According to the Smithsonian, a rare original copy of the United States Constitution sold last year for $43 million. It is one of only about a dozen copies known to exist.
The new owner has now placed the document on display at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The exhibition also features original prints of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the proposed Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation.
If I could teleport myself to Bentonville, Arkansas, I would do so right now. Seeing these transformative documents in proximity to each other would be a great privilege.
Reading this story reminded me of the first time I stood before Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Sinaiticus, two of the oldest New Testament copies in existence. They were on display at a museum in London. For many years, I had taught seminary students the significance of these invaluable documents, never imagining that I would see them for myself. Now, here they were.
Tears came to my eyes as I examined them and thought of their eternal significance. Then I heard a commotion behind me. Turning, I noticed a display of Beatles memorabilia. Crowds of people had gathered to admire what they saw there. Not one of them came over to see these two priceless copies of Scripture.
“The Bible says it and that settles it”
The good news is that the power of Scripture exists whether we acknowledge it or not. The Bible is the word of God, whatever we think of it. The old saying is in error: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” A better statement is, “The Bible says it and that settles it whether I believe it or not.”
The psalmist testified, “The word of the Lᴏʀᴅ is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness” (Psalm 33:4). He added, “By the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (v. 6).
By contrast, the prophet complained, “The shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lᴏʀᴅ; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered” (Jeremiah 10:21). If the shepherds do not inquire of the Lord, the sheep will be scattered. If we do not seek God’s word, we cannot speak God’s word and those we influence will suffer.
This is because our personal spiritual life enables our public witness. David testified, “I will bless the Lᴏʀᴅ at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). He could then call to the people, “Oh, magnify the Lᴏʀᴅ with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (v. 3).
What Paul could not do
When God’s Spirit is using God’s word to change us, he can then change others through us. God’s word, spoken through God’s people, is used by God’s Spirit to fulfill God’s transformative purposes.
Paul told the Philippians, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9–11).
Paul was the greatest theologian in Christian history, but he knew that only God could make the Philippians “abound” in “knowledge and all discernment.” He could teach God’s word, but only the Spirit to transform those who received it.
This fact makes us totally reliant on the Spirit to bring about transformative results through our witness, teaching, and preaching. If we do not pray as Paul prayed, we may not experience the life change that we yearn to see in those we love and serve.
On the other hand, this fact means that the response of those who hear God’s word does not rest on our shoulders. We cannot convict a single person of a single sin or change a single soul. People have the freedom to respond to biblical truth as they choose.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “many of the Jews . . . believed in him” (John 11:45). However, the religious authorities responded in exactly the opposite way, seeing Jesus’ rising popularity as even more of a threat to their positional power. As a result, “from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (v. 53).
People will respond how they respond. Our job is to trust God’s Spirit to use God’s word for God’s purposes and then measure success by faithfulness.
“Enlighten our minds by your Holy Spirit”
You may never see, much less own, an original copy of the US Constitution, but if you are an American, you live every day in a nation formed and forged by its words. By contrast, God’s word forms and forges only those who read and heed its truth, who make its words their will and who seek and submit to its wisdom.
To this end, John Calvin’s prayer before reading Scripture can be a model for us:
“O Lord, heavenly Father, in whom is the fullness of light and wisdom, enlighten our minds by your Holy Spirit, and give us grace to receive your word with reverence and humility, without which no one can understand your truth. For Christ’s sake, Amen.”