seven to ten of those legs before a different rider would take over the work. In that fashion, the mail could get across country, 2,000 miles, in about 10–14 days. This was the mail delivery system. And in order to conserve weight and make the Pony Express system efficient, the riders had to be less than 125 pounds. Saddles had to be very small, kind of economical saddles. The horses’ hooves were shod with very lightweight shoes or no shoes at all. The mail that was sent had to be very, very thin, and people were charged exorbitant mailing rates. Riders were allowed to carry only a few small provisions with them. Yet for all of the concern that the Pony Express had for weight conservation, every single one of the riders were sent out with a full-sized Bible. The Pony Express valued and viewed the Word of God as absolutely essential for journey on the trail. We do too. It is absolutely essential for the journey of life.
You know, another good word to use to describe the Bible is “INVITATION”—it is God’s invitation into relationship—the only relationship that brings us abundance in life. John 20:31 says, “These [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” As we close—I would ask you if you “have life in His name.” Have you accepted God’s invitation into relationship? If not—then do so today. Tell God You believe what His book teaches—that you are a sinner—and that Jesus is His Son Who died in your place. Ask Him to forgive you and confess your desire to make Him Lord. Then come forward—leave your seat and share that decision with me of Kevin.
If you are looking for a church home—a place where the Bible is taught as God’s Word, come ask to join Redland. We’d love to have you in our church family.