Reading The Bible Better - Lesson 2

The Power of Words

By exploring this lesson, you will gain insights into the power of words in shaping our lives, as well as the importance of God's words in guiding and influencing us. Delving into various biblical stories, you'll recognize the significance of language and communication in the context of God's teachings and Jesus' ministry. This understanding will motivate you to approach the Scriptures with the intent to be transformed by God's words rather than simply mastering the information they contain.
George Guthrie
Reading The Bible Better
Lesson 2
Watching Now
The Power of Words

I. Words Are Powerful

A. Impact your life

B. Dunkirk

II. God as a Communicator

A. In the beginning God said

B. The incarnation and ministry of Jesus

III. Words of the Bible

A. Your motivation

B. Reading your Bible daily

C. Translating the Bible

D. Carlos

  • Dive into this lesson to gain a deep understanding of how to read the Bible better, focusing on hearing scripture accurately, personal transformation, the grand story, and reading in community, while fostering a sense of joy and wonder in your journey.
  • Discover the power of words, their impact on our lives, and how God's words and communication in the Bible provide guidance, shaping us to live with purpose and spiritual growth.
  • Being receptive to what God is saying to you in the Bible is an important part of reading the Bible better. The parable of the sower gives you a word picture of obstacles you face in attempting to cultivate a receptive heart.
  • By embracing receptivity, you can overcome barriers and enhance your understanding of the Bible, ultimately leading to personal growth, stronger relationships, and deepened faith.
  • In this lesson, you learn about literary context's importance in interpreting the Bible, identifying literary genres and structures, and applying context for accurate exegesis and application.
  • By understanding historical context, you can better interpret the Bible, considering cultural, social, and geographical backgrounds, ancient literary genres, and archaeology to bridge the gap between the past and present.
  • This lesson provides you with knowledge on the importance of Bible translations, their types, and the criteria for selecting the most suitable one for your needs while also offering insights into their historical development.
  • You will learn to identify and interpret various biblical genres, enhancing your understanding of the Bible and applying its teachings more effectively in your life.
  • By entering the story when reading the Bible, you enrich your understanding, connect with biblical characters, and foster personal spiritual growth, Bible study, and teaching skills.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into biblical interpretation principles, like context and genre, and explore essential tools such as translations and commentaries, leading to better understanding and application of the Bible.
You and I need to embrace the powerful, beautiful, life- giving words of God on a regular basis. Various surveys in different cultures, over the past half century, have determined that the number one predictor of a person’s spiritual health is the regular practice of personal Bible reading. Nothing else comes close. If our purpose in life is to live for him and to his glory, and the Scriptures shape us for his mission, then God’s Word provides us with a means to that very desirable end. Everything else in our lives is shaped by whether or not we are living out of a life grounded in the Word of God, the Bible. We need to read it and read it better than we ever have before, so that we can live it well. As we thrive in the Word of God, knowing and living the Scriptures, we have the opportunity to walk with the God of the universe. So you are invited to walk with me as we figure out how to read better this amazing book we call “the Bible.” Perhaps you have tried reading the Bible before and the experience wasn’t that great. I am here to help. There is no more important task in life than hearing from God and trusting him on the basis of his Word.

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The Power of Words
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:00] Welcome back to Reading the Bible Better. And when we think about reading the Bible, we're talking about words. And what I want us to do in this session is think about the power of words. 

[00:00:15] Now, you and I have already been shaped by words all of our lives. They've had profound effects on us, set trajectories for different things that have gone on in our lives. They've set things in motion, like relationships, jobs that we've had. You've had words come to you that have given you hope, that have hurt you or helped you. Words that have delighted you or devastated you at times in your life. Words can instruct us. They can inform us. And they very, very much can just shape the way that we experience the world. In short, words have played a very, very large role in all of our lives. And I want us to think about God's words as shaping us powerfully as we live in the world. 

[00:01:12] It turned out to be one of England's greatest hours in an hour, in which words really had such a profound impact. The time was May 26 to June 4th, 1940, and the place was Dunkirk, France. The British military sent to stop the Nazis advance into Belgium and France had been pushed steadily back to the sea and were trapped by the Nazis. Dunkirk Hitler's armies were poised to destroy the cornered allied army. The British people waited anxiously. They prayed, and then clouds covered that part of the continent. And inexplicably, suddenly, the Nazis stopped their advance for a period of three days. They didn't push ahead and destroy the allied armies. Hundreds of thousands of troops, their lives were in the balance at that moment. And then a three word message came from Dunkirk back to England. And those three words were, and if not. 

[00:02:28] Now, at that time, the British were much more biblically literate than most of us are today. And they recognized just those three words as coming from a story in the Bible about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. If you remember that story, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had made a gold statue 90 feet high, and he commanded that everyone bow down and worship that statue. If they refused, Nebuchadnezzar said, they were to be thrown into the fiery furnace. It's a it's really a wonderful story. Shadrach Meshack and Abednego were Jewish followers of the one true God, and they were not about to bow down to that statue. Here's what they said. This is from Daniel Chapter three verses 17 and 18. They said, If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire and he can rescue us from the power of you, the King. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue that you set up. Now, in hearing those three little words, the British people recognize that what the allied armies were saying was, even if we are not rescued from Hitler's army, we will not bow to tyranny. 

[00:04:06] Now, that message galvanized the British people. Hundreds of ships were sent across the channel in what came to be called the Miracle of Dunkirk because they rescued over 300,000 troops and brought them back to safety in England. Three simple words. Three simple words that moved the world. And I want you to think about the fact that communication can be powerful. It can be beautiful and even playful at a time in a way that it moves the world. And if not, the words were powerful. They mobilized the nation. They were beautiful. They embodied courage and resolve and perspective. They were playful. They evoked an ancient story that people recognized and could identify with at this really important point in history. 

[00:05:11] In a recent book, Levi Lusco writes that it takes the cooperation of 72 different muscles to produce speech. On average, he says, people in North America speak about 16,000 words a day. And some of us speak a lot more than that. That adds up to about 860 million words in a lifetime. And I want you to think about what we're doing with all those words that we are putting into the world. Well, we're moving the world. We're moving the world. Nathaniel Hawthorne said words so innocent and powerless as they are as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. Now, of course, what we long for intuitively is the potent for good part of that equation. We love to receive kind, encouraging, beautiful words that help us in life. And no one, no one knows how to wield words in the world like God. 

[00:06:23] And I want you to think with me for a few minutes about God as a communicator, because that's what's behind this idea that we need to read the Bible effectively is that God himself has spoken into the world in a way that is beautiful and powerful at times, even playful, as he draws us into the things that he wants to say to us. Think about the fact that the Bible itself begins with the words, in the beginning, God said, God said. Right from the very beginning, when God created the world, He created the world with language. And we tend to think of language as something that's human. That's a part of us being human beings in the world. But I want to suggest that language was there before the world was ever founded in the heart of God. It may be that part of us being made in the image of God is our ability to communicate, because God Himself is a communicator. God spoke in the foundations of all that we know, as reality came into existence.

[00:07:43] Now, I love the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament, and we know that God spoke creation as we see, and Hebrews Chapter 11, verse three, By faith, we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God. And earlier in the book, in Chapter one, the author actually tells us that Jesus, the Son of God, was the father's agent in creation. I want you to look at this passage from Hebrews chapter one verses ten through 12. It says that in the beginning, Lord, you established the earth and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish. But you remain. They will wear out like clothing. You will roll them up like a cloak, and they will be changed like clothing. But you are the same and your years will never end. Now, another translation of that passage could be you, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth. The term that is used there actually speaks of putting down foundations. 

[00:08:52] When my wife and I built our house in Tennessee 25 years ago now, the first thing that we did is we had the ground leveled out and packed down because then the builders dug a foundation so that the house would be solid and stable and you wouldn't end up with cracks in the walls and that kind of thing. 

[00:09:15] So when we think about the creation of the world, Jesus is the one who actually spoke and the very foundations of the universe were laid so that every morning when we get up, the sun comes up, Jesus laid the foundation in a way that was very stable. And the fact is that he did that with words. Think about the power of words to shape the very foundation of all that we know of as reality. 

[00:09:45] And when you think about the ministry of Jesus, you also see the importance of words. He was called the Word in chapter one of John's gospel verses one through 14. He spoke words in the Sermon on the Mount, you see in Matthew chapters 5 to 7 to shape people in the way that they lived. I love the story of the coming of the storm in Mark chapter four. And in that story, Jesus gets into boats with the disciples are actually several boats on the sea, but He's in the boat with his disciples and a storm blows up. If you've ever been to Israel, you know that storms can come up over those hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee and swoop down on that. Really, it's a big lake and they're violent storms. And so the disciples were out in the middle of this in a boat with Jesus. And this storm blows up. And these are seasoned fishermen who suddenly are terrified because of the storm that has blown up and is around them. And so they go and they wake up Jesus and they say, Lord, don't you care that we are perishing? And what does Jesus do? He gets up and we kind of in a popular mode of this, we imagine Jesus saying, peace be still. But the reality is this is what the Greek term says at this point, Jesus stands up and he says, shut up. And all of a sudden the storm goes. And the disciples are afraid, but this time for a different reason. They said, who then is this? Who can command the wind in the waves and they obey him? And that's a very good, good question. We're going to actually talk about that question a little bit later in this series when we talk about the different types of literature in the Bible. But for now, just think about the fact that Jesus spoke words of power that had a profound impact in the world.

[00:11:52] On another occasion, Jesus was talking to a centurion, an officer in the Roman army, and this officer came to him in the city of Capernaum, and he is pleading with Jesus and he says, Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed in terrible agony. And he said to him, Jesus asked this soldier, Am I to go with you? And notice what it says in the passage. Lord, the centurion replied, I'm not worthy to have you come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too, am a man under authority having soldiers under my command. I say to this one go and he goes to another come and he comes in to my servant, do this and he does it. He understood the power of Jesus's words. And hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following him, Truly, I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith. Part of what it means to be people who are living in a way that we trust Christ in the world is to trust the power of His words. And that's going to be very important as we think about reading the Bible effectively together. You also have this in the passage of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. You get to a point in that passage and Jesus cries out with the words, Lazarus, come out. And those words effectively raise Lazarus from the dead. 

[00:13:38] And then Jesus, at the end of his ministry, commissioned his apostles to go into the world and to teach people words. You have that wonderful passage in Matthew 28:18-20, All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth, Jesus says, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything. I have commanded you. Again, the centrality of words. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age. 

[00:14:18] So you have all of these passage which point to the importance of words as foundational for who we are as God's people in the world. And I want you to think about how you think about Scripture and the Bible as you approach it. Is this just something that for you is like a textbook, a book filled with information? What is your motivation for coming to the Scriptures? Is it just so you can master the information and knowledge that is there in the Scriptures? Or is there a sense in which you want to be mastered in the right way by God Himself, be His person in the world as Scripture speaks to you powerfully and authoritatively and shapes your life in wonderful ways? 

[00:15:06] There have been a number of surveys done over the past four decades around the world, and all of them have come to the same conclusion in evaluating people's spiritual lives. What these surveys have shown is that the number one indicator of whether or not a person is thriving spiritually is whether they are spending time reading God's Word on a daily basis. It's a very personal act of opening up our lives to God in his Word. There's nothing more important for our lives and our walk with the Lord than us opening up our lives to Scripture. And it would make sense that the one who laid the foundations of the universe with words would also lay the foundation of our lives with his Word.

[00:15:56] And so the first thing that I want you to think about as we begin considering how to read the Bible more effectively is to ask yourself the question, Do you understand the place and the importance of the Bible in your own life for your walk with God and it laying the foundation for your walk with God? Because that is going to be vital if we then are going to be able to be people who have a profound effect on the world as we engage in God's mission in the world.

[00:16:32] In the book, Wide as the Waters, the Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired, this book is by a guy named Benson Bobrick. And he shows that what happened in church history and in the history of Europe as people started translating the Bible so that normal people could understand it. Back in the Middle Ages, what had happened was you had the Bible in Latin, and the only people who were able to access it were people who were scholars, people who could actually read the Latin Bible. But you had people like John Wycliffe and then later William Tyndale, who had a vision for translation of the Bible into English so that the English speaking people could read the Bible for themselves because their conviction was that when that happened, people's lives would start to change. But then their culture around them would also change because of the effect of the Bible. And that's exactly what happened. Bobrick writes, Once people were free to interpret the word of God according to the light of their own understanding, they began to question the authority of their inherited institutions, both religious and secular, which led to reformation within the church and to the rise of constitutional government in England and the end of what was called the divine right of kings. Kings argued that because they were kings or ordained by God, that they could do anything and it was God's will. But as people read the Bible for themselves, they began to question that. So reading the Bible began to have an effect on the culture that was around them. 

[00:18:17] Thomas Cahill in the book The Gift of the Jews, writes that most of the big movements in the last few hundred years that have changed people's lives have really been affected and put in motion because people were reading the Bible and believing the Bible. He says this, that without the Bible, we would never have known the abolitionist movement, the prison reform movement, the antiwar movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the movement of indigenous and dispossessed peoples for their human rights the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the solidarity movement in Poland, the free speech movement and pro-democracy movements in such far off eastern countries as South Korea, the Philippines, and even China. These movements of modern times have all employed the language of the Bible. 

[00:19:13] Now, I don't have to tell you that we live in a time of great upheaval in the world. There are wars in the world at this moment that are really devastating whole nations. We have a lot of political tension where you have groups divided and they're kind of at each other's throats politically. And it may be that you have felt a lot of instability even with situations in your own life. Some of us may be dealing with financial crisis in our lives. We may have relational crisis because of things that are going on with our children or with our parents. It may be at work you've been at in a time of instability where you feel dissatisfied with your work or you feel threatened because you're not sure you're going to be able to keep your job. Well, the Bible can lay a foundation for us that gives us stability in life and perspective on how we should approach these volatile times in which we live. In fact, I want to suggest to you that the Bible is far more relevant for your life and my life on a daily basis than any blog or magazine or news program that you can watch. It is tremendously relevant for where we live in the world at any given time. In fact, C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, said All that is not eternal, is eternally out of date.

[00:20:41] And so since the Scripture is God's eternal word that is come to us, God has spoken into the world to give us a foundation for life, then it helps us in a way that becomes transformative and stabilizing for us, but then gives us perspective on the world that is around us and can have a tremendous impact on the world. 

[00:21:03] When I think about different people who have been really impacted by the Bible, I want to tell you and kind of close this session together by telling you about my friend Carlos. I think that I first got to know Carlos when I was teaching a course in Israel, and I was actually teaching in the city of Nazareth, and I was teaching a class that had both Jews and Arabs in the class. These were all pastors, 30 something pastors. Half of them were Jews and half of them were Arabs and they grew to love each other. It's really an amazing story of how the gospel has brought transformation to this community.

[00:21:45] But one of the guys I met in that context was a guy named Carlos. Carlos had been kind of a druggy living on the streets in Israel. He was Arab in background, but also came from a very nominal Christian family. Interestingly, he was not from a muslim background, but he had been in a situation where his brother in law was involved in some things going on in their family, and he actually tried to kill his brother in law. He stabbed him about 13 times, if I remember correctly, and put his brother in law in the hospital. Well, the family called Thomas, Carlos's older brother. Thomas at the time was up in Germany. He was running a nightclub. And they said, you've got to come home because Carlos killed your brother in law. And Thomas rushed back and came to the town and went to see Carlos in jail. And when he when he left Carlos and came back to their mom, he said, well, mom, it's worse than we thought. Drugs had fried Carlos his brain because all he wanted to talk about was Jesus. What had happened was when Carlos was in jail, someone had led him to Christ and he had started reading the Bible. His life had been absolutely transformed. And a number of months later they had a hearing. And in the hearing there was a secular Jewish judge. And this secular judge had the hearing for Carlos and came to a point and asked Carlos, do you want to say anything? And Carlos said, Yes, sir, I do. And for about 30 minutes, Carlos, just preached the gospel. He shared about how his life had been changed. He got to the end of this presentation and this secular Jewish judge said to him, Carlos, your face is glowing and you need to thank this Jesus because I'm going to let you out on probation and you're going to be able to pursue whatever has happened to you. The brother in law actually had not died. He was still in the hospital. And when Carlos was let go on probation, the first thing he did is he went to the hospital and he led to Christ, his brother in law. In fact, all of Carlos, his family was there in the courtroom that day and all of them came to Christ. 

[00:24:12] And so Carlos and Thomas, his older brother, went to Israel College of the Bible, which was all Jewish. These were Messianic Jews learning about the Bible and said, can we come and study the Bible and learn how to read the Bible at your school because we can tell that you're really teaching the Bible. And the president, Erez at that time said, Absolutely, you guys can come. In fact, Erez said, My hope would be that eventually a large part of our student body would be Arabs. And today, do you know that over 30% of that college is Arab and you have Jews and Arabs learning about the Bible together? Carlos has gone on to be one of the most powerful evangelists in that part of the world, leading both Jews and Arabs to Christ. And it's like reading the book of Acts to read what's going on with him. But the point I want you to get this point is that it was the word of God, someone speaking the Word of God into his life that brought about great change and transformation. 

[00:25:15] So as you think about the power of God's words. I want you to realize that you're not just dealing with human words here. You're dealing with God's Word. And how are you thinking about approaching these words that are words from the living God? We're going to talk about that as we continue our video series together.