We serve the meat of the word! We preach the bible as it is…
Meat is under suspicion these days, Health-conscious people are saying less red meat and more chicken and fish in the diet. Studies suggest that excessive amounts of fat can clog the arteries and contribute to high blood pressure/ heart attack and other health problems.
Modern research notwithstanding, in the spiritual realm the Bible casts meat in a more favorable light.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for to this time ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Cor. 3:1-2). Paul is making a distinction between immature or “fleshly” Christians who are babes and can, therefore, only digest milk and mature or spiritual Christians who are sons and can digest meat. And to the “Hebrews” he wrote, “For everyone that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:13-14). Contrary to the usual interpretation of this text, Paul is not here contrasting babes in Christ who can only digest milk with mature sons in Christ who can handle meat, as he did in 1 Corinthians 3, but with the Old Testament Scriptures which were preliminary and temporary (the first phase of God’s revelation) and the New Testament Scriptures which were complete and final (the second phase of God’s revelation). The Old Testament was given during man’s infancy period — and under it men were viewed as babes. The New Testament was given during man’s more mature period — and under it, men are sons (cp. Gal. 3:7).
In the physical realm, milk plays a crucial role in life. The baby must be nurtured with milk. Without it, bones will be stunted and the baby will grow weak and become ill. Later, milk must be replaced by solid food.
In the spiritual realm, milk is also a crucial ingredient in the life of a babe. Familiar verses such as John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name;” John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” and a host of other verses must be mastered and their truths appropriated by faith. Without them, there is no life and no foundation upon which to build. Their significance is lifelong and inexhaustible. However, there comes a time when the believer must — if he is going to grow, mature and be fruitful — begin to digest the meat of the Word.
Nineteen eighty-eight marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc. It is our jubilee year — fifty years of experiencing God’s faithfulness. And during all of those years, a vital part of our ministry has revolved around serving the meat of the Word.
We serve the meat of the Word precisely because it is His Word. God did not have to communicate to man. He had no obligation to fulfill — no debt to pay. God sovereignly chose to communicate to man. And that He did so is an indication of His infinite grace and measureless love. To the degree that men comprehend the greatness of God, they will appreciate the greatness of His Word. The Prophet Isaiah spoke of that greatness when he wrote, “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and measured out heaven with the span, and measured the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” (Isa. 40:12). He continued by asking these rhetorical questions: “Have ye not known? [They knew.] Have ye not heard? [They had heard.] Hath it not been told you from the beginning? [They were told.] Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? [They understood, but they needed reminding.] It is he who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are like grasshoppers; who stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain, and spreadeth them out like a tent to dwell in” (Isa. 40:21-22).
But even the prophet’s exaltant language could not exhaust the majesty, power and wisdom of God. And to think that such a God condescended to speak to man through His Word. Mind you, not a man in His own image, or we might have expected that, but to man in Adam’s fallen likeness (Gen. 5:3) — fallen, depraved and at enmity with his Creator. To such men, the eternal God stooped to speak of redeeming grace and eternal love.
We serve the meat of the Word because man’s need is so great. An old, popular ballad conveys this message: The crowd sees me out dancing, carefree and romancing, happy with my someone new. I’m laughing on the outside, crying on the inside, ’cause I’m still in love with you.’ The romantic lyricist caught a characteristic of unregenerate men — at best, outwardly intelligent, successful, attractive and in control. But underneath the facade is uncertainty and a sense that something is missing — a restlessness and itching of the heart that cannot be scratched. At unguarded moments, when the facade is dropped, the truth can be seen. For multitudes, when a new work week begins, it’s the Monday blues. And when the end of the week arrives, it’s TGIF — thank God it’s Friday. The insightful hymn writer captured unsaved man’s real condition well when he wrote, “Lonely faces do I see, lonely faces haunt my memory.” These are some of the outward indications that mankind is unfulfilled, flawed and has a fatal heart problem. The Bible calls that problem sin. Money, power, success, education, morality and religion — these don’t resolve the problem. Neither does illicit sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling or the occult. These are simply vain attempts to mask or anesthetize the real problem.
Man was created to have intimate fellowship with his Creator. Sin broke that fellowship, and man spends his days in a vain self-attempt to scratch the “itch” he feels inside. For that reason, as Jesus looked at men, He saw them as sheep without a shepherd — lost and helpless with a sense of futility and fatalism.
We serve the meat of the Word because it is alive. Someone has rightly said, God’s Word will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from God’s Word.” The Bible refers to the Son of God as the Logos — the Word (Jn. 1:1). The Bible also refers to itself as the Logos — the Word (Heb. 4:12). The Logos is the embodiment of the mind of God. Jesus is the incarnate (infleshed) Logos. Jesus in His humanity is a product of God and man. The Holy Spirit (deity) came upon Mary (humanity), and she conceived: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (Lk. 1:35). The Bible is also a product of God and man. “Holy men [humanity] of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit [deity]” (2 Pet. 1:21). As a result, Jesus is referred to as the “holy child” (Acts 4:27), and the Bible is referred to as “the holy scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). Both are living entities and the embodiment of the mind of God — the one (Christ) incarnated and the other (the Bible) “inscripturated.” And because they are innately and inherently alive, when acted upon by the Holy Spirit both will produce life.
You may read Shakespeare until the end of time; it will never produce life — the Bible can. You can study Socrates and Aristotle until the heavens are folded up as a scroll; they will never produce life — the Bible will. You can read all the writings of all the seers who have ever waxed eloquent until the cow jumps over the moon; they will never produce life — the Bible does. The Bible is alive. The late Dr. Harry Ironside, in the twilight of a life of dedicated and distinguished service for the sovereign Lord — a life characterized by powerful preaching and voluminous, fruitful writing — lamented that, had he to do it over again, he would spend less time in secular reading and more time in the Bible. He understood well that the writings of man are not to be compared with the inspired and, therefore, living Word of God.
We serve the meat of the Word because it is powerful. Writing to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul said, “the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). The Word of God is not only living — it is powerful. The ancient world knew of big, heavy, unwieldy, two-handed swords that rested on the shoulders. In combat, if a man with such a sword missed on his initial thrust, he was vulnerable to counter attack. They also knew of a lighter sword with a point and a sharp blade that would both penetrate and cut. But when the Roman legions marched into conflict with a lightweight, pointed, two-edged sword which could penetrate or cut in both directions, they had a dramatic and revolutionary advantage. It is that imagery which Paul has in mind when he writes of the power of God’s Word and likens it to a two-edged sword.
John Newton was exposed to the gospel on his mother’s knee. As a youth, he ran away from home and went to sea. With the passing of time, he grew to manhood and became the master of his own sailing vessel. John Newton became involved in slave trade and sunk to the depths of degradation and licentiousness. He despaired of life itself and contemplated suicide. In an ultimate sense, it was the divine sovereignty — perhaps in an intermediate sense, the prayers of a godly mother, for John Newton came under the sound of the gospel at a crucial moment of life and was gloriously born again. Never would he forget the rock from which he was hewn. He became a great preacher, theologian and hymn writer. Among his many familiar hymns, none is more beloved than the one which so eloquently and humbly tells his story. It begins with the words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see,”’ and ends with, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” John Newton experienced what millions of the real ”saints” have experienced down through the centuries — the power of the Word of God, energized by the Spirit of God, to save the vilest of sinners who come to the Father through faith in the redeeming work of His Son.
We serve the meat of the Word because it is true. The psalmist wrote, “Thy word is true from the beginning, and every one of thy righteous ordinances endureth forever” (Ps. 119:160). The Roman ruler Pilate quipped, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38). Truth can be defined as that which conforms to reality. And the ultimate reality is God himself. Paul wrote, “let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Of what benefit would it be if man had a Word from God — a Word that was alive — a Word that was powerful — a Word that was sharper than any two-edged sword — a Word that could pierce to the innermost recesses of the heart — if that Word were not eternally true?
The Bible declares that God is love. It is not simply that God loves, but that, in some mysterious way, the very nature of God itself is love. Put another way, it would not be inappropriate to say that God loves because He is love. In the same vein, God is true because in His very nature He is truth. Life emanates from God because He is life — there is no life apart from God. Love emanates from God because He is love — there is no love apart from God. That which is true emanates from God because He is truth — there is no truth apart from God. Men can discover the truths of science through God’s natural revelation in creation. But it is left to His special revelation — the Bible — to reveal to man the truths concerning moral and spiritual realities.
We serve the meat of the Word in an urgent moment of history. The twentieth century is a strange period of time — sophisticated, technologically advanced, but, in some ways, as pagan as the ancients — surely ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. We have “deified” doctors, exalted lawyers, extolled educators and denounced preachers. What a tragic mistake. The former three, if competent, can help in the here and now. The latter, if in tune with God, can touch the chords that vibrate into eternity. Their calling, if rightly understood, is, above all else, the courageous, uncompromising proclamation of the living, powerful and true Word of God. It is that Word alone which can lead men out of the turbulent maze that surrounds them into the calm harbor of eternal life. Man has a fatal ailment, sin — that’s the bad news. But there is a remedy — that’s the good news. The cure is found in the Christ revealed in the pages of God’s Word. Pastors are called of God to proclaim. that Word.
Some pastors can be found preparing (not simply reviewing) their messages on Saturday night and early Sunday morning. They step into their pulpits each week unprepared to feed the hungry and often fearful sheep entrusted to their care, their own hearts unwarmed by the Word.
Some pastors think that a busy counseling ministry is a substitute for an effective pulpit. They seem not to understand that a strong public teaching ministry of God’s Word will educate and prevent the need for much counseling.
Some pastors are perpetually looking for a cute quip or saying around which they can build a sermon or are thumbing through books containing sermon outlines for one they think is “preachable.” They seem not to understand that sermons are not prepared but born. And the pastor must travail to “give birth to a living sermon.”
Some pastors have a particular subject with which they want to deal and then, using a concordance, hunt up verses to “substantiate” or “proof text” their preconceived ideas. But this is not teaching God’s Word.
Some pastors have a truly amazing ability. It doesn’t matter what their text is — what book they’re teaching from — Old or New Testament -~ it somehow always comes out John 3:16. True, John 3:16 is the central theme of the gospel, but the pastor is called to proclaim “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Some pastors are particularly adept at teaching God’s Word and somehow avoiding any mention of the cultural, historical and geographical context They are seemingly unaware of the fact that the responsibility of the Bible teacher is to understand what the inspired penman was saying m the context of his writing and how those in the first century, to whom it was written, would understand it. Perhaps the scandal of the age is that men and women can be members of Bible-believing churches for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five or more years and, apart from some significant verses, have little idea of what the Gospel of John,Romans, Galatians, Hebrews and other books of the Bible are really all about.
Some pastors have made the monumental mistake of thinking that political causes — even good and just ones — are a suitable substitute for the preaching of the Word of God. Christians are not called upon to be passive or politically inactive; but it is the truth of the Word proclaimed from the pulpit that gives the wisdom for good citizenship in an apostate world.
Some pastors (if the facts were known) are overwhelmed week after week with the pressure of preparing at least three new sermons for their flocks with new and meaningful illustrations. They seem not to realize that systematically preaching through a portion of God’s Word and simply teaching “what comes next” alleviates most of that pressure.
We preachers often bemoan the fact that Sunday morning attendance is down, it’s impossible to get a crowd on Sunday night, and we’ve simply given up on Wednesday prayer meeting. We blame television, the culture, two family breadwinners, disinterest and Satan — everything but ourselves and a weak pulpit. The amazing thing is that attendance is as large as it is. The pulpit has never been aflame in many churches, and its all but gone out in others. Many Christians are starving for biblical preaching. And when they find a church that is dispensing Heaven’s bread, they are drawn to it like metal to a magnet, Such churches are conspicuous throughout the country. It’s not great oratory skills, brilliant logic or deep scholarship that is called for, but simple men of faith whose own hearts have been touched by the coals from off the altar as they have prepared to preach. Such men will impact lives for eternity.
It is right here that I planned to tone down this article — to soften the blows, disarm the opposition, fend off accusations and save myself a lot of grief. But I cannot bring myself to do that; for although I speak as a lover from within the true Church, the problems addressed are genuine — obviously with notable and sometimes distinguished exceptions.
If there is any lingering hope for a triumphant Church in the last decade of the twentieth century, it is incontrovertibly linked to that remnant of godly, Bible-believing pastors. They alone can stem the tide of apostasy. To do that, they must stand in genuine humility before their flocks and, with Holy-Spirit power and conviction, proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord.” I am reminded of a plaque that hung conspicuously in my office during my years of pastoral ministry. It reads, “I preach as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men.”
Here at The Friends of Israel, as we approach our fiftieth anniversary, we are convinced, if possible, more than ever before that the Bible is the infallible Word of the eternal God, that it alone holds the solution to the dilemma of the human heart. For that reason, we are committed with our very lives, if need be, to resist the humanistic currents and Godless tides that rage all around. As tactfully as we can — as attractively as we are able — as forcefully as strength permits — as lovingly as our hearts allow— for God’s glory alone, we plan to keep serving the meat of the Word.