Rebuilding the Foundations
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Modern Christians are usually referring to the Bible when they mention "the Word of God," but is that scriptural?
I am referring to statements like "I'm going home to get into the Word." All of us, at least all of us evangelicals, interpret that to mean "I am going home to read/study the Bible."
If we study the Bible enough, however, we will discover that the Bible never uses "the Word of God" in this manner.
Now please don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying that the Bible is not the Word of God. I am saying it is only part of the Word of God. I am also saying that with our words, we make the Bible the whole Word of God. Not only is that not accurate, but the Bible itself never makes that mistake.
First I am going to give you instances, most of which you are familiar with, of "the Word of God" being used of God's Word in forms other than the Scriptures. After that, we will address the verses that we have incorrectly interpreted as referencing the Bible, most notably Hebrews 4:12-13 and 2 Timothy 2:15.
Surely the most obvious use of "the Word of God" in reference to something—or rather someone—other than the Bible is in John 1:1. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
We evangelicals all agree that John 1:1 is a reference to Jesus, as is Revelation 19:6, where Jesus returns with "The Word of God" written on his thigh. Verses like that are well known to us. There are others, however, we don't think about much, if at all.
[Jesus] answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that is proceeding from the mouth of God.'"
This is one of Jesus' three answers to the devil during the temptation in the wilderness, all of them grounded in Scripture. This answer, like the others, shows Jesus' immense respect for the Scriptures. This verse also shows that the Bible is not the only source of the Word of God.
Jesus talks about every word that "is proceeding" from the mouth of God, not every word that has preceded. The Scriptures capture words that God has spoken, not words that he is speaking. If we are to get our daily bread, we need the Bible, but we also need God to speak to our hearts on a regular basis.
This is why Jesus told the Pharisees, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life, but these are they which testify of me, and you refuse to come to me so that you may have life" (Jn. 5:39-40). We don't only need the Scriptures, even though they are inspired by God. We need the words that were spoken from the mouth of God and recorded to "instruct us in righteousness" and "correct" us, but if we are to live, then we also need the words which are proceeding from the mouth of God.
And the Word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.
But the Word of God grew and multiplied.
The Word of God grew mightily and prevailed.
Can we really read "the Scriptures" into any of the above statements from the book of Acts?
Did the Scriptures increase? No. We know that no books or letters of the New Testament were written until many years after the events in Jerusalem.
Do the Scriptures grow? Do they multiply?
We all know this does not happen. Instead, the Word of God was increasing because the disciples were increasing, and the Word of God was in them.
The implantation of the Word of God, as though God were sowing a plant in our hearts, is at the center of the new birth. Peter tells us, "[We are] born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Word of God, which lives and abides forever" (1 Pet. 1:23). James says it even more directly:
Of his own will he birthed us with the Word of Truth, so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. ... Therefore ... receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. (1:18, 21b)
"It shall come to pass in the last days," says God, "that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even on my servants and handmaidens I will pour out my Spirit in those days."
Peter said this is what was happening on that day, Pentecost, two thousand years ago. The New Covenant was finally being implemented. The Law would no longer be written on stone, but on fleshly tablets of the heart (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26-27).
We often forget that our covenant is a not a covenant of the letter, but of the Spirit. The apostle Paul did not forget it. He announced, "[God] has made us able servants of the New Covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit because the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).
We have already seen that Jesus said something much like this to the Pharisees. We know that the Scriptures are the words of God, inspired by God to correct us, keep us straight. Jesus did not disagree with this when he told the Pharisees they only thought they could get life from the Scriptures. It is Jesus, the Word of God from whom all other words of God proceed, who gives life. The Scriptures, Jesus said, testify of him, and we are to come to him for life.
There is so much more to be said here, but this will have to suffice for one chapter in a book that covers many subjects. I will, however, tell one poignant story. It is from Luke chapter 5.
Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret one day. The crowd, Luke says, was pressing in on him hoping to "hear the Word of God." Here, of course, we have one more reference to "the Word of God" that is not a reference to the Scriptures. They wanted the Scriptures expounded, not read. In fact, they wanted anything that came from this amazing prophet from Galilee.
One person in particular, though, would not only hear the Word of God, but he would receive it. It would be implanted in his heart, and it would transform his life and, eventually, the lives of us all.
The crowds were so close to Jesus, he was scared they were going to dump him into the lake, ruining his sermon. He saw a fishing boat nearby, and he climbed into it. That got the attention of the owner, who was with others mending his net. When we went to find out what the prophet was doing in his boat, Jesus asked him to put out from the shore a bit so he had some room.
He complied, and Jesus finished his sermon, which I am certain was absolutely breathtaking. No one can proclaim the words of God like the Word of God himself.
Scripture, however, doesn't record any of the words of his sermon. They record only one sentence, and that was after the sermon. "Simon, launch out into the deep, and let your nets down for a catch."
Simon wasn't very happy about this. He was the fisherman, and he had been fishing all night. Jesus might be a great prophet, but there was no indication he was ever a fisherman. He gave in, however. "Nevertheless, at your word I will let down the net."
It is one thing to hear the Word of God. It is another to receive it and do it. Many heard the Word of God that day, but only one is said to have heard it. Simon, against his own will, heard the Word of God, "Throw down your nets for a catch."
When he did it, his nets were filled, and he was never the same again.
The Gospel records that he fell on his knees, declared himself to be a sinful man, went into the shore, forsook his now thriving fishing business, and followed Jesus.
No long sermon. No altar call. But can you imagine any more satisfying response to the Word of God?
Something very similar happened to Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). You might want to read that one for yourself. Take special notice of Jesus' exact words to Zacchaeus and the exact response that Zacchaeus gave to those words.