St. Augustine was not always a Christian. He was raised in the faith by his mother, Monica. However, Augustine drifted from the faith. He became involved with a woman out of wedlock and even had a child with her (he was with her for 15 years). He joined a cult and taught rhetoric.
He moved to Carthage (in Africa) and began listening to the sermons of Saint Ambrose. He was surprised at the learned nature of the messages. Augustine believed the facts of Christianity, he simply didn’t want to make a commitment.
He went out to the garden to think and as the story goes he heard a child’s voice singing “Take up and read! Take up and read!” He could not remember any childhood game he played with any such words. So he opened his Bible and read the first chapter that met his eyes: “Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:13-14)
When he told his friend what he had experienced, the friend took the book and also read, and then he joined Augustine in his resolution to follow Christ.
There are many stories just like this of people who picked up the Bible and were changed forever by what they read. Our text today in Hebrews 4:12-15 describes the power of God’s Word,
12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. (Hebrews 4;12-15)
God’s Word is Alive (Dynamic) and Powerful (Active)
Unbelievers and so many in our own culture view the Bible as a set of rules . . .an instruction manual for life. Others see the Bible on the same level as a historical novel. Still others just see it as the dusty record of a superstitious faith.
Anyone who is believer knows the Bible is not just a bunch of rules, it is a revelation of God and His plan for us. The Bible has an uncanny ability to speak to us.
Most believers have had the experience of reading their daily devotions only to be stunned that the assigned verse for the day is exactly the Word from God they needed. How many of you have come to worship and walked away feeling God was in your closet because what was being said was so relevant to right where you were struggling that day?
The Bible is like that. God, through the Holy Spirit still speaks to us through the Bible. Do you remember those two guys on the road home to Emmaus who encountered Jesus right after his Resurrection? We are told that he opened the Word of God to them and starting with Adam explained the plan of God. Do you remember how the two men were described? We are told their “hearts burned within them”. The Scriptures were transforming each of them with the truth and insight of these words.
It is important that we realize that the term “God’s Word” does not simply refer to the Bible. At the time the Book of Hebrews was written, the Old Testament was the “Bible”. However the Words of Jesus, the words of the apostles, and even His Word declared by martyrs, reformers and even by those who accurately teach that Word today all come under the category of “God’s Word”. They don’t all possess the same authority but they are all “God’s Word”.
God’s Word is not like the theories of men. Our theories must continually be revised. Some of the things people believed and thought years ago are now seen as nonsense. That is not true with the Bible. The Bible talks to us about real life. It addresses issues such as: Who made the world? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Where are we going? These are real life questions. Listen to these insights from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,
This Word is not only alive and up-to-date and contemporary—it is the only word that is truly contemporary and up-to-date. Look at the problem of the world as it is at the present time. How do you face it? Well, first of all, you ask: What is the world? Where did it come from? Where has the cosmos come from? What are human beings? What is creation? You must face all that.
“Ah,” you reply, “but science answers those questions.”
Does it? Can you get unanimity among your scientists? Can you get anything beyond theories—contradictory theories at that? That is the best you will get from them. They do not know. You are asked to believe—if you listen to modern scientific opinion—that the world is probably the result of an accident. Two planets, some say, passed a bit too near to one another, and one knocked a bit off the other, hence the cosmos. But they do not tell us where the planets came from originally. They leave you with great questions quite unanswered.
Some translations say the Word is living and active. I like that translation better. Contrast this with much of the information we get today. When I finished college and when I finished graduate school I decided I needed to save all my notes from my classes. And guess what? I haven’t looked at them since that time. Eventually I boxed all those notes up and tossed them out. Much of what we learn may be interesting for the moment but it is hardly life-changing. (In fact some of the things I read on the Internet seem to actually take away life rather than give it.)
The Word of God is not like that. Sure there are parts of the Bible that will leave us with somewhat of a glazed look in our eyes. There are sections of the Bible that are a necessary foundation for the bigger story: the story of God’s love toward us and His plan to rescue us. They don’t do much except “set the table” for that which truly transforms.
God’s Word is Revealing (It exposes)
It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
God’s Word has a way of cutting to the truth. It sees us as we really are and reveals the truth to our heart.
In politics there is a great deal of talk about “spin”. They take something that happened and try to interpret and present what happened in a way that makes them look good. If the jobless rate goes up they will focus on the cost of living remaining steady or the stock prices going up. The idea is to try to control the image of the party or its leader.
We do the same thing in our lives. We want to present ourselves in such a way that weaknesses are covered and strengths are magnified. We tell every story in a way that allows us to be seen in a good light. We recount every conversation so that our words seem wise and insightful. We dismiss every mistake as being a terrible misunderstanding of our intentions. We are all masters at spin.
We are so good at this spin that we convince ourselves that it is true. We can tell a story enough times so that we become the hero in the story and we actually believe that it is true. Why do we do this? We don’t want to be exposed for the sinful person we are. We are like Adam and Eve in the Garden . . . we sin and we cover ourselves with leaves in the hope of hiding from the truth.
The Word of God cuts through all the justifications, the rationalizations, and the excuses. It speaks to use with laser beam intensity. The Word of God works like a surgeon who has to cut us open to expose the problem and remove or fix it.
The Word of God tells us right up front that we are NOT good people. Our motives are at best mixed. Most of the time our motive is to obtain what we want for ourselves.
- We call our anger a just response to a wrong done to us; God calls it sin; the equivalent of murder.
- We say we are simply admiring the beauty of the opposite sex, God calls it lust and an adulterous heart.
- We say we are building bridges to the world; the Word of God says we are conforming to the idolatrous values of the world.
- We say we are sorry; God’s Word points out that we are only sorry we got caught.
- We say we were borrowing; God says we were stealing
- We say we are doing our best; God says we are not
- We profess that we are trying to be good parents, or a good employee, or a fine citizen; God says we are engaging in idolatry by making other things more important than Him.
But there are also positive things
- We say there is no hope; God tells us that we lack faith
- We call it a tragedy; God says you don’t see the whole picture
- We say we are worthless; God tells us we are a treasure
- We say we have done too many bad things; God says, we are forgiven.
- We say we are reaching the end of our lives; God says we are getting ready to BEGIN our lives.
The Word of God sees clearly and speaks clearly. God’s intention is not to tear us down. He is not out to make us feel bad. He wants to make us well. And before we can be well we have to accept the fact that we are sick. We are so sick we need surgery from the Lord Himself. We need heart and soul surgery. The Lord tells us the truth not abusively but lovingly.
N.T. Wright helps clarify,
“Well, part of the point of verses 12 and 13 is that it’s going to do its work, and you can’t escape! But clearly a lot of people do escape for the moment at least, presumably either by staying out of earshot of it – making sure they don’t open a Bible too often, and don’t listen to sermons or even general chatter about Jesus if they can help it – or firmly ignoring anything they do hear. But part of what this passage seems to be saying is that you can’t escape in the end; that if you imagine you can slide along in unbelief and slip by unnoticed into the ‘rest’ that God has promised his faithful people, God’s word will find you out, will pierce through and disclose what’s really going on, the secret thoughts, plans and intentions that you make the real center of your life. Everyone must sooner or later give an account of themselves. At that moment, if never before, all will be revealed.
But the thrust of the passage, though obviously intended as a warning, can also lead to a great encouragement. If this is going to happen sooner or later, you had much better get on with it. If you have a choice between letting the doctor examine you right away, uncomfortable though it may be, and waiting until he or she can do a post-mortem on you after it’s too late, it’s wise to go for the first. If you open yourself, day by day and week by week, to the message of scripture, its grand sweep and its small details, and allow the faithful preaching of Jesus and his achievement to enter your consciousness and soak down into your imagination and heart, then the admittedly uncomfortable work of God’s word will be happening on a regular basis, showing you (as we say) where you really are, what’s going on deep inside.”
Let’s Get On With It
If we desperately need the surgery of the Word of God; if we must submit to His gaze and hear His counsel before we can ever hope of entering the rest of being a child of God then how do we begin?
First, we must make time. People who are ill and need surgery must schedule their surgery. Then they must make time for both the surgery and the recovery. There will be periods of rest and periods of physical therapy. There is no such thing as “surgery on the go”.
Likewise, we must make time to encounter the Word of God. We can do this in many different ways
- Open your Bible and read
- Listen to good Biblical teaching on Christian Radio, the Internet, or via video or audio messages.
- Work your way through a good Christian book (but this should not be a substitute for reading the Bible itself)
- Attend worship at a Bible preaching church and stay awake and engaged during the sermon
The key is to expose ourselves to the Word of God.
Second, we need to take what we hear personally. I don’t mean we should take offense. I am saying we need to listen understanding that God desires to communicate with you.
If you are like me, you get dozens of emails and texts every day. And if you are like me you don’t view them all the same way. Some of these I delete without even reading them. They are ads and I usually figure if I don’t know something is on sale I will be content not having it. There are other emails or texts that may be a little more interesting but they are too long or not something I need to address, so I delete them too. However, when I see certain names or subject matter I will often stop what I am doing to read and re-read the text or email. Some I read very carefully and even joyfully. Often I will take time right then and there to respond. What is the difference? It is the value I place on the sender. If I have a note from one of my children or a family member or significant friends I will stop what I am doing to respond.
We should approach God’s Word with the attention like that which we would give to the cherished friend rather than as a consumer on a mass mail list. We know God has our best interest at heart.
The Lord wants us to grow. As you read and listen to His Word we must always ask, “What is it you want me to learn, Lord? How does this apply to my life? What is it that God might be trying to communicate to you? What direction is He giving? What correction is He making? What problem is He addressing?
Third, be honest with God and be honest with yourself. I believe it is helpful to remind yourself that though spin works with others and it often even with deceives us, God is not fooled. There is no sense hiding from Him for He sees things more clearly than you do. Instead of making excuses, admit and confess your sin. Ask God to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
There is something freeing about this kind of honesty. No more looking over your shoulder afraid that you are going to be exposed. There is nothing to hide with the Lord; He already knows it all. You don’t need to waste your time with excuses or justifications because He knows the truth. Instead we can deal with reality. We can address the real problems, fears, rebellion, anger, bitterness and rebellion against what God has called us to do.
So, go into your time with the Lord open and honest.
Fourth, share what you learn with others. Set out to be someone who is a channel or “relay station” for God’s Word. As God speaks to you (and He will) share what you are learning. This act of sharing will both help others and it will also help you because we remember better what we share or teach to someone else.
Sharing with others has another positive effect: it makes you accountable. Once you share what you have learned you know that others will notice whether or not you are applying what you said you learned. That accountability will encourage growth.
Finally, make what you are learning a matter of prayer. It is not enough to simply see that change is necessary, we need to continually work with God on that issue. The best way for that to happen is to make it a matter of regular prayer. Daily meet with God and ask Him to build these characteristics in you. Review your day and confess the times when you failed and then give thanks for the progress you begin to see.
It may sound like an encounter with the Word of God and the exposure that results is a terrifying prospect. To be honest, there are times when you don’t like what you see. But even in those times you are reminded of a God whose grace is sufficient for our every need. We will be reminded that we are not alone and that we are loved. And when all is said and done, it is the message that all of us need to hear again and again.
 Excerpt From: N. T. Wright. “Hebrews for Everyone.” Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. iBooks.
 Lloyd-Jones, M. (2006). Triumphant Christianity (Vol. 5, p. 79). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.