How to Receive the Word of Man as the Word of God
For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
As we began prayer week with a call to be devoted to prayer from Romans 12:12, so we end prayer week with a call to embrace the Bible as the very word of God. My emphasis, just like last week, will be on the practical: How? How do you receive the Bible as the word of God?
My text is 1 Thessalonians 2:13, "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." From all the things we could talk about here, I want to focus on the words "you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God."
I would make three observations about this. 1) The apostolic word is the word of God. 2) When it comes to us objectively, we should accept it subjectively in the right way. 3) The way to do that in 2003 is to embrace it as precious, pleasant, and practical, which means, in practice (five M’s): to memorize it, meditate on it, make music with it, minister with it, and mind it.
The Apostolic Word Is the Word of God
Paul says in verse 13, "When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God." Paul claims that his apostolic teaching is the word of God.
That is what it meant for Jesus to choose and appoint apostles. The words of an apostle, when he teaches or writes as one of Jesus’ apostles, is the Word of God. The definition of the word "apostle" is one who is sent to represent another person with authority. Jesus said to the apostles in John 16:13, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." Jesus made plans that would insure the truth of the apostolic teaching about himself in the early church. And that is what came to be written down in our New Testament for our rule and authority.
The way this worked itself out in Paul’s experience is described in 1 Corinthians 2:13, where Paul says, "And we impart this [wisdom] in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual." This meant that Paul’s teaching was in fact the word of God. It had divine truthfulness and divine authority. Two times in 2 Corinthians Paul refers to this God-given authority that the Lord had given him as an apostle. For example, 2 Corinthians 10:8, "For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed" (see 13:10).
We can see this divine authority in action when Paul writes to the Corinthians about people who were claiming to have revelatory experiences. He puts his authority over against theirs and says that his teaching as an apostle is the measuring rod. "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).
Peter confirms this divine authority that Paul had as an apostle by describing his writings as in the same category with the inspired scriptures of the Old Testament. You recall that 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God." Then Peter says in 2 Peter 3:15-16, "Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures." "The other Scriptures" shows that Peter put Paul’s letters in the category with God’s inspired and authoritative scriptures.
I know this is not a proof from outside the Bible that the Bible is the word of God. It is a claim within the Bible that that is what the Bible is – the word of God. That is where I leave it this morning. But if you want to ponder more on why we believe the Bible is the word of God, plan to come to that TBI seminar that I teach, and read some good defenses of the Scriptures in our bookstore, and consider this summary statement from the old Keach’s Catechism:
The Bible evidences itself to be God's Word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, the unity of its parts, its power to convert sinners and to edify saints; but the Spirit of God only, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in our hearts, is able fully to persuade us that the Bible is the Word of God.
There are many kinds of arguments for embracing the scriptures as God’s word. But this morning my point is to simply show that the Bible teaches that the apostolic word is the word of God.
When the Word of God Comes to Us Objectively, We Should accept It Subjectively in the Right Way
Again 1 Thessalonians 2:13, "When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God."
The words for "received" and "accepted" are not the same. They "received" the word of God means that it came to them in objective form. It was handed on to them like a tradition. Paul preached it objectively. It would have been the word of God whether they accepted it or not. There is an objective word of God. That’s one of the differences between an orthodox view of Scripture and a neo-orthodox view which says that the word of man becomes the word of God if we receive it as such. But it is not the word of God objectively until we receive it that way.
That is not what Paul says in verse 13. Paul says that his preaching was "really" or "truly" the word of God and they "accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God." The word of man does not become the word of God because it is accepted as the word of God. We accept it because it is the word of God. The apostolic word really is the word of God, objectively, apart from our subjective attitude toward it.
Our accepting it does not make it the word of God, we accept it because it is the word of God. The word "accepted" means more than "receive" as we receive a tradition handed on to us. It means "welcome." It means "embrace" as what it is. We can see this use in 1 Corinthians 2:14. Right after Paul says that he teaches in words taught by the Holy Spirit he adds, "The natural person does not accept [same word] the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
So the point of 1 Thessalonians 2:13 is that there is a right way to accept or welcome the teachings of the Bible when we receive it. And the right way is to accept it for what it really is, the very word of God. We should embrace it and welcome it as the word of God, because it is the word of God. It is God’s truth and has God’s authority. It is the rule for all other claims to truth and the rule over all other authority. We should embrace it that way.
Now how do we do that? What does it look like to welcome the Scriptures as the word of God? I have a three-fold answer from the context of Thessalonians and a five-fold answer by implication based on what the Bible says elsewhere about how to use it.
The Way to Welcome the Word of God in 2003
Embrace it as precious, pleasant, and practical, which means, in practice (five M’s): to memorize it, meditate on it, make music with it, minister with it, and mind it.
Let’s start with the three fold answer from the context.
Notice the link between the context of verse 14 and the context of 1:6-7. Verse 14 says that the evidence that the Thessalonians accepted the word of God for what it really is was that they suffered for it. "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen."
Now compare that to 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 and you will see that we are in the same context: "And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia."
Notice three things about how they received the word.
1.They received the word even though it meant "much affliction." From that I infer that they welcomed the word as precious. To have it and believe it and trust in it was worth more than comfort and safety. It was a treasure. They accepted suffering rather than give it up. So the right way to accept the word of God is to accept it as precious – more precious than possessions and life.
2.They received the word in this affliction with the "joy of the Holy Spirit." From that I infer that they welcomed the word of God as pleasant. It produces joy. Precious and pleasant.
These two words remind us of what Psalm 19:10 says about God’s words: "More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb." Gold is precious. Honey is pleasant. When we experience the word of God as more precious than gold and more pleasant than honey we will have embraced the word of God the way we should.
3.Third, they received the word as practical. It changed their lives in visible ways. I infer that from verse 7. "So that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia." This is what Paul’s word did when they received it as what it really was, the word of God. It was practical and life-changing.
So the answer to the question, "How do your accept or welcome and embrace the Bible as the word of God the way you should?" is accept it or embrace it as precious, pleasant, and practical. More precious than gold, more pleasant than honey, practical enough to change your life.
Now let’s get as practical as we can for what we should actually do with the Bible this year. If the aim is to embrace it as precious, pleasant, and practical, what would you do with it?
The way to welcome the Bible in 2003 as precious, pleasant, and practical is to memorize it, meditate on it, make music with it, minister with it, and mind it.
1. Memorize It
If the word of God is more precious to you than gold and more pleasant than honey and more practical than all human counsel, then you will want to memorize it. And the reason is that the preciousness of it is not mainly in having it in a book, but having it in your mind and in your heart – that’s where you experience its preciousness.
And the pleasantness of it is not that it lies in a book, but that it lies in your mind and in your heart so that you can taste it any time you want. Honey will not do you any good at all in a jar in the cabinet. It is good on your tongue. That is where the sweetness of Scripture is when you memorize it.
All the other ways of welcoming the word that I am about to mention are helped and advanced by this one. Memorizing the word helps you meditate on it day and night. Memorizing helps you make music with it. Memorizing helps you minister it to others in needs when there is no Bible to read. And a word of Scripture from your heart is more powerful in ministry any way. And memorizing helps you mind Scripture.
Psalm 119:11 says, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." So memorizing and treasuring the word in your heart helps you triumph over sin. Just like John writes in 1 John 2:14, "I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." When the word of God abides in us we have a tremendous advantage over sin and Satan. Jesus put Satan to flight every time in the wilderness by quoting memorized Scripture.
Use the Fighter Verse program with the list of verses given out today and how to do it. Or go beyond that and get the little booklet by Andrew Davis, "An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture," and let him show you how to memorize chapters and books of the Bible.
One of the clearest links between last week’s sermon and this one is that our prayers are made more powerful when they are saturated with the Bible and that happens for people who memorize scripture. People who don’t memorize scripture generally pray in clichés. And their language of prayer tends to be the way an unbeliever would pray. Those who do memorize scripture are always enriching their prayers with the very word of God. Remember Romans 8:27: God hears the prayers of the Spirit on our behalf because he prays "according to God." A believer should distrust his needs and seek God’s word for what he really needs and pray for that.
2. Meditate on the Word of God
Psalm 1:2 says that the blessed man – the man whose life is like a fruitful tree planted by streams of water – delights in the law of the Lord, "and on his law he meditates day and night." To meditate means to read it, ponder it, think about it, query it, and relate it to as many other truths as you can. Paul puts it this way in 2 Timothy 2:7, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." The Lord gives understanding, but we must think, that is, meditate.
From all the Scripture that you read in the morning, I suggest that you take one verse in your mind, memorized – and perhaps on a small piece of paper in case you need review. And let that be the focus of meditation all day long. Come back to it again and again. Relate it to all you do.
And meditation is not just intellectual. It is emotional. Meditation is cherishing the gold and savoring the honey. If you don’t feel this cherishing and savoring, ask the Lord to waken the spiritual taste buds of your soul. He won’t do it apart from the word. The word is part of what creates the taste for the word. Put it on the tongue of your soul. He wakens your heart to taste Christ in his word. So take the honey of the word into your mind and ask him to create a taste for it.
3. Make Music with It
I get this from Colossians 3:16. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Notice how the word is to dwell richly in you: namely, by "singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs."
Sing the word to yourself. And sing the word in your family. And sing the word in church. Most good hymns and worship songs are permeated with Scripture. We will sing one in just a few minutes: "Thy Word Is a Lamp Unto My Feet," which is based on Psalm 119:105.
4. Minister with the Word
I don’t have preachers in mind here. I have you all in mind and what the Bible says every Christian should do for other Christians (and unbelievers) day in and day out (on the phone, in an email, on the street, in the office, in small groups, in the hospital, in the living room with the family). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:12-13). What do you exhort with? Not your wisdom. That is hopeless. We exhort with the word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. So speak it to help people in the fight of faith.
Oh, how important it is to store up the Word of God in your mind and heart if you want to minister to people and help them fight the fight of faith day by day. Parents for children, children for your friends. Small groups to each other. Students to roommates. What we need from each other is the word of God. When I am confused, give me the word of God. When I am arrogant, give me the word of God. When I am lustful, give me the word of God. When I am frightened, give me the word of God. When I am suffering, give me the word of God. When I am angry, give me the word of God. When I am dying, give me the word of God. Minster to me. I plead with you. All who have any access to me, give me the word of God.
5. Mind the Word of God
That is, obey it. This is part of the great commission. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
Right after saying that the word is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey Psalm 19:11 says, "Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward." The word of God is not a burden to those who love God. Here is the great test: Do you love God? 1 John 5:3 puts the test plainly. "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome."
This is my prayer for 2003, that we will welcome the Bible as the word of God. That we will embrace it as more precious than gold and more pleasant than honey and more practical than all human wisdom. And as an expression of that embrace and as a means to that embrace that we would memorize it extensively, and meditate on it day and night, and make music with it from our hearts, and minister with it to sustain each other’s faith, and mind it without it being burdensome.
I close with this one last observation from the text. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, "We also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men." He thanked God they embraced his message as the word of God. That means we can add one more "M" to our list of five. Embracing the Bible as the word of God is a "mercy" from God. It is a merciful gift. And for that I pray.