There’s a remarkable verse in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I added verse 17 for the sake of completeness.
At a stroke, this verse confounds the liberal theologians who would attempt to undermine inconvenient truths and events in the Bible, and attempt to rationalise Biblical truths to fit their world view and their preferential interpretation of who God is, and what He has said.
But the thing that has gripped me this morning is the reminder that God breathes. My Bible notes today took me to Ezekiel 37, where a valley full of very dry bones came together. Ezekiel prophesied to them and they started to come together, and flesh and skin formed over them. But they were still without life, that is, until God breathed.
There’s a rather dodgy, in my opinion, principle I have heard preachers use called the “Law of First Mention” for Biblical interpretation. But whatever its merits, or otherwise, we find the first reference in the Bible to God’s breath in Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God’s breath brings life. It brings physical life to all of us. Through His wonderful creation and design, we have the ability to breath and take in the oxygen we need for life through our lungs. I’m always amazed how a baby very quickly, in a few moments, transitions from getting its oxygen from its mother through the placenta to taking a breath of its own. What a wonderful God we worship! What a glorious design.
I believe the enemy constantly tries to think up ways to frustrate the plans and designs of God. One of the features of the Coronavirus illness is that it attacks people’s lungs, challenging their breathing function. The enemy knows that if he can stop a person breathing, they will die. So I have no doubts at all as to where this virus originated from.
But back to the Scripture in 2 Timothy. This reference to breath isn’t physical. It is pointing out that everything written in the Scriptures has been influenced by God’s breath, by His Spirit. The Hebrew word for breath is ruach, a word also meaning Spirit or wind. Even the very pronunciation of the word, ruach, implies a breathing function. And you have to breathe out to say it – try saying ruach when you are breathing in! So, we can read the Bible with confidence, feeling God’s breath, feeling His Holy Spirit. As the pages rustle, moved by the ruach of God, the print leaps off the page to grab our attention, and minister to our spirits within us, bringing life to our very souls. The equivalent word in Greek is pneuma, a word from which we get many of our English words – think pneumonia, or pneumatics.
The enemy is not happy about the spiritual breath of God sustaining His people. The enemy does anything he can to disrupt the spiritual flow. If he can stop God’s children from reading their Bible, from meeting with other Christians, from praying or spending time meditating on Him in His presence, then he knows that our spirits will start to shrivel up within us, in the same way as our physical bodies would, if the flow of oxygen was cut off.
To me, an important doctrinal point raised by Jesus was in John 3:5-7, where He said, “‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’” Jesus said quite clearly that there is a physical birth and there is a spiritual birth. Sadly, many parts of the Christian Church play down the spiritual birth bit, neglecting or underplaying the fact that the ruach of God provides power that keeps us alive spiritually. And it’s not just a one-off occasion – in the same way that we have to keep breathing physically to keep our bodies alive, we have to keep breathing spiritually to keep our spirits alive. But does the analogy between feeding our physical bodies and feeding our spiritual bodies extend to over-indulgence? Taking our physical food, we can, in fact often do, overeat. And we become bloated with excess fat, heading into obesity and health complications. Physical food has two functions – keeping our bodies alive with all the right nutrients and providing energy to perform physical functions. There is a balance. Get the balance wrong and there are consequences, as we can see in some of our fellow citizens. According to the statistics, 1 in 4 of UK residents are obese, with a further 62% being overweight. And the UK has the second highest rate of obesity in the world. Sadly, such statistics are emerging in our fight against Coronavirus, as obesity appears to be a significant factor in many of the reported deaths.
But what about our spiritual food? Can we breathe in too much of God’s ruach? At first sight, I don’t think we can – after all, one day we will be in that wonderful place, breathing with God in Heaven. In the natural, here on earth, we have a cycle of breathing in and breathing out, to receive oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. In the same way, in the spiritual, we breathe in the Holy Spirit, but we must breathe it out again. If it remains within us it is just wasted and leaks away. We have to perform spiritual functions to bring God and His purposes to the lost in our families, in our communities, while His Spirit is richly present within us. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is a great place to start.
There also seems to be a connection between our physical and spiritual foods. Get the balance right and the physical energy we have complements the spiritual energy to maximise the effectiveness we have in doing God’s work. And, amazingly, there is also a connection between depriving our bodies of physical food, undertaking a ‘fast’, to make our spiritual awareness even more effective. Conversely though, undertaking a spiritual ‘fast’ doesn’t have the same benefits.
So, in this time of lockdown, I would encourage us all to get our physical food diets in balance (not too many carbs and fatty foods) and get our spiritual food by reading the Word, praying, and keeping in touch with our Christian friends and family, all in the right balance. And feel that ruach of God flowing through our very souls bringing spiritual life and health that we can then share with those around us with renewed energy and effectiveness.
There is an old hymn written in 1878 by a man called Edwin Hatch. Back in my early Anglican days we used to sing it to a tune called Trentham. It has stayed with me ever since.
1 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love the way You love,
and do what You would do.
2 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until my will is one with Yours,
to do and to endure.
3 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
so shall I never die,
but live with You the perfect life
for all eternity.
The hymnist ably and effectively caught the message about the ruach of God. So must we.