God's Living Powerful Word
God's Living, Powerful Word
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Bill Bentley moved to the mountains of southern Mexico near Guatemala in 1938. He went there to translate the Bible into the language of a remote tribe in those mountains, the Tzeltals. His fiancée, Marianna, was serving a neighboring tribe. They went back to Pennsylvania to be married, but six days before the wedding Bill died of a heart attack.
Marianna was crushed. God had called her to go to the Tzeltals with Bill. Now, even without him she would go back. The journey took ten days, five on foot and five on horseback. The Tzeltals lived an awful existence. Poverty, alcoholism, violence, disease, and hopelessness darkened the entire region.
After spending six years there alone, learning the language, Marianna was joined by Florence, a missionary nurse. For the first eight years their work met with suspicion, rejection, and hostility from the Tzeltals; the missionaries were unwanted and misunderstood. But they stuck it out.
By 1965, after more than twenty years, they had completed the translation of the New Testament into two dialects.
Then a miracle took place. More than seventy congregations of Christians grew from the seed they planted. Suspicion became faith, rejection became acceptance, hostility became Christian love. The Tzeltals call God's word "good seed"; it had taken root. Twenty-one years of life by two single women and the Word of God grew. They looked forward to spending the rest of their lives translating the Old Testament.
But then Cameron Townsend came. He told the Tzeltal people about the Paez people in the Andes Mountains in southwestern Colombia. They did not have the Word of God. He asked the two women to go and start the entire process over again. Marianna and Florence said yes, and the Tzeltal people became the sponsor for the two ladies to go to Colombia. For the third time Marianna learned a strange language, and for another twenty-one years she and Florence translated the New Testament.
Then Marianna and Florence went back to the sponsor church in southern Mexico with some of the Paez people. What a reunion that was! Thousands of Tzeltal people lined the way to greet them. In the twenty-one years since they had left, the seventy-two congregations they founded had become 322. When they had left there were six thousand believers. When they returned there were forty-four thousand. One-third of the Tzeltals were practicing Christians. Hallelujah for the Word of God!
What other book could do that? If you left a physics text, a biography of a great man, a collection of short stories, a folio of poetry—could any of those books have done what the Bible did for the Tzeltals? No! Only the Word of God can do that. "For the word of God is living and active . . ." (Heb. 4:12).
Our text speaks of the Word of God. Great theologians have debated whether this means the Person of the Son of God or the written Book of God. Learned men have examined the question endlessly. I relish this debate, because it means that the living Word of God, Jesus, and the written Word of God, the Bible, are so closely joined together that the greatest scholars cannot tell whether our text speaks of one or the other. God incarnated Himself in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ incarnates Himself in this written revelation. God has so joined together the written Word and the embodied Word that it is impossible to divide them.
When you come back to God, the primary instrument for that reunion is the Word of God. The Bible is your road map back home.
God's Word Lives
In the Greek, the first and most emphatic word of our text is the word "living"—living is the Word of God. Vibrant, vital, vivacious, moving, multiplying, enlivened, energetic—living!
God's Word is living because it is the Word of the living God—the living Christ. He lives, and therefore this Word lives. Just as my hand lives because it is connected with the source of life in my chest, so the Book lives because it is drenched with the life of the One who makes it live.
When Peter confessed Christ, he confessed Him as the Son of the Living God. Around Peter at Caesarea Philippi were the fetishes and remnants of dead gods. When the others began to forsake Jesus, Peter cried out to Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Like a man clinging to something for his very life, Peter recognized in the words of Jesus Christ the vehicles of life that would last forever. Jesus said, "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63). This Book vibrates with life because it is inseparably connected with the life of God Himself. It never decays, decomposes, or disintegrates, because it is alive.
We have in our family the Bible of my paternal greatgrandfather, a Texas farmer and Baptist preacher in the nineteenth century. It is tattered with time, burned from a fire, soaked with grease from an accident, and stained by the rains of a storm. But I pick it up to read, and immediately it impacts me with the life that is in it.
This would be true of virtually no other book from my great-grandfather's world. I could pick up a science, mathematics, physics, medical, law, engineering, or any other kind of book from his generation and it would be dead, dated, and surpassed by a thousand other books. I pick up his Bible and Jesus Christ leaps off its pages and confronts me in the same way He does in the newer Bible I hold. The Bible lives because it is the Word of the living God.
On the Spanish galleon Atocha, which sank off Key West, Florida in 1622, were four seeds, preserved an unprecedented 365 years in salt water. When planted in a lab, they sprouted and stood three inches tall. Life produces life. God's Word does the same.
The Bible is the living Word because it gives life. A living thing is identified as living because it propagates, it gives birth, it multiplies. A thing is alive because it gives life to another. A rock does not give birth to a rock; a brick does not give birth to a brick. A single-celled protozoan and a great blue whale are alive because they give life. How do I know this Book lives? Because it gives life. Peter says it: "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). What other book could have been left among the Tzeltals and given life to forty-four thousand people, then cause them to send two women to Colombia, where it was translated into another remote dialect—giving life to thousands more? Only the Word of God.
This Book has a strange, mystic vitality. It acts toward me like a person. It wrestles with me, smites me, comforts me, smiles on me, frowns on me, clasps my hand, warms my heart, weeps with me, sings with me, whispers to me. This Book never gets sick or old. Its eye never dims, its ear never deafens, its step never slackens, its brow is never creased with a frown. This Book lives, breathes, moves. You do not bring life to Scripture; you draw life from it. Even a single verse can give eternal life.
How many times I have come to my study, weary and stressed with the care of the church, distracted by everything having to do with the thousands of people under my pastoral care. My mind has been clouded, my body has been tired. I open my Bible to a passage. I open my Greek testament. I open various translations. Then the strangest thing happens, over and over. The weariness drains out of my body; the distractions leave my mind. Suddenly I am captured, my heart pounds, my eyes widen, my mind leaps to life. Nothing does that to me except the Word of God.
God's Word lives because it has an inherent energy. When Jesus was arrested, a word from Him forced His adversaries to the ground (John 18:6). Similarly, Christ will win His final victory over all opposition with His energetic Word alone (Rev. 19:15). The Word of God has an energy that is never without results. It is always full of activity for salvation or for judgment.
Mere human beings have created energy. And in this creation, our nation's ninety-nine nuclear reactors generate thirty tons of highly radioactive material each year. It will take three million years for this radioactive waste to decay to the point that it is no longer a threat. Some of this material is so energetic that it boils by itself for five years. It is so energetic that nothing we know can hold it. And it will last for millions of years. Yet when it is finally spent, the Word of God will live on.
Tear it apart into a thousand pages—and each will bring life. Bury it beneath tradition, ignorance, and brutal attack— and it will spring back to life. Try to contain it inside government or church restrictions—and one copy will escape and cause the Protestant Reformation. It is alive!
God's Word lives. And in order for us to live spiritually, we must come into contact with that Word. If you are spiritually lifeless, lethargic, and listless, it is because you are out of contact with the living Word. Contact it, come back to it, and it will give you new life. It is the road back to God.
God's Word Cuts
God's Word cuts superlatively; it is "sharper than any double-edged sword." The word used for "sharp" indicates something that cuts, and means comparatively more cutting. The two edges translate a term which means literally a "two-mouthed sword," as if both edges could bite through anything. Obviously, a sword with two edges cuts more, cuts both ways, cuts quickly. The word "sword" indicates the shorter, dagger-like sword worn by the Roman soldier for quick action. It is "the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17).
The smallest cutting devices yet made by man are glass micropipette tubes used in intercellular work on living cells. These glass knives are sixty-five hundred times thinner than the human hair. Yet there is something that can cut much finer. It is the Word of God. It can slice through the deepest evasions and finest distinctions of the deceptive human heart.
In another modern comparison, the finest cut ever made was reported in June 1983 at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California. A special optical turning machine sliced a human hair three thousand times lengthwise. That's cutting it thin! But the Word of God is able to make cutting distinctions far finer than that. It is able to make the distinctions and incisions that bring us back to God.
At the point of sin, the Word of God must cut and kill before it can heal and make well—before there can be spiritual life. His living Word must be put to the throat of every sinful tendency, habit, and thought, and all must be sacrificed to the cutting edge of the Word. The Book is water to the fire of sin, antidote to the poison of sin, light to the darkness of sin, a key to the lock of sin. But it must first kill.
God's Word cuts thoroughly: "It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow." This is how the Word of God operates when we truly come into contact with its cutting power. It penetrates deeply; it strikes through to the very dividing line between the human soul and spirit. How often do we encounter a stubborn person and ask ourselves, How can I get through to that person? Only the Word has that capacity.
Understand what the word "separate" means. It means that the Word of God analyzes, lays bare, and reveals in their true nature all the powers of man. It separates the material from the immaterial, the spiritual from the animal parts of humans. It cuts through until it reveals that we are more than animals that eat, sleep, breed, and fight for territory. It does this by separating the spirit from the soul.
The human spirit is that which God placed in me; it is the point of contact with God. It retains the image of God and is breathed into me by God. The spirit makes me more than an animal.
The human soul, in comparison, is the seat of all my emotions, thoughts, feelings, desires, fixations, and inclinations. When it is cut off from the spirit, it is in chaos, lost, withered— a powerless plaything in the hands of material and demonic influence. When the Word of God comes, it cuts apart soul and spirit. It says, "Gregory, you were made to be more than a chaos of energies and passions." It lays bare and exposes the inside of me in a delicate spiritual surgery. That the Word of God separates between the joints and the marrow simply means that there is nothing inside of a person's real life that the Word of God does not show up in its true nature. No part of human nature is untouched. The very innermost part of my life is cleaved in twain by this mighty sword.
There is now hardly a place in the human body that surgeons can't penetrate with their arsenal of scalpels and lasers. Lasers can now cut away cataracts, remove brain tumors, and may soon effectively remove cholesterol deposits in coronary arteries. Now there is even an "excimer laser" that will allow exquisitely precise surgery through holes so small they will not need stitches. A special scalpel with a microwave device on it can heat tissue, clot blood at the moment of an incision, and allow incredible precision. Human technology is at an all-time high in its ability to cut, separate, and heal.
But it cannot compare with the divine technology that has always been here. More than any laser, the Book of God penetrates your life. Let it cut out of you that which does not belong to the will of God. There is no spiritual healing without such cutting. Let it cut specifically. If you covet, let its passages about covetousness cut you. If you lust, let its warnings about lust lacerate you. If you are angry, let its exposure of anger penetrate you. But as it cuts, feel it also healing you.
God's Word Exposes
God's Word exposes us personally: "It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb 4:12). This Word of God sifts and scrutinizes both the emotions and the rational thoughts of our lives. It sifts every impulse, every secret thought, each desire, and all purposes. It does this by getting through to the human heart.
The Book of Hebrews warns us about the importance of the heart. We are told we must not harden the heart (3:8), for it tends to stray (3:10). God must write His law upon our hearts (8:10). We must draw near to God with a sincere heart (10:22) and can do that with a heart strengthened only by His grace (13:9).
As president of our state denomination I got to vote on some things I did not understand. Recently I was one of a group who voted to authorize a Baptist hospital to purchase a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, called an MRI. This instrument uses an electromagnet, radio waves, and a computer to penetrate the human body. Teeth and bones do not appear, enabling physicians to see tissue that otherwise would be obscured. Lives that would have been lost in the last decade are now saved because of this instrument that sees through the human body. If the author of Hebrews had had such an illustration at hand, he surely would have used it.
This modern machine can see through bone. But only the Word of God can see into the human spiritual mystery and expose all that is there. I lay my life under its energy and it reveals me to myself.
God's Word also exposes universally: "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight" (Heb. 4:13a). Human technology has produced an optical satellite with the capacity to detect objects as small as seven inches across from a distance of two hundred miles above the earth's surface. Technologists also have perfected listening devices smaller than a postage stamp which can carry human conversations more than a block away to a listening post. The smallest video camera is now one and a half inches square and one inch thick. We have an amazing variety of devices to hear and to see where we could neither hear nor see before.
But these modern feats of technology cannot compare to the searching power of the Word of God. No created thing— nothing—will escape its search. No archangel, seraph, demon, or any other things that exist anywhere will escape the scrutinizing power of the Word of God. It will search and cut until all is discovered.
That is why the writer of Hebrews goes on to say positively that God's Word exposes powerfully: "Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (4:13b). In the presence of His word, everything is stripped of every disguise that conceals its true nature. We are experts at wearing masks, disguises, coverups. Stand under the power of this Word; let it cut, and all masks fall off.
There is a most interesting expression in the words "laid bare." Some suggest that it is the very word used to describe a Roman wrestler who grabbed his opponent by the neck and held his head back in full view. Others understand the word as a defeat which leaves its victim prostrate on the ground before the vanquished. Whichever interpretation is used, it simply means that the Word of God will conquer us all under the eyes of God Himself.
To know life we must submit and be laid bare, and let ourselves be saturated by that Word. We must let it cut, penetrate, expose, and give the only healing that is healing indeed. The following story show how God's Word affected one exemplary Christian life:
Known primarily as an educator, Frank Gaebelein was the founding headmaster at the Stony Brook School, a Christian college preparatory school on Long Island, which has become a prototype. He held the post for 41 years and considered his work there his most important accomplishment.
When once asked what he wished to pass on to the next generation of Christians, Gaebelein replied: "Maintain at all costs a daily time of scripture reading and prayer. As I look back, I see that the most formative influence in my life and thought has been my daily contact with scripture over 60 years."
Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, "Character Before Career,"
Christianity Today, quoted in Bob Benson and
Michael W. Benson,
Disciplines for the Inner Life
(Nashville: Generoux/Nelson, 1989), p. 54
Whatever the cost, the way back to God passes through daily contact with His Word.
Homesick for God.