The Word of God is many things to many people. A psalmist says it is sweeter than honey. A prophet says it burns like fire, and an Apostle says it is sharper than any double-edged sword. Who is right? What is the Word of God to you?
David says: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103) There is such a thing as a spiritual taste, an inward savour and relish of divine things; such an evidence of them to ourselves, by experience, as we cannot give to others. To this taste the word of God is sweet; yes, sweeter than any of the gratifications of sense, even those that are most delicious. David here speaks as if he wanted words to express the satisfaction he took in the discoveries of the divine will and grace: he judged no pleasure to be comparable to it.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29) Jeremiah speaks out of the depths of his own experience. The true prophetic word burns in the heart of a man, and will not be restrained (see Jeremiah 5:14; Jeremiah 20:9; Psalm 39:3), and when uttered it consumes the evil, and purifies the good. It will burn up the chaff of the utterances of the false prophets. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 3:12-13.) As the hammer breaks the rock, so it shatters the pride and stubbornness of man, is mighty to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4), and the heart of him who hears it as it should be heard is broken and contrite. What these words paint in the language of poetry, St. Paul describes without imagery in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.
St. Paul told the Hebrews: “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.” (Hebrews 4:12) The Holy Scriptures are the word of God. When God sets it home by his Spirit, it convinces powerfully, converts powerfully, and comforts powerfully. It makes a soul that has long been proud, to be humble; and a perverse spirit, to be meek and obedient. Sinful habits that become natural to the soul, and rooted deeply in it, are separated and cut off by this sword. It will discover to men their thoughts and purposes, the vileness of many, the bad principles they are moved by, the sinful ends they act to. The Word will show the sinner all that is in his heart.
Jesus who is the Word became flesh, made his dwelling among us more than two thousand years ago (John 1:14). He was like one of us except sin (Hebrews 4:15). The purity, lowliness and unselfish sympathy of Jesus drew the hearts of all men. The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority (Matt 7:28-29). Jesus was open, plain, grave, useful, delivering truth as “became” the oracles of God; not spending his time in trifling disputes and debating questions of no importance, but confirming his doctrine by miracles and argument; teaching “as having power,” as it is in the original, and not in the vain and foolish manner of the scribes. He showed that he had authority to explain, to enforce, and to “change” the ceremonial laws of the Jews. He came with authority such as no “man” could have, and it is not remarkable that his explanations astonished the crowd.
The crowd admired Jesus until his teaching challenged their way of life and thinking, and then it roused them to an antagonism bitter in proportion to their previous admiration. This is clearly seen in Luke 4:28-29 when Jesus was rejected at Nazareth and was almost thrown off a cliff. In Mark 11:15-19, Jesus expelled money changers from the Temple, accusing them of turning the Temple into a den of robbers. When the chief priests and teachers of the law heard this they began looking for a way to kill him. In Matthew 27:15-23, the crowd chose to release Barabbas and to have Jesus crucified.
Can this be avoided? Can we sweeten the Word of God such that it pleases everyone?
Jesus told his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
Let no one suppose that Christ allows his people to trifle with any commands of God’s holy law. No sinner partakes of Christ’s justifying righteousness, till he repents of his evil deeds. The mercy revealed in the gospel leads the believer to still deeper self-examination. The law is the Christian’s rule of duty, and he delights therein. If a man, pretending to be Christ’s disciple, encourages himself in any allowed disobedience to the holy law of God, or teaches others to do the same, whatever his station or reputation among men may be, he can be no true disciple. Christ’s righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace or of glory; but the new creation of the heart to holiness, produces a thorough change in a man’s temper and conduct.
Jesus also warned his disciples: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
Miserable are you; when all men speak well of you — because such universal applause is not to be gained without sinful compliances. He that will be pleasing to all must speak things grateful to all, and do what they like; now that cannot be good which is grateful to bad men: thus the false prophets, whom the Jews commended, spoke to them smooth things, and prophesied lies, because the people loved to have it so; they prophesied of peace, when war was at hand; they strengthened the hands of evil doers (see Jeremiah 23:14), and cover the flimsy wall with whitewash (see Ezekiel 13:10-11).
The Word of God is truly many things to many people. It is important for us to know what it means to us, and how we should proclaim it to others.
Let the song “All That Is Hidden” remind us what it takes to be a true disciple of Christ: