Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
December 10, 2023
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through the endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
St. Paul tells us that the Holy Scriptures were written for our instruction. It does us no good if we confess that the Bible is the Word of God without any errors, if we do not learn the Bible! We should read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures. Why? For endurance and encouragement, so that we might have hope. Endurance for the now; hope for eternity. Scripture teaches us how to live today and how to hope for eternity. There is no more practical book than the Bible. There is no more necessary book than the Holy Scriptures.
Scripture gives endurance and encouragement, that we might have hope. That Scripture gives us endurance teaches us that Scripture does not remove adversity, suffering, and death. Those who give fluffy stories that after they started reading the Bible, they stopped suffering are deceivers. Which one of the saints in the Bible stopped suffering after he turned to God’s Word? No, reading and learning the Bible does not remove suffering, rather, it reveals the holy cross, which must be borne with patience. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Yet, the Scriptures give purpose to your suffering, so that you can endure it.
Endurance means the ability to put up with suffering. This life is filled with suffering, because this life is filled with sin and death. Scripture calls this life the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). And so, to have endurance in suffering, you must have encouragement. St. Paul speaks of such encouragement in Romans 5, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The worst thing that can happen to us is for us to lose our hope in Christ. Scripture teaches us that God uses suffering to increase our endurance, so that we do not lose hope.
“For whatever was written in former days…” That little word “for” is important. It tells us that Paul made this statement in response to what he previously said. St. Paul wrote immediately before this verse, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” So, St. Paul tells us that Holy Scripture was written for our learning after quoting Holy Scripture. What is this passage he has quoted? It is from Psalm 69, where, St. Paul tells us, King David prophesies of Christ. The reproaches that should have fallen on sinners fell rather on Christ the sinless one. This was written for our learning for two reasons. First, to set an example for how we should live as Christians. And second, so that we may know Christ and hope in Him.
Jesus didn’t live His life looking out for Himself. He wasn’t concerned with getting even, getting His share, defending His rights. Rather, He came concerned for the rights of others, that other’s get what they need, that they be made righteous. There is no better example of selflessness than Jesus of Nazareth. So, if you want to be a better husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, employee, student, neighbor, friend, congregational member, citizen, or whatever other station you may have in life, you ought to follow the example of Jesus. You ought to read your Bible. St. Paul writes, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus…” What he actually said is, “May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same way of thinking with one another according to Christ Jesus.” We should think the same toward one another. How can we think the same? By thinking like Christ.
St. Paul writes at the beginning of this chapter, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Now, this does not mean that we therefore approve of evil and encourage bad behavior, permitting our neighbor to steal from us, or letting our children misbehave and adopt destructive behavior, or promote sexual perversions in the public square for the sake of tolerance and inclusion. No, St. Paul adds those little words, “for his good” and “to build him up.”
So, how should you treat your wife? You don’t seek to please yourself, but to please her for her good. How do you do this? By loving her and sacrificing yourself for her, caring for her body and soul (Ephesians 5). And how should you treat your husband? Not by insisting on your own way and trying to get the most for yourself, but by thinking of him before yourself, and doing those things that will help him be better by submitting to him, showing him respect, and encouraging him to be a spiritual leader in your household (Ephesians 5). How do you treat your children? They aren’t simply your servants or property, but you are to seek out their good and how to benefit them. You should discipline them not out of anger, but for their own good, remembering the authority and responsibility God has given you. You should bring them to church and set a godly example for them at home. Likewise, children, your parents are not there simply to serve you and give you everything you want. You are to serve them, seek to please them, not yourselves, obeying and honoring them all to the glory of God.
This rule of following Christ’s example can be applied in every aspect of life. As Christ bore the reproaches of others for our sake, so we are willing to bear one another’s burdens. We are not afraid to suffer, knowing that Christ suffered first and greater than us, and God vindicated Him.
Yet, Christ did not bear our reproaches simply to set an example. And we do not read the Bible just to learn how to be moral people. Jesus bore reproaches to give us hope! Holy Scripture was written, so that we might find eternal life in them. St. Paul tells us that by becoming a servant to the circumcised, God confirmed His promise to the patriarchs, so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. In other words, because God fulfilled what He promised by sending Christ Jesus to bless all families of the earth through His suffering, death, and resurrection, all nations have reason to glorify God for His mercy. In Scripture, we find that God is truthful and merciful. Everyone may find their Savior in Christ Jesus, as He is revealed in the Bible.
Paul tells this to the Christians in Rome, so that they might have unity, and that they may glorify God with one voice. Unity is something we all desire, but there is only one way to unity, just as there is only one way to salvation. We don’t find unity through democracy. Majority opinion is no way to find the truth. Elijah was greatly outnumbered by the prophets of Baal, and those who would have spared Jesus from crucifixion were drowned out by the majority’s shouts to crucify Him. And you certainly are not going to learn to live a more God-pleasing life by following the crowd, which increasingly chooses to ignore God’s preaching and Word and follow the passions of the flesh. To find true unity, you must be united with Christ. “Have the same way of thinking with one another, according to Christ Jesus,” St. Paul writes to the Romans. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” St. Paul says in Philippians 2. The only true unity that matters is found in Christ, who is found in Holy Scripture.
We sing in the final verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, “O Come, Desire of nations, bind/ In one the hearts of all mankind;/ Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, / And be Thyself our King of Peace.” Unless, we are united in Christ and His teaching, our sad divisions will remain. There are divisions in Christendom concerning Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, open and closed Communion, evolution, homosexuality, and many more. And people have sought unity by following the most popular opinion about these issues. And to do that, they’ll even say that the Bible has errors, and that it is not all God’s Word. They’ll say as long as we keep the important teachings, we’ll be okay if we cut out the less important teachings in Scripture.
But what you have to understand is that the most controversial and offensive teaching in all of Scripture is not that Baptism saves, or that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, or that only those who have been examined and are in unity of doctrine should receive the Lord’s Supper, or that God created the world in six days, or that marriage is between one man and one woman, and all other forms of sexual activity is sinful. The most controversial and offensive teaching in all of Scripture is that Jesus Christ, God’s own Son suffered and died for the sins of the whole world, and that no one can be saved apart from faith in Him. And when you start picking apart the Bible to remove the offensive and controversial teachings from it, all you are doing is inching toward the inevitable goal of cutting Christ Jesus out of it. And this is what those churches have done, which have denied the inerrancy of Scripture. They have rejected Jesus as the one true Savior of the world.
So, we should hold to every teaching of the Bible, because every teaching is important. Jesus says that Scripture cannot be broken, so we should take His word for it (John 10:35). And we will find that when we hold to the teaching of Scripture, we are holding on to Christ our Savior.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks of the nations fainting in distress, because of what is happening upon the world, but He says to His Christians, “When you see these things taking place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” ( Luke 21:28) How can we lift up our heads, when the world is falling apart? Because through the endurance and the through the encouragement of Holy Scripture, we have hope! We have hope in Christ, who died for us and took away all our sins. We have hope in Christ, who baptized us into His name, so that we are clothed in His righteousness and are known in heaven as children of God (Mark 16:16; Galatians 3:26-27). We have hope, because we have repented of our sins and heard the voice of our Good Shepherd, that He has forgiven us (John 20:22-23); hope, because we have tasted that the Lord is good when He fed us His body and blood as a token of forgiveness from His cross (Matthew 26:26-28). The prophet Hosea warns that God’s people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6), but we who have learned from Holy Scripture the truth of our Savior Jesus will not be destroyed.
Scripture is abundantly clear that everything will pass away. Your body, your property, your dreams, even heaven and earth will pass away, but Christ’s words will never pass away. And so, our hope will not pass away, because we set our hope in Christ’s Word. Your Baptism will not pass away. God’s promise of forgiveness will not pass away. Your home in paradise and your resurrected body will not pass away. Everything promised to you in Christ’s Word will never pass away. May these words encourage you to endure all suffering in this present life, and to look forward to Christ’s return with hope. Amen.