Loving God's Word
Return Loving God’s Word Nehemiah 8 Pastor Pat Damiani November 19, 2017 In Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris recounts the story of a South Dakota rancher and his bride who received an expensive Bible as a wedding gift from his grandfather. They wrote a thank-you note and stowed the Bible away on a closet shelf. As time passed, the grandfather repeatedly asked the couple how they liked the Bible. The rancher was confused as to how to respond. Hadn't he already expressed his appreciation? But the grandfather persisted. Eventually, the young man dug out the gift. As he leafed through it, $20 bills fluttered out, 66 in all—one at the beginning of Genesis and another at the start of each succeeding book. While the rancher had left a monetary treasure waiting to be discovered, he had also left something even more valuable untouched between those pages: spiritual riches. All because he had not opened the Book. Unfortunately, recent research reveals that is not an isolated occurrence. In a recent study done by Lifeway, 90% of churchgoers agreed with the statement “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do”. And 59% percent agreed with the statement “Throughout the day I find myself thinking about Biblical truths”. However, when asked about how often they personally read their Bibles outside a church service, only 19% replied “every day” while 40% read their Bibles once a month or less. So essentially what the majority of churchgoers here in the United States are saying is this: I love God, I just don’t love His Word But the Bible consistently shows us that just can’t be true. It’s not possible to love God and not love His Word. Here’s what Jesus had to say about that: Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21 ESV) Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23 ESV) If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:10 ESV) In his letters, John confirmed those words of Jesus: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3 ESV) And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. (2 John 6 ESV) It is not possible to love God and not love His Word When asked why they don’t read their Bibles more, over a third of the people in the survey I mentioned earlier couldn’t give a reason. But among those who did, over a quarter said they don’t prioritize it, 15% said they don’t have time, and 13% said they have read enough of it. Let’s suppose a similar question was asked about your relationship with your spouse or someone else you claim to love. If you gave those same answers as a reason for why you don’t spend more time with that person, I think we would all immediately conclude that even though you might say you love that person, your actions and attitudes paint a different picture. And I think the same is true when it comes to the Bible. If you’re not reading it on a regular basis for those kinds of reasons, then the only logical conclusion we can make is that you don’t really love the Bible as much as you might claim to. As we gather here this morning, pretty much everyone fits into one of three groups: • There are those of you who genuinely love God’s Word and who read it on a consistent and systematic basis. • There are some of you who really do have a desire to do that, but you really struggle to actually carry out that desire • There are some of you who would honestly have to say that you really don’t love God’s Word and you’re not even making an effort to read it consistently The good news this morning is that the passage we’re going to look at has something to offer all of us regardless of which of those three camps we fall into. Go ahead and open your Bibles to Nehemiah chapter 8. Hopefully you’ll remember from the last 2 weeks that the book of Nehemiah is the account of the third return of exiles to Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah in 444 BC. [Show chart] The primary purpose of that return was to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. The first seven chapters of Nehemiah record the details of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In spite of much opposition, that task was finished in only 52 days. But the rebuilding of the walls wasn’t the ultimate goal. That was only the first step in providing a safe place where the rebuilding of the people was going to take place. And that is the theme we see beginning in chapter 8. [Read Nehemiah 8:1-18] Here in this chapter we see a people whose love for God is demonstrated by a love for His Word. And that love for God’s Word can be summarized like this: If I love God’s Word I will long for, learn and live it Let’s use our remaining time to see what we can learn from this passage about each of these… THREE SIGNS THAT I REALLY LOVE GOD’S WORD 1. I long for it It appears from the text that the people just gathered together spontaneously. They hadn’t come because of any advertising on radio or TV. No one had posted an event on Facebook. Even though it was early in the morning – probably around 6:00 a.m. - no one complained that the church service was too early or that it would interfere with the NFL game on TV that morning. And they had all gathered for one common purpose – as we read in verse 1 “the people gathered as one man”. There was no fancy building for them to gather in – no stained glass, no sound system, no projectors or TV’s, no PowerPoint presentations or videos, no worship band or fancy lighting or haze machines. They didn’t have padded chairs or pews to sit in. There was no air conditioning or heating. The people just stood outside in the elements in the square because they longed to hear God’s Word. They didn’t even wait for Ezra to finish preparing his sermon. They told him to just bring the Book of the Law and read it to them and explain it to them. And then once he started reading the Scriptures, they stood there for six hours listening attentively to every word. Not once did they glance at their watches or pull out their cell phones to look at their Facebook feed or respond to a text. They didn’t get up to use the bathroom or get a cup of coffee or leave early so they could be first in line at their favorite restaurant. Their longing for God’s Word was also evidenced by their reverence for the Scriptures. When Ezra began to read, they stood up, not because someone had instructed them to, but as a way to indicate the esteem in which they held God’s Word. They lifted up their hands and shouted “Amen” in response to Ezra blessing the Lord and they bowed down in worship as a sign of their humility. Surely after spending all that time listening to the Scriptures, those people would have had enough for a while, right? After all, they had listened to the equivalent of a dozen typical sermons in only one day. But the very next day, the family leaders, priests and Levites gathered to study God’s Word again. And based on what they learned there, a couple weeks later they gathered again to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. And every day for the eight days of the feast, Ezra continued to read from the Book of the Law. These people had suffered through a drought of God’s Word for so many years that just couldn’t get enough of it. Do you long for God’s Word like that? Do you wake up every morning and you just can’t wait to open up your Bible and see what spiritual riches God has for you there? Do you look forward to Sunday mornings so that you can gather together with others to sing about, read, listen to, and learn from God’s Word? Do you come to church and give reverence to God’s Word, not merely by your outward actions, but in your heart? Do you listen attentively as His Word is taught and then go home and dig into those passages again on your own? If you really love God and His Word, then you will long for His Word like that. 2. I learn it The people didn’t just listen to the Scriptures, they were also committed to understand the meaning of God’s Word. From the description we have here, it appears that Ezra would read from the Scriptures for a period of time and then he would stop and the Levites who had been trained for that purpose would gather together smaller groups and help the people understand what they were hearing by giving them the sense of the Scriptures. So what we see here is both expository preaching in the entire congregation combined with small group Bible studies. In this case the two were overlapping over this six-hour period. Obviously at that time there was no such thing as individual Bible reading and study because no one had their own Bibles. The few available copies of the Scriptures that had been hand copied were in the hands of a few scribes like Ezra so the only way to study the Scriptures was in community like this. That was still true when Jesus ministered here on earth almost 500 years later. That is why we see him going to the synagogue and reading the scroll of Isaiah that was stored there. That is also why Paul tells Timothy to devote himself to the public reading and teaching of Scripture: Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13 ESV) Today we have the added benefit of being able to read and study the Bible on our own. And that is certainly something we should all be doing. But that does not diminish the importance of gathering together as a body where those who have been gifted and trained to do so help the entire body to understand the sense of the Scriptures. Nor does it lessen the benefit of gathering together in small groups to discuss the Bible and learn from each other. Are you learning God’s Word like that? Are you reading and studying it on your own? Do you come to church each week eager to learn from the teaching and preaching of God’s Word? Do you prepare to learn by reading the passage ahead of time and praying for God to prepare your heart to receive that teaching? Are you a part of a small group where you can learn from each other? If you really love God and His Word, then you will be taking those steps to learn it. 3. I live it The people did not just listen to God’s Word for the purpose of gaining more knowledge. They actually lived out what was revealed to them. We see that first in the immediate response of the people as they mourned and wept as they heard the words of the Law. Undoubtedly, the reading and teaching of the Law revealed that the people had not been keeping that Law and the people appropriately mourned over their sin. That was a necessary and important first step. But Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites wanted the people to understand that the Word of God that brings conviction and leads to repentance is the same Word that also heals and brings joy. We can’t be sure of exactly which parts of the Law that Ezra read that day, but it likely included the Book of Deuteronomy which promised blessings for obedience to God and curses for disobeying Him. But right after that, in chapter 30, God had promised that when the people turned back to Him, He would restore them and have mercy on them. And that was reason for the people to celebrate. But as they were celebrating, it was important for them to live out God’s Word and put it into practice by taking care of the needy among them. And so as they celebrated with great feasting, the people shared what they had with those who had nothing. As he read the Law, Ezra came to the section that included instructions for observing the Feast of Tabernacles, which was supposed to begin in less than two weeks. Since the people hadn’t celebrated that feast for many years, even before they had been taken into captivity in Babylon, it would have been so easy for them to just make a commitment to do it next year, when they had more time to prepare. But instead the people immediately began to be obedient to what was in the Scriptures and to make the necessary preparations and then to observe the feast. They hadn’t just learned about God’s Word – they lived it out. Do you live God’s Word like that? Do you read the Bible with the purpose of making application in your own life? Do you immediately begin to apply what you’re learning from the Bible rather than put that off to some future time? If you really love God and His Word then you will live it like that. If I love God’s Word I will long for, learn and live it Up to this point we’ve primarily focused on what it looks like to love God’s Word, and I’ve hinted at some practical steps that we can take in order to help us do those three things. But I want to close this morning by suggesting some very specific actions that we can take to apply what we’ve learned this morning. Most of these steps aren’t new, but it won’t hurt to consider them again. PRACTICAL STEPS TO CONSIDER 1. Pray and ask God to give you a longing for His Word I can promise you that is a prayer that God delights in answering. But as I mentioned last week, when it comes to the Bible, delight often follows discipline, so you might want to also take some of these other steps after you pray that prayer. 2. Commit to a systematic Bible reading plan There are almost limitless possibilities here. • There are plans that have you read through the entire Bible in as little as one year and others that will take longer. • There are some plans that take you through starting in Genesis and going through in order all the way through Revelation. Personally, I think those plans are the hardest for most people to stick with because they tend to get bogged down about the time they get to Leviticus or Numbers. • There are plans where you read through the Bible chronologically. • Other plans alternate between Old and New Testaments • We have developed a plan to read through the entire Bible every four years: TFC 4 year reading plan: http://www.thornydalechurch.org/next-steps/ (Under GROW) As I always tell people the best plan is whatever one you’ll actually use. If you’d like some help here finding a plan, let me know or talk to Ryan Fregoso. I know he recently came across some unique plans you might find interesting. 3. Engage more fully in the sermon each week Rather than just come and listen to the sermon each week, take some steps to engage with it more: • Read the passage during the week. You can find that passage in the bulletin and on your sermon outline. • Pray before you get here and ask God to apply the message to your life. • Bring your Bible and follow along. • Take notes during the message. Consider doing more than just filling in the blanks and make notes about how God is speaking to you personally through the message. • Take your notes home and consider how to apply what you’ve learned. 4. Be part of a small group Being part of a small group has multiple benefits: • We are exposed to the viewpoints of others which helps us to move beyond our preconceived ideas about the Bible. • We can help others understand and apply the Bible in their lives • There is a degree of accountability that does not occur either when we study the Bible on our own or in the larger gathering on Sunday mornings. We don’t have a huge number of small groups right now, but there should be at least one opportunity that will work for everyone: • On Sunday mornings we have two adult groups – one for parents with children in the home that meets here in the auditorium and our Bible Roundtable that meets in the south wing. We also have our Kids Bible club and our student Bible studies that meet in the north wing during that time. We’ve scheduled those groups then for the convenience of those who find it hard to be part of another group during the week. • There is a Men’s Bible study that meets on Monday mornings at 6:30 a.m. I know that is early, but I promise it will be worth your time. • We have two Women’s Bible studies on Thursdays – one in the morning at 8:30 and one in the evening at 6:30. • And if for some reason none of those work for you and you’re interested in starting a new group, let us know and we’ll do all we can to help you. I’m pretty sure that at least 90% 0f you here this morning would say that you love God and would agree with the statement from the Lifeway survey I mentioned at the beginning of this message: “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do”. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the number isn’t closer to 100%. But the true test of whether we really love God is whether we love His Word. It’s not possible to love God and not love His Word. That’s not just my idea, that’s what Jesus said. And… If I love God’s Word I will long for, learn and live it While you probably won’t find $20 bills tucked in your Bibles at the beginning of each book, what I can promise you is that God’s Word is stuffed full of far more valuable riches if you’ll just take the time to look for them. [Prayer] I believe that most of us gather here each week with good intentions. We really do want to learn from God’s Word and apply it in our lives. But as well-known management consultant Peter Drucker once said: Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work. So what I’d like you to do right now is to take a few minutes to pray over the list of practical steps that I shared earlier and ask God to help you identify one of those steps, or perhaps another one I haven’t listed, and either circle that or write it down. Then I’m going to ask you to take your sermon outline home and put it in a place where you’ll see it each day this week as a reminder to follow through and actually do the hard work of putting it into practice. How I will apply this message in my life this week: Questions for the Bible Roundtable 1. What can we learn from this passage about the role of families in the process of loving God’s Word? What implications does that have for us as a church? 2. Today some churches still have people stand when the Bible is read. What are the benefits and drawbacks of doing that? What are some other ways we can show reverence for God’s Word? 3. Today we can study the Bible on our own (including listening to sermons from well-known pastors). So why is it still important to study the Bible with other disciples of Jesus face-to-face? 4. What do you think Nehemiah meant when he said, “the joy of the Lord is your strength”? What are some of the ways we can experience that kind of joy in our lives?