Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Five hundred years ago during the Reformation, the Lutheran reformers emphasized the three Solas as a kind of slogan: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura. Those Latin phrases translate to grace alone, faith alone, and Word alone. These were the hallmarks on which the Reformers would hang their hats—and risk their necks for the sake of the Gospel. Today I want to focus on Sola Scriptura (Word alone). Lutherans have always maintained that “the sole source and norm” for our doctrine is God’s Word. As Luther declared at the Diet of Worms: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. And unless you can convince me on the evidence of Scripture or simple reason… I cannot and will not recant. For it is neither safe or honest for a Christian to speak against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.” Hier stehe ich. Gott, hilf mir! In other words, in Lutheran theology, if it ain’t in the Bible, it ain’t so!
In today’s epistle, the Apostle Paul commends the Thessalonian Christians for recognizing the Gospel (and his letters) for what they are: the very Word of God. “When you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Th. 2:13, ESV). The Thessalonians believed the message they received from Paul, convinced by the Holy Spirit that Paul was no mere peddler of words, but a preacher of THE Word of life.
As evidence of this fact, Paul spends much of today’s reading giving an apologia (defense) for his ministry. Unlike many other itinerant preachers and teachers in the Greco-Roman world, Paul wasn’t “in it for the money.” Nobody could accuse him of just singing for his supper. In fact, he made it a point not to burden the Thessalonians with the need to give him room and board. “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed the gospel of God” (v. 9). Paul says much the same in 1 Corinthians 9, where he mentions how he gave up his God-given right to live on the support of the church. Paul didn’t draw a salary. He was a bi-vocational pastor, setting his hand to tentmaking as his primary means of support (although some churches, such as the congregation in Philippi, did provide material support for his mission).
Here’s the point: Paul knew that his message was not his own invention or imagination. It was the Word of God. As Paul told the Galatians: “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). Each and every word Paul penned or preached came under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That’s what it means to be an apostle—a fully-authorized ambassador sent by his superiors, in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. That’s why, in another place, Paul attested: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The Bible is the Word of God. No other book is like it. And while God certainly used human agency—along with language, grammar, and culture—to speak his Word to us, God alone is the primary author of every Word of Scripture from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. No other book or author can make that claim. Sola scriptura! (Word alone!)
Nevertheless, most people in the world are not so ready to view the Bible in this way. Whose word is it anyway: God’s or man’s? I once found myself in an argument with my Grandad about the Bible. “How can you believe all that stuff?” he asked. “It’s just the musings of a bunch of old sheepherders.” Not just shepherds, mind you, but also fisherman (Peter and John), kings (David and Solomon), tax collectors (Matthew), an arborist (Amos), doctors (Luke-Acts), teenagers (Jeremiah and Mary), murderers (Paul), and many more, including, yes, a handful of “old sheepherders.” Some Biblical writers were highly educated or came from the upper castes of society. Others did not. People considered Peter and John to be unschooled—not typical fare for leading a religious movement (Acts 4:13). But God used a diverse group of people to write the 66 books of the Bible. That, of course, was my Grandad’s point: the Bible is man’s Word, not God’s. (Aside: Today many feminists would add the criticism that the Bible is specifically the word of men, not women).
But the Bible is the Word of God. Not only does it say that about itself, but so does Jesus. And if we believe that Jesus—as the Word of God incarnate—is trustworthy, then we must believe the same about all of Scripture. It is necessary to believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God for two reasons: (1) the Bible shows us how to live (Law); and (2) the Bible reveals God’s gracious promises to us (Gospel).
The Bible shows us how to live. Do you want to know how to please God do what is right? Then read the Bible, which is full of God’s instruction for how to live a godly life. The Ten Commandments form the basis of the moral law and are the foundation of knowing right and wrong. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes provide practical wisdom on everything from marriage to money, friendship and work. The prophets call us to repent of our sins. All the historical books—from Genesis to Esther—provide real life examples of how life gets off track when we try to live our way instead of God’s way. We learn from the failures and successes of people like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, Moses, the Judges, Ruth, David, and others.
In the New Testament, the apostles give us practical advice on how to live out our faith in a life of service and love to God and neighbor. The epistles deal with all kinds of conflicts and theological disputes in churches, as well as how to walk as children of the light. And in the Gospels, we hear the down-to-earth teaching of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Throughout his parables and other teachings, we learn what it means to follow Jesus. All of this reaches its paragon in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus calls us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and to “be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
God has high expectations and raises the bar high for us. Yet obedience is difficult. God doesn’t grade on a curve. It’s all or nothing. The Bible teaches that if you try to keep all the Law and stumble at even one point, then you are guilty of breaking all of it, because it’s a packaged deal (cf. Jas. 2:10). We cannot do the good we want to do, and we keep committing the evil we don’t want to do. With Paul we cry out for mercy: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
To which question there is only one answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! …Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:25-8:1). This is the second reason we must receive the Bible as God’s Word and not merely man’s: because the Bible reveals the promises of God. The Bible is the only way to hear the Good News that God created you, that he loves you, that he forgives you, and that he sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again to give us eternal life. And so the words that we read and hear in Holy Scripture are the very Word of life. Furthermore, Jesus’ death and resurrection are proof that he is who he claimed to be: the Son of God. Thus, his Word is reliable and true.
No other religion or book or person can make that same claim. Sure, other religions and books about spirituality may hint at the existence of some kind of divine being or higher power. The nature religions of the pagans were full of all kinds of so-called gods and goddesses. But none of them can tell you who that God really is or what He has done for us. Only the Bible can do that. So if you doubt or reject the authenticity of Scripture or the divine origin of its message, you will live a hopeless, helpless life.
The Bible is God’s Word, not just interesting legends, stories, and fairytales. Nor is the Bible merely the opinions of men, but the foundational truths upon which the world is established. God’s Word of Law shows us our sin so that we can turn away from evil and do good. God’s Word of Gospel shows us our Savior, who frees us from bondage to sin and leads us in the way of eternal life.
And so, as we wait for the end of the world and the return of Jesus on the Last Day, the best thing we can do as Christians is to delight in God’s Holy Word. Believe and receive the Scriptures as God’s Word. And so believing, be sure to read, hear, mark, and inwardly digest every single word. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Alleluia! Amen. In the name of the Father and of T the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.