You can listen to this sermon here.
In my counseling ministry, I always give home work. Usually this homework involves some Bible reading, okay a vast amount of Bible reading. But one thing I’ve noticed with both our church members and folks from other churches is that they read in a wooden, paint by numbers, jump through hoops, and check the boxes sort of way. Very few read for the reasons I’m giving them the homework. I think they think that Bible study is a lot like taking aspirin. If you take a few tablets, your headache will go away and you can get on with your life.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).
Brief Summary of the text:
The word of God, in all its manifestations, is alive and accomplishes things. Not only does it do things, but it does things that are specific, pointedly specific. It gets to us in every way that we need it to affect us. It changes us at the root level. It drives division between soul and spirit, joints and marrow. Who knows what those things are. It also gets to the depths of the human heart and can discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The word of God:
* Word spoken by God in creation—Gen. 11:3: God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
* The spoken word of God—1 Kings 12:22 The word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God.
* Jesus is the word of God—John 1:1: in the beginning was the word.
* The Gospel of God—Acts 4:31 (6:2; 13:15): They continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
* The authority and power of God—1 Tim. 4:5; For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
* The people of God—Acts 12:24 (6:7) But the word of God increased and multiplied.”
Which Word of God?
Which word of God is the writer to the Hebrews referring? Well it depends on the audience. If we are the audience, he is talking about what we have in written form—the Bible. If he is talking about the world being the audience, we are the word of God. We are all non-Christians will ever see of the word of God. This is another way of saying what Paul says when he says we are the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27). But we are only the word of God when we accurately represent Jesus Christ to those who are watching.
Thoughts and Intentions of the Heart
What’s all this talk about the heart and its thoughts and intentions? As you know, we’re all in process, works in process, we’re changing into Christ’s likeness (Phil. 3:10). We’re working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:11), being transformed from one level of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18), becoming mature in Christ (Col 1:28). But these changes come about because of the troubles we live through (Rom. 5:3-5), as we draw near to God and as we are obedient to God (Jas. 4:7-8). But obedience, by itself, doesn’t change anything. Unless something inside us changes, all our works are filthy rags.
The reason is that unless the source of our works (thoughts, behavior, emotions, etc) changes, we will always be doing the things we do for our glory instead of for God’s glory. The Bible tells us that this thing that needs changing is our hearts.
Luke 6:43-46 says, “”For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luk 6:43-45).
Out of the Abundance of the Heart
Jesus is saying that our words and behaviors have their basis in our hearts. The things we say and do are reflective of our thoughts and intentions. What pops out in the moment is what is stored up in our hearts. Who we are comes out from deep within us. In the same way that the fruit on a tree identifies the tree, so also the things we do and say identify who we are.
What does this have to do with reading our Bible? Suppose you noticed that your apple tree was starting to produce nasty pulpy apples. You decided to fix it. So you go to the grocery store and the office depot store and you buy apples and staples. You carefully climb the tree and replace all the pulpy apples with the store bought apples. What are you left with? A really nice tree…for a few days. And then the fruit of what you have done will clearly be shown. It doesn’t help the tree to staple new apples on the tree. The problem with the tree goes to the roots.
It’s the same with us. We can’t see the back of our heads. We can’t see that the things we are doing are pulpy. We can be walking along thinking everything is good and wham, something will snap us around and reveal to us that we haven’t been living by faith. This comes about through suffering, or through careful study of the Word of God.
The Role of Suffering
Romans 5: we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:3-5)
James 1 says, “you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:3-4).
Suffering points us to Christ because it causes discomfort to a level in which we are left with nowhere to turn except to Jesus for relief, or help. By faith, we draw nearer to God because that’s where we should go when things go bad. When daughter broke her arm, she rested quietly in my arms because she trusted me to take care of her. And this is what we are supposed to do when we experience suffering.
Careful Study of the Word of God
We come now to the homework I was talking about earlier. As we have just seen, there are many ways to understand the phrase “word of God.” It ranges from the book we all have on our laps, to the words spoken by God in creation, to the word of God that came to the prophets and Apostles, it includes Jesus, and the people of Jesus.
What I have in mind when I ask people to read their Bibles is everything on the list.
Bible study has six aspects:
First, sitting down to read the Bible is a good way to get alone, clear your thoughts, and meet with God. The first two are helpful, but the last one is invaluable.
Second, reading the Bible, gets the word, ideas, and thoughts of God into our brains so that we can ruminate on it as we go about our daily lives.
Third, because the Word of God is alive, it doesn’t just lie there in our minds. The Spirit of God enlivens the word of God so that the words of God get into us and transform us.
Fourth, the word of God does not transform us the way learning about the presidents changes us (we’re much more knowledgeable now). It changes us from the inside out, the way food transforms us. Bible knowledge is not information, it is food.
But wait, there’s more. Fifth, careful Bible study is done by sitting in the lap of God and snuggling up to him, like a small child does his parents. And it is the presence of God in our life that changes our hearts. God rubbing off on us. God, being an example to us as read about him in the Bible. We should ask him to reveal himself. We should ask him to reveal ourselves to us. We should ask him to transform us into the image of his son as we read and obey what we read.
Finally, the church is the word of God. We need to maintain close relationships in the church so that we can rub against one another. We can tell one another that our hair is messed up without messing up one another’s hair. To do this we’ve all got to be in the Spirit, walking with God. We’ve all got to trust God for our safety and depend on him for our self-worth and who we think we are. As we relate to one another God works in us to transform our hearts to be like Jesus.
The result of all this is that we will learn to think like Christ. We will be able to judge everything we see around us based on how it stacks up the thoughts and intentions of God in Christ. We will be able to see the world through the lens of God, through how the Bible, the prophets, the apostles, and Christ himself viewed the things of the world. When we study our Bible well we will stop loving the world and the things of the world. I have found that Christians love Jesus, but they don’t know what Jesus thinks about almost everything. And this is because they don’t spend time with him, asking that he change their hearts and minds to reflect his mind and heart.
With this in mind, besides getting to know and imitate God himself, we must always study the word of God with an eye toward our heart, always asking what the passage reveals about my thoughts and motives (What is really ruling me?). As we study the word of God the spirit of God transforms our lowly estate into the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.