If you’re like me, you were raised with a great deal of respect for the Bible. In fact, many times this respect was misappropriated. I knew that the Bible was God’s Word and that it was powerful and alive. It was efficacious, to use a theological term. It didn’t return void. If used properly, it accomplished what God intended for it. So, I placed it under my pillow to protect me from evil. It took me years to shake that idea and finally realize that the Bible is not a magic book!
Now it’s true that the Bible is all the things that I previously described. But, it does not follow that it holds spiritual power in and of itself. It is God’s word before it becomes God’s Word.
Means and the Maker
Many times, well-meaning folks misappropriate their esteem for the Bible. They do that because they have a high regard for it as God’s Word. They’re right to have a great deal of respect for it. Often though, those well-meaning people begin to worship the words of God rather than the God who spoke the words. In the battle to protect and defend the honor of God and his word, it’s easy for the line between the Speaker and the spoken to become blurry. It’s easy to confuse the means with the Maker.
Means are a way that God accomplishes an intended end.
Means and Ends
God’s intention was to make a way for people to be justified and avoid his wrath. The way he accomplished that was to send his Son to pay for their sin by dying in their place. Jesus’ death was a means to the end of justification.
God’s intended end is to assure his people of his faithfulness to save those who trust him. The way he accomplishes that is by baptism. It is his means of assurance.
God’s intended end is to bring about his Kingdom. The way he accomplishes that is by changing the hearts of people through sanctification. It is his means of bringing about his Kingdom.
Those examples have other consequences and intentions as well, but they are in those ways means to an end.
Paul describes the means of preaching as it relates to salvation in his letter to the Romans.
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him uof whom they have never heard?3 And how are they to hear vwithout someone preaching?-Romans 10:14
Power is/in Preaching?
God saves people by his grace, but he uses preaching to do it. Preaching is the means he uses to accomplish the end of salvation. There is a sacramental component to preaching where the power of God is interwoven with the actions of men to accomplish the will of God. It is not mere preaching that holds the power though. God must act on the preaching for it to accomplish its intended end.
In other words, someone can claim to be a preacher, jump up and down, holler out truths, and quote Scripture. But if that “preaching” is not somehow used by God to change the hearts of men, then it’s just a lecture. Preaching in a very real sense is more than those things. In a very real sense preaching ought to be held in a higher regard than lecturing or teaching. But, it ought not be held as equal to God or even as the power of God per se. It is the ordained means of God.
Misappropriation of Inspiration
The Bible is much like preaching except that it is the very words of God. It is powerful and alive, accomplishes what God intends for it, and does not fail to come back to us in a real and sanctifying way. It is a real part of the armor of God we wear. In and of itself though, it is ink on a page or sounds from a mouth. It is not mystical. Quoting verses at a demon shotgun style will bring nothing but mockery from that demon. Placing a Bible under your pillow might give you a sore neck, but that’s about it. The Bible is not a magic book. It ought not be handled that way.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he reminds the young preacher to handle God’s Word accurately and carefully.
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,3 a worker bwho has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.-2 Timothy 3:15
Some mutilate it, others tear it, others torture it, others break it in pieces, others, keeping by the outside, (as we have said,) never come to the soul of doctrine.2 To all these faults he contrasts the “dividing aright,”-Calvin
The Bible is not a magic book
If folks could get over their errant views of God’s inerrant Word then maybe we’d see real revival. If churches were more concerned with teaching their laypeople to rightly divide the Word rather than use it as some religious mystical lingo, then real reform might take place. In the homes of America, parents need to communicate how to interpret Scripture as often as they teach their children what Scripture says if they would like to see their children become mature and engaged Christians.
Paul assigns to teachers the duty of dividing or cutting,1 as if a father, in giving food to his children, were dividing the bread, by cutting it into small pieces.-Calvin
As Christians charged with rightly handling God’s Word, we need to understand that the Bible is not a magic book! Neither our religious second language nor our incessant Facebook posts are efficacious unless God uses them. Memorizing Scripture is great but shouldn’t take the place of understanding it. It has no power apart from God.
So, the next time you buy a Biblical wall decoration or use Bible mumbo jumbo in your email communication remember, it’s God’s word before it’s your promise. It’s his power that makes his word alive. It is his means to accomplish his purpose. Handle it rightly. Don’t expect it to do what it was never intended to accomplish. Hung above your door it won’t protect your home from evil spirits. Don’t substitute it for your lack of piety, trying to impress your religious friends. Don’t spread it over your digital conversations to camouflage your narcissism. The Bible is not a magic book.