Let the Bible Speak
WHAT makes true worship appealing to the hearts of sincere persons? Is it the impressive personality, eloquence or learning of those who uphold true worship? No, people have embraced true worship because of recognizing the message brought to them by God’s servants as coming, not from men, but from God. (1 Thess. 2:13) True Christians, therefore, should be concerned about letting the Bible speak.
The one who became the head of the Christian congregation, Jesus Christ, set a fine example in this. He turned his hearers’ attention away from himself to his Father, saying: “I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak these things.” (John 8:28) In his teaching, the Son of God drew upon the written Word, the Hebrew Scriptures. We read the following about his discussion with two disciples after his resurrection: “Commencing at Moses and all the Prophets he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.”—Luke 24:27.
First-century Christians imitated Jesus in letting the Scriptures speak. A remarkable case in point is the apostle Paul. Regarding his preaching to the Corinthians, he wrote: “I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come with an extravagance of speech or of wisdom declaring the sacred secret of God to you. . . . My speech and what I preached were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of spirit and power, that your faith might be, not in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power.” (1 Cor. 2:1-5) While Paul recognized that impressive speech, a strong personality and worldly wisdom had persuasive power, he did not resort to such in his efforts to advance the interests of true worship. Instead, Paul focused attention on God—his spirit and power—so that those heeding what he said would have a solid foundation for faith.
LETTING THE BIBLE SPEAK TODAY
Devoted Christians today do well to imitate the example of the apostle Paul. In the final analysis, they have little in themselves with which to impress others. The apostle Paul’s words have proved to be true in their case: “Not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things [from the viewpoint of nonbelievers] of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame.”—1 Cor. 1:26, 27.
So for true Christians to appeal to others on the basis of their learning, abilities or achievements would be most unwise. This is not only because generally they have little to boast about when it comes to what the world views as outstanding. More importantly, if they tried to make an impression based on human wisdom, an honest-hearted person could be repelled thereby, as genuine warmth, modesty and sincerity would be missing in their speech.
Hence, instead of calling attention to himself when sharing in publicly proclaiming the truth, the Christian will want to highlight what God says in his Word. Those spoken to will thus be helped to build their faith on God’s Word. Therefore, when opportunity affords to read directly from the Bible to prove a point, the Christian will want to do that. If at all possible, he should strive to leave a Scriptural thought with those whom he might meet while calling on persons with a view to helping them spiritually.
Similarly, Christian parents do well to let the Bible speak to their sons and daughters. By using the Scriptures, parents can make it plain to their children that the world’s view of pleasure is often distorted and degraded. At the same time parents can show their children that what God says in his Word serves as a safeguard against following a ruinous course. When parents let the Bible have its say, their children will usually come to appreciate that the teaching they receive is not simply the opinion of imperfect parents. It actually comes from God.
MAKING SURE THAT THE BIBLE IS SPEAKING
Our letting the Bible speak is not just a matter of using it. We should also make sure that we are not misrepresenting what it actually says. What does this require?
It is vital to consider the context in which a particular passage of Scripture appears. After reading the surrounding verses, a person might ask himself: To whom was the message directed? What was its purpose?
To illustrate the value of taking note of the context, we might examine 2 Corinthians 10:3, 4. That passage reads: “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.”
These words were directed to Christians at Corinth by the apostle Paul. Was Paul telling these Corinthians to have nothing to do with the physical warfare of the nations? Is that the main point the Corinthians would have gotten from his comments? Well, does the context show that Paul was talking about such weapons as literal swords, spears, bows and arrows? No, it shows that no reference was being made to literal, physical warfare.
Note, for example, 2 Co 10 verses 5 and 6: “We are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God; and we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ; and we are holding ourselves in readiness to inflict punishment for every disobedience, as soon as your own obedience has been fully carried out.” Obviously, literal swords, spears and the like would be useless in trying to overturn wrong reasonings and other obstacles standing in the way of people’s having accurate knowledge of God.
Since Christians were never authorized to judge matters outside the congregation, Paul could not have meant that he and his associates would take it upon themselves to inflict punishment on disobedient ones in the world as a whole. In an earlier letter he had specifically told the Corinthians: “What do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside, while God judges those outside?” (1 Cor. 5:12, 13) Accordingly, Paul was talking about waging spiritual warfare inside the congregation with a view to protecting it from destructive, false reasonings and teachings. In fighting such spiritual warfare, Paul did not use such ‘fleshly weapons’ as “cunning,” ‘craftiness,’ “trickery,” high-sounding language and worldly philosophy. (2 Cor. 11:3; 12:16) He used only righteous means, including the “sword of the spirit,” God’s Word.—2 Cor. 6:3-7; Eph. 6:17.
Does this mean that Paul’s statement cannot be used to show that Christians should not get involved in worldly conflicts? As we have seen from considering the context, Paul was not talking about fighting on the world’s battlefields. Nevertheless, the statement “the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly” expresses a basic truth or principle. It being wrong to resort to fleshly methods to combat false teaching in the congregation, it would certainly be just as wrong to use literal weapons in waging war against people of another tribe, nation, race, political ideology, and so forth. (Compare Ephesians 6:11, 12.) Therefore, one’s using the text regarding fleshly weapons in support of the Christian position regarding the world’s wars would not be violating the spirit of the context. Instead, we would simply be applying, or extending the application of, the principle set forth in the scripture.
However, if a person ignored the context and directly applied the text to worldly conflicts, limiting it to that, he would lose the whole point of the apostle Paul’s argument. He would then not really be letting the Bible speak.
Besides the written context, a person should keep in mind the time period involved. This can prevent one from drawing wrong conclusions. A case in point is Amos 9:2, where we read: “If they go up to the heavens, from there I shall bring them down.” Now some persons might conclude that this is talking about trying to escape God’s judgment by taking off in rockets. But no one in the time of Amos would have reached such a conclusion. The ancient Israelites understood this to mean going up to the mountains, the high summits of which were often concealed by clouds.
Another factor that should not be overlooked in making proper use of the Bible is the geographical setting. The book of Ecclesiastes, for example, was written in Jerusalem, which city lies in an area that has a dry season and a rainy season. Against this background, Ecclesiastes 12:1, 2 becomes understandable: “Remember, now, your Grand Creator in the days of your young manhood, before the calamitous days proceed to come, or the years have arrived when you will say: ‘I have no delight in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds have returned, afterward the downpour.” Here the days of youth are compared to the summer’s dry season when the sun, moon and stars shed light from cloudless skies, whereas the calamitous days of old age are likened to the cold, rainy period of the fall and winter season.
Furthermore, when using the Bible, a person should take a reasonable approach, one that is in harmony with the facts. Take the case of David’s description of God’s intervention to save him from his enemies: “He proceeded to bend the heavens down and to descend; and thick gloom was beneath his feet. . . . From heaven Jehovah began to thunder.” (2 Sam. 22:10-14) Were a person to present this poetic language as something literal, he would distort the facts. God does not literally descend from the heavens on clouds. Evidently David was comparing the effect of God’s intervention on his behalf to a tremendous storm, which causes the ‘heavens to bend down’ with dark low-lying clouds.
Clearly, then, if we strive to get the thought of what the Bible writers had in mind, we will not be misrepresenting what the Scriptures say. Our use of the Bible will appeal to sincere persons, enabling them to build their faith on the Word of God. May we therefore continue to let the Bible speak its powerful message.