Sheep Food!

Sheep Food!

© C. O. Bishop 9/9/2016; THCF 9/11/2016

1st Peter 2:2; Jeremiah 15:16;

Introduction:

We read in the scripture that the elders are to feed the flock. We also see that the flock is commanded to “feed” as well…and that the food is specifically the Word of God. So, we need to give some attention as to how that feeding is to occur, and when, and by whom, etc.

In 1st Peter 2:2, the newborn believers are told to hunger for the “milk” of God’s Word; but in Hebrews 5:12-14, the writer complains that the particular believers to whom he was writing should have graduated from “milk” and should now be consuming solid food…and it is still referring to the Word of God. Jeremiah 15:16 makes the statement that feeding on God’s Word was the joy of the heart of the prophet, because he himself belonged to the family of God…he was called by God’s name. These sort of passages lay out the normal life for believers: we are to feed on God’s Word. And it should become a joy to our hearts simply because, as believers, we are His children. We should be growing stronger in the Word, so that we move on from baby food, and feed joyfully on the tougher things of the Bible, while not forgetting the foundation that was laid in the simple truths of the Gospel.

So…what does it mean, to “Feed on” God’s Word? Do we simply read it? Is hearing it on the radio enough? Do we have to attend Bible College? Do we have to memorize the Bible? What does it mean when the Psalmist says he “meditated” on God’s Word? Do you have to sit with your legs contorted, and your eyes closed while you think about the Bible?

I would like to suggest, as a starter, that there are at least five ways the Scripture tells us to feed upon the Word of God:

  1. Hear
  2. Read
  3. Study
  4. Memorize, and
  5. Meditate

Probably that is actually an ascending order, each attaining a deeper, stronger grasp of the Word.  Let’s look at each of them and see how they apply to us as believers.

Hear the Word

Deuteronomy 6:4 begins with the words, “Hear O Israel…” This passage is well-known to all orthodox Jews…it is called the “Shammah”, because the word “hear” is translated from the Hebrew word “shammah”. Over and over, Jesus said “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.” The willing reception of the spoken Word of God is what is in view. Hearing it has an impact all by itself, without study, without comment, without further reflection, even. God’s Word does not return to Him void. It always has an effect. Bear in mind that the sun, shining on potter’s clay, has the reverse effect of the same sunlight warming wax. One grows harder, while the other grows softer. The difference is in the character of the material. “He that hath an ear to hear” will be changed in a positive way by the reception of God’s Word. A person who only receives the Word because of a sense of social responsibility or, worse, to look good among his peers, may find that he is gradually inoculated against the influence of the Word, because he has privately, habitually rejected its teaching. He is gradually given over to a reprobate mind, so that he becomes blinded to the truth of God’s Word, and deaf to the pleading of God’s Spirit.

Luke 8:18 says, “Take heed therefore how ye hear….” Hearing the word is important, and how we hear it is important. We need to hear it with a willing heart, and look for ways to apply it to our lives…not dismiss it or critique it as if it were the writings of men. It is the Word of God. Take heed how you hear. Apply your heart to the Word as you hear it. Hunger for it. Allow it to cleanse you, and purge you.

Read the Word

It is interesting and instructive, to see that long before a king sat on a throne in Israel, God commanded (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) that that future king was to write for himself a copy of the Law of God, out of the scrolls possessed by the Levites, and that he was to read that copy all the days of his life! Every day, as long as he lives!

We in the Church age, as believers, are called “kings and priests.” How might that Old Testament command apply to us? Although I doubt we are called to personally write out our own copy (the printing press and movable type seem to have freed us from that), I do think we might be admonished to be in the Word on a “steady-diet” basis, rather than a “once-in-a-while nibble.”  The results God predicted for those kings are interesting, too. Five results are listed:

  1. That he may learn to fear the LORD his God, and
  2. To keep all the words of this Law, and these statutes, to do them,
  3. That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and
  4. That he turn not aside from the commandments, to the right hand or to the left;
  5. To the end (result) that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Now, I am not an earthly king, especially not a king of Israel, but I can see from the rest of the Word of God that those predicted results apply to all who apply God’s Word to their lives. The Psalms state that the Word “is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” They further state that a man can cleanse his way “by taking heed thereto according to God’s Word”.  (Psalm 119:9, 105) Simply reading the Word daily, as a steady diet, providing constant contact, will have eternal results.

Study the Word

This one is a little harder, but the word “study” in Old English, and in Greek, means to “apply oneself diligently.” So, when Paul says (2nd Timothy 2:15) “study to show thyself approved unto God…”, it means “make this a priority, and apply yourself diligently to that end.” But; the rest of the verse says “…a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So, applying oneself diligently to learning to rightly divide God’s Word would necessitate the kind of thing we call “study,” today, as well, would it not? Paul also exhorted Timothy to give himself to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine. This meant not only the public reading of the scriptures, but a constant ministry of encouraging others and teaching them to understand and obey God’s Word. That requires study, too.

The Bereans were commended (Acts 17:11) as being “more noble than those in Thessalonica”, because they “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” That is study, folks! Searching the scriptures, comparing scripture with scripture, looking for understanding. That is study!

Could it mean going off to school and applying yourself to nothing but study for a period of time? Certainly, it could, but that is by no means necessary. Bear in mind that Paul was trained by one of the most famous educators of his time, but considered that whole experience to be rubbish. He did not rest upon his credentials. He rested upon the credentials of Christ. He rested upon the truth of God’s Word.

But we are exhorted to apply ourselves to the goal of understanding the Word of God. The result is supposed to be the collective maturity and stability of the church…so that we believers will not be easily swept away by every novel doctrine that comes along; so that we will be well-equipped ministers of God’s Grace, and so that we are able to build up the body in the Love of God. (Ephesians 4:12-16) These are all the result of absorbing God’s Word, through hearing, reading and studying. What else can we do?

Memorize the Word

Psalm 119:11 is the best verse for this, though there are many others. The psalmist said “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Later, in Jeremiah 31:33, God promised that (during the coming Kingdom age) He himself would “…put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”, with the result being holiness of life and a wholesome, continuing walk with God. He says, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

When Jesus refuted Satan, during the temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), he did so with the Word of God, citing (and reciting) appropriate passages to defend against the attack of the evil one. I use this tool daily, when tempted to be angry, or in some other way, reciting to myself the passages that strengthen me against sin. David did the same thing. He remembered the precepts of God, and drew upon them for strength.

Solomon commented upon this concept: Proverbs 4:4, 5 says, in part, “…let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments and live. Get Wisdom, get understanding, forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.” This is not just rote memorization, but the overall absorption and retention of God’s Word. It takes time, and it takes deliberate work.

When I was in school we were required to memorize hundreds of passages; sometimes single verses, sometimes short passages, some whole chapters, and one whole book (Ephesians). Do I still remember then all? Nope. But the result has been profitable, and I still know how to apply myself to memorization.

After my mother died we found her written memory-aids (stenographer’s tablets full of them, all written by hand), and we realized just how much she had applied this concept: she had memorized several whole books of the New Testament, and was working on more, right up until she could no longer function to do so. Not everyone is gifted equally in this regard, but virtually anyone can repeat back to you, nearly verbatim, a conversation they had yesterday or last week, with another individual. So it is certainly possible to consider the Word of God a series of “conversations” between God and man, and recite portions of those conversations as needed…and it is not an unreasonable expectation at all. You can do this!

Meditate upon the Word

When people today use the word “meditate,” they usually mean meditation in the sense of some Eastern religion; Hinduism, or its off-shoots; Buddhism, the Hari Krishna cult, Transcendental Meditation, or something similar. In each of these cases, one is encouraged to empty one’s mind of conscious thought and open oneself to whatever comes in. Biblical meditation has nothing to do with this practice.

Joshua 1:8 is the first command regarding Meditation. Let’s see what God told Joshua about it.

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

How much of that is a promise to me? None of it! This is a command with a promise to Joshua… not even to Israel as a whole; just Joshua. But how much of it could be applicable to you and to me, at least in a general sense? Every bit of it!

We are not to depart from God’s Word, the Bible. It is to be our first and final authority in all things. And, we are to dwell upon its precepts, considering how to rightly apply them to our lives. Meditation is not empty-headed open-mindedness! It is deliberate, conscious thinking about the content and concepts of God’s Word. It is pondering, and comparing scripture to scripture, and considering whether there is something you have missed, in reading it.

Sometimes I have used an elementary trick of reciting a passage slowly, repeating it with a different word emphasized each time, to see if that sheds a different light. But it is always a slow, conscious rumination…a “chewing of the cud”, so to speak. A careful digestion of the Word of God, being anxious not to miss anything.

There are two primary words in the Old Testament, translated “meditate”. Together they are used 12 times. There is one word in the New Testament, translated “meditate”, and it is used twice: both times in command form. Joshua, as a servant of God, was commanded (Joshua 1:8) to meditate upon the Word of God. Timothy, as a servant of God, was commanded (1st Timothy 4:15) to meditate upon the things taught in God’s Word. David, a servant of God, testified that he meditated upon the precepts of God’s Word, and mused upon them, pondering their meaning.

How much more do we need? This is how the servants of God strengthen themselves for the service of God. They were feeding upon it deeply and continually.

So—Who Does the Feeding?

The answer is, “We ALL do!” Every believer is called upon to feed on God’s Word to whatever capacity he or she is gifted to do so. No one is exempted. Everyone can at least choose to hear it, and take heed how they hear it.

If you can read, you are called upon to read it. If you can read, and can at least think clearly, you are called upon to study, and to feed at that level. We are called upon to attain to solid food, not continuing to consume only the simple, baby-food portions over and over.

At whatever level we can do so, we are called upon to memorize God’s Word. And we are called upon to spend time meditating upon it: deliberately thinking, praying and considering how to understand and apply what we have heard, read, studied and memorized.

How Important is the Written Word?

God says (Psalm 138:2) that he has magnified his Word even above his Name. That is an incredible thought, as His name is Holy, and not to be taken lightly. It could be a reflection of the fact that Jesus Himself is identified in a few passages as being the Word of God, in Person. John 1:1, 14 “In the Beginning was the Word…The Word became flesh, and dwelt among Men…” And when he comes at last, as the triumphant King, it says (Revelation 19:13) that “His name is called “The Word of God”.”

Jesus, during his earthly ministry stated clearly that every word of the Scriptures would be brought to pass…fulfilled to the letter. Peter says (2nd Peter 1:19) that the written Word is our only light in this dark World, until the Savior returns for us, and we have His Light in Person.

I am personally convinced that how a believer responds to the Written Word of God, the Bible, is ultimately how he or she also will respond to the Living Word, Jesus. Give that some thought!

If you are a leader, a teacher, a parent, or are in any other way responsible for the spiritual well-being of another person, then you are doubly accountable to these precepts. You can’t feed others if you are not feeding yourself. And you can’t feed them clean food, unless you are applying the Word well enough to understand what you are teaching. Jesus confronted the teachers in Israel for failing to understand and for failing to obey. He said they had become blind guides. We really do not want that charge to be laid upon us. We want to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

Take heed how you hear! The way you choose to respond to this message will definitely have an effect upon your life.

Lord Jesus, teach us to hear your Word with the intent to apply it to our lives, to think on it, and obey it. Let us be doers of your Word, and not forgetful hearers. Teach us to feed on the clean food of your Word, and by it to grow strong!

About Chet Bishop:

Chet Bishop is one of the pastors at True Hope Christian Fellowship Church, in Forest Grove, Oregon. He has been a believer since 1973, and has been teaching actively since 1976. He supports himself and his family by working as a welding technician/instructor, and by making violin-family instruments.

Find all posts by Chet Bishop


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