12 I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.
19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 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.
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him,” - 10 but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: 16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
“I just wish God would speak clearly, and tell me what to do.”
Do those words sound familiar? They echo the cries of Christians throughout the ages. We’ve all been in situations in our lives when we’ve been confused and unsure of what to do next. One of the inner struggles we face as disciples of Jesus is trying to overcome our natural desire to do what we want, and seeking God’s will for our lives instead. But what if we’re unsure just what it is that God is saying or calling us to do?
It’s a bit like trying to talk to someone on a cellphone, but one or both of you is in an area with bad reception. You can hear their voice and you can see their name on your screen, so you know who you’re talking to and you know they’re saying something, but you can’t make out what they’re saying. Our prayer lives feel a bit like that at times as well. Prayer is a good thing – it brings us into God’s presence in a mysterious but very real way, but far too often we feel as if our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. We’re distracted by our everyday lives and our circumstances, so prayer becomes more of a chore than the joy it is meant to be. Mother Teresa had an amazing understanding of the mystery of prayer. She was once asked in an interview, “When you pray, what do you say to God?” She said, “I don’t talk, I listen.” The interviewer then asked, “What does God say to you?” She replied, “He doesn’t talk. He listens. And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”
Occasionally in our prayers we can sense the Lord sitting next to us – it’s almost as if we’re able to reach out and touch Him, but we’ve also experienced the frustration of wondering just what it is God is saying. We find ourselves questioning whether He is speaking at all, despite the many promises we have in Scripture that He does speak to us.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 is just one example: “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”
It may feel a bit like a dropped call or a crackly line sometimes, but God does speak, and this morning we’ll look at three of the main ways He speaks to us today.
The first is through Scripture – the written word.
The Bible is the most powerful and direct communication we have from God, mainly because it tells us things from His point of view.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 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.”
If you want to know what God thinks about something, go to the Bible. It is here where we’re given an insight into His commands, His promises, and His principles. Though the writing styles and circumstances of the 66 books of the Bible are very different at times, the words that are written for us are inspired by God, and given to the writer – it is quite literally the voice of God.
It contains real letters to real people. The Bible is a unique book – there is no other piece of literature quite like it, but it does confuse so many people, probably because it’s not just one book, but a compilation of literature written over a period of about 1500 years by more than 40 writers. It contains history, narrative stories, poetry and letters. Different writers, but one author. Together they form the whole counsel of God’s Word.
One of the things you hear most from people when it comes to the Bible is that it is confusing and very difficult to understand. That is only partly right. Of course there are some passages that we struggle with.
The apostle Peter knew Jesus personally. He spent three years with Him, learning from the Master, and this is what he had to say about some of Paul’s writings in 2 Peter 3:16: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand.” Many Christians read that verse and come to the conclusion that if Peter couldn’t understand some of what Paul was writing about, then we have no chance. As a result the Bible is not read as diligently as it should be, and it becomes more of a reference book than a guide and a compass for Christian living.
But that’s only an excuse.
We need to get into the Word, and seek God’s will for our lives. There will always be parts of it that are not as clear as others, but the vast majority of what God says in His Word in crystal clear.
So start off by worrying about the things that are clear and easy to understand, and not so much about the obscure or cryptic passages of His Word. God will reveal His true meaning to you when He is good and ready to – in the meantime, read and take to heart the parts that are easy to understand. You’ll find there is more than enough easily understood material to keep you going. And don’t only read the verses you like – those you’ve underlined or marked with a highlighter. Read His whole Word, especially the verses that challenge you.
So what did Peter mean when he wrote these words then? When he said that some of Paul’s letters are hard to understand, he wasn’t saying we should disregard them. That’s taking things out of context. He was actually giving us a warning, which we can see when we read the rest of 2 Peter 3:16.
“His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Ignorant people distort God’s Word. A common objection to Scripture is that it was written thousands of years ago, and is therefore no longer relevant in modern society. But God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so that criticism of the Bible holds no water.
If you are a Christian, then the whole of the Bible is the whole of God’s Word to you. You either believe all of it, or none of it. We live in an age where we can cut, paste and edit anything, but we approach the Bible with that attitude at our peril.
The very last chapter of the Bible ends with these words: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
It is easy to get caught up in the obscure or difficult portions of Scripture, and to fight over those things, but the result is usually to the detriment of the rest of the Bible, most of which is crystal clear.
The purpose of the Bible is not to make us theologically clever, but for correction and instruction in righteousness, and to change how we live. Remember, it’s all about our pursuit of Christlikeness, and Scripture is our plumb line, because it tells us what God has to say, and it remains His primary means of talking to us.
Secondly, God speaks to us by and through His Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians 1:17 Paul writes, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.” And in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”
The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual insight and understanding.
The Bible tells me what’s right and wrong, who God is, who Jesus is and how I’m supposed to live. Now that’s all very well. I have a pretty good idea of what’s wrong in my life, and I know I should be striving to be more like Jesus, but I’m a weak sinner, so how am I supposed to make these changes in my life? The Holy Spirit does these things from within as He guides me through living out this knowledge with spiritual insights and understanding.
He changes us from the inside out. Just after the Last Supper, the night before Jesus was crucified, He explained to His disciples just some of what the Holy Spirit would do in their and in our lives. In John 16:13-15 He said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
When you take the step of surrendering your life to Christ, He forgives your sins, He adopts you into His family, and He comes and literally lives His life through you.
Of course we still make a mess of our lives, but there are times when we do the right thing. There are times when we forgive the ‘unforgivable’, love the ‘unlovable’, and every now and then people can see Christ in us and through us. At those times, it is because of the inner working of the Spirit, because in and of ourselves we cannot do these things. So when you do do the right thing, it is not you. It is God, through the power of His Spirit empowering you, or as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:13, “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
But how does the Spirit actually work in us? Principally, it is by Him guiding us through our thought processes. Now this doesn’t mean that we become programmable robots. Rather it means that the Lord opens our hearts and minds to see things the way He does. Everything we see, think and do is influenced by our sinful nature, but God has the power to overcome that, and to help us see, think and do things from His perspective.
Romans 8:6-9 explains it very well: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.”
A couple of weeks ago I said that through Jesus we’re able to see others as eternal beings, created in the image of God. You can’t do that unless the Spirit lives in you, revealing these spiritual truths to you.
Paul consistently teaches that the Holy Spirit gives us the mind of Christ. It’s not natural for us to see God in everything - on the contrary we tend to look at everything from our own perspective. But as we grow in Christ, our minds are informed by Scripture and guided by the Spirit to have God’s perspective.
And thirdly God speaks to us through His Church, through fellow believers, or as Nicky Gumbel puts it on the Alpha Course, through the counsel of the saints.
Together we’re able to learn and teach things we might otherwise miss. In the Church, and in our small study groups in particular, we share our life experiences with each other as we learn to grow together. Because of our spiritual maturity level or sin in our lives, we often misinterpret Scripture or miss relevant passages completely. Our judgment is often clouded by our circumstances too. There are times when we’re too spiritually and emotionally fragile to hear what God might be saying to us, and this is where the Church plays a role in supporting each other. The Church is a place where we should be able to make ourselves vulnerable, seeking help and guidance from God, through each other. You may be in a Bible study and someone gives you a verse or an insight you hadn’t considered. This is exactly how the body is intended to operate - not in isolation but in unison. We don’t just come here once a week to sing a few songs and to endure a sermon. We are family. And a family helps and supports each other. Sometimes you’re the one who is limping, and you need a strong shoulder to lean on, and there are other occasions when you are that strong shoulder for someone else in our Church family.
It’s been said many times before, and it’s true – you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian. But if you’re not connected to the Body of Christ you’re missing out on so much. And so is the rest of the Body because of your absence. It’s no wonder so many Churches limp along, making little or no impact on their own lives and on their society. It’s because half their limbs are missing…
Two passages of Scripture that warn us against spiritual isolation are Proverbs 13:10 “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice,” and Hebrews 10:24-25 “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Spiritual isolation is actually a sign of spiritual arrogance. If we go through life with the attitude of “all I need is my Bible and the Spirit,” it may sound spiritual, but it’s arrogant.
I’ve quoted this before, but it is so relevant: On the Alpha Course, when speaking about the Church, Nicky Gumbel says, “The freelance Christian, who would be a Christian but is too superior to belong to the visible Church on Earth in one of its forms, is simply a contradiction in terms.”
We are the Church, and we need each other. Anyone unwilling to turn to wise counsel is someone who will, sooner or later, make a fatal decision.
Of course, God speaks through countless ways, and He reveals Himself to us in ways that we sometimes can’t even see, but primarily He speaks to us through Scripture, His Spirit and through His Church, but He does speak.
Finally, what do we do if we ever sense that the voices we are hearing seem to conflict, and we’re confused by what we think God might be saying? It’s an important question for us to consider, and the answer is to go to God’s Word. 2 Thessalonians 5:21 simply says, “Test everything.” If you ever find that the voices conflict, and you’re hearing mixed messages as if the signal is breaking up, understand that the Bible is the most clear and should be the ruling factor in any discrepancy. As a sinner, I have an uncanny knack of filtering out the things I don’t want to hear from God – and so do you. Even though His Spirit is living within us, and is far more powerful than the power of sin, all too often I only hear what I want to hear from God. Similarly, even though a fellow Christian’s advice is given with all the very best intentions, he or she is also a sinner, and that means our judgment is always clouded by our sin. Their advice may well be sincere, but there is always the possibility that their advice is sincerely wrong. So test what you feel God may be saying within your own heart and what you’re hearing from others by applying God’s Word.
“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.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
God has been gracious enough to give us His Word, to give us His Spirit, and to give us each other to speak to us. He does speak. He always has, but of course the bigger question is, are we listening?
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17
The Bible remains God’s primary means of speaking to us today.
How have you been guided by spending time reading the Bible?
How have you felt inspired, comforted and challenged by His Word?
Read 2 Peter 3:16
How do you deal with parts of the Bible that are unclear or confusing?
A common criticism of the Bible is that because it is so old, it is no longer relevant in the modern world. How do you answer such criticism?
Read Romans 8:6-9
In which ways have you felt the Spirit of God teaching and guiding you?
Philippians 2:13 says “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
How have you experienced this in your own life?
The Bible teaches us that the power of God is greater than the power of our sinful nature, yet we face a constant uphill battle against our sin and temptation, failing often. Why do you think this is so?
Read Ephesians 4:11-16
Discuss the role that the Church is meant to play in our personal spiritual growth. How have you grown through seeking Godly advice from other Christians?
On Sunday we looked at 3 prime means of communication that God uses today: through the Bible, His Spirit and through His Church.
Which others can you think of?
How has He spoken to you?