The Word of the Living God

The Word of the Living God…

converts souls (Psalm 19:7A),

makes the simple wise (Psalm 19:7B),

rejoices our hearts (Psalm 19:8A),

enlightens our eyes (Psalm 19:8B),

upholds us when we’re stumbling (Job 4:4),

keeps our ways pure (Psalm 119:9),

keeps us from sin (Psalm 119:11),

revives us (Psalm 119:25),

strengthens us (Psalm 119:28),

is as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105),

gives us life (Psalm 119:107),

gives light and imparts understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130),

endures forever (Psalm 119:160),

will never pass away (Mark 13:31),

sanctifies us (John 17:17),

is like fire (Jeremiah 23:29A),

is like a hammer that shatters rocks in pieces (Jeremiah 23:29B),

is like a sword that cuts and pierces hearts (Acts 2:37),

is sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10B),

nourishes us as the rain and snow nourish the earth (Isaiah 55:11A),

accomplishes God’s purpose and succeeds in the thing for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11B),

is living and active,

is sharper than any two-edged sword,

pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow,

discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12),

builds us up and gives us the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32),

is at work in true believers (1 Thessalonians 2:13),

is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit regenerates dead sinners (James 1:18),

brings life where there’s death and hopelessness (Ezekiel 37:10),

gives us victory over the evil one (1 John 2:14),

equips the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12A),

builds up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12B),

matures us (Ephesians 4:13),

establishes us (Ephesians 4:14),

cleansed us (Ephesians 5:26),

heals us and delivers us from destruction (Psalm 107:20),

is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16),

completes God’s messengers (2 Timothy 3:17A),

equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17B),

is what we’re to live by (Deuteronomy 8:3)

is what we’re to hang upon (Luke 19:48),

is to be received (John 17:8),

is to be trembled at (Isaiah 66:2),

is to be hoped in (Psalm 119:74),

is to be trusted (Psalm 119:42),

is to be made known (Colossians 1:25),

is to be declared clearly (Colossians 4:4),

is to be heralded (2 Timothy 4:2),

is to be unfolded (Psalm 119:30),

is to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16),

is to be our meditation (Psalm 119:148),

is to be desired more than gold and fine gold (Psalm 19:10A),

is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15),

will judge the wicked on the last day (John 12:48),

is instrumental in the Spirit’s monergistic work of regeneration (1 Peter 1:23),

engenders saving faith in the human heart (Romans 10:17),

testifies of Christ (John 5:39),

is to be admired, praised, extolled, and celebrated (Psalm 56:10).

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. (1 Peter 1:24-25)

Hearing and Learning but Never Responding

To stand before the people of God with the book of God in order to communicate the will of God is a very dangerous thing. James, the half-brother of Jesus, who had become a pillar in the early church, wrote in the third chapter of his letter,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)

It’s no small thing to handle the truth of God, seeing that those who do so will be judged with greater strictness.

At the same time, it’s no small thing for people to hear the truth of God. In Micah 6:8, the prophet said,

[God] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah understood that when God speaks, man is obligated to respond appropriately. In Deuteronomy 10:12-13, after God lays down His law the second time, Moses says to the people,

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?

In other words, “Israel, now that God has spoken, now that you know what He requires, you’re required to act and respond to Him accordingly.” When God speaks, and you hear, you become responsible and accountable. Our Lord Jesus taught this same principle. He said,

And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

Knowledge without appropriate action is a serious thing:

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

This has massive implications for you and I. What are you doing with what you hear and learn as you sit under the preaching of God’s Word? You may sit and take notes during the sermon, but is the truth ever written upon your heart, to the point that it overflows through your life? Do you sit before the teaching of the Word of God the same way you sit before the television or a musical performance, just to be entertained for a bit? It seems that what happened in Ezekiel’s day is happening in our day, and has actually become the normal church experience for thousands of people. God said to Ezekiel,

As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. (Ezekiel 33:30–32)

God help us from falling into this deadly snare of hearing and learning but never responding!

Keep Them “in Your Name”

In working my way through the gospel of John, I sought to get to really understand what it means to be kept in the Father’s name. Jesus prays for this very thing in John 17:11:

“Holy Father, keep them in your name…”

I sought to show in this sermon that “the name of the Father” is synonymous with the truth Jesus revealed from the Father. So, in praying that His people would be kept in the Father’s name, Jesus was essentially asking His Father to keep His people within the boundaries of the truth that Jesus proclaimed to His people, the truth entrusted to Him by His Father. The manifestation of the Father’s name (in 17:6) is nothing less than the Son’s proclamation of the Father’s message, as the context reveals. D. A. Carson, in his extremely helpful commentary on John’s gospel, summarized “keep them in your name” like this:

Jesus prays that God will keep his followers in firm fidelity to the revelation Jesus himself has mediated to them.

John Brown, in his exposition of Christ’s intercessory prayer, is especially helpful on this point:

To understand the precise import of this petition,”Keep them,” it is necessary that we know the meaning of the phrase rendered “in thy name.” “The name of the Father” is the revealed character of the Father. To glorify God’s name, is to glorify himself. “The name” of the Father here, “the word” or words of the Father, and “the truth” of the Father, are all substantially the same thing — the revealed character of God, “the total of Jehovah’s awful and lovely attributes, so far as they are known or can be known by finite intelligences.” The name refers to the subject of the revelation,—the word to the form of the revelation,—the truth to the character of the revelation. The three terms together convey the idea, ‘the true revelation of the divine character.’

The Son had given them the true revelation of the divine character (“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me”), and they had believed it; but the Father must keep them in reference to this revelation, that, continuing to believe it, their “fellowship might truly be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ…”

In summary, I think the phrase “keep them in your name” is the same thing as “keep them within the boundaries of the truth I delivered to them, the truth about you, the truth that came from you.”

Questions to Ask Before Assembling Under the Word

These are some questions to ask yourself before assembling with the people of God under the preaching of the Word of God:

1. Did I come to hear something new and trendy, or did I come to hear ancient truth that transcends time and transforms souls?

2. Did I come to hear newly discovered insights from the Bible, or did I come to hear the Christ-centered message of the Old and New Testament, the very message that every faithful pastor has preached for 2,000 years of church history?

3. Did I come simply to have my head puffed up with more knowledge, or did I come to have my heart revived, my soul replenished, my mind renewed, my strength restored, and my eyes refocused by the Word of God as it’s applied to my life by the Holy Spirit?

4. Do I consider the preaching of God’s Word a “common” thing to be taken for granted, or do I regard it as the greatest of all privileges on this side of eternity?

5. Did I come to stare at the familiar meal that God places before me, or did I come to eat, drink, and be satisfied by the faithful God who promises to fill the wide-open mouths of His hungry people?

6. Did I come to be entertained for an hour, or did I come to be equipped for the great commission?

7. Did I come to have my ears scratched, or did I come to be equipped by the Spirit of God to take the gospel of Christ to the nations in my home, workplace, school, city, and world?

8. Am I praying with the psalmist,

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

9. Have I taught my children about the sobering and blessed privilege of sitting before the preached Word, or does my lack of reverence and respect for this experience show them that it’s no different than sitting before the television or some other form of entertainment?

10. Do I plan on speaking to my children about the sermon, to ensure that they’ve understood the main point(s) of the sermon?

11. Have I prayed earnestly for the Lord’s servant who’ll be preaching, that the Chief Shepherd would speak clearly and mightily through him?

12. Am I more concerned with the preacher being culturally relevant, or do I desire and pray that he remains faithful and clear in his delivery of the Word of God?

13. Am I willing to lovingly overlook the weaknesses of the preacher in order to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church, or will I focus on what I don’t like about God’s servant and fail to receive God’s Word?

14. Am I prepared to be a “doer” of the Word, or will I content myself in being a mere “hearer” of it, and so deceive myself?

15. Have I confessed and dealt with known sin in my life in order to receive the Word with all meekness and humility, or will I foolishly sit under the exposition of God’s Word with a clouded mind, an uncultivated heart, and a partially seared conscience?

16. In light of the parable of the sower, will I hear God’s Word with an impenetrable heart, a shallow heart, a distracted heart, or a well-prepared and softened heart?

17. What measures am I going to take to make sure that I don’t forget the main point of the sermon (which should be the main point of the passage of Scripture)?

18. Am I prepared to give God my best attention and to ensure that I get a good night’s rest on Saturday so that I can be attentive on Sunday morning, or will I go to bed late after hanging out with friends (“friends don’t let friends show up to church tired”), watching television, binging on Netflix, browsing the Internet, or scrolling on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and/or Instagram?

19. Do I approach this sacred experience with the sense of anticipation, expectation, and determination that we read about in Isaiah 2:3?

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. (Isaiah 2:3)

Note the expectation of the people: “that He may teach us His ways.” Note also their determination: “that we may walk in His paths.” It’s very clear that they ascend the mountain expecting something. Their minds are prepared. Their hearts are eager.

There is an expectation to hear from God and a determination to respond to God.

Though we may not adopt everything that came out of the Puritan era, we would do well to adopt their high view of the Word of God. A simple glance at this period of church history will reveal that Puritan preachers actually preached sermons on how to listen to sermons. Why? Because they understood something of the awesome weightiness of assembling under the Spirit-empowered preaching of God’s Word.

Along with Martin Luther, the Puritans viewed the pulpit as the throne of the Word of God. They believed that preaching was the primary means of unleashing the light and heat of God’s saving and sanctifying Word. To them, the pulpit was where the Good Shepherd fed His sheep, where the Captain of salvation armed His soldiers, where the Great Physician performed His operations, where the Head addressed the Body, where the Bridegroom smiled upon His Bride, and where King Jesus refreshed weary pilgrims as they journeyed to His Celestial City.

Yet, this awesome view of assembling under the preaching of the Word did not arise from themselves. Their basis for their high view of gathering under the preaching of God’s Word arose from the pages of the Word itself. They caught something of the significance of Isaiah 55:2-3:

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…

Our souls eat and find delight by listening to our God. We come to Him by inclining our ear to Him. We live and flourish when we hear Him speak. This does not mean that God speaks to His people solely through preaching. However, in light of the New Testament, the primary place of equipping, arming, nourishing, growing, maturing, edifying, unifying, instructing, and fortifying is in the context of the local church where faithful pastors and shepherds are faithfully preaching the Word of God. Therefore,

Take care then how you hear. (Luke 8:18)

Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured? . . . Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty.

-George Whitefield