Of Houses and Hotels
Are you a house or a hotel? I agree that this is a rather strange question, so let me explain what I mean. The word "hotel" is associated with travelling. A hotel is a temporary lodging place. It's a place where you can live for a day or a week or perhaps even a month, but not much longer. People who do live in hotels for longer periods of time frequently have unsettled lifestyles and are therefore looked upon with some suspicion.
On the other hand, the word "house" is closely tied up with the related term "home." These words are associated with permanence and stability. A house is utterly familiar. You know it’s every nook and cranny. You feel comfortable with its sounds and smells. A home is where you belong, a place where you have made your mark. You have taken possession of it (or at least of part of it, for instance, your bedroom!).
Thus, a hotel is a temporary abode, while a house is where somebody lives on a permanent basis. The point of bringing up this contrast is that we can use it to think about our relationship to the Bible. In several places of the Bible, Christians are described as people in whom the Word of God dwells, or, at least, as people in whom the Word should dwell. For example, in his first epistle, John writes:
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you… (1 John 2:14). And Paul encourages the Colossians with the following words: Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.Colossians 3:16
John uses the word abide while Paul uses the term dwell. In both cases, the meaning is that the Word of God takes up permanent residence in the believer. It does not come for only a short stay, as in a hotel, but wants to make a home for itself in our hearts. Whether or not this happens depends, of course, on the condition of our hearts. It depends on how we receive the Word and on how we use the Word; it can be that our contact with the Word is only of a fleeting, temporary nature. We may hear a sermon on Sunday, but perhaps don't listen with any intensity. If we don't make a strong effort to hear and understand, the preaching will be like "water off a duck's back." And if people don't listen carefully, then the word as preached can have no "spill-over" effect in the following week. And it certainly won't drive us to faithfulness in our own Bible study.
Allow me to put the question to you again: Are you a house or a hotel for the Word of God? What kind of relationship do you have with the Bible? Do you touch base with the Word on a regular basis, or is your contact confined to the necessary worship services and at dinner time and then only as something you tolerate, but in which you don't get very involved? Is your life saturated with the Word, or is the kind of contact you have only on the surface?
These questions are terribly important, because as we'll see, it's only when the Word dwells in a person that he or she has any knowledge of the truth, any power for consistent Christian living. Our contact with the Word must be regular, intense, and prayerful. If we want to have Christ dwell in us, then we must be busy with the Word.
Why do we need the Word? In the first place, we need it because faith comes from the Word (read Romans 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). The Holy Spirit uses the Bible as preached and as read to create and nourish faith. If people don't use this means of grace, their faith life will dwindle. Faith can't be vital and enduring without regular reading and study of the Bible. It is the reading and study of the Bible that keeps us close to Christ.
Another way to think of the Bible is as the Owner's Manual given by Manufacturer. If you were to buy a computer, you would get nowhere without the manual. Only the company that made the machine can tell you how to use it. So it is with human life. As young people, as older people, we can't answer the question, how shall we live without the Word? The Word, after all, comes from the Creator of all things. He knows us. And in the Bible, He reveals the principles that make for healthy and happy human life. He shows us how we work. He shows us how the world works. He reveals that we are truly human only when we live to His glory. We are truly happy only as we are progressively transformed into the image of Christ – through the influence of the Word dwelling in our hearts.
In a passage that is famous for its declaration about the inspiration of the Bible, the apostle Paul writes about the usefulness of Scripture. He says:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17
The Bible has a certain purpose. The Spirit causes the Bible to be written so that we may know the mind of God – our Creator. He shows us the way of salvation. He shows us how we must live. Through regular and intense contact with the Word, we are trained in righteousness. We are equipped for doing the will of God.
Often people talk as though the will of God is very obscure. They do this especially when they want to justify sinful behaviour. But if we are in touch with the mind of God through the Word, then we will know His will for us. We will be increasingly sensitive to His Law as the standard for our lives. Perplexities will decrease. By nature, we live in darkness. We don't know how to think, how to act, how to talk. But the Word sheds light on our situation. As Psalms 119:130 states:
The entrance of your words gives light. You can also think of verse 105 of the same Psalm: Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
We live in a dark age, a time of moral degeneration and confusion. People have lost sight of the path of life. And that is because the Bible has been closed. It may be up on the shelf, but it's not open. It's not being read and studied so that it can shed its penetrating and directing insight upon human life. Young people need to be busy with the Word. Otherwise, they too will be swept up in the great tide of evil sweeping our nation.
Yes, strength for Christian living and Christian witness comes only through the Word. There is no other way. There is no easier way, no shortcut to Christian maturity. Without the Word's indwelling presence, we will be overwhelmed by the world. In the passage referred to above, John speaks about young people who are strong Christians. He says:
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
You should notice the connection between victory over Satan and the presence of the Word in the heart. The people to whom John writes are able to overcome Satan only because they have the Word! The Word has a home in the hearts of these young people. Therefore, they are strong.
The Word of God, Hebrews states, is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It's not a dead thing, but reveals to us the mind of the Living God. If that Word is in us, if it grips us, then we are strong. The Word is an energy, a power for renewed life. As we start to live according to its instruction and wisdom, the Word restores us to true humanity – in the image of Christ. Paul gives thanks that the Thessalonians' received the Word of God in faith. He says:
And we also thank God continually for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.1 Thessalonians 2:13
If you make yourself a home for the Word, then a mighty force for change and renewal is unleashed in your life.
So the question comes again: Are you a house or a hotel for the Word of God? Think about it. The answer to that question will determine your survival as a Christian in the 1990s and beyond, a time that increasingly looks like the New Dark Ages.
How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to thy Word. Psalm 119:9