“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Active and alive.
Throughout the centuries the Bible has been ridiculed and banned, distorted, misquoted and burned. Yet, it has survived and is still the most widely published and read book in history. Written over a span of fifteen hundred years, by around forty different authors, the sixty-six books of the Bible comprise one congruent story which shows us the truth about God, the world we live in, ourselves and God’s great plan to redeem the world.
Both true believers and enemies of God are in no doubt about the power of God’s Word. William Tyndale, a brilliant priest and scholar of 7 languages, was strangled and burnt at the stake in October 1536 for translating the Bible into English so that ordinary people like you and me could read it for ourselves and be taught God’s truth rather than the lies the Church was feeding them. The church authorities hated what he was doing and recognised the implications. What was the charge against Tyndale? Heresy– he dared to teach that we can have our sins forgiven and be saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This teaching, for anyone who has ever read the Bible, is the essence of the Gospel, literally good news, and forms the axis of Christianity. The Gospel is the reason why Jesus came to earth and why we have a Church in the first place, but Tyndale discovered it when he read the Greek New Testament and couldn’t keep the treasure to himself. He was so compelled by God’s love for humanity that it became his life passion to bring the power of God’s Word into the living rooms of ordinary homes, and he was willing to defy the authorities, live as a fugitive and eventually die as a criminal to make his English Bible accessible. Tyndale’s words are as appropriate today as they were to readers almost five hundred years ago:
“Let it not make thee despair, neither yet discourage thee, O reader, that it is forbidden thee in pain of life and goods, or that it is made breaking of the king’s peace, or treason unto his highness, to read the Word of thy soul’s health—for if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes.”
Tyndale knew that the Word is the lifesaving medicine our soul needs to be healthy, because it comes directly from our Creator. The Bible is still banned or restricted in many countries today (eg, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, Yemen), but in our free western world where the Bible is read at Carol services, Easter, Christmas, christenings, weddings and funerals (hatches, matches and dispatches), familiarity often breeds contempt. I am concerned at the casual way in which some Christians today treat the Bible, picking and choosing what they want to believe, holding onto the promises but ignoring the conditions, explaining away anything that contradicts popular opinion. They read it as though it is a book of mythology or Aesopp’s fables, completely denying its power and authority. Christians in the past were willing to die or suffer for God’s Word, because they were utterly convinced that it is alive and active, relevant for all time and every culture. They understood the radical transformation that takes place when ordinary people take the Word of God seriously. They understood the unstoppable power of the Gospel when educated and uneducated people, rich and poor, young and old, submit themselves to God’s truth, as they did in the book of Acts.
It’s presumptuous today to speak of truth. Truth is old fashioned and intolerant. Truth in western culture is whatever is right for you, whatever you feel to be true. Yet, in this passage, Paul the apostle talks about the Word which penetrates deep into our soul, which exposes and judges our hidden motives and secret attitudes. There’s nothing subjective about this kind of truth. The Word lays it bear before the eyes of God who creates and knows everything and who will bring everyone to account. “Word” is the English translation of the Greek logos, but logos has far richer implications than just speech and thought. For first century Christian readers who understood Greek philosophy, logos meant the divine reason, plan, wisdom and logic behind the universe. If this is the meaning of God’s Word, reading Scripture should fill us with awe and wonder. It is not just printed words on a page, but the very thoughts and breath of God, true in every sense and showing us the meaning and purpose of our lives. God’s Word clearly spells out His design for life and what is right and wrong in his eyes. Some of it flies directly into the face of what is politically correct and accepted by the majority. The Bible is unique because it is God’s standard and not just an echo of our culture, as is human-authored media and literature.
The Word of God does what no other human literature can do: it operates on the hearts of those who believe, like a sharp scalpel in the hands of an expert surgeon. The Holy Spirit is the great surgeon, the Counsellor whom Jesus promised would “teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:26-27.) If you read the Scripture with a believing heart, there is nothing passive about the experience. My personal experience of getting deep into God’s Word is more like mining for hidden treasure or being thrown out of a comfortable hammock! Scripture was never designed to lull us into a false sense of security, and that was true in the days of the prophets as well as today. The true prophets who proclaimed the Word of God fearlessly were hated and killed because they spoke uncomfortable truths that people didn’t want to hear. It’s true that some parts of the Bible are comforting and poetic, but there are others that pierce deep into the marrow of who we are, cutting through the deceit and lies that obscure an unhealthy organ. Swords and scalpels are hardly comforting, but a sword is a powerful weapon and a scalpel is a life-saving instrument. The Word convicts us of what’s wrong in our lives and if we yield to its truth, the Holy Spirit will do His work in our heart. The process may be painful, but “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18.) The Word challenges us to stand up and be radical followers of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, even if this costs us dearly.
Seven hundred years ago, the prophet Jeremiah said “the heart is deceitful above all things”. ( Jeremiah 17:9). I don’t know about you, but I have an uncanny ability to be deceived by lies and have many blind spots. Everyone can see them except me! I find myself justifying my actions; blaming other people and ignoring my true motives. I say Jesus is Lord of my life, but I still think my secrets are safe from him. My thought life, my personal ambitions, my attitudes and responses sometimes fly under the radar undetected. But when I read the Bible, something hits me right between the eyes and I realize the power of Christ himself has cut through all my lies and defences. The Holy Spirit throws his powerful spotlight on pride or an idol that I need to take care of. God’s Word has the power to dissolve smoke screens and go into dark places where the source of our problems lie. Just as Jesus could see into the hearts of the Pharisees, so too the Holy Spirit opens the curtains of our hearts so we can see clearly to do a spring clean. Nothing in all the world can be hidden from God. As I read the pages of my Bible, my motives are undressed and laid naked before God; lies and distortions are set straight; new insights continue to jump out from familiar passages and I am getting to know the God who is, not the God of my imagination. If you are a disciple of Jesus, the double edged sword of God’s Word is a crucial weapon to fight against the lies of Satan, both in attack and defence. If we don’t immerse ourselves in Scripture, we’re defeated before the battle even begins.
CS Lewis said, “It is Christ Himself, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. “
Will you yield yourself today to the logos? Will you allow the logos to show you, teach you and change you from the inside out? Will you allow the Great Surgeon Himself to perform heart surgery on you? It will not only save your life but enable you to flourish like a fruitful tree planted beside a stream. Will you join me in a regular reading of his Word?