By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr
(Sabbath 28th Jan., 2012)
The Word, our Life-giving Travel Guide
Last week in part 2 of this sermon series we observed four typical reactions of people to the Word now that the Word has tabernacled among us. For one group, bread and butter matters take priority over the Word and therefore the Word is only of some importance only if it helps to keep the goodies flowing. Another group finds certain aspects of the Word a bitter pill to swallow because their minds cannot grasp the hidden wisdom in them. Yet another group probes the inner dynamics of the Word and discovers Him to be divine. This group understands the ‘hard sayings’ of the Word as being "the words of eternal life" because the Father who chose them is their invisible Teacher. The fourth group, the Judas group, hobnobs with the Word as if they are true doers of the Word (like the third group) only to betray Him at a later date. Their inevitable betrayal stems from two main factors: they are pretenders and their nature is essentially devilish.
The only group worthy of emulation is the third group, the Peter group. All the others sooner or later turn their backs on the Word, the life-Giver. This is not how the Word must be treated. We must see the Word in no other light than what it truly is—as the believers in Thessalonica did: " For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thess. 2:13).
The Word was preached by men—Paul and his co-workers (vv. 1-12), but the brethren accepted the message as the very Word of God and it worked effectively in them as a result. The truth is that the Word will not seem dormant to you if you truly receive it as the very word of God. You will experience its convicting power (Heb. 4:12; Acts 2:37); its saving power (Jam. 1:21; Acts 11:14), its sanctifying power (John 15:3, 17:17; 1 Pet. 1:22; Ps. 119:9); its nourishing power (1 Pet. 2:2); its spiritual regenerative power (Jam. 1:18); its spiritual life-giving power (John 6:63); its faithfulness (2 Cor. 1:18-20); its healing power (Ps. 107:20) and its fullness of blessing (Luke 11:28; Josh. 1:7-8).
Surely, it’s at this stage that you will see for yourself that every Word that comes from the mouth of God is not just a saying but shows you the way to live to have life: "Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD".
In short, the Word must become our lifestyle to realize its life-giving power.
David says in Ps 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path". The message is simple, your Word, which is your will, regulates my everyday life ("feet") as well as my general course of life ("path") in a dark world of sin.
Without the light of God’s Word, the alternative is darkness—a world controlled by the "cosmic powers of this dark age" (Eph. 6:12 GNB), who serve the cause of "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others" (Eph. 2:2-3 NKJV).
If the devil influences people to disobey God when they fulfill "the [evil] desires of the flesh and of the mind", it follows that the "darkness" into which all unrepentant humanity have been plunged by the demonic powers is a metaphor for both disobedience and lusts. If so, the pursuit of both shows that one is in the grip of the satanic cosmic powers—and that one is without the light of the Word to guide his every step in life in this world of darkness where people do the will of Satan by default unless they have the Word!
And this applies both figuratively and literally, as clearly implied in the opposite way in Ps 1:1-3:
"Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
"But who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on His law day and night.
"They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers" (TNIV).
Here, we see straightaway that the righteous person’s delight in doing the law of God has expressed itself in a life of separation from sinners and their evil way, to the extent that the righteous almost instinctively keeps his feet away from the very places sinners usually congregate.
Since it’s the mind that controls our actions and decisions, God’s desire is that we immerse ourselves in His Word so that our whole life will be governed by His will. This was the whole idea behind His instructions to the Israelites to wear His commandments on their arms and foreheads, teach and recite them and write them on their doorposts as a continual reminder of His revealed will to them:
"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
"You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
"You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates’" (ESV).
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
"You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
"You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
"You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
"And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you–with great and good cities that you did not build,
"and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant–and when you eat and are full,
"Then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
"It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.
"You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you–
"For the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God–lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and He destroy you from off the face of the earth.
"You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.
"You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies and His statutes, which He has commanded you.
"And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers
"By thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has promised" (ESV).
The Word was to dominate the life of the Israelites: wear it on your arms and foreheads, teach it "diligently" to your children, recite it as you rise from bed and as you go about your day’s duty. Also, read it from your doorframes and gates as you leave home and come home. It was a 24-hour engagement with the Word.
Of course, Yah did not mean that the Israelites should do this literally (for how can one literally store words in his heart?). It was simply His way of vividly impressing on them the importance of whole-hearted devotion to His Word. By instructing them to wear the Law in those areas of the human body associated with thought and deeds, He meant that they were to live the Word in both their minds and deeds.
Overall, this would ensure that not only would the Israelites UNLEARN their ungodly past life in Egypt but also they would be reminded on an almost daily basis to obey God in return for His blessings. God had the latter objective clearly in view when He commanded the Israelites to make tassels on the corners of their garments after a fellow wilfully broke the Sabbath:
"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
"And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
"That ye may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God" (Num. 15:38-40).
It’s as obvious as the light of day: God has given us His Word for us to obey it to the point where it becomes part and parcel of our life as we reflect it in all aspects of our being. This is the point the apostle James makes in Jam. 1:22-25:
"But become doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
"For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man studying his natural face in a mirror.
"For he studied himself and went his way, and immediately he forgot what he was like.
"But whoever looks into the perfect Law of liberty and continues in it, he is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work. This one shall be blessed in his doing".
We engage with the Word to do it, or else we deceive ourselves if we are content with just hearing it. This is because when we hear (or read) the Word the Word, like a mirror, shows us an exact portrait of the righteous life we will live when we obey it. Hence by limiting ourselves to just hearing the Word rather than doing it, we fail to retain that image of godliness portrayed by the Word in our lives. In effect, we forget what the Word portrayed of us as prospective doers of it and thus miss the very purpose for which we listened to the Word in the first place.
The beneficial approach is, therefore, to persevere in conforming to the godly image the Word paints of all its disciples in return for a reward–a reward of blessing!
Beloved, is your life a mirror image of the Word? Does your lifestyle reflect what the Word teaches? Are your very thoughts guided by the Word and therefore your deeds?
If the answer is no, then you are not a true follower of the Word and thus on an exercise of self-deception. The Word is meant to be obeyed so that we might possess the character of God.
In a world dominated by Satan and his evil way, the true believer is a stranger who needs continual guidance from the Word as to the right and godly way. King David prays to the LORD in Ps 119:19: "I am a stranger in the earth: hide not Thy commandments from me” (Ps 119:19).
The danger of living outside of God’s commandments is living according to the will of the devil, "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). This is how all those who feel at home in the devil’s world live. However, the believer is "a stranger in the earth" both in terms of his non-conformity with the will of Satan and the temporariness of his earthly stay.
The Apostle Peter warns us: "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" 1 Pet. 2:11). Keeping away from and not giving in to the evil desires of the flesh is what shows that we are strangers on the earth en route to the Kingdom of God. In addition, we secure our souls from the constant assaults of the flesh which, if successful, would keep us away from the Kingdom of God altogether.
The Word is all the answer as David correctly identifies: "Order my steps in Thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me" (Ps 119:133). Placed side by side with Rom. 6:14–"sin shall not have dominion over you because you are not under law, but under grace"–we can clearly see how God orders the steps of His people in His Word. He does it by His grace! And the happy result is that such ones, unlike people enslaved to sin (the transgression of God’s law, 1 John 3:4), are not under the condemnation of the Law arising from their inability to obey God. They are under grace which gives them victory over sin.
We have been called to live the Word. But to truly live it, we must first have the Word in our hearts, another truth King David celebrates in Ps 119:11: "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (KJV).
The Word hidden in the believer’s heart regulates his conduct in society; the holy life he or she lives in his/her everyday life is the evidence of that which is hidden. It’s the litmus test for a person claims to be a repository of the Word. After all, isn’t this all that the New Covenant is about?
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them in their hearts, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.
"And they shall not teach every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest.
"For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:10-12).
The holy laws God put in the minds and hearts in His people produces such a mass compliance with His will that nobody needs to teach his neighbour or brother, saying "Know the LORD"! They know the LORD and His will as if by intuition! Because they have His will in the form of His laws in their inmost being, and they reflect that in their everyday life.
The Word hidden in one’s heart is seen in the doing—otherwise it’s not there! Not by any stretch of imagination!
Does your lifestyle points to the presence of the Word in your heart?
The Parable of the Sower: What soil are you?
The Word, as we have seen, is the be-all and end-all of the believer’s life. However, there are serious threats and challenges to being an effective doer of it. Jesus describes those threats and challenges in His "Parable of the Sower” recorded in Matt. 13:3-23, Mark 4:3-20 and Luke 8:4-15. We will use Luke’s version for our analysis:
"And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable:
"A Sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.
"And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.
"And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.
"And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold." As he said these things, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear’.
"And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,
He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’
"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
”The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
”And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
”And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
”As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:4-15 ESV).
So what "soil" are you?
I’m not sure there’s anyone here who neatly fits into category one: the heart from which the devil snatches away the seed so that belief leading to salvation is not effected. Or we will not be here gathered in the presence of God Almighty to worship His holy name.
However, as far as our salvation journey is ongoing, all the other three categories still apply!
A time of testing could come any day. If and when it does come, are you sufficiently rooted in the Word to survive it? Do you know the scriptures enough to be imbued with the hope that comes from the "endurance" and "encouragement" the scriptures give? (Rom. 15:4). Do you know God intimately enough from your study of the scriptures to believe with all your heart that He will provide a way of escape in every trial as His Word promises? (1 Cor. 10:13).
Enthusiasm is good but without depth it will count for little in the time of trial. At such times, an in-depth knowledge of the Word is inestimable. For example, you will realize by acquainting yourself with the Biblical record of the faith experiences of ancient saints like Job that "the Lord is full of compassion and mercy", and that this essential aspect of God’s character will move Him to come to your aid in your hour of trial:
"Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
“As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (Jam. 5:10-11 TNIV).
Then there’s category two: they have the Word in their hearts but then it lies among thorns in that same heart! These are those who seem to love the Word and the world in equal measure. The seed and the thorns grow up together but eventually the thorns stifle the growth of the Word and choke it to death. Loving the Word with all its holiness and righteousness and endurance as well as the world with all its worries and pleasures of sin was a myth. As the Lord Jesus put it, "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24).
The greater allegiance invariably tilts towards the world; abandoning the Word is a just a matter of time. You cannot serve the Word and the world; you have a choice to make. In the face of the most affluent life one could think of in the royal palace of Egypt, Moses had to make a choice:
"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
"He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
"He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward" (Heb. 11:24-26 NIV).
Faithful commitment to the Word entails a clean break with the world (1 Pet. 4:1-4). This is what brings the sure reward of eternal life. Therefore, if you still harbour some worldly pleasure –whether clubbing or sports fanaticism–you love so dearly to give up, be sure to repudiate it or it will choke the Word in your heart. The Word sternly warns us in 1 John 2:15-17:
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
"For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father, but is of the world.
"And the world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2:15-17).
The third and last category are those who on "hearing theWord, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience".
"An honest and good heart" is the antidote to the two failures mentioned above. The person whose heart was a "rock" merely dallied with the Word; he was not in a real serious relationship with the Word. In a similar way, the person whose heart harboured thorns at best served the Word with a divided allegiance and eventually chose whom he loved better—the world!
But the heart of "good soil" received the Word with "an honest and good heart". How do we know? Matthew’s version supplies the answer: he was not just satisfied with hearing the Word, but more importantly he sought to understand it: "As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty" (Matt. 13:23 ESV).
This is a serious person who wishes to obey the Word. Understanding the Word is what stands in stark contrast to all the rest—especially category one: "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side" (Matt. 13:19).
Understanding, then, is of utmost importance (see Prov. 4:7) if the Word will endure in your heart and bear ‘much fruit’ as you persevere in faithfully obeying it. The Word, Yeshua Messiah, assures us in John 15:7: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you". Again, He tells us in verse 16: "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you".
God rewards perseverance in the Word with fruitfulness–fruitfulness that you and others will testify of, to the glory of the Father: "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples" (John 15:8).
The Word is our everything. For this reason, we had better heed what Christ says to us: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear". It’s a call to understanding. We have no option but to understand and do the Word.
The Word is the greatest treasure there is—treasured so even by God Himself. David wrote: "You have magnified Your Word above all Your name" (Ps 138:2). Who then are we to do anything less?
We must "stand in awe of His Word" (Ps 119:161) and value it more than anything else (Ps 119:72). It’s our life (Prov. 4:13).
In so far as understanding is the key to a fruitful relationship with the Word, we shouldn’t hesitate to ask God to open our minds to understand the riches of His Word. King David prayed: "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Ps 119:18). Believing God to have answered your prayer, now approach your study of the Word "with a good and honest heart", and you will be amazed at the wonderful truths God will cause you to understand. This was the noble approach adopted by the Jews of Berea when the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel of truth to them:
"Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed … " (Acts 17:11-12).
A mind ready to receive the Word will testify to its living power. All that the Word is, will be all you will be! That was why Peter’s shadow healed the sick and Paul’s handkerchief too (Acts 5:14-16; 19:11-12). They were in a sense the word in human flesh but not to the extent as the Messiah, who is "full of grace and truth" and "in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).
You will be the same too if you receive the Word of power into your heart and live it in your daily life. "To whom the word of God came He called them gods (and the scripture cannot be broken)"!(John 10:34-35). Amen!