Treasuring God’s Word, Part 2: The Clarity of Scripture

The following was taught in a LifeGroup class at Northeast Houston Baptist Church on July 23, 2017.

By way of reminder, we are in a series on the nature of Scripture and how we can treasure God’s Word. We started by asking ourselves this question, “What is my attitude toward the Bible? How do I feel about Scripture?” I made the suggestion that the right attitude begins with the right perspective.

Let me show how easily perspective can change your motivation. Suppose you have a very difficult work day and it is packed with meetings and phone calls. A friend down the hall asks you to go out to lunch but you decline say, “I’m far too busy to get out today, maybe another day.” Now, suppose it is not your friend, but the president of the United States who asks you to go to lunch. What would you say? Maybe you would say something like, “I’m very busy today, but I can’t pass up an opportunity like this!” The circumstances didn’t change in these two situations. However, the motivation is clearly there when the perspective of the invite changes. The president is the most honorable man in the country. He is a rare person. There is only one of him. So, you are more motivated to set aside whatever plans you have, regardless of how hectic and important, in order to have lunch with the president. Your friend can wait for another day. This is what I mean by changing our perspectives concern the Bible. When we see the Bible as the “president” of all books, we might be more excited about the opportunity to spend time with it.

Now consider a few of the psalmist’s words about the Scriptures. We read these last week. Psalm 119:60 says, “I rush to keep your commandments.” Psalm 119:97 says, “I love your law.” And finally, Psalm 119:148 says, “I anticipate the time when I can meditate on your word.” These are all expressions of love toward the Bible. The author is undoubtedly motivated to spend time with God’s Word. And sadly, it cannot always be said of us, if it can be said at all.

We then asked the question, “What if God never spoke at all? What would life be like?” You see, God is really under no obligation to speak to mankind for any reason. He did so out of His own good pleasure and wondrous grace. And, we said that when God speaks, it is always Scripture. The doctrine of Inspiration tells us that God breathed out Scripture, that He spoke, and that He carried human writers along to assure that the words they wrote were the words He intended. This is the nature of Scripture. God is the author and source. And out of this reality, flow all kinds of truths about the Bible. The first one, as we saw last week, is that Scripture is authoritative. Why? Because the author is authoritative. God has the highest authority. No one is higher than God, so no word is higher than God’s. He has all authority, so His word has all authority.

And, as a sidebar, let me say that “authority,” at least when we are talking about the Scripture, deals with two things: position and power. Both of these are matters of the author of Scripture. What is God’s position? What kind of power does He have? Well, the answers are clear. God is highest so there is no position above Him. And, He is all-powerful, there is nothing that He desires to do that He cannot do. In other words, when He speaks, He speaks with authority because He is Highest, but also because He can carry out whatever He speaks. This is true authority.

Here is the question we must ask ourselves this morning. If God has spoken with great authority, what good is it if we cannot understand him? Let me show this kind of reasoning from the writings of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 14, he asks his readers what good it is if the instruments play a tune to announce a great coming, but no one understands the tune. He says:

“If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.” (1 Cor. 14:7-9)

It was known that most military men were called to battle by the sound of a trumpet or bugle. When they heard the tune of batter, they charged into war. There were different tunes for different purposes. So Paul asks this, “What if the tune is unintelligible noise and no one can make sense of it?” In this case, it is just like “speaking into the air”—the wind carries your words away so that they never land on understanding ears.

Let me give you a personal illustration. I used to work in new homes, while they were being built. I worked alone running wires through the walls and attic. Now, I wasn’t always alone. There were other contactors there working half the time. Often, these other contractors were Spanish speaking contractors. They would come in with their Spanish music blasting and have a good time working together. I could see it. However, I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. Now, suppose the house was falling down and I was in the attic. And, one of these contractors was yelling at me, “Get out of the house, it is falling!” but in Spanish. He was trying to save me, but I couldn’t understand him. I would go down with house, wouldn’t I—no matter his good intentions. So it is the same with the clarity of Scripture. God has good intentions. We know this. But, if He cannot communicate in a way that we can understand, it serves us no good. I mean, what good would it be if God mumbled to us divine warnings? No good. So here is what you can remember: Where there is no clarity, there is no certainty. And that is what we are after. We need the Scriptures to be clear. So today, we will look at the Clarity of Scripture.

The Perspicuity of Scripture

Academia calls this the Perspicuity of Scripture, which is a fantastically confusing word that means clarity. Very ironic. I suppose at one point in history, it was better understood, but now we have lost touch with that difficult word. By “clarity” and “perspicuity” we mean that God communicated in an understandable and clear way. He didn’t mumble. He spoke clearly and intelligently. In other words, everyone with a properly working brain can understand what God said.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Well of course God spoke clearly! The Bible is clear!” But let me caution you here. Not everything thinks so. Scripture has always been under attack and one of the big attacks is the attack on the clarity of Scripture. This attack goes back to the garden of Eden. Remember, in Genesis 3, the serpent asks Eve, “Did God actually say you cannot eat from any tree?” He wanted to raise questions in her mind about God’s intentions. And, as we know, he succeeded in that. And, he has been succeeding ever since, hasn’t he?

You might remember the Emergent Church fad. It came some 10 or 20 years ago. It promoted a kind of Scripture interpretation called “Humble Hermeneutics,” but it was anything but humble. It was relativism, subjectivism. The Emergent people set a premium on gathering in groups and asking each other, “What do the Scriptures mean to you?” And well, I might say, “Who cares what it means to you! It matters what it means to God.” Their point was that the meaning of the Scriptures was in the eye of the beholder, if you will. The reader determined the meaning. God didn’t have an intended meaning.

You might also remember recent news this week. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible. It is a “paraphrase” of the Bible, almost a commentary, but not a translation. Peterson was recently interviewed by a journalist in the LGBT community. When they asked him about homosexual marriage, he came out to permit it, even support it. This was, of course, in light of the reality that the church he once pastored has a homosexual song leader. His answer, though it is shocking and devastating, is not entirely a surprise. For in his paraphrase of the Bible, namely 1 Timothy 1:10 for example, calls homosexuals sexually irresponsible, not homosexual. In Romans 1:26-27, he does something similar. He calls them sexually confused with “all lust” and “no love.”

So this kind of ambiguity causes tremendous problems when it comes to clarity. And where there is no clarity, there can be no certainty. So you see, this is not something we should think is common sense, or popular belief. It isn’t at all. Satan wants us to think that God mumbles. It is an attack on God’s character and ability. He wants to to think that we are free to live how we want and free from all divine standards. At the same time, this will also cust us loose from any assurance God gives us. Where there is no clarity, there can be no certainty.

Scripture is Near

Now, let’s see about the clarity of Scripture. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 30:11-14. While you are turning there, let me give some context. The book of Deuteronomy is more or less a series of sermons from Moses to the people of God, the Hebrews. Moses is about 120 years old by now and the first generation of Hebrews has died. This is the second generation that he is preaching to. It has been 40 years since the mass Exodus and they are on the cusp of the Promised Land.

Listen to what he says, “For this commandment that I command you today.” The “commandment” is another word for the law, or the Word of God. They have in mind a kind of rule of worship—how they are to live and worship God. You see, worship is to love and obey God in all that you do. So, the Scriptures, as they had them and as Moses delivered to them, were the rules of worship, the way to live in God’s community. If we put it in our contemporary setting, the “commandment” would be all of Scripture. It would be the Bible, for that is essentially what it was then, just not in the form we have it now.

He says this about the Scripture, it “is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.” Now, he isn’t speaking of physical distance in a wooden way of understanding. He is meaning difficult and distant to your understanding. He is saying that Scripture is comprehensible. It is not obtuse. It is within mental grasp. It is intellectually accessible. It is understandable. Well, how do I know that? Because it says in verses 12-14.

Let’s continue. Verse 12, “It [that is, the Scripture] is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’” This is to say that it is not hard. You see, the stars and sky were unreachable to them at that time. We can rockets and planes, so we may not see what the big deal is. But they didn’t have these things. The heavens were far off and concealed by the clouds. It was too hard to reach. He is saying this, “The Scripture is not too high that you can’t reach it.

Verse 13, “Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’” This is a reference to it not being too far. It is not concealed by the depths of the sea or the span of the waters. No one has to travel to the other side to get it. It is not too far that you can’t lay hold of it yourself. “But the word [that is, the commandment] is very near you.” It is accessible to the mind, understandable, near to your intellect and thinking. In fact, verse 14 says, “it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” Practically speaking, you can talk about them with your family, according to Deuteronomy 6:7. And, you can meditate on them according to Deuteronomy 6:6. You know, there is understanding today about the connection between the mouth and the mind, between knowing and speaking. Some people argue, and I think they are right, that until you are able to explain something to another person, you do not truly understand it however much you think you do. Maybe that is what the writer had in mind. We can’t be dogmatic about that, but what we can be certain of is this: Scripture is within mental reach. You can understand it in a way that you can meditate on it and speak about it with others. This is the idea.

But there is one more thing here. He says, “So you can do it.” This is the reason we want to know and understand God’s Word. We want to obey God. He is saying that we are positioned for practice. Application is possible because Scripture is accessible. If truth is near, obedience is expected. God expects this from all people. This is why Jesus said what He did in John 5:45 for to the Jewish religious leaders, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope.”

You see, Moses was the big man on campus in the Jewish mind. He was the law giver. He brought the Word of God to the Jewish people. He was God’s leader and liberator. He was the Patriarch of Patriarchs. They exalted Moses so much that they put Moses on Jesus’ throne and rejected Jesus. And Jesus is telling them, “Moses accuses you! For He taught My Word in an understandable way so that you are without excuse!” There was really no reason for them to reject Jesus. Moses pointed toward Jesus.

Listen, one more thing about this. Turn to Romans 10:5-9. Paul taught from this very passage. It is fascinating. He taught from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 almost word-for-word:

“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).” (Rom. 10:5-8)

He says this, “Those who put their trust in Christ do not complain about the clarity of God’s Word.” Rather, they read it and understand it. It is near to their thinking. And just a side bar, since we are in a series on the nature of Scripture, notice that he says “to bring Christ down” and “to bring Christ up” instead of using the word “commandment” or “word.” This is because Paul understood Jesus to be the Living Word of God. And, he knew that all of Scripture was about Christ. So he has no qualms with calling the Scripture “Christ.” Very fascinating. Now, back to the point. Paul says that the Word of God, or Christ, is not distant to you. Those with faith do not say in their heart, “Who will ascend?” and “Who will descend?” because they know that “the word is near,” he says. It is “in your mouth and in your heart.” Now, listen to this. Verse 9 is a rather famous verse, but look at it this time with new eyes, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Now, isn’t that interesting! Do you see that verse differently? Maybe, more deeply?

Scripture is near so that you can believe and be saved. You see, salvation goes like this. We must first see what it says. Then, we see what it means by what it says. Then, we believe what it means by what it says. Finally, we obey. But, here’s the thing: you can’t obey or believe something that you can’t understand. And that is the rub. Fortunate for us, the Bible is understandable. So you can obey it and be saved! This is great news! “Believe in your heart” and “confess with your mouth” is basically connecting the two and showing that you understand what you believe. Great truth!

Scripture is Plain

Let’s look at the next thing. Turn a few pages back to Deuteronomy 6. This is rather familiar passage to us all, particularly parents. It says:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deut. 6:6-7)

Now, I don’t want to be overly obvious here. But a child’s elevator doesn’t always go to the top level, if you know what I mean. I have a teenager who forgets to brush his teeth. But God’s Word, according to this, is plain enough that a child can understand it. Now that is fascinating, isn’t it? I mean, you don’t have to wait to your kids are all grown up and sophisticated with their degrees before you can engage them with the Scriptures. You can do it when they are little. If fact, you are commanded to do it.

Here is another passage that speaks to the Scriptures being plain. Nehemiah 8:8. When the Jews returned to the Israel after years of exile, brought about by the Babylonian armies, they gathered together, all of them, to listen to the Word of God being read. “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” In other words, they read the Bible and explained what they read to the people. Not because the people couldn’t understand it, but precisely because they could! Listen, you don’t explain something to someone who cannot understand. You don’t waste your time doing that. They, that is, “all the people,” according to Nehemiah 8:1, gathered together to hear the Word and make it plain. This is good news, very good news. You see, I’m a simple man. When I get dressed, I grab a pair of pants and I think to myself, “What shirt would match my gray pants? Aha! A gray shirt!” And that is about as much as I can do.

Public reading of Scripture was not uncommon. You can see it in the New Testament as well, even among the Gentiles. Paul, writing to the people at Corinth, addresses his letter “to the church of God that is in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). He didn’t write to the smart people or intellectually sharp people. He wrote to all of them. Also, in Galatians 1:2, he wrote “to the churches of Galatia.” And, in Philippians 1:1, “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” You see, when the writers of the New Testament letters wrote, they expected the recipients to read their letters out loud before the entire church. Furthermore, they expected them to make copies and share them with others. So, Paul intended all people to read his letters, not just those who are scholarly. In fact, Ephesians 6:1-3 goes like this, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” Notice, he didn’t say, “Parents, tell your children to obey you in the Lord.” No! He wrote to children. Why? Because children can understand the Bible because it is plain.

Scripture is Light

Our final thing to say about the clarity of Scripture is this: Scripture is light. Turn to 2 Peter 1:16. Let’s start reading there and see how it goes:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Pet. 1:16-18)

Peter is talking about the transfiguration of Jesus. Do you remember that? It is in Luke 9:28-36. Actually, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story. But Luke is probably the most detailed. Here, we see that Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up a mountain to pray. It is nighttime and dark outside. It says, beginning in verse 29, “And as he [that’s Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” Mark says that his clothes became “radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth can bleach them.” Now, I’m not all that familiar with the bleach of their time, much less the bleach of our time, but I can imagine that his clothes were really white, glowing white. In fact, it says that they were like flashes of light and bolts. It was like a glowing lightning show, beams of light bursting out of his clothes. And, it was not that is clothes were lit. Rather, His body was lit. He was transfigured into His glory and the light of His glory was illuminating through His clothes. What a sight to see!

“And behold,” Luke continues, “two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The word “departure” is the word “exodus.” So, they were actually speaking about the atoning work that Jesus was about to perform. “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep,” meaning that they just woke up, “but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”

Now, just imagine this scene going down. Imagine what kind of text messages would have been flying out Peter’s phone had he had one. I mean, what a tremendous experience! But, that is not all. Skip down to verse 35, “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’” How awesome! What an experience to have!

This is what I want you to see from the story. This is the parallel that Peter draws from this—just two words: light and listen. Peter saw the light and heard the voice from heaven which said, “Listen to the Light.”

Now flip back to 2 Peter. In verse 16, he said, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made know to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” He is referring to what he saw that night on the mountain. He saw the majesty of Christ, the glory of Christ. And he said that when they saw the glory, they heard a voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” according verse 17. He is saying, “Look, we saw the greatest sight. We experience the greatest thing. We witness the transfiguration of the Lord!” What could be more convincing than this? What would set the fire under your seat if not this?

“Well,” says Peter, “we have something more sure, the prophetic word.” This is to say, “something more fully confirmed” as some translations put it. The original language means something more clear, certain, reliable, and dependable. He is talking about the Word of God. That is what “the prophetic word” is, “prophetic,” meaning “divine inspired word, God-breathed.” He says, “We have the Word of God and it is more surer than my experiences.” More surer than seeing Christ transfigured in front of you? Yep!

He repeats what the Lord said out of the cloud. Remember, God said to listen to His Son, listen to the Light? Well, Peter, in verse 19, says that we would “do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” You see what Peter did? Jesus was the light shining in the dark place on that mountain. God said to listen to him. Now, Peter is saying that the Living Word is the light in the dark place and that we should pay attention to it. The Scripture is called the Light and the Lamp. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.” Verse 130 of the same chapter says, “The unfolding of your word gives light, it gives understanding to the simple.”

Here is the idea. You are in a pitch black room with no way to see anything. There is only one escape door, but you cannot see it. Then, the light of God shines on you so that you see yourself and where you are. Then, it shines on the escape door so that you can see where to go. Finally, it shines on the path so you know where to walk. This is the clarity of Scripture. It is a light to our thinking and guide to our heart. It is near, plain, and enlightening. It lights up the way.

Now, let’s pause to consider something. This might be on your mind already. What about those who do not understand the Bible? They exist. We know they do. Does this contradict the Scriptures claim to be clear? Not at all. In fact, the Bible tells us why they don’t understand. We can start at Romans 3:23. This is perhaps where we all started. It says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory [light] of God.” Now, that simply means that we cannot see the light that God has provided us. But why? Paul tells us, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory [light] of Christ.” Well, there you have it. They are blind. The light can be as strong as the sun and they would not see it because they have no vision.

Jesus brought some clarity to this question in John 8:43. He said to His opponents, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” That is to say, they were not willing. They didn’t want to hear Him. So, they were willingly embraced their blindness instead of humbling themselves. Paul tells us why in Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” It cannot because it will not. It desires not. Even more, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned,” that’s 1 Corinthians 2:14. Only spiritual people can see spiritual light.

This is what 1 Corinthians 2:12 says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” We see and understand the Word of God because God’s Spirit is with us, enlightening us, making it plain to the willing heart so that “we have the mind of Christ,” according to 1 Corinthians 2:16.

Closing

Scripture is clear. It is near to our comprehension, plain to our understanding, and light to our path. Scripture is clear. Now, let me put some final touches to this in closing. Scripture is able to be understood, but not without these things: meditation, study, reason, obedience, and the Holy Spirit. Also, you need to expect some human mistakes. They happen. You will misunderstand things at times so humbly seek the truth in such a way that you receive correction. And finally, know that you will never know it all. Your comprehension will never be complete. God is an infinite being and His wisdom is as infinite as He is. You will never reach the bottom of it. Let me finish with this: What is at stake here? Second Peter 1:10 says, “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election.” Well, to do that, the Scriptures must be clear. Where there is no clarity, there can be no certainty.

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