Last week we began exploring what the Biblical notion of ‘Word’ means. The Bible asserts that God has spoken and revealed himself. He has done that through his Word. We saw that we all express ourselves using words and God is no different. God has expressed himself first when he created the heavens and the earth by speaking his Word. Secondly, God expressed himself through his Son, the Word of God made flesh. This week will see the other two ways that God has spoken. First, through the written Word of God found in the Scriptures and second, through the ‘Word’ of the gospel message itself.
God has spoken through His Word, the Bible
I remember when I was at theological college, I learned for the first time that about 3000 times in the Old Testament we read, “Thus saith the Lord”. The Old Testament clearly asserts that God has spoken through the Old Testament Scriptures. Indeed the prophet Isaiah opens with the words, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken…” and again further on in verse 10, “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom..”. As we arrive at the New Testament, Jesus affirms the authority of the Old Testament. We read Jesus responding to the temptations of the Devil by quoting the Old Testament scriptures: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. (Matt 4:3, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16) The point is clear: As a body needs food to survive, so the soul needs the scriptures to survive. When Jesus reinstates Peter as a pastor, he commissions him to feed God’s sheep. The role of the pastor then is to feed the souls of God’s people with the Word of God.
An important question follows. We can see easily see that the Old Testament is the Word of God by which God reveals himself and speaks to his people. How can we be sure that the New Testament is equally the Word of God? Firstly we need to look at Jesus words. In Luke 5:1 we read, “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing on [Jesus] to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake…” The New Testament writers, therefore, saw Jesus’ words as the Word of God. Jesus himself saw his words as the Word of God. After Jesus spoke, he said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Jesus also makes the claim in John 10 that as the Good Shepherd, he leads God’s people to eternal life via his word. In the first 5 verses of chapter 10, the word ‘voice’ is used 3 times. The shepherd leads his sheep via his word – the Word of God.
So we can see that the Old Testament is the Word of God. Equally, Jesus’ words are the word of God. What about the rest of the New Testament authors? For this, we need to go to Jesus’ words to the original disciples. In John 16, Jesus speaks to them about the role of the Holy Spirit. One of the outcomes of Jesus’ death is the coming of the Holy Spirit – The Spirit of Truth (John 16:12). The Spirit of Truth will “guide [them] into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell [them] what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you…That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and maker it known to you.” Here we read that God’s Spirit will give the original disciples the ‘Truth’. One of these original disciples was Peter who later wrote, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophets’ own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
The role of the Holy Spirit in ‘carrying along’ the New Testament writers is affirmed by the Apostle Paul when he writes to his apprentice Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work…. Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5). The word God-breathed is literally “God Spirited”. In Old Testament Hebrew there is a wordplay on ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ which has been carried into New Testament Greek. We see this again when we read that the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12 and Revelation 1:16).
From this brief study, we can see therefore that the Bible – the Old Testament and New Testament alike are God’s authoritative Word to his people. To listen to God is primarily to listen to the Bible as we read it. God may well lead, prompt, or urge subjectively through peoples’ consciences, but he authoritatively speaks objectively through his Word – the Bible.
God has expressed himself in the gospel as the Word of God.
As we move to much of the New Testament, we read that the Word of God is not only the words of Jesus or the bible but the actual message about God’s work of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see this in James 1:18: “He chose to give us birth through the of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all that he created”. James is deliberately ambiguous here about what aspect of the Word he’s writing about. Is he referring to Jesus, or the Bible or the gospel? The reality is he’s writing about all three because we hear about gospel Word of salvation in the Word of God the bible as we read about Jesus the Word of God made flesh! Again Peter helps us see this: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through. The living ad enduring word of God.”
As a preacher and teacher of the bible, one of my favourite passages in the whole of scripture is 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself… and has committed to us the message (Literally, ‘word’) of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” What does God express of himself through the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus? He expresses his great love for people (Romans 5:8), he expresses his justice as the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), he expresses his mercy as Jesus takes that punishment in our place as our substitute (Isaiah 53:5; Hebrews 9:27-28; Mark 10:45).
Well that’s a long, 2-week answer to a short question, “What does the Word of God actually refer to?” A foundation of the Christian faith is that God has spoken and expressed himself via his spoken Word when he created, through his Word, Jesus through His Word the Bible; and through his Word the gospel. God has spoken!
The only question for us is, will we listen? Let’s join the songwriter Stuart Townend and pray:
Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.
Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.
Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.
Songwriters: Townend Stuart Christopher Andrew / Getty Keith
Speak O Lord lyrics © Thank You Music Ltd.