Matthew 5:17-20; 22:37-40
If Jesus said it I believe it
His words cannot lie
If it’s written in the Bible
I’ll believe it ‘til I die
Though the mountains be removed
And cast into the sea
God’s word will last forever
Through all eternity
At some point in my life I must have learned that little ditty because it was running through my mind as I prepared for today. This week we are continuing with our sermon series based on Adam Hamilton’s book, Half Truths, and we are considering the half-truth: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Just as a heads up, today will feel more like a Bible study and so I encourage you to follow along in your Bibles or use the ones in the pews. For the plugged-in group, there are some pretty good Bible apps you can use. We are going to be flipping through some different passages of scripture to fill in the gaps left by this half-truth, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Basically this statement supports a literal interpretation of the Bible, noting scripture as the word of God.
We note this every week. Do we not say, “The word of God for the people of God?” We say this right after the scripture is read. For the most part, when folks state the first part of this half-truth (God said it), they are indicating “the BIBLE said it, I believe it, that settles it.” While I believe scripture writers were inspired by God to write down accounts of ‘God-moments’ – times when God intervened in order to help us become more like God, they would specifically indicate when they were relating what God was actually speaking to them. For the most part, scripture is a reflection of the writer’s understanding and application to his current time and circumstance.
As Christians, we have the perfect example to follow as God became flesh and lived, walked, taught – Jesus became the word of God. Turn to the gospel of John 1:1 – It states it this way, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” Verse 14: “And the word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In verse 17 John identifies Jesus Christ as the word made flesh. God’s word became a part of our world in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.
At times there are those who would take a passage of scripture, pluck it out of context, wave a Bible in his/her hand, and make this statement, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This is extremely evident today as we have seen certain scriptures being quoted in order to limit certain groups of folks from following God’s calling. We tread into dangerous territory when we attempt to follow scripture verbatim, and claim to be the only true followers of God. The process of studying and interpreting scripture has been a staple for over 3 thousand years for our Jewish brothers and sisters, and for over 2 thousand years for Christians. We wrestle with passages that are controversial and we even challenge the validity of scripture when we find contradictory accounts of events. If we truly believed in the statement, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” we would find ourselves in quite a quandary. Here’s an example: Turn to 1 Samuel 17 – this is the famous account of David verses Goliath. Many of us have heard this story before. The image is used a lot in our everyday encounters when we feel like the little guy up against the big giant of the corporate world. It is a classic underdog story where the most unlikely winner of a battle does in fact defeat his much larger enemy. Now turn to 2 Samuel 21:19 – depending on what version of scripture you are reading, this notes that Elhanan killed Goliath. (Some versions will say he killed Goliath’s brother, but the original Hebrew does not say this.) It appears to be a contradiction, yet with scrutiny and study, we can piece together the events of both battles and know that David did in fact kill Goliath.
Some of you are already at the ‘so what’ phase. Who cares about these old battles? Yet there are other disturbing passages of scripture that many have taken to interpreting through study instead of following the half-truth, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” How many of you have a savings account, 401K, 403B, retirement fund – those types of things? Have we not read the scripture from Matthew 6:19-21?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Are we not storing up treasures on earth? If we take scripture verbatim without some form of interpretation, then everyone of us who has a savings account needs to repent of that sin.
Yet when we look at the value of interpreting scripture, placing it in context, and gleaning the meaning God would have for us, we see the world was a very different place when Jesus spoke these words. We read other scripture that speaks to the LOVE of money being the root of all evil. We understand the need to provide for our well-being in retirement and for our families after we are gone. We no longer live in a way in which multi-generations live in the same households as in Jesus’ time. We save as a way of providing for our families that applies to us today. We interpret this passage with an understanding of importance – we guard our hearts against the quest for wealth as being our priority. We place loving God and loving others against a backdrop of caring for our families and others.
Jesus would interpret passages of scripture all the time. The disciples did this also. You heard Jesus take a stricter stance on adultery during his sermon on the mount found in Matthew chapters 6-8, yet he showed kindness and love to the woman caught in the act. By law she should have been killed, yet Jesus showed compassion and mercy, forgiving her sin and instructing her to sin no more. The disciples did a major evaluation of the law in Acts 15 to see what would best apply to Gentiles – those followers of Jesus Christ who were not Jews, therefore unfamiliar with the Torah law that had been the guide for the Hebrews. In this instance, the disciples set aside all parts of the law except for abstaining from eating food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, and meat from strangled animals and blood (Acts 15:20.) The disciples used discernment to determine what the critical pieces of the law to uphold and those that did not apply. Hamilton notes the benefits of studying and interpreting scripture in order to best apply it to our lives today.
The debates continue, and so it raises the question of the authority of the Bible. Why should we bother even trying to study scripture when it can be easily misinterpreted or plucked out of context and used as a weapon? I believe we take advantage of the vast studies that have occurred. I believe we use the gifts of knowledge and reason to guide us. I believe we consider the history of the church and the context in which we live to give us heart knowledge as well as head knowledge. I believe sincerely that we are to evaluate scripture with a focus on love – love for God and love for our neighbors.
One constant throughout scripture is the message of love. The entire Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is a love story between God and God’s chosen people. The message of the word made flesh, Jesus the Christ, was the ultimate story of love as Jesus chose to live, teach, heal, welcome, suffer, die, and rise again to ultimately defeat the evil forces of wickedness. The great letter writers in the New Testament speak volumes about love. Jesus lived this out in every way.
The most famous wedding scripture comes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church (remember I told you this was one messed up church!) As part of Paul’s teaching and leadership he directed this messed up church to love one another as Christ first loved us. I want to close with Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 – turn to that passage and read it with me.
“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong doing. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
That is the message I hope you leave with today. I encourage you to dive in and study scripture, but always with the lens of love. I encourage you to challenge certain passages and seek greater understanding in prayer. Next week I will be presenting a challenge to this church body to commit to prayer and scripture reading daily. We need God and we need each other. I encourage you to deepen your faith in God through daily reading and study of God’s holy word. Amen.