Several years ago, Vanessa and I went with some leaders from our church to serve an unreached people group in West Africa. Though God did some amazing things, the trip was incredibly difficult. It wasn’t because of the language barrier, lack of electricity, or culture shock; it was because I had been dealing with some intense back pain for a few months before the trip. I dreaded the 30-hour flight time because I knew I’d be in terrible pain. Just before we departed the longest leg of our flight, I took a muscle relaxer that my doctor had prescribed. What I had forgotten was that I also had taken a sleep aid. Let me pause and say, um…I don’t recommend that. Before we even pushed back from the gate, I was already unconscious. I was in a fog for that entire day. Unfortunately I was sitting next to a professional photographer. Oh yes, pictures of me with the caption, “This is your pastor on drugs,” still lurk in the shadows of my Facebook and Instagram accounts.
There’s a major principle of spiritual leadership found in my embarrassing story: what dwells in us controls us. I can’t help but think if that little pill had that much impact on me, how much more does the living and active Word of God richly implanted in my life influence and control me? The apostle Paul knew this to be true, and it is behind his words to the Christians living in Colossae when he challenged them to let the Word of Christ be the thing that dwells deeply in them. He wrote:
And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Notice that he said, the Word of Christ in us results in us teaching others, encouraging others, praising Him, and being filled with gratitude. Don’t you want these words to be descriptive of your church? Of course you do. Who wouldn’t? What kind of impact could your church make in your community and around the world if she were made up of people who teach and encourage each other, worship, and are grateful and joyful! Paul said if you want that kind of church, then do whatever you can to get the Word of Christ to live deeply and richly in your people. We can do this in at least two ways:
1. Study the Text in Context: Because to know Him, we must know His Word.
D. A. Carson has famously said, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” If we don’t know the context, we will fall victim to the temptation to find verses that support our feelings, our opinions, and our desires. If we only study passages without their context, we won’t really understand the Bible. And if we are not careful, we will produce believers in our churches who grab passages to justify their behaviors and their decisions instead of allowing the Word to direct and develop them. Adolph Hitler wrongly took passages from the Bible to justify and validate his actions. David Koresh and other cult leaders grab passages from the Bible out of their context and use them as weapons to destroy lives.
We want to study the text in context because that is how God has chosen to reveal Himself to us—the Bible is His special revelation to us. Augustine said it is, “His letter from home to us.” God has chosen to self-disclose Himself to us in the Bible. If we want our people to know Him, we must help them know His Word as He has given it to us. A scarce knowledge of the Bible is a scarce knowledge of the Lord so make sure your Bible study looks at the context of Scripture.
2. Obey the text in our context: Because we need transformation, not information.
According to Colossians 3, the result of letting the Word dwell in us richly is that we respond with gratitude, we encourage one another, we live out the faith. According to 2 Timothy 3, the Word equips the man of God for every good work. We don’t want to only study the text in its context. We also want to challenge people to obey the text and to live it out in their context, in their relationships, in their neighborhoods and schools, and in their jobs. We are not seeking to produce information junkies who fail to live out the Word; your people need transformation, not merely information. So make sure your Bible study challenges people to put the faith into practice.
George Mueller said, “The vigor of our spiritual life will be in direct proportion to the place held by our Bible in our life and thoughts.” The reason that many believers aren’t living out the Christian faith is not because their church isn’t relevant or cool (and I think relevance is important). It’s that the Word of God is only superficially dwelling in them.
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli have discovered that Americans as a whole are biblically illiterate. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Sadly, those professing to be Christians don’t know much more about the Bible than non-Christians. According to 82% of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. 81% of those who self-identified as Christians indicated the same*.
Do you want to lead or be part of a church filled with missional followers of Jesus who are impacting their community and the nations? Having a great logo and slick branding, top of the line sound, moving lights, or even a charismatic personality are fun, flashy, and relevant. But when it comes to ushering in a move of the power of God, those things are simply not necessary. What’s the secret? Simple- Engaging with, devouring, dwelling in The Word of God- because after all, what dwells in you controls you.