I've been trying to find a way to communicate this teaching on the Word of God in a simple way. I think I've got it!
Today, if a Christians says, "I've been getting into the Word," we know he means he's been reading the Bible. If you ask him if he's got the Word of God, he'll check to see if he has his Bible.
It is normal for us to mean "the Bible" when we say "the Word."
But does the Bible agree with us? Is there even one place where the Bible clearly uses "the Word" as a general statement without context and it clearly means the Word of God?
Our minds go to verses like Hebrews 4:12, but if we're going to answer our question, we need to look at Hebrews 4:12-13.
For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the separation of soul and spirit and joints and marrow. [It/He] is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Not any creature is hidden from [its/His] sight. Everything is naked and vulnerable to the eyes of the one before whom we reason.
The last word of that verse could be translated speak or think as well. The Greek structure is very strange. Martin Luther's 1545 translation, written in German, says, "... from whom we talk."
But the translation of the last phrase in Hebrews 4:13 is not what we're after. We're after the rest of the passage. Do those two verses seem to speak of an "it" or a "him"?
I don't think there's much question. We know that Jesus is the Word of God, come from heaven and made flesh to dwell among us, and now ascended into heaven. He has eyes. He can judge. Before him we are naked and vulnerable.
The other verse that comes to mind when we think of a place where a general reference to "the Word" seems to be a reference to "the Bible" or "the Scriptures" is 2 Timothy 2:15:
Study to present yourself approved to God, a worker with no reason to be ashamed, cutting the Word of Truth straight.
Again, there's lots of debate over what "cutting straight" means in this passage, but that doesn't concern us here. Instead, we need to ask whether the Word of Truth being referred to is the Bible or whether it is something else, such as Jesus himself.
It sounds like this must be a reference to Scripture because the King James Version uses the word "study" and most of us have learned the verse that way. The word, however, is not "study." It is the Greek word spoudason, which means "be diligent" or "give every effort." The NIV renders it "Do your best," and the NASB has it as "Be diligent."
So we are to be diligent to present ourselves approved to God, "cutting straight" the Word of Truth.
Could that be a reference to the Scripture? It could. Possibly.
So in all the New Testament, we have just one reference that might use "the Word" as a general reference to the Scriptures.
There are many, however, that could not possibly be a reference to Scripture.
There is one God who has manifested himself by Jesus Christ his Son, who is his eternal Word. (Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians 8, c. A.D. 110)
We all know verses like John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13, which say that Jesus is the Word of God.
But how many of us know these verses:
Wow! The Word of God grew? It increased? It became strong?
Could those passages in any way be referencing the Scriptures?
If so, does that mean that as the disciples multiplied in Jerusalme in Acts 6, there were more Scriptures written? None of the books of the New Testament were written at that time. Paul wasn't even converted, and thus, neither was Luke.
No, the Scriptures weren't increasing, but every time disciples multiply, the Word of God increases.
How do we know this?
It would be impossible for the Scriptures to use "the Word of God" as a reference to the book we know as the Bible, because the books of Scripture were not consolidated into one book until at least 200 years after New Testament times. Agreement on exactly which books should be in the Bible would have to wait another century, until Jerome's Vulgate became the standard Bible of the western churches.
The eastern churches, which have descended to this day as the Orthodox churches, do not have a set canon among them to this day.
We're told over and over to receive the Word of God.
We need to look at how the Word of God grows, but I know many of you will have questions that need to be answered before you stop using "the Word of God" as a reference to the Bible.
I answer those questions on a page I call The Word of God and the Scriptures. There I also explain why it's very important that we do change that habit of ours. There are important places where our terminology have caused us ...
Most of us know that, and we think about it. What we don't think about is that we are told repeatedly to receive the Word of God like a seed.
Therefore put off all filthiness and residue of evil and receive with gentleness the implanted Word of God, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
[You are] born again not of perishable seed, but imperishable, by the living and enduring Word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)
All those born of God are not continuing in sin because their seed remains in them. (1 Jn. 3:9a)
That last verse is not necessarily a reference to the Word of God, but it sounds suspiciously like it because the Word is so often compared to a seed. We all know the parable of the sower, who goes out sowing seed. In that parable, the seed is the Word, and it takes root in ground that is compared to types of people.
The Word of God is not only supposed to enter you. It is supposed to grow in you.
And this means that if disciples multiply or grow stronger, then the Word of God increases!
I have written to you, young men, because you are strong and the Word of God dwells in you. (1 Jn. 2:14b)
Now the Word of God is his Son, as we have said before. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 59, c. A.D. 150)
The Scriptures speak of receiving the Word of God 11 times (Mark 4:16,20; Luke 8:13; Jn. 12:48; Acts 2:41, 8:14, 11:1, 17:11; 1 Thess. 1:6, 2:13; Jas. 1:21). Each time, with the possible exception of the last one, it is in reference to believing the Word of God for the first time. I suppose it's fair to say that it's used in much the same way that we speak of receiving Christ.
The Scriptures call the Word of God seed on several occasions, probably more often than we realize.
There's the parable of the sower, which is in three of the Gospels. 1 Peter 1:23 adds that we are born again by the incorruptible seed of the Word of God. James 1:18-21 talks about our being begotten by the Word of truth, which is to be "engrafted" in us and make us "firstfruits."
This all lines up with the idea of the Word of God growing. If it is planted in us as a seed in order to give us new birth, then shouldn't it also grow in us?
But in order for the seed that is God's Word to grow in us, we must first receive it. How do we do that?
Again, we are told specifically by one of our verses:
Receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (Jam. 1:21-22)
We receive the Word of God by doing it.
Jesus states this pretty plainly on several occasions. One example is Luke 6:46, where he asks:
Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord," and not do what I say?
Then, in Matthew 7:21, he says something similar:
Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.
Finally, in telling us how to respond to the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us exactly what it means to receive the words that he has just said:
Whoever hears these sayings of mind and does them, I will compare him to a wise man who built his house upon a rock. The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it didn't fall because it was built upon a rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does not do them shall be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was its fall. (Matt. 7:24-27)
The Word of God is always received by doing it. Disobeying the Word of the Lord is just the same as rejecting it.
The point I wish to make here, however, that receiving the Word of God is something amazing. It is like a seed. It is small at first, but in and of itself, as long as it is fed and nurtured, it grows. The person who receives the Word of God finds that the knowledge of the will of God, and the power to do it, grows inside of him like something living—because it is living.
The Scriptures give us two amazing illustrations of this occurring. None of us should miss this.
The first one will look at is my favorite because it was the first I saw. It opened my eyes to the life and power of the Word of God, and has allowed me to live in a greater awe and confidence ever since.
It is found in Luke 5:1-11.
Peter—still Simon at that time—was washing his nets as Jesus spoke at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd was large, and they were crowding the Lord, so he asked Simon if he would put out from land a little so he could speak to the people.
He had no idea what he was getting into.
After Jesus was done speaking to the people, he had a word for Simon himself ...
Launch out into the deep, and let down your net for a catch.
Not too powerful a word, right? Nowadays, when we think of "having a word" for someone, we think of something powerful and deep. Perhaps we have advice for them on their family, on their walk with God, or on a direction for their career. If we're charismatic, we may think of a spiritual person having some insight from God into a situation or a prophecy for someone's life.
Here, though, the Word of God was, "Launch out into the deep, and let down your net for a catch."
Simon's response is amazing ...
Master, we have toiled all night, and we have taken nothing; nevertheless, at your Word, I will let down the net.
I capitalized the word "Word" there because this Word would turn out so powerful.
You know the rest of the story, but you may not realize some of the details. After Peter's net was so full that it was bursting, he turned to Jesus, fell on his knees and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"
Then, when he returned to the land, he "forsook all, and followed him."
Did Jesus tell Peter he was a sinful man? Did Jesus tell Peter to give up everything and follow him?
I don't believe so. I believe he simply told Peter that he should let down his net.
But because it was the Word of the Lord, and because Simon obeyed that Word, it went inside him like a seed. All he knew when the Word went in him was that he should throw his net in the sea. Once the Word was planted in him, though ... then he knew ...
I believe that any spiritual man knows that the very first lesson God teaches us is that we are sinful and unworthy of his mercy. You will not go anywhere in Christ unless you open your heart to that lesson, which, if you have the Spirit of God, you are being taught every day.
And the very Gospel that Jesus preached—though it's one that is rarely preached today—is that if we wish to follow him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross every day, and go after him (Luke 9:23). Luke 14:33 adds that if we do not forsake all that we have, we cannot be his disciples.
Peter got that message.
How did he get it? Did he get it by explanation? No, he got it by obeying the one Word that the Lord gave him, which was to go out deeper and throw his nets into the water.
This second amazing illustration of the power of the living and growing Word of God is found in Luke 19:1-10. It is the story of the conversion of Zaccheus.
We all know this story, too. Little Zaccheus was up in a tree, and the Lord saw him as he passed by. He called Zaccheus down, went to his house, and Zaccheus turned from his cheating ways, returned all the money he'd extorted 4 times over, and gave half his goods to the poor.
What we may not realize is how exactly Zaccheus followed the Word of the Lord when it came to him, simple as it was.
Jesus said to Zaccheus:
Zaccheus, hurry, and come down, for today I must stay at your house!
Notice there are three commands here:
Scripture gives an exact response of Zaccheus to all three:
He hurried, came down, and received him joyfully.
I don't believe that was accidental. I believe the Holy Spirit was indicating by this verse that Zaccheus was receiving the Word of God in the only way the Word of God can be received, by being obeyed exactly.
Just as in the case with Peter, look at the power of the Word when it was received. It went in as a seed, but it began to grow up inside of him immediately.
Did Jesus tell Zaccheus that he must repay those he had cheated? Did he even tell him to stop cheating? Did he tell him that he needed to give half his goods to the poor?
Well, we can't see that he said it directly, but in a sense we can say that he did because Jesus is the Word of God. Once the Word of God was inside Zaccheus, it gave him revelation of the will of God, just as it had gave Simon Peter a revelation of the will of God.
Jesus was impressed. "Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham."
Sure he was a son of Abraham. He had become one when he received the Word of God. As the Scriptures say, "He is not a Jew who is one inwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:28-29).
We must not only be hearers of the Word of God; we must be speakers as well.
Our focus on Scripture to the exclusion of all the rest of the Word of God that Scripture tells us about has caused us to miss the fact that the very Word of God is living and growing inside of us. We make foolish commitments to confine our words to the words of Scripture, when neither the Lord nor any of the apostles did so.
When Peter looked for an apostle to replace Judas, he said that person was going to be ordained with them "as a witness of the resurrection" (Acts 1:22). This was the central ministry of the apostles (cf. Acts 4:2,33; 10:40-42).
The apostles were not called to be expositors of the Scripture; they were called to be witnesses of the resurrection. When the angel released Peter from prison, he told him to "speak ... all the words of this life" (Acts 5:20).
We should expect this. These were fishermen! They never went to seminary. Jesus taught them to follow God and live spiritually, not to be expounders of the Scripture.
Where did Jesus ever preach verse by verse from the Scriptures? Where did the apostles do so?
Don't get me wrong. The Scriptures are important. They are inspired, and they are useful for correction and for equipping us for every good work.
But Christianity is a spiritual, miraculous religion. The Word of God is a living, growing thing. We are meant to follow Christ, and Jesus Christ occasionally told people to throw their nets on the other side of the boat in order to save them. Peter healed a crippled man sitting by a gate of the temple.
For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. What else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also his Son? ... The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, then whenever the Father of the universe wills, he sends him anywhere, and he is both heard and seen. (Theophilus, To Autolycus II:22, A.D. 168)
There are those who say that since we have the New Testament, we no longer need prophecy.
Is this true? In Acts, a prophet named Agabus warned the church that there would be a famine in Judea (Acts 11:28). As a result, the Gentile churches were able to send support to their Jewish brothers.
Would that prophecy have been unnecessary if those Christians had the New Testament?
The New Testament doesn't make prophecy unnecessary.
Today there is a famine of holiness and an extreme famine of unity. Christians don't know how to live, how to adapt to our rapidly changing culture, nor how to maintain unity in an era of denominationalism and division. Thousands of house churches start in hope of experiencing the family of God that the Gospel calls us to be. Most languish with less than 10 members, never growing, or they explode in size, then quickly splinter and divide.
This is because we are in a war. The devil does not want Christians in unity! He takes the battle seriously, even if we don't.
We must fight him, and one of our weapons is the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.
But it is not the Bible.
The Bible is the Word of God, but the Word of God is not the Bible. The Bible is just one small portion of the Word of God. In the end, Jesus himself is the Word of God, but the Word of God in Scripture refers to any of the ways that the Word of God comes to man.
One way to illustrate this is with rectangles and squares. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Squares are a subset of rectangles. They are merely one type of rectangle. They're a special type, but they are not the only rectangles.
In the same way the Scriptures are the Word of God. They are inspired by—breathed into—by God, but they are not the only way God speaks. The Word of God also comes as a still, small voice in our spirits. It comes through circumstances, through prophecies and "words" of wisdom and knowledge. It comes through nature as well, for nature testifies of the grandeur of God.
House churches fighting for their lives and fighting to be effective need more than the Bible. They need the whole Word of God. They need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to overcome the devil, who is constantly warring to keep them ineffective and bored, or—if he can't do that—to divide and crush them.
Christians struggling for unity among themselves need more than the Bible. Where can they yield? Where must they take a stand?
Only a spiritual people will be able to overcome these problems.
In saying this, I am not rejecting Scripture. In saying all this, I am asking you to obey Scripture.
The Bible says, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). When Christians were facing seduction by false gnostic teachers, the apostle John told them it is the anointing of God—a clear reference to the Spirit, since anointing means the applying of oil—that would deliver them from error. He even told them they could trust that anointing as "true, and not a lie" (1 Jn. 2:27).
Note that all the "yous" in 1 John 2:27 are plural. The promise that the anointing will lead us into what is true is a promise to the church, not to individuals. The church is called "the pillar and support of the truth" in 1 Tim. 3:15.
I can't tell you how many people have told me they are Bible believers and that they want to follow the Bible only. Yet those very same people refuse to believe the Bible when it tells them that the anointing can be trusted to lead them into truth.
Such people believe some wonderful things about the Bible, but they don't believe the Bible itself.
It's the same with those that teach that the Bible is the pillar and support of the truth.
The Bible teaches that the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). We don't like to believe that because of the terrible history of the Roman Catholic Church, but does one hierarchy's evil make the Bible not to be true? How can you say your love and believe the Bible, but when it tells you that something else is the pillar and support of the truth, you don't believe it?
When the Bible says that the pillar and support of the truth is the church, it is talking about the local church. It is not talking about any specific denomination; it is talking about the Christians together in one city or town. When the devil tries to lead them astray, they can get together, Jesus Christ will be in their midst, and the anointing will lead them into what is true.
But, we don't do that, so we don't get to see the power of it.
You search the Scriptures because you think you have life in them. However, they testify of me, and you refuse to come to me so that you may have life. (Jesus, Jn. 5:39-40)
There's two places to go from here ...