In your mind’s eye, envision that you are leaving for a family vacation at the beach. With the June calendar now upon us, this isn’t a stretch of the imagination. More than 60 million Americans will travel to the sand and surf over the course of the coming summer.
But back to your trip: You have meticulously planned this week of surfing, seafood, and sunbathing. You have holed away and scraped together every available nickel. You have endured winter’s cold and finally you and yours depart for the coast.
After hours of hard traveling you rub your bloodshot eyes and see a glorious sign that says, “Beaches.” You are overjoyed. But how strange would it be (remember you are using your imagination), if when you saw that sign you immediately stopped the car and began unloading all of your vacation wares as if you had actually arrived at your destination?
How bizarre, if you and your family started setting up beach chairs and umbrellas, if you began unpacking coolers, baiting fish hooks, and slathering on the sun block right there beneath the sign? Would it not be flaky if you started calling and texting everyone back home to tell them that you were safe at the beach, when in fact you were only camping at a mile marker along the way?
Of course it would, yet many people of faith do exactly this sort of thing when it comes to reading their Bibles – and I’m not imagining this. They see the Scriptures as the end of their spiritual journey, not the road sign along the way, pointing them to a much more magnificent destination. What exactly is the Bible pointing us toward? In a word, Jesus.
On Sunday mornings untold numbers of worship leaders will read the Bible and conclude with the affirmation, “The Word of God for the People of God.” In turn, the congregation responds in unison, “Thanks be to God.” But here is the shocker: Nowhere in the 66 individual books of the collected Old and New Testaments does the Bible take the title, “The Word of God” for itself.
It speaks of the Word of God, to be sure. It gives dramatic accounts of people hearing and responding to God’s voice. The Scriptures give instructions to God’s people, but the self-elevating inscription of “The Word of God” is conspicuously absent.
Still, the Word of God is an essential phrase in the Christian dictionary, and by affirming the words of Scripture, we are declaring our willingness to hear God’s voice and follow where he leads. For the “Word of God” is not a dead, static reading in an echoey, stone chamber. It is a dynamic invitation to grow in love, to expand one’s faith, and to follow Jesus.
In one of the more lofty concepts of the New Testament, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and was God. That Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The true Word of God, by the Bible’s own testimony, is not a written document. It is a Person. It is the Christ, the one we call Jesus. Thus, the Bible is always pointing to him as the supreme power and authority for faith, and nothing else. He is “The Word of God for the People of God.”
Let there be no doubt, road signs will point you in the right direction, but you can’t camp out in the median. If you do, you might get run over or hurt. You might distract other travelers along the way, creating a good deal of confusion. And you certainly aren’t going to get anywhere; in fact you’ll miss out on what this journey is about.
It is right to be called “People of the Book,” that is, lovers of the Bible. But let us remember that we are not Biblicists, because the Bible itself isn’t the end of our convictions. We are Christians, followers of Jesus who are always heeding his voice and moving in his direction, the author, sustainer, and perfecter of our faith.