We could argue about the value of hobbies, movies, sports, and the newspaper, and never get anywhere! But what about the time these things demand and the influence they exert on us? Is it any wonder that the average Christian knows more about the world than he or she does about the Word? In this message Stephen challenges us get back to the Bible!
Other messages in this series are available here: Ezra
People of the Word
Let’s take a personal survey this morning – you don’t have to turn to any scripture. In fact, I would recommend you don’t write anything down – but calculate in your mind the answers to these questions?
How many hours this past week did you spend reading the newspaper . . . 15 minutes, an hour or 2?
How many hours this past week did you spend watching television, videos or going to the movies, watching the NBA playoffs . . . 3 hours, 4, or 5?
Now calculate how many hours you spent in some form of additional entertainment – maybe even time spent on a hobby.
Now put down how many hours you spent reading and studying the Bible.
Now we could argue about the value of hobbies and playoff games and movies and the newspaper and never really get anywhere – in fact, I’m not even suggesting that any of those things are wrong.
I’d be tempted to put the NBA playoffs up there with spiritual enrichment.
My argument is not along the lines of inherent value in any one of those things; my concern has to do with the time they demand and the influence they exert.
Is it any wonder that the average Christian today knows a lot about the world but much less about the word?
- We can discuss the events of Kosovo and the Middle East, yet know nothing of Colossians and the Minor Prophets.
- We can identify clothing fashion but not define Christian faith.
- We dabble in the philosophy of the world but ignore the theology of the Word.
- We can defend our political preferences but we cannot defend the gospel.
- We can quote stock prices but cannot quote scripture.
- We know the hottest actors and actresses by name, but not the Books of the Bible by heart.
Is it any surprise that we can find our way through the Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine but not be able to locate the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount?
Are we people of the world? Or are we people of the Word?
What the people of God need today is a return to the Word of God.
We desperately need another reformation – a reformation cry from our hearts and lives that demands – that hungers after – the Scriptures alone.
John Armstrong wrote, “Christians seem to be looking for a missing dimension. They long for something which they feel comes directly from God. All along what is really needed is close at hand – the Word opened with power by the Spirit will do what is needed in anyone open to God and His revelation.”
We discovered in our last discussion, a man by the name of Ezra – who had discovered that missing dimension.
In Ezra chapter 7 verse 6 we’re told that he was a scribe, skilled in the law of Moses.
Today, the average Christian would say, “So what – what good is the law – the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament."
Well, for starters, consider what King David wrote about the law in Psalm 19:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple,
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgements of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the dripping of the honeycomb.
In other words, if you want reviving, wisdom, joy; if you want endurance and the understanding of what is really right and what is really wrong; if you want something better than money in the bank and sweet things to eat, try the law.
Ezra had found all he wanted in the law of God.
Then we read of his life-changing decision. In the middle of verse 6 you read; And the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him. 7. And some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.
In other words, Ezra turned in his career as the Administrator of Jewish Affairs, a position implied in his title as a skilled scribe; the term “sopher” carried political implications. Ezra was connected politically. In fact, he was able to directly request things from the King of Babylon.
He walked away from his palace connections and headed for a broken down city surrounded by broken down people whose excitement for the things of God had grown cold over the past 50 years since they had first returned to Jerusalem.
How would Ezra make a difference?
He would make a difference for the same reason that any person in this audience will make a difference in his world.
He was a man with a three-fold passion. He wanted to learn the Word – He wanted to live the Word – and he wanted to teach the Word.
If you notice in verse 10, his passion is clearly articulated: 10. For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes (general principles) and ordinances (specific practices) in Israel.
He set his heart – he made up his mind – he focused his attention on – he purposed in his heart to learn it, to live it, to teach it.
Now let’s take a closer look. When you read in the text that Ezra set his heart to study the law, you could render that he determined in his heart to study or to search out the law.
The New Testament counterpart of this verse is 2 Timothy 2:15 - "Study to show yourselves approved unto God, workmen in the word who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately, rightly interpreting the word of truth.”
Solomon wrote, “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer…” (Proverbs 15:28)
Ezra’s passion was to study the Word of God.
Let me encourage you in your study of the Word by giving you. . .
Five C’s that will help you as you dig for spiritual gems.
Number 1 is Content: that is what do the words say?
Learn to ask in relation to content the journalistic five: who, what where when and why?
Sometimes wonderful clues to spiritual truth can be uncovered when we simply ask those content oriented questions.
Asking the question “when” can shed significant light on the events of the text.
Peter denied Christ three times in the courtyard, even after promising the Lord that he would never deny his relationship to the Lord.
When did he deny the Lord? He denied him three times after having refused an invitation from the Lord the night before to pray with him.
In fact, three times the Lord came wanting Peter to pray with Him; and three times Peter in effect said, “I’d really rather sleep.”
It will be the very next morning that Peter will deny the Lord, three times.
You see, my friend, you are more prone to deny the Lord after you’ve ignored the Lord. And the more often you ignore the Lord, the more prone you are to deny the Lord.
The second C is the word Context: that is, what did the words mean then?
One of our problems is that we want to know what the words of scripture mean to us now – so much so that we fail to first answer what the words meant back then. To whom were the words originally applied? Don’t run so quickly to a 20thcentury meaning before you’ve first discovered the 1st century meaning.
Then there is the word, Comparison. That is: what do other passages say about that same principle or doctrine?
No verse of scripture is an island unto itself – it is connected with the whole of scripture.
Someone once said that every cult has a verse of scripture to back it up.
The principle of the analogy of scripture is very important.
Compare scripture with scripture; and by comparing scripture with scripture you discover that the best commentary on scripture is scripture.
Another C word is Culture: that is, What was life like then?
When Paul encouraged the believer to take up the shield of faith by which he will extinguish the flaming missiles of the evil one in Ephesians 6, he gave us a picture in our minds.
You may picture in your mind rushing toward enemy lines with a shield of faith knocking the fiery arrows to the ground. I must admit that sounds exciting. However, the shield Paul refers to, if you took the time to study the culture of warfare in your local Bible encyclopaedia, was a shield four feet tall and 2 and ½ feet wide. You didn’t run anywhere with this shield. You did one of two things with it: you either planted it in the ground and hid behind it as the enemy fired at you, or you linked its beveled edge with the soldier next to you and he to the one next to him and slowly advanced on the enemy with unity of purpose.
This shield of faith doesn’t make you a hero. It makes the object of your faith you hid behind the hero. And then it makes the entire company of believers a unified power – advancing as the church was intended to do.
The last C word is Consultation: that is, what light do others shed on the text?
The concordance in your Bible that links passages by thematic words – the atlas that shows you where things took place – commentaries and Greek and Hebrew helps for the English reader are all available to the believer.
I have many times encouraged struggling Christians to stop reading devotional books with titles like “Three minutes to a spiritual blessing” and “One verse a day keeps the devil away.”
Instead, I’ve encouraged many a believer to simply begin reading as a companion to their Bibles a Bible Encyclopedia, Dictionary or Word Study Bible for devotions. The truth of the matter is, they will explode your understanding of the Word.
There isn’t any way in the world you would ever understand the fullest significance of scripture unless you're willing to study deeply and read widely.
When Jesus Christ delivered that message to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3, he told them to wake up! Significant words to Sardis because they had been conquered and plundered by enemy armies twice, because the soldiers were asleep at their post when the army came upon them. Significant when Jesus says to them, “If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come . . . wake up!”
Jesus Christ also told the church in Laodicea several things as well. Things that could go unnoticed unless you read that the eye powder of Laodicea was world famous. The tephra Phrygia was exported in tablet form and then ground down and applied to the eyes. The Phrygian powder was held to be a wonderful remedy for weak and ailing eyes. It was in the face of this that Christ tells the compromising, weak and lukewarm church at Laodicea to “anoint your eyes with eye salve that you may see.” Laodicean believers, “You’re going blind – you say you have need of nothing because you can’t see your need. . .you need spiritual eye-salve that only the Lord can give.”
Needless to say – we have so many resources today for the Bible student – if you really want to learn it.
But may I go on to say learning is not the end of the process.
Ezra was passionate about learning it – but if you’ll notice in verse 10 again it says, “Ezra set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it!”
The mark of spiritual maturity is never determined by how much you learn but how much you live.
Jesus Christ did not say in John 13:17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you can repeat them.” No! He said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
James picks up that same theme in 1:23. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.
The Word is likened to a mirror James says, nobody but a fool will look into the mirror and just walk away.
This morning you got up, and I guarantee that none of you look anything like that first reflection. You looked into that mirror this morning and prayed for a revival. You started a process of reformation and total transformation.
Ezra said in his heart – I want to learn the law – not just so I can learn the law but so that I can live the law.
I want to practice it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am so glad he said the word practice. Paul used the word in a similar context when he referred to the mature believer as one who because of practice has his senses trained to discern good and evil - who because of practice is mature.
Every time I see the word practice I think of the piano – that comes from my many years of forced labor.
HOW MANY IN HERE BEGAN AT SOME POINT TO TAKE PIANO????
You started out with this little number – remember?
Then you advanced to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
Then if you were really good you learned this one all by yourself – HEART AND SOUL
Remember those exercises . . . I drove my family nuts over those.
Then if you hung with it after a few years you learned this classic – MAPLE LEAF RAG. . .I shouldn’t play this in church . . . well, I’ll just finish it. . .I’d better stop before I get into to much trouble.
Nobody ever says, “I’ve learned how to play the piano – no – I’m learning how to play”
You will never master the Christian life – and as passionate as Ezra was – he never mastered it either – but he practiced it! He worked hard at living what he was learning.
And the evidence that you are learning is the way you are living.
One of the best ways to approach the Bible is with these 6 questions in mind. Now we’ve already asked several interpretive questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why?
Content, Context, Comparison Culture Consultation.
These are 6 questions of application:
- -Is there an example that I should follow?
- -Is there some behavior that I should avoid?
- -Is there some sin I should confess?
- -Is there some command I should obey?
- -Is there some truth I should believe?
- -Is there some promise I should claim?
Finally, the passion of Ezra was not only to learn it and to live it – but to teach it.
Do you have that same passion?
You teach what you learn two ways:
Through virtuous character – Paul implied, “You make the truth of God attractive as you adorn the doctrine of God in holy living."
You teach what you learn through verbal communication - testifying of the grace of God to those around you.
Let’s wrap up our study of this first paragraph of Ezra’s biography with 4 steps of summary.
As you study the Bible –
Step #1 – Get ready to write.
Have a form of written record or spiritual diary, or simply in the margin of your Bible – record impressions and thoughts and challenges that God brings to your heart and life.
Step #2 – Add a little pressure.
Your response to the study of the word should never be – “I’m gonna think about doing the following things God wants me to do. . .” but “I will do them”. . . I will believe Him . . . I will obey Him.”
Step #3 – Turn it into prayer.
Turn what you’re observing and desiring to apply into immediate prayer requests and pray them back to God.
“Lord, this is what I want to live like . . . Lord, this is what I will trust You for . . . this is what I need to have rearranged in my life, Lord, for Your glory.”
Step #4 – Don’t keep it to yourself.
You will discover as you learn and live that God will give you opportunities to teach, to share, to contribute toward the lives of other believers.
Bank on it – plan on it – don’t be surprised by it (when God gives you an opportunity in some way to share with others the truth of His word).
Our passion is like Ezra: to learn it – to live it – to teach it. For the glory of God!