The Bible and Us
Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
Ever since my youth there have been four Scripture passages that I have associated together in my mind. They were first pointed out to me by one of the men of God who taught the Word in those days, but which one it was I cannot, for the life of me, recall.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT ITSELF
The four passages referred to above are James 1:21, Titus 1:9, Philippians 2:16, and II Timothy 2:15. In all of these the Bible is called “the Word.” In each of them some statement is made about the Word which indicates our responsibility to it as such. There is nothing essentially dispensational about them, for some of them, at least, would apply in any dispensation. Together, though, they show the importance of our attitude toward God’s Word and the urgency of dividing it aright. Let us examine them one by one.
“Receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
In James 1:21 the Bible is called “the engrafted Word.” The Greek word rendered “engrafted” here, and indeed the English word engrafted, have the meaning of planting into. Hence the word has sometimes been rendered implanted—“the implanted Word.” This indicates the tendency of the Word of God to get down underneath, as it were, and prick our consciences. And what should we do with it as the “engrafted” or implanted Word? We should receive it with meekness.
“…receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
This is not a dispensational matter. Men in all ages have been saved by believing God’s Word to them, and His Word has sometimes been difficult to accept. It is the course of wisdom, however, to “receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
It was as a young comedian, just arrived from the Netherlands, that the writer’s father first came into contact with the Word of God, and it aroused his enmity. He said, “According to that Book, nobody is any good.”
Seeking to get away from the influence of the Word, he took up lodging in an area in which he did not know one single believer. However, an old lady wisely and graciously gave him a book to help him “learn English” faster! The same reading matter was printed in Dutch in the left-hand column and in English in the column at the right. She pointed out to him how he could read the Dutch and then go across the page and learn to decipher the English.
He began avidly studying when it dawned on him: “It’s that Book again!” It was a Dutch-English New Testament the woman had given him!
He told himself that he didn’t have to be insulted in order to learn to read English and has often told us how nearly he threw that book away. But he did want so badly to learn English, and this would be a great help, so he continued studying the Book until he was gloriously saved and his whole life revolutionized by it.
That book had gotten “under his skin,” as it were. It had been implanted into his mind and heart until, convicted of his lost and sinful condition, he cried to God for help and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Should any read this article who are still strangers to grace and to God, we say to you, “receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.” Humbly accept what the Bible says about your desperate condition, about your just condemnation before a holy God. Receive with meekness what it says about God’s love for you and the death of Christ at Calvary—for your sins. “Receive with meekness the implanted Word,” believe what it says about your sin and your Savior, and your soul will be saved.
“Holding fast the faithful Word….”
In Titus 1:9 the Bible is called “the faithful Word.” And what is our responsibility toward it as such? Why, hold it fast, trust it, rely upon it, act upon it, “holding fast the faithful Word.”
It is particularly appropriate that the Bible should be called “the faithful Word” here in Paul’s letter to Titus. Titus had been left by Paul to serve the Lord Jesus Christ on the island of Crete. This was a very difficult assignment, for the Apostle writes:
“One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are always liars” (Ver. 12).
And he added, “This witness is true” (Ver. 13).
Some years ago the author looked up the word Cretian, or Cretan, in an old unabridged dictionary to ascertain the proper spelling of the word. In addition to the information we sought, the dictionary explained that in Paul’s day to say, “You’re a Cretian” was the same as saying, “You’re a liar.” The Cretians could not be trusted. Paul says, in effect, “Whether they say `yes’ or `no,’ pay no attention to it. Whether they say `I will’ or `I won’t,’ pay no heed, for they are always lying. You cannot depend upon them.”
In sharp contrast to this trait of the Cretians we have the wonderful truth of Titus 1:2:
“In hope of eternal life, which God, that CANNOT LIE, promised before the world [ages] began.”
“The Cretians are always liars.” “God…cannot lie.” And it was to Titus, on this island where men were so untrustworthy, that “God [who] cannot lie,” wrote, through Paul, about His sure promise of eternal life.
“God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).
But to whom did God make this promise about eternal life? Surely not to the angels; there is no indication in Scripture that this might have been the case. Surely not to men, for men were not yet created “before the [ages] began.” To whom then did He make the promise? The answer is—to Himself. In the counsels of the Trinity, in ages past, God promised Himself that He would provide the wonderful salvation by grace which we now enjoy. We sometimes make promises to ourselves, and fail dismally to keep them, but this is not so with the promise that God made to Himself. “God…cannot lie.” His “eternal purpose,” the promise He made before the ages began, could have been made by none greater—it was made by God Himself. It could have been made to none greater. It was made to Himself. And it was vested in Jesus Christ, “in [whom] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). This promise will never be broken. Every individual promise fulfilled to us is but a further development of the great eternal promise He made to Himself.
This passage by no means stands alone. In II Timothy 1:1 we read that Paul was “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.” This was indeed His eternal purpose in Christ, to which the Apostle refers again and again in his epistles.
We may rely completely upon this promise. Indeed we have all reason to rely upon it, “holding fast the faithful Word.” This is why the Apostle writes in I Timothy 1:15:
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
The Cretians are always liars, but God cannot lie. Surrounded by dishonesty and unfaithfulness on every hand we can, thank God, hold fast the faithful Word, and rejoice that even when we ourselves are unfaithful, “yet He abideth faithful” (II Tim. 2:13).
“Holding forth the Word of life….”
Here again the Bible calls itself “the Word.” This time it is “the Word of life.” What is our responsibility toward it as such? We should hold it forth. We should hold it forth because it is “the Word of life.”
Here it may be well to consider the preceding context, Verse 15:
“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation [generation], among whom ye shine as lights in the world.”
We once interpreted Verses 15 and 16 to mean that as we hold forth the Word of life we should cast the light of a godly life upon it. It is true, indeed, that our witness for Christ should be “adorned” by a blameless, godly life, but does a blameless life actually cast light upon the Bible? Is it not the Word which gives light to this dark world, light about eternal life? Is it not by “holding forth the Word of life” that we “shine as lights in the world?” This latter interpretation, we feel, makes better sense and is more consistent with the Word of God as a whole. Let us quote it again:
“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse [generation], among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain neither labored in vain” (Vers. 15,16).
Thus we “shine as lights in the world” as we “hold forth the Word of life.”
One thing is certain. It is the Word, as the Holy Spirit uses it, that gives life to dead sinners. This is confirmed by many passages, including especially I Peter 1:23-25:
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.
“For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
“But the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
Here Peter, clearly having learned of salvation by grace through the finished work of Christ, declares that the Word of God is seed which cannot die; it is incorruptible. “And this is the Word, which by the gospel is preached unto you.” Thus, the Apostle Paul calls it “the Word of life,” for when men receive it they are “born again” of seed that is “incorruptible”—seed that cannot die.
Again, in Ephesians 2:5 we read that we, once “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ver. 1), have now been “quickened” (given life) and “raised” “with Christ.” How did this take place? As we believed “the word of the truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5).
This is why, in a lost world, we should not stop giving of ourselves and our means to “hold forth the Word of life.” This is the only method God uses to impart life to those “dead in trespasses and sins.”
II TIMOTHY 2:15
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.”
Finally, in II Timothy 2:15 the Bible is called “the Word of truth.” And what is our responsibility toward it as such? The answer is, “rightly divide it”: “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”
Why is it so important to “rightly divide” the Word of truth? Simply because if we do not rightly divide it, we are apt to turn God’s truth into a lie.
An article appeared in a “grace” magazine some time ago which applied Matthew 21:22 to the dispensation of Grace in which we live. The writer encouraged her readers to believe that today “all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
But while this was indeed true in our Lord’s day, and would still be true if the Pentecostal era had not come to an end, it is certainly not true that believers today receive “all things, whatsoever [they] ask in prayer, believing,” and to teach that they do, or may, changes God’s truth into a lie.
The Word of God, through Paul, makes it very clear that we need the Spirit’s help in our prayers, since “we know not what we should pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). Paul asked the Lord three times to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” and he doubtless had perfect faith that God would do what was best for him, but there is no indication that he had faith that the Lord would give him “whatsoever” he asked. Thus in this case the Lord answered him with a “No,” assuring him that His grace would be sufficient for the afflicted apostle (II Cor. 12:7-9). The result was that Paul learned to “take pleasure in infirmities,” realizing that God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness” (Vers. 9,10).
Paul’s faith was much greater, and more honoring to God, than the faith which believes it will get whatever it asks for. His “Spirit-inspired” directions to us are:
“Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God,
And what? And God will give you whatever you ask for in faith? No. The Apostle proceeds:
“And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6,7).
Shall we now go back from this heavenly instruction from our glorified Lord to the words of the earthly Jesus to the circumcision believers? Or shall we go back to Pentecost when they were “all filled with the Holy Ghost,” and did know what they should pray for as they ought? Surely no one who knows of the “all spiritual blessings” (Eph. 1:3) that are now ours in Christ will want to go back to the program of a former age. Indeed if we do—or try to—we only change God’s truth into a lie, just as we would if we demanded circumcision for salvation today, or offered animals in sacrifice, or baptized with water.
How important it is, then, to rightly divide the Word of truth if we would be workmen whom God can approve, not needing, some day, to stand ashamed before Him!
If we would respect the Bible as “the Word of truth,” we must rightly divide it as to time, for I Peter 1:10-12 clearly indicates that the prophets did not know what the Spirit “signified” when He “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.” What they prophesied was meant for those of a later dispensation. Likewise in Romans 3:19,20, the Apostle Paul informs us of the reason why the Law was given to those of a former age, and proceeds to say:
“BUT NOW the righteousness of God WITHOUT THE LAW is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets” (Ver. 21).
There are many passages that emphasize the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” as to time. It must also be “rightly divided” as to place. In Jeremiah 23:5 we read:
“Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper and shall execute judgment and justice IN THE EARTH.”
But in sharp contrast to this we read in the epistles of Paul that God:
“…hath raised us up together, and MADE US SIT TOGETHER IN HEAVENLY PLACES IN CHRIST JESUS” (Eph. 2:6).
There are also scores of other passages which similarly indicate the importance of rightly dividing the Word of truth as to place.
Thirdly, the Word of truth should be “rightly divided” as to race. In Peter’s Pentecostal address he makes it clear three times that he is addressing only “the house of Israel,” but sometime later the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 11:13:
“I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.”
Again and again the Apostle makes it clear that as the twelve were the apostles of the circumcision, so he had been appointed as the apostle of grace to the nations.
We close with a simple illustration of the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of truth.” Let us visit, in our imaginations, a Post Office in one of our larger American cities. As a guide takes us through we are amazed. There are trucks delivering enormous quantities of mail, and others, smaller ones, taking mail away to be delivered. Here is a large escalator taking mail up to another floor, and here is another escalator taking mail down to the one on which we stand. There is a man with perhaps twenty sacks hanging in a rack before him. He is tossing pieces of mail into them, carefully looking at each address to select the bag into which the package in question is to be thrown. Here is another man putting letters into pigeonholes. There along the wall are men and women standing at windows writing things down, passing envelopes and packages out to the patrons through windows, or else accepting packages or letters from them, weighing them and stamping them for delivery.
I say to my guide: “This is utter confusion. Would it not be much simpler to select one large room here at the Post Office, pile all the mail up inside, and place an advertisement in the newspaper to the effect that those who would like to receive their mail may come to the Post Office to call for it?”
Nonsense! you exclaim. That would be confusion. What all those employees at the Post Office were doing was rightly dividing the mail so that each person might receive the mail addressed to him—indeed, so that you could get your mail.
And so it is with the Word of God, for while all the Word is for us, it is not all addressed to us or written about us. It must be rightly divided, so that we may pay particular attention to that which was addressed to us. And then, as God in grace allows us to read the rest of the Bible—that which was addressed to others—we will come to understand the whole of it more clearly and receive the greater blessing.