Receiving the Word of God

October 22, 2017 / No. 3903

Dear Radio Friends,
The Word of God we consider today is of great importance. It addresses how you and I are to view the preaching of the gospel. Do we believe that the preaching of the Word is necessary? Do we believe that God requires of us to go to church to sit under that preaching? Do we view the faithful preaching of God’s Word the word of a man to us or, in truth, the Word of God? When we do sit under the preaching and it touches a sore spot do we humbly bow before it or become defiant?
In the last broadcast God’s Word spoke to the preacher. In the first twelve verses Paul addresses what must be the attitude of the preacher toward his own preaching. When the preacher who is called of God to proclaim His Word, then he must seek to please God in that preaching. He is not out to please men; he is not out to gain fame, fortune, or the glory of his own name. He must not be interested in gaining something to himself by means of his preaching. He must be interested in one thing: the salvation of God’s people. This says everything about the methods he uses to bring God’s Word. He must not preach words that flatter men, that deceive men, or even that entice men. He must simply, honestly, and sharply preach the Word. This is pleasing to God. That is his calling as a preacher.
The Word of God before us today addresses those who are called by God to hear the preaching. We read in I Thessalonians 2:13, “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.” We need to have a proper understanding of this Word of God before us today. It has much to say of our attitude toward the preaching of the gospel. That, in turn, will have much to say of our walk of life in response to the preaching.
I. God’s Word Preached
The emphasis of the verse we consider today centers in the “word of God” the saints in Thessalonica received. “When ye received the word of God,” Paul writes of them, “ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.” We need to understand, first of all, therefore, what is meant by this “word of God” the Thessalonian believers received. What is the Word of God? Well, obviously, it is the Bible, right? The Thessalonian believers gladly received the Bible. But the answer is not that easy. The saints to whom Paul wrote this letter did not have the Bible as we have it today. They may have had the Old Testament Scriptures, but they certainly did not have as yet the New Testament. And if they did have the Old Testament Scriptures, there certainly was not a printed copy in every person’s home. Maybe only a few copies available in the synagogue in the city, not much more. So, there certainly is implied in our text something more by the “word of God” than the written Scriptures as we have them today. Our Bible is indeed the written Word of God, but there is more to this concept than at first we might think. You see, God’s Word is that which God through the ages speaks to His people and by which He reveals Himself to them. That Word of God He has spoken in many different ways. Sometimes He spoke that Word directly for everyone to hear: the ten commandments, for example. Or when the voice from heaven was heard concerning Christ: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” Most of the time, however, that Word was spoken by God to and through special servants whom God chose. Peter tells us in II Peter 1:21, “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” These holy men were the patriarchs and prophets of the old dispensation and the apostles of the new.
The Word these men spoke and wrote through which God revealed Himself was fulfilled in Christ. Christ is God made flesh, and therefore Christ is ultimately the revelation of God concerning Himself to His people. This is why Christ is called “the Word” in the Bible. It is important for us to understand in all of this, however, that throughout the ages, as God spoke this Word by the mouths of holy men, He saw to it that all of it was recorded for us. That is why today, when we speak of the Word of God, we speak of the Bible—the Scriptures—the written record of God’s speech to His people, as being the Word of God. And truly today, God’s Word is that which is embodied in the Scriptures. There is no longer direct revelation of God through the mouths of special servants. The Word of God is complete. It is ours. All we need to know about God, about sin and salvation, about Christ, about this world in which we live, and about things to come is recorded objectively in the Bible. This Bible is the Word of God today.
Yet, it is obvious the verse we consider means more by the terminology “word of God” than simply that Word which is recorded for us in Scripture. The saints were not simply receiving printed Bibles from Paul and his co-laborers. They were receiving the Word of God from the mouths of these preachers! Paul writes, “Ye received the Word of God which ye heard of [from] us!” So this verse refers to the Word of God, not written, but spoken. It refers to the Word of God preached, the Word of God imparted, exhorted, comforted, and charged. These are the words Paul uses to describe the preaching in the first 12 verses of this chapter. Our text reflects the attitude of these believers toward the preaching. And it instructs us, therefore, on how we too must receive, not the Bible itself, but the preaching of God’s Word. That is what Paul has in mind in this verse: the official proclamation of the Word of God by the mouths of those called and sent by the church to preach the gospel. We established those offices in our last broadcast when we considered who preached in Thessalonica, that is, Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
Notice, friends, that we are instructed in something very, very important here in this Word of God before us. We are told in no uncertain terms that God’s Word must be preached! That is implicit in the instruction God gives us: God’s Word must be preached. That in turn means two things. First, God’s Word must be preached! The Word of God must be preached from the pulpit. Not the word of man, not the good advice, the stale moralisms, the jokes and stories of men. The preacher may not spend time in his sermon expounding something that he thinks is nice or even necessary. Too many preachers today do this. They have a book that tells them of some nice subjects to broach with their congregation. Then that preacher takes his Bible in hand and searches for a number of Bible verses that may illustrate or support the point he is trying to make. That is not preaching. It is something that goes under the guise of preaching, but it is not preaching. God’s Word must be preached! The Bible must be taken in hand and the preacher must expound and explain God’s Word to His church. Even Paul did that in his preaching. He used the Old Testament Scriptures. He explained the coming and death of Jesus Christ by expounding the Old Testament Scriptures. Today too, a passage of God’s Word, or a doctrine of God’s Word, must be grappled with by the preacher in his studies. Then he must go to the pulpit with the Bible and say to his congregation, “Thus saith the Lord!” This is Jehovah’s Word to His church! God says! This is what Paul and his companions did. They preached not the word of men, but in truth the Word of God!
But there is another important element that needs to be emphasized in this connection: God’s Word must be preached! God’s official Word to His people does not come via a song, or a movie or skit, or a panel discussion, or a sports hero, or even via a member of the church standing up and witnessing. God’s official Word to His church comes via that ambassador whom God puts in trust with the gospel. And it comes only when he stands before his congregation with Bible in hand, and proclaims: “this is what Jehovah says!” God’s Word must be preached!
That cannot be emphasized enough because of the particular instruction we receive in this verse of God’s Word.
II. God’s Word Received
You see, this Word of God that the saints heard from the mouths of Paul, Silas, and Timothy had effectually worked in them. Paul explains this at the very end of verse 13: “The Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” Such is what the preaching of the gospel does: it effectually works in those that believe. Now, that needs some explaining of course. The terminology “effectually works” explains the power of the preaching. The preaching works, it is operative, it puts forth power, it produces in the hearts of God’s people. To put it in other words, the preaching always has an effect, it always produces results. The result it works is faith. When the Word of God is officially proclaimed by the church of Jesus Christ, it works believing in the hearts of God’s people. The preaching is like a dynamo, a huge, powerful generator. That generator produces electricity that lightens the houses of countless millions. When the preaching is heard it acts like a powerful generator that produces the power to enlighten the hearts of men to bring some to faith and repentance. That is the power of preaching. That is why the Word of God must be preached too. It is the way God Himself has chosen to work and confirm faith in the hearts of His chosen people. That is what this passage before us teaches. The Word of God preached effectually works—produces results—in those who believe.
This is true because when the preacher expounds the Scriptures, then the Word he brings is God’s Word. When God speaks, it always produces results. Through the preaching of the gospel God performs what He desires. The Word of God is heard from the mouths of those who preach, but it is a word of God, or belonging to God. It is His Word we hear. Although Paul in this verse stresses the positive result of the preaching, there is also a negative purpose of God in the preaching. The preaching effectually works in the hearts of God’s people faith. But that same preaching effectually works in the hearts of others unbelief and rebellion. There are those whom God has appointed to hear the Word proclaimed and believe. There are others whom God has appointed to stumble at the Word and turn away in unbelief. That which produces this twofold result is the very Word of God itself. The Word of God when it is preached purely condemns all earthly pomp and pride and directs us to the cross alone for salvation. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. Because this is true, many are offended by the preaching of the Word of God, while others are humbled and brought to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ. Whatever the case, the preaching of the gospel by the church effectually works: it works the will of God in our salvation, and the will of God in the condemnation of others.
Now, God worked in a positive way in the hearts of the saints in Thessalonica. They were believers. By the Word they came to the conscious knowledge of their sin and salvation in Christ. By the Word of God preached to them they came to a hearty confidence in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and to a strong trust in God as the God of their salvation who loved them. Because this was the effect of the Word preached to them, these saints also received the preaching of the Word. Notice, the term “received” is used twice in this verse. Actually, in the original these are two different words. The first term refers to those who passively receive something—those who are given something without any active participation. The second term for “receive” refers to those who consciously and favorably take something or embrace something that is given them.
The idea here is really beautiful: “when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us,” that is to say, when the Word of God was given or transmitted to you by us in the preaching, “Then ye received it,” that is to say, then you consciously embraced it and believed it, not as the word of men, but as the Word of God. Through the preaching, those who hear receive the Word from God—He gives it to them. According to God’s good pleasure He then uses that preaching to work effectually in the hearts of His elect. These are brought to faith though the preaching. Those who are brought to faith then receive or embrace that Word with a believing heart. It is not as those who believe in the free will of fallen man say, that they must first of all accept the Word before God will save them. If that were the case, then the Word of God no longer works effectually. The preaching of the Word is no longer the power unto salvation. It is man’s choice that saves him. This verse clearly teaches us that God’s Word preached is proclaimed to many. For those whom God has chosen to save, that preaching touches and saves by means of the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. These, then, in faith consciously embrace the gospel and follow after Jesus Christ. Those whom God has not chosen receive the preaching (hear the preaching) but it falls on deaf ears, and because there is no work of grace or of the Spirit in them, they do not receive (consciously embrace) the gospel. In fact, they are hardened in their sin and reject the gospel of Christ. God has not worked in them faith and repentance.
Paul rejoices in the faith of the Thessalonian believers. When they heard the preaching of the gospel, they received it with believing hearts. This addresses our attitude toward the preaching of the Word of God. What is our response to the preaching? Do we go to church to hear God’s Word proclaimed? Or do we neglect the assembling of ourselves with fellow believers? When we come to church, do we seek out the preaching or do we look for something more entertaining? When we listen to the preaching, is it with carnal ears or believing hearts? If we view the preaching as a mere man talking to us, then the preaching is not all that important, is it? I mean, what is the importance of being in church if the preaching is simply a man saying what he has in his mind. If it is God speaking to us, however, and we believe that, then we not only dare not ignore the preaching of the gospel and keep ourselves from God house, but we willingly come, because we want to hear what God has to say to us. Coming to God’s house is our desire and joy! If we believe that the preacher brings to us only his own word, we can ignore or wave off the preaching as unnecessary and foolish. In other words, if we view the preaching in a carnal way, then the preaching of the gospel does not work effectually in our hearts confirming and strengthening our faith. On the contrary, the preaching hardens us, makes us indifferent to the things of the kingdom of heaven. But if we, like the Thessalonian believers, by God’s grace receive the preaching as the Word of God, then we will drink in every word of the preaching. We dare not ignore the preaching, since it is God speaking to us. How do you view the preaching of the gospel? It has everything to do with this: those who believe hear and are blessed, those who do not believe stumble at the Word. Do you believe or stumble when the Word of God is preached to you?
III. God’s Word Honored
Paul gives God thanks for the way these saints received the preaching of the Word. We give God thanks too when the preaching of the gospel is received in this way. It is striking, though, that Paul gives God the thanks. We ought to take note of that. If it truly was the Thessalonians that themselves first accepted the gospel before God actually saved them, then Paul would have to thank the Thessalonian believers. Paul does not do that. Paul does not say: Thank you, beloved saints in Thessalonica, for receiving the Word from me. I am extremely grateful to you that you chose Christ and listened to me. Paul does not say that. Never does the Word of God thank men for their salvation.
Paul thanks God, unceasingly, that is, without stopping, for God’s great grace and mercy He has shown to His people in Christ. God brings to faith and repentance. God gives, God works, and as a result we believe. We too thank God that He has wrought so great a salvation in us. How can we begin to show our gratitude to Him? Well, there is one way, people of God, one way among many. We can begin unceasingly to thank God for giving us the preaching of the gospel.
We can begin to do this by receiving the preaching not as the word of men, but the Word of God.