SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 3 October 2021
Sermon Text: Acts 17:10-12
I. Spiritual degeneration
II. A chain reaction
III. Negligence in knowing God’s Word
IV. The Berean model
Somebody gave a warning to people and it was about a book. See this warning and try to figure out what book it might be. Here is the warning: ‘Warning: This Book is habit-forming. Regular use causes loss of anxiety, decreased appetite for lying, cheating, stealing, hating. Symptoms: increased sensations of love, peace, joy, and compassion.’ Can you guess what book it might be? Yes, it is the Bible, the Word of God. Regular use of this book – that is, reading and studying of and meditating on the content of this book – causes loss of anxiety, decreased appetite for every kind of sin. Instead, sensations of love, peace, joy and compassion fill the heart. In addition, eternal hope and confidence in the Lord come along.
Timothy Dwight, an 18th C scholar and Congregational minister, commented on the Bible and said that it is ‘a window in this prison-world, through which we may look into eternity.’ Like him, so many people have commented on the Holy Scripture, but the weightiest comment comes from the Bible itself, from 2 Tim. 3:16 and 17 which says this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
There’s no further explanation required other than this description of what God’s word is about. For this reason, Rev. 22:18 and 19 warns people not to add anything to or take away from the words of the book. Dt. 4:2 also commands this in identical words. For the same reason, Ps. 119:97 says that God’s word must be the meditation of our heart all day long, and v. 105 of the same psalm confirms that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
You and I know this fact well because we’ve heard this subject preached to us time after time, year after year. We all know the importance of reading and studying and meditating on the Holy Scriptures. So, I’m not going to repeat and say to you this morning things like, how much and how deep you need to read the Word of God daily or in what way you should study it. But, I’ll lead you to think about the importance of knowing God’s Word by having a glance at what have happened to churches in history. When I say ‘history,’ I mean the history of the Old and NT, including the churches and denominations up to our time.
By so doing, I intend to achieve three things; firstly, I’d like you to see that the importance of knowing God’s Word is not just for the benefit of individuals; rather, it is for the benefit of others in church as members of God’s household. Secondly, I’d like you to see the fact that if we fail in this, our children and grandchildren and their children will reap the results. And thirdly, this is about ‘the blessings and the curses’ God clearly declared to us in the Bible from the beginning of time.
I. SPIRITUAL DEGENERATION
Now, let us begin from the churches of our time. We see churches almost everywhere, in a similar way our previous generations did. People still come to church and attend Sunday worship services, just like the way our predecessors witnessed. Yet, you’ll agree with me on this fact that, generally speaking, the church attenders have lost their enthusiasm for the Lord and His church. I’m not talking about attendance only, but about people’s spiritual concerns, their love for the Lord, their dedication to the Lord and His works. No less than a century ago, people heard from the pulpits words with clear theological meanings like justification, sanctification, propitiation, vicarious atonement, and so on. They used to sit down and listened to sermons which lasted for about three quarter of an hour, one or one and a half hours. Or, occasionally, even of longer sermons. Those generations happily sacrificed all things, even to a point of giving their life up, for the purity of faith. The Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries, for instance, and the generations before them who experienced the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th C in Europe. For them, knowing the Lord and serving Him were the top priority in their life. Faith in the Lord was the greatest treasure in their hearts.
But, no longer do we see such faith in our days. I don’t mean a total extinction of such enthusiasm; I mean, a dramatic scale-down of that fervour among Christians. Let me quote a well-known theologian and minister of our time on this matter. David F. Wells introduced in his book, ‘No Place for Truth,’ that an overwhelming majority of American population – that is, 98 per cent – believed in God’s existence and 74 per cent would like a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in schools, and, with respect to ‘commitment to Christ,’ also 91 per cent of evangelicals said that their beliefs were ‘very important’ to them and 96 per cent of them believed in miracles at the moment in the late 1990s. And he said that did not necessarily mean all that much.’ Why? Because the majority of them do not really understand what they say they believe in.
II. A CHAIN REACTION
So, generally speaking, we see a spiritual degeneration over centuries. What is the cause of this phenomenon? There’s only one answer to this question and, that is, ‘negligence in knowing God’s Word.’
Although this negligence in and failure to studying God’s Word seems to be a minor problem to some people, if not many, guess what – this is like a tiny spark that would turn a whole house into fire. Disregarding and ignoring God’s Word is a spark which always produces a chain reaction. What follows immediately after our turning a blind eye to God’s Word? Spiritual degeneration. We’ve found and heart enough about it earlier, up to the end of Aug this year, from the sermon series on the Book of Judges. The generation after Joshua had no knowledge of God who had brought them out of the land of slavery. So, they and the generations after them lived and did what was right in each one’s eyes. That’s a clear example of negligence in knowing God’s word which brought Israel’s spiritual degeneration.
Problem is that this spiritual degeneration isn’t all. Breaking up of spiritual uniformity in church always accompanies spiritual degeneration. Churches break up; a church breaks apart from and stands against another church; a denomination against another. You don’t need to think deeply to figure out how this happens because there’re plenty of examples around. A faith which stands on biblical foundation cannot coexist with a different faith. An obvious example of this is the difference between the Protestant Church and the Roman Church in understanding of the authority of the Bible. While the Protestants understand the Bible is the only authority of our faith and life, the Roman Catholics see ‘tradition’ of their church as equally authoritative as the Bible. Reformed believers like us read the Scripture and understand that our salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, whereas the Arminians say that it is by faith and works. The Reformed teaches man’s ‘total depravity,’ thus, God’s ‘unconditional election,’ whereas the Arminians talk about man’s ‘free will,’ therefore ‘conditional election’ which is simply ‘salvation by works’ the Apostle Paul utterly condemns in many of his letters, like Romans and Galatians. Thus, breaking up from one another, let alone from heresies, is unavoidable and inevitable because of spiritual degeneration which is a result of negligence in knowing God’s Word. .
About 10 years ago, a number of American Lutheran scholars left their denomination and one of the reasons for that was that their denomination had moved too far away from confessional Lutheran teaching. How far away? To a point that they found the Roman Catholic Church was closer to confessional Lutheran teaching than their own denomination.
So, negligence in knowing God’s Word causes spiritual degeneration; spiritual degeneration automatically brings breaking ups in church. What then? Broken church unity immediately gives birth to various levels of broken relationships in church – between God and men, and among believing brothers and sisters. It’s a chain reaction. It’s like how an atomic bomb explodes and destroys all things – one atom breaks up and the loosened electrons and nucleus collide with neighbouring atoms and boom! A chain reaction. And it all starts from ‘negligence in knowing God’s Word.’
III. NEGLIGENCE IN KNOWING GOD’S WORD
Then, what is this ‘negligence in knowing God’s Word’ anyway? How do we neglect it?
Ps. 119 is a good answer for both questions. Have a look at vs. 9-16. See the attitude and desire of the psalmist who says in v. 10, “With my whole heart I seek You (that is, God)”; in v. 11, “I have stored up Your word in my heart,” and in vs. 13 and 14, “With my lips I declare all the rules of Your mouth. In the way of Your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” So, neglecting God’s Word is not ‘fixing one’s eyes on God’s ways’ nor ‘turning his eyes away from God’s ways.’
Dt. 13 is an interesting section in this regard. The message of Dt. 13 is simple and can be summarised by a sentence from the second half of v. 4 which says this: ‘You shall serve God and hold fast to Him.’ To communicate this message to His people, God repeats the same thing three times in this chapter. First time – it’s in vs. 1-5 – and He says that they should not listen to prophets or dreamers but put them to death if they tell you to serve other gods. Second time – in vs. 6-11 – and the same message but the subjects are family members than prophets or dreamers. Then, third time – in vs. 12-18 – the same message about any city in Israel be put to complete destruction and remained as a ruin, if the inhabitants of that city ask you to serve other gods.
What happened to Israel who received this command from God as a rule to keep and follow? They failed. Such things commanded in Dt. 13 have never been kept by the nation of Israel. And you know the results of that more than well. What happened to them from the first place is something like this; they thought that not listening to their so-called spiritual leaders or questioning the authenticity of their teachings and prophecies were too much and too rude and too unspiritual. So they closed their ears first, then, their mouths. Then, they simply followed what their leaders said and served false gods. If anything happened, then they had an excuse for their failure and said, ‘it was not my fault, but our leaders; they told us this and asked us to do that.’ In fact, Adam and Eve had said the same thing before God in the Garden. Moreover, when their family members tempted them to serve other gods, the Israelites thought that keeping family integrity was more important than keeping God’s words.
Whatever we think and do in the same principle and way is neglecting, abandoning, disregarding God’s Word. And what it brings as the result is serious enough for us individually and corporately. Moreover, not only we but also our next generations reap its results.
IV. THE BEREAN MODEL
How, then, can we escape from such a deadly failure? The Bible gives us a model, an example for us. That is, the Berean model, as we’ve read from Acts 17. What does Acts 17:11 say? It says, “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.” First, they received the word with all eagerness; then, second, they examined the Scripture to see if what they heard were right. And they did it ‘daily.’
They examined the word which they had received with all eagerness. That’s all they did. And what they did is the model we, in this day and age, ought to consider seriously, adopt promptly and follow. Eagerly receiving the word and examining it with the Scripture daily. It’s simple but a powerful way to turn around that chain reaction I mentioned earlier! What was the result of this in and among those Berean Christians? V. 12 of Acts 17 says that “Many of them therefore believed”!
When we come to church, when we gather together for Bible study, we need to change our attitude toward hearing the Word of God read and preached and taught, from indifference or apathy to eagerness. Once we hear God’s Word, we ought to examine it with the Scripture and see whether it is so. Once it is so, then, receive it and replace our own thoughts and ideas with God’s Word and His teaching. Once replaced, we ought to stick to this new way, and continue in living it out, seeking the Holy Spirit to guide us in this path.
In fact, this Berean model was a recurrence of what had happened earlier in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 2:42-47. I believe many of you know that occasion by heart. Acts 2:42 reads this: “And they (that is, the believers in Jerusalem) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” What was the result of that? Vs. 43 and 44 say that awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles; and all who believed were together and had all things in common. Do you see in this record an overturn of that chain reaction? I told you that neglecting God’s Word would result spiritual degeneration, which would then turn into breaking up of spiritual uniformity in church. Then what? Various levels of broken relationship in church as well as among believers. But what you see in the cases of believers in Jerusalem and Berea is the opposite. Once they devoted to the Word of God, once they eagerly received the word and examined it, they were led into a set of restoration in their faith, relationship, unity. So, in Jerusalem church, they even shared all in common. And many were added to their numbers with favour with all the people!
I truly believe that the same happened to the church in Berea! I also believe that the same will be the case for us at St Columba’s once we follow the examples of Berean and Jerusalem Christians and search and examine God’s Word!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, devoting to the Word of God, studying and examining it is the most urgent matter for us all. Whenever we gather together, we need to find ourselves opening the Bible and examining it together. Whatever we plan and do, we need to scrutinise it with God’s Word. This is the only way we could see and witness our Lord’s power and revival among us; this is the only way our Lord wants us to turn to and keep doing.
Do you remember the warning of reading the Scriptures I introduced to you earlier today? Let me remind you of this warning – regular use of this sacred book causes what? Loss of anxiety, decreased appetite for lying, cheating, stealing, hating.
And its symptoms? Increased sensations of love, peace, joy, and compassion. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Let us read it; and search and examine it as Berean Christians did. Consider joining Bible study meetings. May God bless all of St Columba’s, His church, and all others too by turning our eyes to God’s Word. Amen. ***