“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).
Having grown up just outside New York City, I never realized how little I knew about “darkness” until I was in my mid-20s. Even when I thought it was dark out, there was a source of light close by. I could walk outside almost any time, because even in the middle of the night there was a light source nearby: street lights, light from nearby homes, cars, etc.
I had to move away from New York to learn about darkness. While I was in seminary, and for a few years thereafter, I delivered pizza in Springfield, MO. Unlike New York, though, once you left the Springfield city limits you could find yourself in the middle of nowhere. If you drive a mile or two north of the city onto a farm road and shut off your engine and headlights, you might see nothing. The house you just pulled up in front of would disappear into the darkness. Some of your surroundings might appear as shadows, but you might not know if you are walking towards a person, an animal, or a tree. You might not know whether you are walking down a clear path to the front door, into a ditch, or into the bushes. In some areas, there were no street lights, houses were far apart, and there was limited outdoor activity after dark. Since I have never had the best night vision to begin with, this could be challenging.
learned very early that I had to keep a flashlight in my car,
especially for these errands. With a flashlight handy, I could shut
off my engine, aim a beam of light on the path ahead of me, and
quickly and safely find my way to the customer’s door.
we travel through life, we need light. Jesus tells us that He is the
light of the world (John 8:12). His light will guide us. His Word
lights our path through life.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalms 119:11).
we store up God’s Word in our hearts, we are able to keep it with
us. Spiritual darkness will not catch us unawares.
A flashlight helps us see pitfalls and obstacles in our paths so that we can walk safely. God’s Word will show us where temptation lurks. The person who keeps God’s Word secure in his heart recognizes the lies of Satan. He is not easily deceived.
A flashlight shows us the path we should walk on. God’s Word shows us the path to follow if we want to walk with Him. Jesus said He is the light of the world. He also said that He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). If we wish to stay on God’s path, we will walk with Jesus, because He Himself is the path! God’s Word will show us Jesus and guide us to follow Him.
A flashlight can help us see the destination we want to reach. God’s Word shows us the destination we are seeking. It tells us the destiny of believers. It shows us how to get there. It gives us a glimpse of heaven.
God’s Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path. Keep it with you. Keep it in you. Its light will defeat the thickest darkness.
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalms 119:97–104; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. This anthem to the glories of God’s Word has more verses (176) than 18 entire books of the Bible. Some commentators have called it a “love song” about the Word of God. Imagine if someone wrote a love song to the United States Constitution. Many patriotic songs, like “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America,” laud our country’s land, culture, and ideals; I know of no song, though, that swoons with passion over the Bill of Rights, Commerce Clause, or other elements of our nation’s laws. However, the psalmist felt it was worth writing an epic about God’s laws.
I could have posted any of the 22 eight-verse stanzas in Psalm 119 above. I have to admit that it is quite repetitive, and I have not read the entire psalm in a single sitting in several years. Usually, I will read one to three stanzas during my devotions.
However, its repetitiveness may be one of this chapter’s greatest strengths. Several words or themes are repeated frequently. God’s Word is referred to as His law, commandment, testimonies, precepts, rules, words, promises, etc. God gives us His law, precepts, rules, and commandments, to show us how to live. He offers His promises. He gives us His testimonies, which prove that He is faithful and able to fulfill those promises.
This psalm challenges us to consider some hard questions about our faith. Do I really love God’s law? Do I read the Bible because I think I have to do it? Do I read it because somebody said, “Real Christians read the Bible 15 minutes per day, or three chapter per day”? Am I afraid that God will get really angry if I do not read it?
Do I read God’s law so that I can win arguments about what it means? Do I read it so that I can show off how smart I am at the next Bible study, or look super-spiritual at church?
Or, do I crave God’s Word the same way I crave my daily food? Do I read God’s Word because I have an insatiable desire to know Him more and experience the full abundant life He offers?
When we come to Christ, God writes His Word upon our hearts. It is part of the New Covenant that He promised to His people:
“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” (Jeremiah 31:33–34).
As a result of this, the child of God will crave His Word:
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2–3).
Dig in! Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalms 34:8). As you seek Him, you will find that God and His Word are truly worth singing about!
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).
The Holy Spirit will speak to us as a reflection of His nature. He is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16–17; 16:13). This is who He is. His very essence is truth. God’s Word is true because the Spirit of Truth inspired it and illuminates it to us.
As the Spirit of Truth, He dwells within us and guides us as our helper or counselor. In John 14:26, Jesus calls Him the “parakletos,” a Greek word meaning “the one called alongside to help.” It has a broad meaning, which no single English word translates adequately. The ESV translates it as “helper.” Other translations say “counselor” or “advocate,” all of which seem to emphasize one part of the Holy Spirit’s work. He helps us. He counsels us, guides us, and gives us wisdom and insight. He serves as an advocate for us. Some will say He does this by defending us before God the Father, like an attorney defends a suspected criminal before the court. Perhaps, more importantly, He defends us against the lies of Satan. When the accuser of the brethren seeks to condemn us by reminding us of our sins, the Holy Spirit will remind us that there is no condemnation for us, since we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Holy Spirit also speaks to us out of His relationship to us and to
the rest of the Trinity. He dwells within us, perfecting our
relationship with Christ:
“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).
Holy Spirit takes the things of God—the blessings available to us
in Christ Jesus—and bestows them to us. He imparts the life of
Christ to us by living within us. John 14:20 suggests that the
Christian’s union with Christ is somehow connected with Christ’s
union with the Father. While we may not be exactly like Jesus in this
life, the Holy Spirit is imparting that life to us. As He lives
within us, He gives us the wisdom of Jesus. We do not have to accept
second-rate Christianity. We can receive the fullness of God’s
blessings to us through the Holy Spirit.
God is always speaking, always revealing His love and life to us. His Word offers us great promises of life and hope. The Holy Spirit within us is holding these blessings out to us. As we read God’s Word, let us hear the voice of God empowering those words to bring spirit and life to our souls.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).
Our recent study about special revelation (here, here, here, and here) addressed the nature of how God reveals Himself to us and what that tells us about the nature of Scripture. Since the Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation to mankind, it is the authority to which all mankind, and especially all Christians and the Church, must yield.
The Bible is not a man-made record of God’s self-revelation. It is a God-breathed record. The Greek word used here, “theopneustos,” is translated in different English Bibles as “inspired,” “God breathed,” or “breathed out by God.” The Word of God was breathed out by the Spirit of God into the hearts and minds of those who recorded it for future generations. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and directed them as they wrote. He guided the apostles to understand truths they were not ready to receive during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 16:12–13), and these now appear in the pages of Scripture. This is not an ordinary book. Sadly, many Christians treat the Bible like an intellectual Lego set, trying to piece it together to suit their desires:
“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19–21).
This divine inspiration is the source of the Bible’s authority. Since the Bible bears God’s authority, we have an obligation to yield to it: the Bible does not yield to us. This should be self-evident to Christians, but a growing number of believers prefers to exercise their own authority over God’s Word. We have no right to force God’s Word to line up with our convictions. We need to know what it says and means, not what we wish it said and meant. Unfortunately, non-Christians are not alone in their rejections of Scriptural authority. At times, even those who claim to be “Bible-believing Christians” can try to place themselves outside its authority, even while seeking to reject “tradition.” To avoid the errors (or perceived errors) in Roman Catholicism, many choose to read the Bible for themselves and make up their own minds about what it means. While we should seek to know the truth (and avoid falling into the errors others have made), we must not use this as an opportunity to redefine biblical truth.
While Jesus was
critical of “the traditions of men,” the concept of tradition is
not always rejected in the New Testament:
“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Note that Paul told the Thessalonians to hold onto the traditions that they learned either via spoken word or letter. The “letter” here could refer to 1 Thessalonians, which shares a place in the Bible with this letter. What about the spoken words, though? It seems that these traditions could be traced directly back through the apostles to Jesus Himself. Until the New Testament was canonized about 300 years later, the Church’s official source of authority was “apostolic teaching.” If a tradition did not come from the apostles, it was not considered authoritative Christian doctrine. That apostolic tradition found its crystallized final form in the New Testament books we read today.
I am not advocating adherence to every tradition that was ever passed down. Some traditions contradict each other, and others that have emerged in church history clearly contradict the Bible. Roman Catholics believe Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, while Eastern Orthodoxy maintains that she was buried in Ephesus (where St. John, the beloved disciple, is also believed to be buried). One of these traditions is not true. However, many other historic traditional teachings remain trustworthy.
I realize I have entered some controversial territory here, but I do not think my stance is unique. Martin Luther (famed for the slogan, “sola scriptura”) did not stray too far from historic Church teaching on many subjects (e.g., the sacraments), and John Wesley balanced his devotion to Scripture with a desire to interpret it in light of tradition, reason, and experience. In a following post, I will add some more thoughts to show why it is important to connect our understanding of Scripture with some level of tradition.
A few final disclaimers: (1) My beliefs about the relationship and role of Scripture and tradition have evolved in recent years. I am still learning and studying, and my thoughts on this subject could change in recent years. (2) I do not guarantee that my thoughts on this subject, in this and the following post, exactly match the teachings of my church or any other denomination. (3) While I welcome comments and discussion, I may not respond to all comments directed to specific doctrines affected by this discussion.
The writers of
Scripture were not passive in their writing. I think many Christians
treat the Bible as if its writers operated like robots, merely
scribbling down thoughts that the Holy Spirit threw into their brains
while they did not think. Yet, this is not the case. Especially in
the New Testament, the writers of Scripture wrote as they shared
their own encounters with Jesus.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (I John 1:1–4; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).
John was not
mindlessly scribbling random thoughts that popped into his head. He
wrote what he knew. He had sat by Jesus’ side at the Last Supper.
Jesus had entrusted the care of His mother to John. Throughout his
Gospel, John referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus
loved.” He must have thought of himself as Jesus’ best friend.
When he wrote his Gospel and his three letters, he wrote as one
remembering some unforgettable moments that he had shared with a real
Person, and he wanted his readers to know that Person as well as he
Peter likewise wrote
his letters based on that experience:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16).
Why would Peter
write the bold statements in his letters? Because he, along with John
and James, had seen Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
He had denied Jesus, but then he knew Jesus’ forgiveness
intimately. He had walked on water with Jesus. “I am not writing
cleverly devised myths or clever stories I made up. I saw Jesus’
glory. I saw Him. I know Him! I am just telling you Who and what I
experienced and know!”
It is true that some of the biblical authors did not personally know Jesus during His earthly ministry. We do not know if Paul ever met Christ. Perhaps he was one of the Pharisees who challenged or argued with Him in the Gospels. He could have been part of the crowd demanding Christ’s crucifixion. However, we know he did not become a disciple of Jesus until some time after His ascension. Likewise, Luke most likely never met Jesus. While his knowledge about Jesus was more second-hand, it was still thorough and was still guided by the Holy Spirit. Actually, Luke’s approach to writing his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles will sound very similar to the work many authors perform when writing about events we did not personally witness:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4).
Luke wanted his reader, Theophilus (Greek for “friend of God”; we are not sure if it was an actual person or just a reference to any friend of God or follower of Christ who may read it), to know for certain about the things he had been taught. Luke wrote 30 or 40 years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Some of the eyewitnesses to the life and death of Jesus were already deceased. Time and distance separated many Christians from the life of Christ. How could they know for certain the truth about Him? How could the faith survive? Luke wanted to make certain that the testimony of those eyewitnesses, apostles, and other ministers of the Word would be preserved so that “friends of God” could remember them later. Like most writers, Luke did his research. He checked the original sources. He tried to assemble his facts so that he could present an orderly account. A lot of human work went into it so that he could accomplish a goal that lay on his heart. It was a very human process, even if it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may have placed the desire in Luke’s heart and guided his research and writing, but I would not be surprised if Luke felt very much like this was his project while he was doing it. Luke’s Gospel did not merely fall from the sky. It bore his sweat and effort as he achieved his goal.
While Luke wanted his readers to be certain of the truth about Jesus, John spelled out his purpose in writing. He had a lot to choose from: As mentioned previously, he was a witness to the life of Christ; he knew everything first-hand, and he had a lot to choose from (in John 21:24–25, he wrote that the entire world could not contain the books if everything Jesus did was recorded). John was consciously selective about what he shared in his Gospel:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).
The certainty Luke
offered served the same purpose. We should seek to be certain about
the truth of Jesus so that we can have life in His name. The
Scriptures are intended to make us wise to salvation (2 Timothy
3:16). As we read the Bible, we should seek to look beyond the
written word to know the Living Word who spoke to us.
The Bible is a book like no other. It is living and active because it is a divinely-inspired record of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Let us read and study that Word not so much to gain intellectual knowledge, but to come to know the Author and Source of all Truth.
A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).