God's Word

Hebrews4v12 THE WORD OF GOD

(A) Introduction

Many years ago when I was an undergraduate at University College, London, I attended meetings for Baptist students at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. I wasn't very welcome. The minister of the church was an eloquent Welshman, Howard Williams, who was very much on the liberal wing of the Baptist Union. One evening we had a visit from the Principal of Spurgeon's College, the Rev.B.Murray, who talked to us about the Bible. After he had finished his rather inconclusive address he invited questions. I asked him if he believed in the inerrancy of Scripture. He replied, "As I get older that is a question I very much dislike having to answer." Nor, as far as I can remember, did he answer the question or provide any guidance to a young man who at that time was more interested in asking test questions than understanding what the Bible taught. However, what I have never forgotten is the closing prayer by the liberal Welshman. I have never heard a finer prayer of thanks for God's Word. It concentrated on what the Bible did. Howard Williams thanked God for the comfort it brought to the grieving, the courage it gave to the fearful, the strength it imparted to the weak and the hope it provided the dying. As I have grown older I have come to understand that the best evidence for the Bible's inspiration is the fact that it works. This is the emphasis of the verse we are going to look at now.

(B) The vitality of God's word. It is LIVING

    (1) All God breathed things are remarkably resilient and tenacious. One afternoon I was out fishing with my nephew, Joseph, by the River Ouse in Ely. Neither of us were expert fishermen. We fixed a wriggling, protesting maggot to the hook. Then we got into a muddle that ended with me cutting the line. I laid down the hooked maggot, which was still on the end of a short piece of line, and did some repairs. When Jo came to reattach the hook he could not find it. The maggot, desperate for life, had crawled away - hook, line and all. All living things have a remarkable capacity for survival and God's Word is no exception. It has been viciously attacked down the centuries. Men have burned it, banned it, ignored, ridiculed and misrepresented it but the book has survived to do that for which it is intended.

    (2) God's word has spoken to all kinds of human being in every age. Since David wrote his Psalm, 'The Lord is my shepherd', it has been of abiding comfort and consolation to all who have read or sung it. It is not so long ago that an old Irishman who attended our church died. He spent a long time in the valley of the shadow of death. The last time I went to see him he was full of tubes and very weak. He sipped water and said to me in a hoarse voice, "Jesus died on the cross for me, John". Then he would give a little knowing nod as if to say, "And no one can tell me any different". Whenever his wife visited him she would ask if he would like her to read from the Bible. John Flanaghan always asked for the 23rd Psalm. He was just another in the long, long line of dying to draw strength from the living words of God's fair minstrel. Ian Barclay in the introduction to his little book on the 23rd Psalm writes of a Mr Bacon who collected over 70 different versions of it: there is the Japanese version; the City man's version: also, the cynic's, the heroine-taker's, the housewife's and the Sunday School teacher's. There are paraphrases by Red Indians, pilots, theologians, and Trade Union members: there are dialect versions used by the Lowland Scots, the Scouse of Liverpool, the inhabitants of Kent and Essex. Its appeal is so wide because it is a living word.

    The Bible is a book of inexhaustible interest. John's gospel is very short but just consider all the words that have been written about it. The stories of Jesus are of enduring fascination. It is possible to read them over and over again and get something fresh and new each time. The Scriptures are like a rich vein of precious ore that can never be worked out.

(B) The Energy of God's Word. It is ACTIVE.

The inspiration of the Bible is best demonstrated by what it achieves:

    The conversion of the sinner
    1Pet1v23 For you have been born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable through the living and enduring word of God.
    Men and women have been so radically transformed by reading the Word of God that it is no exaggeration to say that they have been born again. A Christian is not short of examples to prove this point. David, an eloquent farmer from East Suffolk, sometimes takes the services at our chapel. He was changed by the words on a wall calendar, the Daily Light, 'Son give me thine heart'. Prov23v26 AV. That was all the Holy Spirit needed. Then and there he gave his heart to Jesus. His life was changed forever by those five simple words. He was given a new life for those words had a divine energy and were active to save. A calendar which displays daily a verse of scripture still hangs on the kitchen wall of his farmhouse.
    Some time ago there was an edition of Songs of Praise on BBC Television where the actor, David Suchet, gave his testimony. His life was changed from agnosticism to faith by reading Paul's epistle to the Romans. So he joined, among others, Martin Luther and John Westley.
    My brother Philip is a policeman. He is not a Christian but he did tell me of an incident that took place in Newmarket Police station. A vagrant had been in the cells overnight for being drunk and disorderly. Suddenly to the surprise and embarrassment of the duty officers the vagrant began leaping and jumping and praising God. He kept crying out, "I'm saved, I'm saved". The man had been quietly reading a bible that had been placed in the cell by the Gideon's when this great change came over him.

    (2) The correction of faults and errors. 2Tim3v16 All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
    My beliefs have changed as I have grown older and my knowledge of the scriptures has improved. I do not think, for example, that there is much in the Bible to support the view that the unrepentant, incorrigibly, wicked suffer everlasting torments in hell. I think that Christians should be highly suspicious when a Greek word, 'Gehenna', the name of a well-known Jerusalem rubbish dump is translated by a word borrowed from paganism, 'hell'. The belief in a sort of underworld where souls experience unremitting agony owes more to paganism than the teaching of Jesus. Some of those who protest that this is what sinners deserve are amongst the first to phone the dentist when their tooth aches. However the point I want to make is that differences in belief about the final punishment of the wicked do not produce significant differences in behaviour. This is true of many other doctrinal beliefs that Christians get very steamed up about.
    Most of Jesus teaching on the other hand does impinge directly upon our conduct. If we accept and practice Jesus' teaching on prayer, forgiveness, humility, money, marriage, anxiety, judging, integrity and so on it will produce in us every good work. I am very prone to retaliation. If someone hurts me I look to hurt them back. My employers, for instance, would not let me retire four months early without financial penalty. My reaction was to think how I could cause them maximum inconvenience by delaying my resignation to the last minute so that they would find it very difficult to get a replacement in time for the new term. However I did not act that way because I knew what Jesus said about turning the other cheek. In this instance obedience to God's word resulted in righteous living.
    I cannot say that there are a large number of victories to my credit. There are some. I have felt, through the years, that some of those who most vehemently uphold the inerrancy of God's word have rather overlooked the fact that it exists to thoroughly equip them for every good work. When I was a young man I can recall being interrogated after a youth service at another church on my attitude to new translations of the Bible. Two elderly men were of the view that the only inspired translation was the Authorised Version. Not a jot or tittle of the King James Version could be changed. I somewhat disagreed with this view, as any intelligent person might. They got angrier and angrier. The words of Paul which could have checked their unseemly passion went unheeded: 2Tim2v25 Those who oppose him (the Lord's servant) he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses...

    (3) The consolation of the sorrowing Romans15v4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope
    I am occasionally sad because I haven't fulfilled my potential. There have been more failures than successes in my life. I don't, when all is said and done, seem to have achieved much. At such times it is wise to turn to the old writings for encouragement, to remember that: it was Jesus who said that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country; it was Jesus who noticed that certain, poor widow who gave so little but was commended because she gave so much; it was Jesus who came last and taught the importance of his followers being last.

    (4) The sanctification of the believer John17v17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth...
    God's word should make us different. There are many ways it does this. I will just give one illustration. A year or so ago I was entertained by a cousin who had recently changed church. I asked why it was that he and his family had left their old church. His wife said, "God told us to." Now I have to say this is the sort of reply I find very annoying. It put me in a bad mood. Not that that is very difficult! His daughter, a bright, lively fourteen year old then chipped in and with disarming honesty provided a more intelligible if still, for me, unacceptable reason. Her old church wasn't 'with it'. There were too many old fuddy-duddies who worshipped there. They wouldn't give way to youth. I must admit that I did not then go on to argue my case with much grace. She ended up by crying. Perhaps, I too could have been gentler; it was just that I felt so strongly that she was wrong. No excuses-I should have been gentler. Still, the Bible teaches that the church is a family. In a family the interests of the old should be considered along with the young. It is the world that promotes youth. In the world youth is king. We are not of the world. Paul in his epistles makes it clear that elders should be respected. Young Christians should realise that they have a responsibility to the old. They do not show love for them by leaving them and going off to a dynamic church full of teenagers with a style of worship which suits them better. If we take seriously Paul's picture of the church as a family or body rather than a supermarket or club it will sanctify us - set us apart from the world - which is "yuff mad".

(D) The Penetration of God's Word. It is SHARPER than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.

This is not a particularly easy description to fully grasp. The writer seems to be saying that God's word penetrates to a deep level like a very sharp, strong knife can split bone and reveal the marrow within.

It should certainly affect the soul - that part of us we share with all animal life. The Christian should exercise control over his appetites and feelings. The Bible teaches we cannot give way to unbridled lust, that we should not be obsessed with food and drink and that family ties cannot stand in the way of devotion to Jesus. The soul is like an unruly animal and is difficult to subdue. That is why Jesus said, Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Only a strong man could rule the world and only the strongest of men can control themselves. I heard, to my surprise, only yesterday of a man leaving his wife and the sweetest little daughter imaginable for a dour, humourless, girl twenty years his junior. So where did he have the itch!

The Scriptures should also influence the spirit, that part of our being which distinguishes us from all other life, penetrating to the very essence of what makes us men. So the Word informs our sense of right and wrong. It has fuelled the reformers zeal making men like Clarkson and Wilberforce unstoppable agents of change. Men admire virtue. The virtue of Christ as revealed in the Gospels has resulted in an outpouring of devotion expressed in preaching, prayers, poems and prose. Each day millions tell Jesus how much they love him. Man is creative. We desire to make beautiful things to share with others. Consider the glorious creativity of Christian composers, architects, painters, and poets. What can surpass the experience of sitting in a soaring English Cathedral with the sun illuminating the stained glass windows listening to that sweet passage in John Stainer's, 'Crucifixion', 'For God so loved the world....' Finally we are capable of sacrificial love. Jesus exhibited the best that man could offer when he died upon the cross. His sacrificial love was of sterling worth because he died for his enemies. There are many ways of dying to self for Christ's sake. When I was a student my friends encouraged me to stand for President of the Geographical Society. As I was thinking about it a tall Devonian student who used to get out of breath climbing the stairs asked me to propose him for the same post. That was a crafty move! I knew what Jesus said about desiring the best seats at feasts ...... So, after a struggle, I wrote tall Dave's name up on the notice board proposing him for President. I am glad that I did. Two years later he had a heart attack and died. I was also rewarded. The only thing I really wanted about the President's post was the opportunity to speak at the Annual Dinner of the Geographical Society. The year after I left my college I was invited back to do just that. I only wish I could say that I made best use of my opportunity.

God's word does get to us. It can be used by the Spirit of God to affect our behaviour at the deepest level. There is something very uncompromising about a sharp, two edged sword.

(E) The Discrimination of God's Word: it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

God's word exercises a critical, sifting, assessing role in the Christians life. It reveals to us the moral worth of our thoughts, interests, opinions and principles. It,'sets a light where no other hand ever placed a candle.' The Bible names and shames us. It both knows and shows us.

I am a great admirer of Corrie Ten Boom's books because they illustrate the realities of the Christian life. One of the weaknesses of so many sermons is that the preacher does not say how a passage of Scripture has actually affected, or been true for, him. Corrie in, 'Tramp for the Lord' shows how hard it is to obey the words of Jesus found in Mk 11v25 "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. In her eightieth year she was talking with a friend about an upset in the distant past. In the course of the conversation Corrie said that she had forgiven the people who wronged her but of the fact that they had wronged her there was no doubt, she still had their letters to prove it.... . Her friend had to remonstrate,"Corrie! Aren't you the one whose sins are at the bottom of the sea? Yet are the sins of your friends etched in black and white?" Corrie did not go to sleep that night until she had burned those letters which she had preserved many years. She asked for grace to burn all the blacks and whites, evidence held for so long against others and as the flames leaped and danced so did her heart. This is a good instance of how God's Word judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.


I was fascinated to watch a retelling of the old story of Pitcairn Island on BBC TV. The programme was about the efforts of Australian archaeologists to discover evidence of the early settlement of the Pacific Island by Fletcher Christian and eight other mutineers from the Bounty in the late eighteenth century. Six Polynesian men and 12 women accompanied them. An old musket was all the archeologists found for their very considerable efforts. Interwoven into the account of the archaeological dig and interviews with descendents of the mutineers was a history of that strange settlement. It was a sad tale of jealousy, drunkenness, murder and revenge. Finally only one man was left, Alexander Smith, along with 12 rebellious women and their 20 children. Fortunately Alexander Smith had been taught to read by his friend Edward Young before Young died. Smith began to read to the women and children from the Bible. It was then that the TV camera panned down on something the archaeologists had missed, the most precious artefact from that time, a 200 year old Bible, the old Bible from the Bounty itself, the living, active, penetrating and discriminating Word of God. That Word transformed the small community where previously hate had reigned. The programme ended with the Islanders singing the old Sankey hymn, 'In the sweet bye and bye,' a tribute to the preserving power and sweetening influence of a Holy Book.

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