Title: ""Serve only God""
Focus (What does the text say?): Jesus is obedient to God and God''s
purpose for his life, and scripture guides him in this obedience.
Function (How will the text affect its listeners?): To invite us to
consider whether we bend scripture to our will or allow scripture to
bend us to God''s will.
Introduction - Jesus and the Devil both Quoting Scripture
When Jesus is tempted, he answers only with scriptural quotations. He
feels no need to add his own voice. Scripture is enough to keep him on
track. And he knows his scripture well.
The devil, on the other hand, has his own agenda. He also knows
scripture well. But he uses scripture to say what he wants to say.
In our own lives of faith, how do we use scripture? Do we bend it to
our will, or do we allow scripture bend us to God''s will?
I. Story from DPE (I will not mention DPE''s name or the name of his
community in this story)
A trendy Church in DPE''s area has been known to spread the word around
the community that DPE''s Church is not a scripture-based Church. This
is frustrating because in the Christian Church (Disciple of Christ)
tradition, worship and the life of the community is centered around
scripture. The pastor studies scripture faithfully and spends a good
deal of time studying and meditating upon scripture for his sermon every
Eventually a member from the trendy Church leaves that Church and comes
to DPE''s Church. When asked about the accusation that DPE''s Church is
not scripture-based, the new member says the preacher at his old Church
filled his sermons with scripture quotations. Every other sentence had
a scripture quote.
As the pastor and the new member examined the difference between the
two preaching styles, the new member began to realize that in order to
preach the way his old preacher did, all that was required was an
opinion and a good Bible concordance. Almost no effort was put into
understanding the theology and context of all the various scripture
quotations. All that was required was to find one sentence in the Bible
that seemed to support what the preacher wanted to say. He realized
this method merely used scripture to support whatever the preacher''s
opinion on any given topic.
In contrast, at his new Church, scripture was allowed to lead the way.
Scripture quotations were much longer and they were examined with much
(I realize in this example I am defending my tradition''s own way of
reading scripture. I want to avoid being too self-congratulatory, while
still illustrating the difference between merely using Bible verses and
carefully listening to the divinely inspired message of the authors of
the books we recognize as Holy Scripture.)
II. How Do We Approach Scripture?
Which leads me to ask, how do we approach scripture? We are surrounded
by multi million dollar industries pushing religious products at us,
from the Prayer of Jabez industry, to the Left Behind books industry,
even to bible publishing. Have you tried to find a good study Bible in
any version other than the NIV? They are difficult to find because they
are having a hard time surviving in this religious business climate.
People are using our faith to make a lot of money. And quite often,
these big publishing industries do not reflect our beliefs very well.
(The NIV, in my opinion, is a good and faithful translation. It is the
product of good and faithful scholarship, but I wonder about the
business practices behind it. On the other hand, I think the Prayer of
Jabez and the Left Behind books are not very sound in theological
So . . . How do we read the Bible? Perhaps we should spend some time
thinking about how we use the Bible in our own life of faith. How often
do you find yourself trying to find a Bible verse to support your own
opinion? How often do you hear other people do this? Without being too
critical, I am proposing that this is living the life of faith
Instead, we need to spend more time reading and reflecting upon
scripture and allowing scripture to form our opinions. Every writer in
our Bible lived in a complex and unique social and religious climate.
They wrote in response to complicated real-life issues. With the
possible example of the book of Proverbs, these writings were not meant
to be understood by pulling out one verse and ignoring the rest of the
book. To read them faithfully, we need to read them in their entirety,
respecting the people whose lives of faith lead to their writing.
If we choose to read them on a more shallow level, we may run into
problems . . .
III. Jesus Had Options, As Do We
As the devil pointed out in today''s reading from Matthew, Jesus could
have attempted to live a very successful, prosperous life and he could
have used scripture to support his decision to do so.
But Jesus was not called in that direction. He came to fulfil God''s
will for God''s people. We needed a Savior, not another comfortable
leader. And we of faith today are very grateful that Jesus stayed true
to his path.
As Jesus insightfully quoted from Hebrew scripture, ""It is not upon
bread alone that people shall live, but upon every word coming from the
mouth of God."" And again, ""The Lord your God you will worship and him
only you will serve.""
Conclusion - We, Too, Have a Purpose in Life
To serve only God means that we must obey no other power, not even the
power of our own will, our own desire. Scripture can guide us in
serving God if we listen to it carefully, and take care not to use it
for our own purposes.
Just as God had a purpose for Jesus, so God created us for a reason.
In this season of Lent, we take time to meditate upon scripture and our
own lives. Let God guide you through scripture. Let God''s Spirit guide
you as you decide upon the path you will take in this faith of faith.