The fundamental reason that the Word of God is essential to joy in God is that God reveals himself mainly by his Word. And seeing this revelation of God is the foundation of our joy. As it was in the days of Samuel, so it is today: "The Lord appeared . . . at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord" (1 Sam. 3:21). When it says, "The Lord appeared," it says something amazing. God was seen not with the eyes of the head, but with the eyes of the heart, for God is "the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God" (1 Tim. 1:17). And though it may seem strange, this seeing at Shiloh happened "by the word of the LORD." As the Word was heard, the Lord was seen. In the hearing was the seeing. The spiritual hearing of God's Word becomes the spiritual seeing of God's glory.
How is God Seen Today? So it is in the gospel today. Paul says that becoming a Christian means "seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4). The gospel is news about the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It is a word to be heard. And in this hearing there is something to be seen: "The light . . . of the glory of Christ." In the hearing is the seeing.
The Lord opens the eyes of the heart to see the glory of Christ in the Word. God has chosen in this age to reveal himself to the world mainly through the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, by means of the written Word, the Bible.2 The reason this is so crucial in the fight for joy is that God himself is the ultimate object of our enjoyment. But God "reveals himself . . . by the word." Oh, how precious is the Bible! Here is where we see God most clearly and most surely. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and grants us to see the beauty of Christ (Matt. 16:17; Acts 16:14). If there were no Bible, there would be no lasting joy. Even those who yet have no Bible in their language depend on the Bible for the Christ-revealing, saving knowledge of God.
God can and does show himself in other ways, especially through the works of believers (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12; 1 Cor. 12:7). But none of them reveals God with the clarity and fullness of the Bible. All of them orbit around the sun of God's written Word. And if the central gravitational power of the sun is denied, all the planets fly into confusion. To be sure, in the fight for joy we will not kneel forever over our Bibles. We will get up and walk with Jesus onto the Calvary road. And there, in the risks and the afflictions of love, we will see the Jesus of the Word in the manifestations of power. This too is part of our joy. Sometimes it will be extraordinary, miraculous power. More often it will be the supernatural grace of self-denying sacrifice, unwavering faith, and the conversion of sinners into lovers of Christ. In all this we will see the Lord and rejoice. But all these manifestations of Christ would be vague and blurry without the written Word to guide our understanding and guard our hearts. We need the Word of God not only to see God in the Word, but to see him rightly anywhere else.
Admitting the Sins of Reluctance to Read the Bible A thousand interesting things compete for our attention to the Word of God. I confess that after fifty years of loving and reading and memorizing Scripture, I can be lured away from appointed times in the Word by something as insignificant as a new computer device. The illusory pleasure of newness can temporarily trump the far superior superior benefits of keeping my appointment with the Word of God. This is evidence in me of what Paul calls indwelling sin (Rom. 7:17, 20, 23). It is part of the remaining corruption lingering after the death of the old self (Rom. 6:6). I am not proud of it. It grieves me. At times it frightens me. It is part of the reason I speak so much of the fight for joy. I know this sinful inclination must be fought to the death. It is this fight Paul has in mind when he says, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you" (Col. 3:5). We will speak shortly about how the Word helps us do that. But first we must fight just to keep our appointments with the Word. One of the ways we can fight against the inclinations that lure us from the Word of God to computers or television or any other substitute pleasure is to remind ourselves often of the immeasurable and superior benefits of the Word of God in our lives. We must put the evidence before us that reading, pondering, memorizing, and studying the Bible will yield more joy in this life and the next than all the things that lure us from it. There are many different reasons why the Bible has this joy-producing effect. I don't want to minimize this diversity or belittle the range of benefits that the Bible has in our lives more than any of us realizes. But I want to stress that ultimately, in and through all its benefits, the Bible leads us to superior and lasting joy because it leads us to Christ, especially to see his glory and enjoy his fellowship. All the varied benefits are beneficial finally because they show us and bring us more of Christ to enjoy.
Seeing the Worth of Scripture In this chapter, then, consider with me just ten of these benefits, and as you read them, ask God to give you eyes to see the worth of Scripture and to waken in you an unyielding desire for the Word of God. This is a fight for joy, and the weapon in this chapter is a fresh sight of how the worth of God's Word surpasses all things on this earth.
1. The Word of God awakens and strengthens faith. The Holy Spirit does not awaken and strengthen faith apart from the Word of God. "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17) The reason for this is that the Spirit has been sent into the world to glorify Christ. But Christ would not be glorified if the Spirit wakened faith in the absence of the revelation of the glory of Christ in the gospel. "When the Spirit of truth comes," Jesus said, "he will glorify me" (John 16:13-14). If the Spirit brought us to faith in the absence of the proclamation of Christ in his Word, our faith would not be in Christ, and he would not be honored. Therefore the Spirit binds his faith- wakening ministry to the Christ-exalting Word. Which means that when we go to the Word of Christ, we put ourselves in the path of the Spirit's willingness to reveal Christ to us and strengthen our faith. And in this faith is the taste and the seed of all our joy. Therefore, the Word that wakens our faith works for our joy.
2. Through hearing the Word, God supplies the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God produces both a subconscious influence bringing us to faith, and a conscious experience of power and personal fellowship that come through that very faith. This explains two things: 1) This is why the Bible can speak of the Spirit blowing where he wills and having merciful effects in our lives before we were able to choose them (John 3:6-8; 6:36, 44, 65). In other words, by his unconscious influence he works in us to enable us to hear and welcome the Word. And 2) this is also why the Bible speaks of the Spirit coming through our hearing the Word of God. In other words, conscious fellowship with the Spirit is given when we hear the Word of God with faith.
Thus Paul says in Galatians 3:5, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" The answer, of course, is "by hearing with faith." Notice the word hearing. It implies that words have been spoken. Paul has preached the Word of God. Now he reminds them: "Hearing that Word with faith was the means by which the Spirit was given to you." So the Spirit comes (unconsciously) before we trust him and thus enables us to believe in God's Word; and the Spirit comes (consciously) in response to our trusting him and gives us the conscious experience of his fellowship through God's Word-the experience Paul calls "the joy of the Holy Spirit." "You received the word . . . with the joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6). This remains true even after we become Christians and have the Holy Spirit in us. If we want more of the Spirit of God, we must hear more of the Word of God with faith. We must hear his promises, see their blood-bought certainty, value their goodness, and bank on them. That is the way God supplies more of his Spirit. The command in Ephesians 5:18-19, "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," is parallel with the command in Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs."
Being filled with the Word of Christ and being filled with the Spirit of Christ are almost the same, because the Spirit comes with joy where the Word is embraced with faith. In other words, not only does the first act of faith come by hearing, but all subsequent acts of faith come by hearing. And since God supplies his Spirit through this "hearing with faith," the fullness of the Spirit comes by the ongoing hearing of the Word of God. And when the Spirit comes, he comes to make much of Jesus. Which means he comes to ignite joy in our hearts over the glory of Jesus. Which means the Word of God is worth more than anything this world can offer. 3. The Word of God creates and sustains life. Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). To that end he taught many things, and then gave his life so that we might have life, eternal and abundant. We are born again into new life by the Word of God. "You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you" (1 Pet. 1:23-25). God makes the preaching of the gospel the occasion for creating new life in the soul of man. "The words that I have spoken to you," Jesus said, "are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Therefore when John had finished recording the words and works of Jesus in his Gospel he said, "These are written so that you may . . . have life in his name" (John 20:31). The words of John’s Gospel-and all the Scriptures-lead to life. Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Oh, how easily we are deceived into thinking that better life, or more life, comes from things that lure us from the Word. But, in fact, it is the Word itself that gives us life abundantly. The life we get from bread is fragile and short. The life we get from the Word is firm and lasts forever. That life is created and kept by the Word of God. And with that life comes the light of life, by which we see the glory of Christ. "With you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light" (Ps. 36:9). Or as Jesus said, "Whoever follows me . . . will have the light of life" (John 8:12). In other words, the life that comes from the Word is a life of joy, because the Word brings us from the darkness of impending sorrow to the light of the glory of Christ. 4. The Word of God gives hope. In more ways than we can imagine the Word of God gives and strengthens our hope. We get a glimpse of how many ways the Bible gives hope when we hear Paul's astonishing assessment of the Old Testament alone: "Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). Not just part of the Old Testament, but all of it-"whatever was written in former days"-was written with the divine design to give us hope. One of the things this teaches us is that we have not begun to know all the ways it is possible to get hope. We have very small experience in life compared to God's wisdom.
There are a thousand ways that God has designed to give us hope. Most of them we have not yet tasted or even conceived. Yet how often we murmur that the few proven ways we get hope are missing! We do not realize that there are ways to get hope that we have never thought of. How small-minded of us in our hopelessness to look at our closed Bible and say, "What I need is _____, and this is not in the Bible." How do we know we need ______ and not some utterly unexpected hope that the Bible will awaken in us when we read it in faith? Indeed, we may lack hope because we think we need something we do not need.
It may take the Word of God to show us what we really need, and then to give us the power to get it. In the end what we really need is Christ. He is the sum of all our hopes. Paul commends the Thessalonians for their "steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 1:3). He says that our "blessed hope [is] the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Tit. 2:13). Therefore we are to "hope in Christ" (Eph. 1:12) and rejoice in the mystery of the gospel, which is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). Sometimes what we need from the Bible is not the fulfillment of our dream, but the swallowing up of our failed dream in the all-satisfying glory of Christ. We do not always know the path of deepest joy. But all Scripture is inspired by God to take us there. Therefore Scripture is worth more than all this world can offer. 5. The Word of God leads us to freedom. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). The truth of God's Word works freedom in many ways and brings joy in all of them. But Jesus signals his focus in verse 34: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin." The freedom he has in mind here is freedom from the enslaving, destructive effect of sin. The truth sets us free from this. So Jesus turns this truth into a prayer in John 17:17, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." Sanctify means to make holy, or free from sin. This freedom is essential in the fight for joy for two reasons.
One is that the guilt of sin would bring down the wrath of God on us if the truth of the gospel did not set us free from condemnation through the blood and righteousness of Christ. That's what we focused on in Chapter Six. The other reason this freedom is essential in the fight for joy is that sin so defiles and corrupts our lives that we cannot see or savor what is best. Therefore, the corruption of sin is a great joy-killer. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). We devoted Chapter Five to the way that seeing God functions in the fight for joy. Here, suffice it to say that the impurity of sin so distorts our perception that we cannot see God as desirable. Therefore sin makes the greatest joys impossible. (John Piper, When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight For Joy, p. 95 -101, Good News Publishers) Note: Lord willing, the next blog post will contain the remaining five points from this chapter.