Welcoming the Word

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13

“Chicken again?” Those are words that my wife and I hear again and again in our household at supper time. Unfortunately, as much as we enjoy it our daughter does not (unless, strangely enough, it is chicken Mcnuggets – go figure!).  Maybe that is how you feel about Saturday night into Sunday morning, “Church Again? I have to listen to that guy preach again?”

Not so with saints of Thessalonica! In spite of severe suffering they “welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” and “became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7). Virtually overnight, these idol worshipping pagans were radically transformed into devoted followers of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Thus Paul is unceasingly thankful to God for their two-fold response to the preaching of God’s Word (see verse above – 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

“Hearing of the Ear”

 

First, they “received the Word of God.” This refers simply to the fact that they heard Paul preaching and objectively understood it. It is the outward reception of words into the mind through the ears.

“Hearing of the Heart”

 

Second, they “accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God.” The word “accepted” was used to describe welcoming a guest in your home. The picture here is of one “putting out the welcome mat” for God’s Word of truth as one would a good friend or guest, and inviting entry into one’s house. In other words, the Thessalonians had swung the door of their hearts wide open and warmly embraced the Word as a cherished guest. They understand that by heartily welcoming the words of Paul’s preaching, they were welcoming the authoritative counsel of God Himself into their hearts and lives. They not only heard and intellectually understood the message (received) but also appropriated and welcomed it into their hearts (accepted).

Unfortunately, not all exhibit this receptive attitude toward God’s truth.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11Paul speaks of those who will perish because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul tells us that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

In 2 Timothy 4:1-4 Paul charges Timothy to faithfully preach the Word, especially in view of the fact that a time was coming when people within the church “will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Those days are upon us. All around us, clear, convicting, authoritative preaching straight from God’s Word is being devalued by both those standing in the pulpit (if they haven’t already thrown it out in the trash) and those sitting in the pew (or around the coffee table). In great contrast to this and as a model to us are the Christians of Thessalonica who had great appreciation and affection for the preached Word. They loved to listen to Paul preach. They were preaching enthusiasts.

How Many Sermons Have You Merely Heard?

What about you? Do you attend preaching with a burning thirst and fervent listening heart?

Do you believe with the Thessalonians that when a man is faithfully preaching the Word of God it is actually the voice of God being heard? If so, should this not cause you to pay earnest attention to every sermon of God being heard? Ken Ramey in his book Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word  makes this striking thought:

Let’s say you came to Christ at age ten and you live to be seventy-five. If you average two sermons a week, you will listen to over seven thousand sermons during the course of your life. And at the end of your life you will stand before God and give an account for every sermon you heard. On that day, God will essentially ask you, ‘How has your life changed as a result of the thousands of times you have heard My Word preached?’ So we see that it is vital that you are ever welcoming the Word of God and diligently seeking to put what you hear into practice, thus proving ‘yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves’ (James 1:22).

So how is your responsiveness to God’s Word?

Would Paul rave about you, like he did about the Thessalonian saints?

How are you at listening?

George Whitefield, one of the most dynamic preachers of all time, once said:

If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s stronghold.

By the grace of God, let’s stir ourselves up to attend church tomorrow and every Sunday passionate to honor God’s Word through passionate devotion to the Word. Let’s come as thirsty men, women and children craving to drink from the soul satisfying truth of God’s Word. Let’s come with hearts fervently longing to hear the Word faithfully preached because we know that in it God speaks to us!

Swords From Their Lips (pt. 5)

In the Washington Post there was recently a brief article about revising an 1877 Virginia Law that according to Sen. Adam Ebbin is “not only unnecessary but bizarre” and “obviously an outdated vestige from a very different time.” The article also mentions that “probably no one has been prosecuted under the law for decades.” I point this out not to make any comment concerning the old Virginia Law but just to demonstrate how very different human law is from God’s Word which is never “outdated” or “unnecessary.” The Bible is not a dead letter which is never enforced. Quite the contrary, as Hebrews 4:12 says, the “Word of God is living and active” meaning it is alive and powerful and always accomplishes its purpose.

Hebrews 4:12 also tells us that the Word of God is “sharper than any double-edged sword.” This is quite different from what we have considered in our previous posts. There we learned of the flesh-ripping swords in our mouths (click here), what God thinks of how we use these daggers (click here), and how David taught us to use them in prayer and praise to God (Click here and here). But Hebrews 4:12 adds a whole other dimension, namely, that God’s Word cuts us (and no I am not talking about paper cuts…though those do sting quite a bit also). It is incisively penetrating and as such divides “soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” As a double-edged sword pierces through body parts, so the Word of God pierces through to the innermost recesses of our being – the very thoughts and attitudes of the heart – and judges it. Nothing evades the scope of this Word. What one may hold as most secret is made subject to the Scriptures scrutiny and judgment. Notice also Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Why is this so? Because the Word of God has cutting power and exposes everything about us to God’s sight. By it we are uncovered and laid bare and in the end we must all give account of ourselves to God and unless we have entered into God’s rest by faith in Jesus Christ we are in danger of hell-fire and judgment.

There is a wonderful example of the penetrating power of the Word found in Acts. It is the day of Pentecost and Peter has just concluded his Spirit filled message with the words, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:37 then tells us that “when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?” The answer was and still is, “Repent” (Acts 2:38). We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything. We must not think the word of God is not enforced. It is foolish to ignore it for those who do will come under its judgment.

There is a wonderful example of the penetrating power of the Word found in the ministry of the evangelist George Whitfield. Mr. Thorpe was a bitter opponent of everything holy. He and a group of his friends—all of them young, rebellious thugs—conspired together to mock and oppose George Whitefield’s evangelistic ministry while Whitefield was preaching in Bristol, England.

George Whitefield had severely crossed eyes, if you have ever seen a realistic likeness of him. And these guys used to refer to him as “Dr. Squintum.” They called their little gang “The Hell-Fire Club,” and they disrupted meetings, mocked Whitefield on the streets and in public places, and generally tried to make his ministry a reproach in their community. Whitefield’s preaching had already made a deep and lasting impact in Bristol, and these young ruffians hated him for it. So this guy Thorpe got one of Whitefield’s published sermons and took it to the local pub, where the “Hell-Fire Club” was gathered to drink together while they make a burlesque of Whitefield.

Thorpe was apparently pretty good at doing impressions, and he had all Whitefield’s mannerisms and gestures down pat. So he stood in the center of this pub and crossed his eyes and began to deliver a derisive rendition of Whitefield’s sermon. But in the middle of the sermon, his eyes fell on the passage “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.” The Word of God pierced his heart, and he suddenly stopped and sat down, trembling and broken-hearted. Right then and there, he confessed the truth of the gospel and gave his heart to Christ. His aim was to taunt and ridicule, but he accidentally converted himself! Or rather, the power of the Word of God penetrated his soul and cut him to the heart. He became a preacher himself and quite an effective evangelist, because he knew so well the power of the Word of God to penetrate hardened hearts.

The Word of God is no dull, plastic butter knife or antiquated blade but “sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

A few implications:

1. The Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword, so let the Word of God do its cutting work! This applies not just to those to whom you are speaking but also to yourself! We must come to it for power to kill sin in our own lives and to search our own consciences to see if our very own thoughts and motives are pure. When is the last time you felt the sting of God’s Word in your heart? When is the last time you wielded it to wage warfare against the sins of your heart? When is the last time you felt the Scriptures expose your self-righteousness, selfishness and phoniness? Read it and let it search you and pierce you and divide you and judge all of your thoughts, attitudes and acts. Your very soul depends on it!

2. It is not the cleverness of your words that will convict and persuade others but the cleaving of God’s Word. So speak the truth in love (the Bible though described with various metaphors is never described as a club for clubbing), and speak the piercing truth of God’s Word! Our counsel must be Word-saturated so that the Spirit’s tool will be readily available for Him to convict those in sin and bring them to repentance. Should it not follow then that we should thirst after and memorize God’s Word so it dwells in us richly and our tongues can be swords in a good and holy sense?

3. We need to have more confidence in the Word of God’s ability to penetrate hard, stubborn hearts. God forgive us for the times we have been ashamed of it and that in many “churches” we have backed away from proclaiming the Word of God to unbelievers and instead replaced it with performances, drama, comedy (ad nauseum). This is sheer folly and a tremendous waste of time. Nothing is more penetrating and powerful than the pure unadulterated Word of God. Are people offended by its preaching? Are people’s consciences pricked? Are sins exposed? Are people made to feel uncomfortable? Praise God! There is hope for them yet to repent in Jesus name and enter into God’s rest!

Any other implications you can think of?

For our sixth and final part in this series we will consider Jesus having a double-edged sword in his mouth (Rev. 1:16)