About 10 years ago, I was in a church board meeting.  It was time for me to give a brief report from my perspective on things that had happened since the last time the board had met. One of the things I said was that I had just finished a sermon series in which we had explored one of the books of the Bible and that I was now going to start a new series from another book of the Bible.  One member of the board said to me, “You know there are other books than the Bible from which you could speak.”  I was taken back a little bit by that statement.  My response to the suggestion of using other books than the Bible for the basis of the weekly sermon was, “I am aware there are other books.  But let’s agree to do this.  Once we have exhausted the Bible, we can move on to those other books.”  We are continuing to work our way through the Bible.  We have not yet exhausted it.

I have on occasion thought why did this person want to move away from the Bible and pursue other books?  I think the reason for desiring other books to become the focus of our conversation about faith was that doing so would make for a more pleasurable experience.  It would be more pleasurable to deal with books other than the Bible because we can always find a book that agrees with our way of thinking.  This is true because there are a vast number of individuals who are people pleasers.  A people pleaser is someone who needs to be well-liked.  And so, there are people who will write books, including those about faith, heaven, hell, God, and salvation that are written to please an audience. It is not important whether what is said is true, it only matters that the audience feels good after having read it.

The Bible on the other hand was not written to please anyone other than God.  The Bible is not concerned with people’s feelings.  The Bible is concerned with the truth.  Sometimes the Bible cannot only feel hard, but the truth revealed by the Bible can be hard.  In our modern era, some people want “trigger warnings” applied to the Bible to alert the readers that they might be offended by some of what the Bible has to say.  A recent poll in the United Kingdom, for example, showed that nearly 25% of those living in the UK between the age of 18 and 34 years old believe that unless the Bible is edited to remove offense language, then the Bible should be banned from public sale because the Bible contains “hate speech.”

Our New Testament reading today from the Book of Acts shows us that the idea that speaking from the Bible can be considered “hate speech” is not a new phenomenon.  We would find that Paul, having left the city of Philippi after having been unjustly beaten with iron rods for sharing the gospel, arrived in the city of Thessalonica. Luke wrote that “Paul went into the synagogue and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures [from the Bible], explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the death” (Acts 17:2b-3a).  What do we make of this scene? 

First, Paul went to the synagogue.  Paul wanted to talk with Jews who were already open to understand that Scripture was the inspired word of the one true God.  Also present in the synagogue were God-fearing Greeks, meaning people who were not Jews but nevertheless believed in the God of the Jews. Paul did not start sharing the message of salvation with those who disbelieved or were opposed to God. Paul’s message depended upon his audience having some prior knowledge and belief in the teachings and stories of that book. 

Second, Paul’s approach depended upon reasoning with people. This is a key point.  Paul sought to reason with people.  What does it mean to reason with someone?  To reason with someone is to have a measured discussion and a conversation about the facts concerning a specific topic.  I think this latter point is key for us to understand why so many people today reject the Bible.  It is not that people are completely ignorant of the Bible, because they are not.  The issue lies in that people no longer want to reason things through.  If they even think something they might read or hear will offend them, they want those trigger warnings posted so they don’t read or hear it at all.  If they later find something offensive or in their thinking the words are silly, they reject what is said rather than reason through it.

Let me give you a brief illustration.  The Ten Commandments are very much in the news with the state of Louisiana passing a law requiring the Ten Commandments be displayed in public schools of Louisiana.  Many applauded this move and just as many have angrily denounced this law.  One social commentator’s remark about the Ten Commandments caught my attention.  He believed that the Ten Commandments could not be from God or if they did come from God, then God is out of touch with his own people.  The commentator cited the commandment, “Thou shall not murder,” the sixth commandment and argued that such a commandment was not from God because the Hebrew people who received the Ten Commandments did not need to be told murder was bad and murder was something they should not do.  They did not need for God to tell them not to murder and if that commandment came from God, then God was most silly.  And because the Ten Commandments contained the statement, “Thou shall not murder,” the commentator said we should reject all Ten Commandments as silly.

Now some of what this commentator said was true.  The Hebrew people did know that murder was bad and to tell them it was bad was not revealing anything new to them. But.  There is always a but.  But the Ten Commandments also says, “Thou shall not steal,” that is number 8.  Most of the Hebrew people probably knew stealing was bad too.  But how many Hebrew people understood that to a Holy God murder and stealing are equal offenses?  The Ten Commandments also says, “Thou shall honor thy father and thy mother,” meaning to do otherwise, to not honor your parents, is an offense equal to murder. And the same would be true for making false statements about one’s neighbors, being envious of what your neighbors have, and using the Lord’s name in vain.  All these offenses, the Ten Commandments reveal, are equally offensive to a Holy God as is murder.  Suddenly, when we let Scripture speak and we reason it out, we are confronted by the hard truth about sin to our God and about the amazing grace that our holy God is extending to us.  But we cannot come to such realization if we simply reject as silly God’s word or offensive because we do not want it to say what it says.  Perhaps we should put a trigger warning on the cover of the Bible that says, “Reasoning Required.”  This is why it is so difficult to have a conversation with someone who has distain for God’s word.  They are not able or willing to reason.

And so, we see that Paul reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in Thessalonica using the Scriptures “3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he [Paul] said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:3-4).  Thus, the church at Thessalonica was born but not without complications.

Luke shared with us that some Jews who rejected Paul’s message because they “Were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd” (Acts 17:5).  The accusation against the evangelists composed by jealous people and given to the mob to chant had nothing to do with the Scriptures.  Instead, the accusation was that the evangelists, Paul and Silas, said the people should defy Caesar because they said there is a new king Jesus. As we have discussed in prior weeks, this is a familiar pattern of response by unreasoning people.  They stir up people with false information to cause them to make an allegation against their supposed enemy and then when the chants begin they stand back demanding the matter be investigated.  They did this to Jesus, to Stephen, and they have done it to Paul on several occasions.  And it is still done today.  This time Paul and Silas escaped the false charges of the unreasoning and jealous people.

Paul would later write two letters back to that newly formed church.  In the first letter Paul said, “1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6).  There are two things which are important for us to understand from this passage. First, we have it most clearly that Christians are to share God’s word about salvation through Jesus Christ, but we are not do so in a manner to please people.  We should share the truth, but it is not for us to sugarcoat or change anything about God’s word.  We should reason with those who are willing to listen and to share with them what God has already said.  We are to let Scripture speak.  The second point sounds a lot like the first point.  Christians are to share God’s word about salvation through Jesus Christ. Sometimes, I think we get the idea that we are to share with others our own personal testimony in place of God’s word. There is a place for personal testimony about how God has changed our lives, but our testimony is not to replace sharing God’s word.  God’s word has power our own words never will.  So if someone came up to you right now and asked you to share God’s word of salvation with them, do you know what you would say or where in the Bible you would begin?  Might we say something as simple as this:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1).  And God created mankind in his own image; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).  But the man and woman came to sin, that is they disobeyed God, they sinned (Genesis 3).  Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2).  To remove the separation between us and God, God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to teach us the way, and the truth, and the pathway to life with God (John 14:7). And to all who will receive Jesus, Jesus gives the right to become reunited with God as his children (John 1:12-13). Therefore, by God’s grace we are saved through faith in Jesus.  Salvation, removing the separation from God now and forever, is a gift from God, not a result of our own work (Ephesians 2:8-9).  If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. The old has passed away. (2 Corinthians 5:18).  Therefore, as new creatures, saved by Christ, we seek to live our lives as Jesus did (Ephesians 5:1).  All we need to do is ask Jesus to come into our lives.  This is the message of salvation from the Bible.”  There are other ways of sharing the good news, but whatever we say must come from God’s word.  And then our lives, our testimony, should bear witness to what God has done when we believed and accept Christ.  We need to know how to let the Scriptures speak.

And we see this distinction between sharing God’s word and showing our personal testimony in Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica.  Paul wrote, “13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 2:13-15).

The evangelist plan is to let scripture speak, that is to share the word of God with those who do not know what God has done for them.  That is the first part.  Then to acknowledge that the way those who have accepted salvation through Christ have changed, the personal testimony, is the second part.  I want to everyone to be encouraged and to understand the power we have at our fingertips, God’s word.  Sharing it is not about pleasing people and making them feel good about themselves.  We share it so that people have the truth and can come to understand that God has provided for them a way home to him.  And that way home does not come from a philosophy of life, a particular church, or denomination.  That way home comes through belief in Jesus Christ and grace the resurrected Jesus offers. Amen and Amen.