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The Holy Spirit: Inspired by the Spirit

October 25, 2009

Sermon: The Holy Spirit: Inspired by the Spirit
Text: 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17

Today, we continue our series of sermons The Holy Spirit in Christian Life. In our text for today, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, telling him, “All Scripture is inspired by God…These scriptures need to guide and direct your life.” There is no better day than today for us to consider how the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to guide and direct our lives.

The word “inspired” means “God-breathed.” It simply means that the Bible came to us from the mind of God, from the very heart of God, through the Holy Spirit. It came to us through human beings who were charged with the responsibility of writing what God asked them to write. The manner in which the Bible came to us and the part the Holy Spirit played in bringing us this important collection of writings are remarkable.


Our family used to vacation at the Outer Banks of North Carolina every summer. We went with another family, members of our church in North Carolina. The father, an anesthesiologist, was a good friend of mine. The mother was a good friend of Clare. Our children were all about the same age. While I went fishing with my friend, Clare and her friend spent a lot of time together with the children. It was a wonderful family occasion.

One year we traveled, not from our home in Winston-Salem, but from South Carolina, taking a southern route, up through Morehead City. We were going to catch the ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke, the famous hangout of Blackbeard the pirate, then catch another ferry over to Cape Hatteras. We stopped in Morehead City at the restaurant called Tony’s Sanitary Seafood Market for lunch. You may have heard of this restaurant or even eaten there. At one time, it was reported to be the best seafood restaurant in the Southeast. It was mighty good back then.

The children were tired from traveling, so I decided to give them on a tour of this restaurant while Clare did something luxurious like sip a glass of iced tea. As we waited for our meal, the children and I walked around the restaurant, which was built over the water. Many fishing boats were docked outside, and mounted on the walls of this restaurant were all kinds of fish that had been caught. We stopped before a magnificent specimen of a blue marlin caught off the Outer Banks that must have weighed about 600 pounds when it was caught.

As we stood and looked at the fish, I asked the children, “Isn’t that a beautiful fish?”

One of our sons spoke these words: “Dad, I bet the fish was a whole lot prettier when it was in the ocean.”

I thought about his comment.

Within about four or five days while fishing on a boat in the Gulf Stream, my good friend hooked a blue marlin. It was not quite as big as the one on the restaurant wall. It weighed only about 400 pounds. My friend fought the magnificent fish for more than an hour while I took pictures of it, tail dancing in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and porpoising in the surf.

Once my friend had brought the fish alongside the boat, he said, “We’re going to let him go.” We released that magnificent fish.

My son was right. A blue marlin is much prettier alive in the Atlantic Ocean than it is dead on the wall of a seafood restaurant.

The Bible is a classic that belongs in every library, in every home. Let me tell you that if you merely put this book on a shelf, it becomes just a wonderful collection of ancient literature. It becomes a tomb, a dead letter.

We believe that the Scripture is inspired by God. The book of Hebrews states, “For the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Paul tells a young Timothy, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman unto God that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The Bible becomes alive and active only when we open it, only when we read it, only when we study it. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the writing so many years ago also inspires the reading, the understanding, and the interpretation of God’s Word now.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Paul continues what he has become convinced of, what he has learned, what he has known:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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.

He says that Scriptures make a person wise, not wise for the sake of wisdom but wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Then he says, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” The NIV writes the word “scripture” with a capital “S.” That is important because Paul was talking about the parchments that were available to Timothy, primarily Old Testament Scriptures. As we read this, we also think of New Testament Scriptures. The word “scripture” written with a lower case “s” could mean all scriptures of the great religions of the world. Written here with an upper case “S,” we limit the reference to the Scriptures in what we call the Bible.

Paul says that these Scriptures are God-breathed, that God inspired them or breathed into these words, His very life. It is important to know that the difference between expired and inspired has everything to do with the presence of the Spirit. Paul says Scripture can be used in four important ways. I want us to look at what it means to say that the Scriptures are inspired and also to consider their functions.

One passage we want to look at today is 2 Peter 1, Verses 20-21. There we read, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” I love the phrase “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It means that we are guided and directed though we may not have a clear sense of exactly where we are going. I know that in the work of writing, I do not always know exactly where I am going. A story, for example, takes on a life of its own as it unfolds.

Being guided by the Spirit is not to say that God tromped out the individuality of those writers. Anyone who has ever studied New Testament Greek knows of the great difference in the Greek of the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of John and in the Greek language of the letters of Paul. Quite a difference exists in the book of Revelation and the Gospel accounts. The words themselves reflect the personality, the individuality, the education level, and even the context in which the authors wrote.

In 1 Corinthians 2:13, Paul says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths and spiritual words.” God impressed on his writers the content He wanted them to write. It was not that He dictated to them or wrote with His hand on their hand, guiding every single word. He wanted their unique personality, their individuality, to show. If you read the book of Ephesians in the Greek language, you will see that almost the entire first chapter is one long run-together sentence. Paul was so eager to get all of this down. He was dictating, with the words just tumbling out of him as if they were flowing over a waterfall. The amanuensis over in the corner had difficulty keeping up with Paul as he spoke so quickly, conveying his thoughts.

Paul further writes in Romans 10:8, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” The idea that the Word of God would be confined to these pages is not at all what Paul had in mind when he said that the Scriptures are inspired. He wants these words to become a part of the fabric of our lives. That is what the word “inspiration” means.

Paul tells us that Scripture can be used in four ways. First, it can be used in teaching. In order to be a good teacher, a person, first of all, has to be a good student. It is why, Paul says, “Study to show thyself approved…rightly dividing the word of truth.” Anybody who teaches on a regular basis must be a regular learner. A teacher must keep reading, keep learning, keep studying. Otherwise, it becomes apparent to every student that the teacher has grown stale.

In Colossians 3:16, Paul states, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another…” Teaching is one of the functions of the church. Thank goodness Morningside is a teaching church. We teach the Word of God, not just here in the sermon time during our worship services, but also during Sunday School and discipleship training. We certainly teach our youth and little children. Morningside is teaching everybody of every age.

At this very moment, adults are teaching the Word of God to our children in the extended session. You might say, “Some children are certainly too young.” If you hold a little child in your arms and sing “Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so,” you are teaching a major truth from God’s Word. What a great opportunity! Some of you need the opportunity to be involved in that ministry. Can you imagine anything more important in the life of the church than giving that kind of care to little children?

Teaching God’s Word is a function of the entire church. You may say, “I am not a teacher. Teaching is not my gift. That is not what I need to do.” You may not teach in a classroom, but you teach your children and grandchildren, your nieces and nephews. Anytime you have an opportunity to share the love of God in any way, you are teaching. You also teach your coworkers. You may do it more in simply the way you live than in the words you say. Teaching is a part of our life, and it is one of the ways Scripture becomes so important to us.

Second, Paul says that Scripture is useful for rebuking. Rebuking is a harsh-sounding word, one we do not like to hear. We sometimes use the word “reproof” as a way to soften it. William Barkley says that we tend to think of rebuking as being judgmental or condemning. That is not what it is at all. We may get a better understanding about exactly what this means when we consider the incident in the Bible where the prophet Nathan confronted King David after his affair with Bathsheba. Nathan told David a story about a wealthy man who had many sheep. When a guest came to that man’s home, he went next door, killed the only sheep his poor neighbor had, and offered it as a meal to his guest.

When David heard that story, he became furious. He ordered, “Bring that man to me. He is going to face judgment.”

Nathan held up a mirror and said, “David, do you see what I see? Take a look. This man is you. You are the one who has done wrong.”

David was convicted. He was convinced of the error of his ways.

Reproof means being able to see yourself and making the necessary changes. James 1:23-24 words it so clearly: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” At times, I wish I could look at my face in a mirror and forget what I look like. You might wish that, too.

Listen further to what James says in Verse 25: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.” He says that the Scripture is like a mirror. When we look into this mirror, we can see ourselves – every blemish, every change, every part of our life that needs improvement.

If you do not think that the Scriptures can be convicting, let me refer you to just one example. Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Do you have any in-laws? If you have in-laws, you are an in-law. Is anyone in your family an irregular person who causes you heartache and trouble? Do you feel as though that person keeps you upset, disturbed? What about a co-worker, somebody who just rubs you the wrong way? Would you regard that person as an enemy? Listen to this Scripture: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…”

Mark Twain said that the Scriptures that bothered him most were not the ones he could not understand but the ones he understood very well. Matthew 5:44 is Scripture you can understand though it is hard to live by. It is like a mirror. When we look there, we can see what needs to be changed in our lives.

Third, Paul says that the Scriptures can be used for correcting, such an important function. I want to go back to a passage I mentioned earlier, Hebrews 4:12-13. I mentioned only the first sentence earlier: “The Word of God is living and active…” Now I want you to listen to the whole passage:

For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

What is sharper than a two-edged sword? Let me make a suggestion – a scalpel, a surgeon’s scalpel. As I read this passage and substitute the word “scalpel,” listen for the medical metaphor, the medical terminology.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than a scalpel, it penetrates even to dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The Scripture opens us up so that whatever is wrong can be fixed.

My professor Dr. Wayne Oates used to say that Scriptures can be used diagnostically and prescriptively. Again, we see the medical terminology. Certain Scriptures just suit certain circumstances. If a person, for example, is severely depressed, hardly anything is better than Psalm 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Trust in God, and I will again hope.”

One passage I have often used with people who are struggling with the problem of suicidal thoughts comes from the book of Deuteronomy. You might think that particular book would have nothing at all to say about this subject. I grant you that in some ways, I am lifting this passage out of context. I submit that Moses’ sermon to those about to enter the Promised Land has application for any person who is facing a life and death issue. That includes suicidal thoughts. Chapter 30, Verses 19-20: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have sent before you life and death, blessing and curses. Now choose life…” Is there any doubt in your mind about what God wants us to choose?

Think about the multitude of life-and-death issues we face. Think about a person who is struggling with thoughts of taking his or her own life. This word from God is a corrective that can save a person’s life. I have seen it happen. I submit to you that the Scripture can be used, as Paul says, for correcting.

Fourth, Paul says that Scripture can be used as training in righteousness. Consider that great passage in Psalm 119:11: “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.”

My grandmothers believed in the old Baptist tradition of bribery. They gave me a dollar for learning the Ten Commandments, one for learning Psalm 23, and one for learning the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes I would learn a passage of Scripture, recite it to one grandmother, and get a dollar. Then I would say it to the other grandmother and get another dollar. I do not know whether that is training in righteousness or not.

One of my grandmothers promised to give me $10 if I would memorize the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. I memorized it word-for-word, and she gave me a ten dollar bill when I said it to her. If you tried to give me a ten dollar bill today, I could not say it from memory for all the world. I can tell you, though, what is in the Sermon on the Mount, not because now I remember it word-for-word but because I learned it by heart.

Why is it important to memorize Scripture? Why do we want children in Awana to memorize Scripture? Why do we want children in our mission groups to memorize Scripture?

General Norman Gaddis was the highest ranking military officer to be shot down during the war in Vietnam. He was flying an Air Force fighter plane. Gaddis was taken to what is called the Hanoi Hilton, a prison camp, and placed in solitary confinement for 1000 days, almost three years. The following three years, he was housed in a cell slightly larger with three other American officers.

Some years ago, General Gaddis graciously accepted my invitation to come from Raleigh to Spartanburg and speak to a group of Scout leaders. During his visit, I had some time to talk with him and I asked, “General Gaddis, how did you survive all of that time in the prisoner of war camp?”

He answered, “The Bible.”

“You mean they let you have a Bible?”

“No, they didn’t let me have a Bible. When I was growing up as an R.A., I memorized Scripture. During those years in prison, I would call to mind Scriptures I had memorized, like ‘Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.’ Sometimes the Scriptures were right on the tip of my tongue. I could not remember them exactly, but I remembered the gist. Some of the great stories of the Bible gave me courage. Can you imagine what the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den meant to me?”

One of the functions of Scripture is to hide God’s Word in our heart.

To be trained through the Scriptures in a life of righteousness is certainly one of the tasks of the Christian church. We are to know the Scriptures. Why? They are inspired by God. That same inspiration, that same Holy Spirit at work in the first century and in the many centuries that preceded the New Testament is at work in Hanoi, in Spartanburg, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. Scriptures are inspired, and they continue to inspire because it is all through the same Holy Spirit.

Paul says these four functions can make you complete, thoroughly equipping you for every good work.

On this day we know as Reformation Sunday, I want to briefly mention Martin Luther, who was born in 1483. As a young man, Luther thought he was going to be a lawyer. One day, he was caught in a thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning hit very close to him, and he fell to his knees, crying out to God for help. Luther promised that if God would deliver him from the danger of the storm, he would become a monk.

Luther entered a Benedictine monastery and was actually ordained for the priesthood. There, he was plagued with, what I guess now we would call an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Then it was called scrupulosity. He was so overcome with the thought of his own sin that he could hardly function. He would go to his confessor and confess and confess and confess. Then he would return to his chamber to sleep and realize he had committed others sins he could not remember. He would go back, wake up his confessor in the middle of the night, and acknowledge that he could not remember all of his sins.

His confessor grew tired of this and suggested to Luther, “You need some work to do.” He told Luther to pursue academics. Luther took that same obsessive compulsive personality and earned three academic degrees, all in the interpretation of Scripture. The Vatican declared him a doctor of Bible, and he assumed a post as a professor of the Bible at the University of Wittenberg in Germany.

About this time, the Vatican decided to refurbish St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In a money-making scheme, the church started selling indulgences. The idea was that people could pay money to have their sins forgiven, guaranteed by the Pope. Paying extra money would ensure that future sins would be forgiven. Paying even more money would ensure that their sins were forgiven, as were the sins of others who had already died. Johann Tetzel came to Germany to sell indulgences. His motto was, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

Luther, while studying the books of Romans and Galatians, had come across a biblical concept that was life-changing, one inspired by the Holy Spirit: “The just shall live by faith.” He was convinced that a person could do nothing to secure his own salvation. Salvation was by the grace of God, as Ephesians 2:8-9 puts it. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Martin Luther decided to take on the Vatican. On October 31, 1517, he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg ninety-five points of contention, which are called the Ninety-five Theses. Posting anything on the church door was like putting it on the kiosk. In this document, he attacked not only this selling of indulgences, but his actions also attacked the authority of the Pope, causing quite a stir. The Vatican did not like it one bit. Over the course of time, they came after him. Luther, in the meanwhile, continued to write. In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther talked about how we are justified by faith, not by works.

Finally, the Vatican decided to put him on trial. A young whippersnapper, an ecclesiastical lawyer named Johann Eck, met Luther at a place called Wormes. A huge council there displayed all of Luther’s writings on a table.

Eck confronted Luther, asking, “Did you write these things?”

“Yes.”

“The Pope demands that you recant, take it all back.”

Martin Luther replied, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, I am bound by the Scriptures that I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other so help me, God!”

For his stand against the church, Martin Luther was excommunicated. He would have been put to death, but he was given refuge in a castle. There, he translated the entire Bible into the German language so that his people could read it for themselves. It is because of his work that we have an English translation of the Bible. The German translation preceded our English translation.

The Apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther was inspired by the Scripture written by the Apostle Paul. Martin Luther was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he read Scripture, when he taught Scripture, when he translated the Scripture, and when he interpreted Scripture to other people. Do you see how this works? Martin Luther is not just a monk of bygone days. His work lives on. What about you? Do you think that God’s Spirit can inspire your life?

A very strange occurrence happens right at the end of the Gospel of John. Jesus comes into the upper room where the disciples are. We read that Jesus breathes on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? It means they became alive. They became alive. They were inspired by God’s Spirit.

God still inspires in the life of His church and in the lives of His people. He wants to inspire your life. If you have never accepted Christ, I can tell you that he wants to come into your life and make you alive. If you have accepted Christ and your life has grown stale, he wants to renew your faith, renew your life through his Holy Spirit. We invite you to respond.

Kirk H. Neely
© November 2009

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