I read about a church that just installed its pastor. After preaching his first sermon, the deacons and the entire congregation excitedly told him how much the message blessed them. The next Sunday, he preached again. Though they still like the message, they felt they were not as blessed as the first message. On the third Sunday, they noticed something. They just realized that the pastor have been preaching the same message to them on all those Sundays. Can you imagine that? They were so dense that they only realized that on the third Sunday! So, they confronted the pastor. “How come you delivered the same message over and over again?” The pastor answered, “I will preach that message again and again until I see you obeying it.” Think for a moment. If you were in that church and I was the pastor, would you immediately notice that I was preaching the same message? If I were that pastor, would I see the need to repeat the message? Would I see you obeying the Word of God?
The question is how do we show that we value His Word? Let us read John 8:31-32. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” Here we see that we can only ENJOY freedom when we EXPERIENCE God’s Word.
Allow me to give you the setting for the passage. Verse 20 tells us that “He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put.” That was actually the Treasury, which was also called the Women’s Court. To give us a vivid, historical setting, allow me to show you a scale model of the temple at that time. Retired farmer Alec Garrard of Norfolk, England has spent 30 years building this massive scale model of the Temple, measuring 20 feet by 12 feet. He is now 78 years old. He made everything by hand and he even sculpted the 4,000 tiny, half-inch human figures in this scale model. “Historical experts believe the model is the best representation in the world of what the Jewish temple actually looked like…” Visitors would have to use binoculars to enjoy every detail of this elaborate scale model.
[Show various pictures of the scale model] This is where the Treasury was located. During that time, it was the Feast of Tabernacles. So, there was a huge crowd in the temple. As a highlight of the Feast, the priests would light these gigantic lamps in the courtyard. They would use wicks made from the old, worn-out garments of the priests. With the lights from those giant lamps, people would gather there to praise and dance to the Lord. It was a reminder of God leading Israel through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. It was so fitting that at that Feast our Lord Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The God Who led the nation in the wilderness in their past was at that time with the Jews!
Verse 30-31 gives us the immediate context. “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’” Note the words “many put their faith in Him” and “the Jews who had believed him”. Now there are some debates if they were really believers or they just said they believed and Jesus wanted to double-check their statement or confirm if they really believed in Him. But I think Jesus was talking to believers here. Our time does not permit that we go through the technical details though I would love to do that. Maybe we can do that some other time. Just talk to me if you want to discuss it with me.
Let us now look at the details of our text. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” Circle the word “hold.” Some of us obey just enough of God’s Word in order to get by. We just want to give the impression that we are good Christians but we don’t want to be labeled as fanatics or too committed. But that is not what Jesus had in mind when He said “hold to my teaching”. In the Greek, “to hold” means “to abide, to remain, to continue, to hold fast, to keep, to endure, to stick to, or to live.” So, to hold to the Lord’s teaching is to continue obeying Him. Jesus wants us to obey His Word in the context of an ongoing, intimate relationship. We don’t obey just to get by. We obey because it is our very life. In fact, the Greek word He used can also be translated as “home” or “dwelling.” So, is the Word at home in our lives? Sadly, we see people who claim to be believers but who are not committed to follow the Word, who don’t give everything they’ve got in obeying the Lord. How do we become committed? Obeying God’s Word REQUIRES our entire being. We will talk about the last two points next time I will preach here in our church.
In his book, “The Power of Commitment,” Jerry White wrote, “Mind. Heart. Will. These aspects of the whole person are inseparable and essential for Christ-centered, biblical commitment.” Actually, in a Jewish mindset, the word “heart” refers to our entire personality or being. But for our purposes here we will distinguish between our intellect, our emotions and our will. We need all three to really hold on to His teachings.
First, with our mind, we agree with the Word. Here in the Philippines, we counsel people who are madly in love, “Don’t let your heart get the best of you. Let your mind take over.” But in the Bible the mind is actually the heart. There are times when we read the word “heart” in the Bible it refers to the mind or our intellect. Matthew 15:19 tells us that “For out of the heart come evil thoughts”. Hebrews 4:12 talks about the word of God “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” We do our thinking in our mind. When we think, we sort or sift through the facts. Then we process or weight the evidence until we make a judgment. Our faith is not blind. Believers are not supposed to be ignorant of what and why they believe. We are commanded not just to love God with all our heart but also with all our mind. That’s why we study the Bible in our worship services, in our small groups and in our Sunday school classes. I am inviting everyone to join our Sunday school as we got through the “Maturity: Growing in Character” Class. We truly need to really dig into the Bible. I find it sad when believers do not like to study doctrines for example. How can they have a sure foundation for their faith? That’s the reason why they get easily carried away by cults or false teachings. That’s why when they have a problem or they need to make a decision, they don’t know what to do or what the Bible says about their situation. But it doesn’t end there. Bible study is not an end by itself. It is a means to an end.
The second stage is that with our heart, we accept the Word. This is what we usually mean when we ask, “What do you feel in your heart?” There are times when the Bible talks about “heart” it talks about our feelings or emotions. Proverbs 17:22 tells us that “A cheerful heart is good medicine”. Proverbs 12:25 adds, “An anxious heart weighs a man down”. So, in the heart, we feel our emotions. That is where we feel desire. The truth should not just be cold facts. We embrace it with passion. I always say that my heart cannot rejoice in what my mind rejects. But once I agree with it in my mind, then I can accept it in my heart. In Bible studies, I saw people’s faces light up once they understood the Bible. There was real joy! I remember talking to parents of children with special needs. I spoke to them as a parent of a child with autism. One parent raised her hand to ask me a question. Sadly, she does not have the ability to bear children. So, she and her husband decided to adopt a baby. Then, when the child turned two, they discovered that he has autism. She asked me, “Was it our fault? What did we do to deserve this?” My heart went out for them. I don’t want them to think that their child was God’s punishment for some sins they committed. I know that the Bible says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” I remember how hurt I was when my son Derek was diagnosed with autism. Then, when my friend learned about it, he started grilling me with questions such as “Did my grandparents practice witchcraft?” He was actually thinking that my son is a result of a generational curse! Sorry but I almost punched the daylight out of him. I recall reading “The Purpose Driven Life” and reading these words: “You are not an accident.” I was so encouraged that I looked at Derek and said, “You are not an accident. You are not a mistake.” So, when that mother asked me why God allowed her to adopt a child with autism, I felt her anguish. I told her, “It wasn’t your fault. Your son is a blessing from God.” I literally saw her face light up. I saw the relief on her eyes as the blame… the guilt… the burden got lifted off her heart. That’s why Psalm 19:8 tells us, “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.”
But there is a third component. With our will, we act upon the Word. There are times when the Bible talks about the “heart” it talks about the will. Psalm 119:30 tell us, “I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” To choose something is to set the heart on it. We decide to obey. We choose to do something. First, thinking. Then, feeling. And finally, doing. Knowledge brings responsibility. James 4:17 tells us, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” So, we agree with the Word in our mind, we accept in our heart and we act upon it in our will. We know what we need to do, we want to do it and then we choose to do it.
We need all these aspects of the heart together… the intellect… the emotions… and the will… to really hold fast to the words of the Lord. If we focus only on the mind or intellect, we become intellectuals, people who know a lot about the Bible yet we see no real change in their lives. We become “know-it-all” Christians. We studied and memorized a lot of verses. We debate on various points of theology. We attend seminars left and right. We read a lot of books. We have piles of notebooks full of information. Yet, they remain just that… information. But there’s no change at all in our lives. We will be like doctors who know the bad effects of nicotine to our bodies and yet they still smoke cigarettes.
If we focus only on the heart or feelings, we will end up with emotionalism, we seek what feels good. It will be roller coaster of emotions. There are times we want to do it and then there are other times we don’t want to do it. We always want to be blessed when we listen to sermons. But what we mean when we say we are blessed is that we felt good. We feel challenged but we don’t actually change. We become people who always look for that “emotional high.” The song has to be louder and faster or softer and slower. We are always looking for messages that bring us to tears. The problem is we end up looking for another “emotional high” once we get bored.
If we focus only on the “will,” we do things even without thinking. We become like people who follow traditions without even asking why they are doing what they are doing. When my son Jed was studying in a Christian school, he was required to sign a list of rules that spells out the “do’s” and the “don’ts” of the school such as going to movie houses. After signing it, Jed asked why the school prohibits people from watching movies. You know what the registrar told him? He just asked Jed, “Did you sign it already?” When he said “yes,” the registrar answered, “Why do you need to ask question if you already signed it?” He could have just explained it. The issue here is not whether it is right or wrong to go to movie houses. The issue here is obeying without even thinking. These are people who chant, “Obey first before you complain.”
Now we cannot just have mind and heart. Jerry White wrote, “All the right thinking in the mind and the right feeling in the heart can never justify the failure to do what is right.” When we have only mind and heart, we make commitments that we don’t really follow through. We cannot also have just heart and will. That’s a surefire recipe for fanaticism. That’s the reason why we have extremists, that’s why people can hijack a plane and ram it into buildings, killing innocent people. They are very passionate and committed but they don’t even stop to think whether what they are doing is right or wrong. We cannot also have mind and will. We are so firm in our stance, we will even die for what we believe, but we have no real joy in serving God. We will end up judgmental. We don’t even care how we affect people. We just say things and do things without any regard for others.
Brothers and sisters, we can only enjoy freedom when we experience God’s word. But we can only experience God’s word when we obey with our entire being. So, do we really know what and why we believe? That’s why I encourage all of us to join our Sunday school so we can have depth in our understanding of the Bible. Do we really feel passionate for the Word or do we find it a duty to read or to listen to it? Do we immediately seek to apply what we have learned? Remember that obedience delayed is disobedience. We need to agree, accept and act upon the word of God. For our Lord Jesus Himself said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Let us really hold on to the teachings of the Word with our entire being… mind, heart and will. Let us truly value the Lord’s teachings. We will discuss the remaining points next time.
Let us pray…
All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 2:303.
Look at verse 33 immediately following our passage: “They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?’” Who were referred to by that pronoun “they”? Was John pointing to “those Jews who had believed Him”? Who were these people who ended up debating with Jesus? In verse 40, Jesus accused them of plotting murder against him. “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me”. In fact, in verse 59, when Jesus claimed to be equal with God, “they picked up stones to throw at Him”. To top it all, in verse 44, he gave them this cutting rebuke: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” Was Jesus talking to the same group of people? Are they truly believers? If so, how come Jesus said they belong to the enemy?
Remember that Jesus was facing a huge, mixed crowd, probably composed of believers and unbelievers. In this corner, Jesus was talking to “those Jews who had believed Him”. And in the other corner, He was talking to unbelievers. Look at verse 46. Jesus challenged them, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?” So, Jesus was talking to believers in verses 31-32 and the pronoun “they” in verse 33 was referring to unbelievers. After Jesus declared that He is the light of the world, it says in verse 13 that “The Pharisees challenged him”. So, while Jesus was debating with them, John noted in verses 30-32 that there were those among the crowd who believed in Him. Then, after encouraging the believers to continue in His word, the debate shifted back to the unbelievers in verse 33. I did not include this discussion in the message because of time constraint and because it would distract from the purpose of the message, that is, to encourage people to obey the Word. After all, God gave the Bible for transformation, not for information.
This book helped me a lot in the preparation of this sermon.