The Word that Summarises the Content of the Bible
What word best summarizes the content of the Bible? I have received an array of answers to that question, such as: God, Christ, grace, truth, and love. In fact, there are many words in the Bible, and we need them all rightly to understand and gratefully to live our new life in Christ. However, while we should be committed to the whole counsel of God as contained in Scripture, it can be useful for us to consider the supreme theme that emerges from a right reading and understanding of the whole counsel of God. I believe that theme is relationship.
While it is true to say that the Bible is about God, or Christ, or truth, or love, none of these words (with the possible exception of love) captures the entire sweep of Scripture with accurate portrayal of the content and contours of its teaching as well as does the word, relationship. The Bible speaks to us of the relationship between God and man. Scripture opens the eyes of our hearts to the relationship that the God of creation had with our first parents, who were the crown of his creation and the bearers of his image. We are told about the rupture of that relationship due to the sin and fall of Adam and all his posterity in him. Thereafter, the predominant development of Scriptural revelation concerns itself with the relationship that the holy God has with his sinful creatures. That relationship is shown to us in terms of our alienation from God and his righteous wrath toward our sin, while God’s merciful compassion and redeeming love shine forth on every page of the Bible with growing and fulness and completeness.
This relationship between God and his people is expressed in the moral law, wherein the Lord expresses the character of the relationship between himself and his people in the first table of the law and of his people with each other in the second table. Jesus, of course, rightly summarizes the law in terms of love for God and man, and we come to have such love only because the Lord has first loved us. Even the ceremonial law speaks of the relationship between God and man. The detailed and cumulative teaching of the ceremonial law speaks of man’s separation from God, due to man’s sin. It also and above that speaks of God’s reconciling grace in drawing an unworthy people to himself via a redeeming substitute sacrificed for the sins of his people. Accordingly, the ceremonial law, when rightly understood, shows the infinite separation of sinful man from the holy God of heaven and earth to be reduced to the dimensions of a thin veil within the temple, and the relatively easy terms of the worshipper trusting by faith in the efficacy of the atoning death of the sacrifices offered in his place, all of which pointed to the Lamb of God who would take away his sins.
In the gospel, this relationship attains its fullest development before it reaches its final consummation. That final consummation comes when in glory we see the face of our Saviour and stand before our covenant God as his blameless and perfected children, reigning with Christ forever in glory. In the meantime, we live, serve, and walk by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us, and in the Father who loved us and gave his Son for us and now causes all things to work together for our good. We work out our salvation by the illuminating truths of God’s Word and the enabling comfort and power of God’s Holy Spirit who indwells us.
Why is it important and practical for us to understand that the major theme of the Bible is this relationship between God and his people? For one thing, such an understanding delivers us from the frustrating and inadequate conviction that the Bible is a book of mere truths, principles, and directives. The truth is that the Bible is the Word of and the saving, invigorating, and empowering breath of the personal God who has made and redeemed us in love. Our understanding this supreme motif of relationship also goes a long way toward solving the painful and perplexing aspects of God’s providence in our lives. Apart from this understanding we wrongly think and feel and act as though the trials and afflictions that come upon us bespeak a divine disappointment with us and distance from us. Such wrong thinking leads us into our trying to learn lessons we think God is endeavouring to teach us, then our trying to placate him with our attempted works of repentance, or else to defeat and despair. However, when we recall that in his providential dealings with us, our Lord is committed to drawing us ever closer and more lovingly to himself, we then can sincerely rejoice, even in our tribulations, knowing that none of them will separate us from the love of God in Christ, but will only serve to deepen our loving intimacy with him.
This understanding of the primacy of holy, loving relationship among the children who are redeemed by their heavenly Father also rightly directs and sweetly and fruitfully empowers our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions with our brethren. When we know and are committed to the truth that we are destined only to grow closer to one another in the holy bonds of our common union with Christ, we shall be oriented toward rather than away from each other. We shall then not only think in terms of what is right, but also in terms of what is most prudent, profitable, and, above all, loving, when we regard our brethren and consider our attitudes and actions toward them. If we are destined by our God to be one day incorporated as mutually loving, precious living stones in his heavenly tabernacle and habitation, why should we wait until that day to be in such a holy, loving intimacy with our God and brethren? Let us then love our God and our neighbour now, as our saving God has called and empowered us to do.
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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