The Importance of the Word of God by Ken Cooper September 2014
Isaiah chapter 39 verse 8 “Good is the word of the Lord”
As believers we place a high value on the Word of God. It is through belief in God’s Word that we are saved (Rom. 10:17). God’s Word then becomes our guide for life in every circumstance whether it be in employment, in social life, in the family circle and in assembly practice. Our aspiration should be to live by the Word of God.
Chapter and Verse
Where possible we must use clear definitive scriptures to explain our beliefs, defend the truth, govern our actions and support our practices in assembly gatherings. The ideal would be to demonstrate that we have chapter and verse for all that we believe and do.
At times when differences of viewpoint emerge about doctrine, practice and lifestyle the challenge is presented “have you got chapter and verse for that?” It is a legitimate question when asked in the right spirit. It is obvious that there is not always explicit Biblical reference for all that we do as believers. The claim that we are “chapter and verse” people is really an over simplification although an honourable aspiration.
There are many areas of personal behaviour and assembly practice which can be supported by chapter and verse. For example the Scriptures are very plain on the need to pursue a separate path (2 Cor. 6:14-18), on the importance of regular gathering together (Heb. 10:25) and on the importance of breaking bread on the first day of every week (Acts 20:6-7). For some circumstances (e.g. immorality in the assembly) there are elementary Scriptures which should be observed (1 Cor. 5). Chapter and verse can be cited for many other aspects of Christian testimony.
The desire to have “chapter and verse” for life and service is laudable but we cannot claim we have chapter and verse for every eventuality in Christian life. There are many “grey areas” particularly in relation to circumstances in modern life that scripture does not appear to explicitly address. For example for some aspects of personal conduct (e.g. places visited, associations joined etc.) the Scriptures may not be absolutely clear. Sometimes in assembly life practices are established which could not be justified from a specific Scripture although they may be in keeping with the spirit and tone of Scripture.
Regrettably there are times when we cannot cite chapter and verse because of our ignorance of Scripture not because such guidance is not available. When challenged about matters can we show that we have got chapter and verse for what we believe and do?
Where there is no clear chapter and verse the principles and precedents of scripture must be applied with spiritual intelligence. The principles and teaching of Scripture can be applied to every circumstance. The Word of God must govern our personal relationships, our working lives and our relationships with fellow saints in the modern world. We cannot use the excuse that Scripture does not help in areas of uncertainty.
What Saith the Scripture?
Ultimately in examining our own beliefs and conduct the question “what saith the scripture?” is the test. For reasons stated this is not an easy answer to all potential problems that may have to be faced. The answer may not always be immediately obvious. It sometimes may require more rigorous study of scripture.
It is possible to live in a certain way and to adopt practices in assembly testimony that do not have scriptural sanction. There is a danger that some things we do are born of good motive, longstanding practice, unscriptural tradition or the incorrect application of God’s Word. We must therefore be careful not to condemn others who do not see things in the same light. The test is “what saith the scripture” but:
- There is a potential to apply scripture inappropriately. In the exposition and application of Scripture text and context are crucial. But sometimes the text is lifted out of context and sometimes context is over emphasised to dismiss the applicability of a scripture to modern circumstances.
- There is a possibility of pursuing practices based on man-made tradition. Subsequently complicated arguments from Scripture have to be presented to justify extreme, inappropriate or unscriptural behaviour.
- There is the problem that godly students of Scripture and sound teachers of God’s Word may reach a radically different conclusion on the understanding and exposition of certain scriptures. Frequently different views on doctrine are evident and more frequently different views on Christian practice are held. While personally we are to act on conviction and on the basis that we have the correct exposition of Scripture there is no place for arrogance. There is always need for a teachable spirit.
The Authority of God’s Word
Scripture must have a primary place and all in our lives should accord with it. The Word of God expresses the heart and mind of God, the authority of God. The precedence and priority of God’s Word must be paramount. It has been said it should be “our first counsel and our final counsel”.
This means that:
- The teaching of God’s Word and the sound exposition of God’s Word is critical. Assembly elders have a vital role to play in ensuring that God’s people are fed with spiritual food. Judgements will need to be made as to the quality of the teaching given. Personal friendships and longstanding contacts are not the criteria for inviting ministering brethren.
- Teaching must be scripture based. Emphasis must be on the positive injunctions of God’s word. There is a danger that too much teaching is based on inference or the so called omissions of scripture and has a negative bearing.
- We must not impose our own thoughts on Scripture. We must not bring the Bible down to our own comprehension and as a consequence make Scripture say what we want it to say not what it actually says. The authority of Scripture must not be displaced by or become the authority of tradition. Accepted practice may masquerade as Scripture but be far from it. Lightweight teaching is not the answer just because the saints dissent when the teaching is “too heavy”. Preference for short, alliterative, albeit well-constructed messages rather than solid verse by verse exposition will not build up God’s people.
- The teaching of Scripture must not become the ground for the promotion of our preconceived notions. We must not allow the teaching of God’s Word and the claim of the authority of God’s Word to simply become the sanction to affirm “brethren tradition”. The authority of God’s Word must take precedence over any inner circle of preachers or forum who pronounce what they believe to be a definitive line on matters. The claim of “the authority of Scripture” can too easily become in reality the control by a limited number of brethren on matters of doctrine and practice.
- The precedents and principles of Scripture are as important and can be as helpful as specific chapter and verse. They may be appropriate for example in relation to personal dress and appearance, modes of addressing the Lord, behaviour in the gathered company and contact with the world. But we must not go beyond Scripture. We must not prop up what may be a sincerely held personal exercise by the misuse of Scripture. That in itself can call God’s word into disrepute.
- There is a need for systematic teaching of sufficient depth to ground the upcoming generation in basic matters. The lack of textual and contextual teaching as opposed to topical teaching is a serious deficiency. As a consequence some cannot explain their practices and beliefs from Scripture even though the chapter and verse to support such is readily accessible. Sometimes in teaching ministry, there is much “preaching to the converted” and a lack of stimulation of the saints through exploring the “whole counsel of God”. There is a danger that we spend a disproportionate amount of time in ministry on repetitive matters.
Evidence of spiritual life will be seen in a thirst for God’s Word among His people and a desire to put God’s Word into practice. We are to act and live on the authority of God’s Word. This is not an easy course. The understanding of Scripture requires diligent and detailed study. Many believers rely on those “apt to teach” to help understand God’s mind and will. There is a serious responsibility placed on Bible teachers therefore to be faithful in their exposition.
There are times when individual believers pursue a course in life which might not be in keeping with the tone, sentiments, principles or spirit of Scripture. Spiritual people have a responsibility to help and guide others in the matter of daily Christian living. This must always be done by reference to the Word of God.