Feeding on, and Holding Forth the Word of Truth.
© 2020 C. O. Bishop
2nd Peter 1:4; Philippians 2:16; Psalm1, 119:9, 11; Deuteronomy 17:19; 1st Timothy 4:13
We have been studying through 1st Peter, and passages related to that book: we read in 2nd Peter 1:4 that by means of the “Exceeding great and precious promises” in God’s Word, we are to “become partakers of the Divine Nature.” We are to feed on God’s Word, according to 1st Peter 2:2, so we need to examine how that is supposed to happen. Does it mean, “If I go to church once a week, and read my Bible for a few minutes before I go to sleep, then I am OK?” Or is there more to it than that?
And what are the results expected to be? We already saw that one result is that we are to “become partakers of the Divine Nature.” But we also have seen in Philippians 2:15, 16, that we are expected to shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of Truth. So we need to do some thinking about what that means, as well.
Our involvement with the Word of God has two aspects: what we are to take in, to affect our own lives, and what we are to give out, to affect the lives of others. So, let’s talk about both of those ideas: Intake and Output.
Intake: Feeding on the Word of God
As we look through God’s Word, we find at least five levels of involvement described for us, in taking in the Word of God: Hearing, Reading, Studying, Memorization, and Meditation.
- Hearing is always important, and it should lead to a change in behavior all by itself, although we are warned (James 1:25) that it is possible to be a “…forgetful hearer and not a doer of the Word.” So we don’t want that to happen. But we also know that “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God!” (Romans 10:17) So hearing is really important: No one has ever been saved without hearing (or receiving in some way) the Gospel of Christ…the preaching of the Cross, (1st Corinthians 1:17, 18).
- Reading is commanded in both the Old Testament and the New Testament: In Deuteronomy 17:19,Israel’s kings were commanded to read the scripture daily, for a combination of the effect in their own lives and the result in the nation. (I wish our leaders today were doing this.) In 1st Timothy 4:13, referring to the public reading of scripture for the edification of the hearers, reading of the scriptures was clearly commanded to be done on a regular basis. But we are also warned to take the time to think about and understand what we read. (Matthew 24:15)
- Study is at least implied, in the Bible, though the Biblical term “study” means to “give effort and attention to” something. We tend to only use that word to mean book-work: intense reading and careful analysis of a topic or a passage. But, “giving effort and attention to understanding God’s Word” does imply some “book-work,” as a rule, and we are encouraged to “study to show ourselves approved unto God.” (2nd Timothy 2:15) but, it goes on to say, “rightly dividing the Word of Truth!” That does imply Bible Study, and mastering the content of our Bibles so that we use the scriptures appropriately, not taking things out of context: not misinterpreting the intent of scripture. The result is that we are each to become “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” (That is a good goal all by itself!)
- Memorization is only mentioned a few times, but Psalm 119:11 makes it pretty clear: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee!” Someone has famously pointed out that “either the Word will keep you from Sin, or Sin will keep you from the Word.” That is fairly accurate. We tend to find ways to occupy our thoughts so as to not consider the changes that need to occur in our lives, or any other uncomfortable thoughts. So all sorts of activities and entertainment are marketed precisely to meet that desire in humans. But if we deliberately turn away from all those distractions and focus on God’s Word, the Word begins to change us, and to change our desires, so that we are less driven to “escape the presence of God,” and more likely to desire to “walk with Him.” Think of the difference between the response of Adam and Eve fleeing from the presence of God, and Enoch, walking with God.
- Meditation is the last means of “taking in” God’s Word, and it has the deepest effect upon the believer. “Meditation,” in scripture does not mean the “blanking or emptying of one’s mind so as to allow every passing, vagrant idea to have free rein in one’s heart” but rather the deliberate focus of one’s unhurried, conscious thought upon a particular concept or passage in scripture, so as to allow that truth to “soak in” and permeate one’s thinking. Psalm 119:9, along with all of Psalm 1, gives the idea of what meditation on God’s Word implies, and the expected result in one’s life. Psalm 119:9 says that “taking heed thereto according to thy Word” would have the effect of “cleansing” my way. If I want my life to change for the better, so that I am learning to walk with God, I need to apply God’s Word to my life: take heed to my life, in accordance with God’s Word. Psalm 1 says that a man who meditates on God’s Word day and night, will be blessed and flourish before the Lord; that “he will be like a tree, planted by rivers of water.” He will be strong, and unshakeable, and he will flourish spiritually, at the very least.
All five of these activities concerning the Word of God are commanded in scripture. I find it a good memory aid, or object lesson, perhaps, to consider the fact that I have five digits on each hand: if I grip something with just my smallest finger, I really can’t get a secure grip. So, unless the object is very light, or perhaps has a hole through which I have inserted my smallest finger, I really can’t depend upon that grip. I compare that idea to limiting my intake of God’s Word to just “hearing.” It will not prove sufficient, in the long run, or in times of trial.
If all I ever do is hear the scripture, unless I hear a great deal of it, I am not likely to develop a good “grip” on God’s Word. Now, there can be exceptions: I knew a fellow whose job allowed him to listen to tapes on ear-bud headphones during work, so he bought a full set of Bible tapes—eighty-four 45-mimute cassettes, comprising the entire Bible, being read aloud—and he proceeded to listen to them all day, every day, at work! That meant that every two weeks or so, he “heard” the entire Bible being read to him, on those recordings. He wasn’t just “casually listening,” either: he was hungry to learn, so the sheer volume of “hearing” the Word, was getting closer to “study,” even though all he was “physically” doing was hearing it.
But, the more “fingers” I add to my “grip” the better my grasp of scripture will become. The fellow with the tapes did not restrict himself to simple hearing: he went home and looked things up, reading for himself, and taking time to think about what he was reading. He quickly moved along into genuine study, and from there into memorization through sheer familiarity, if not by deliberate “rote memory.” And Meditation came right along with the rest. The result was that God was rapidly transforming his life, as he was feeding heavily on God’s Word.
He began to lead his family members to Christ, beginning with his elderly mother, who died just a few months later. Next, he led all of his adult children and all their spouses to Christ, and began teaching them the Scriptures. The transformation was astonishing, and it was entirely due to the effect of God’s Word, working by the Holy Spirit, to mold him into the likeness of Christ! This is how “Intake” turns into “Output!”
“Output:” Holding Forth the Word of Truth
You see, what happened in that man’s experience was the natural outworking of God’s Word changing a life: The result of a constant, powerful intake of God’s Word soon became the powerful outflow of God’s Word into the lives of others. And that “chain-reaction” will continue, provided that those who are being “fed” on the Word gain the same passion for understanding that their teacher has: but there is no way to guarantee that will occur. If they become satisfied to just sit and be “fed;” a little here and a little there, then perhaps they will never go further. But we all are admonished to “lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us,” and to pursue with diligence the “race” that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1) If that happens then there is no limit to God’s Power in the human life.
So, what forms might “Output” take?
- Being a Living example is required of all of us, but it is the “minimum.” It has to be there, but our lives alone cannot transmit the Gospel. They can only give credence to it as it is spoken. Jesus said “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” This sort of learned behavior is part of what the Bible calls “discipleship.” It means “following Jesus and learning from Him.” And that truly is the minimum requirement for our lives, if we want to walk with God.
- Preparing to give an answer is also required, in terms of “output,” but it requires more study. It means deliberately thinking through our testimony, writing it out, perhaps, and practicing it privately, so that when questions arise, we can clearly articulate why we believe what we believe, how we came to believe it in the first place, and what change it has made in our lives. (1st Peter 3:15) We are thus prepared to give a spoken testimony, whether a single sentence, or a one-minute short explanation, or a longer, more detailed account of our own journey from being lost to being saved, how it is accomplished by faith in God’s promise, and what changes it has made in our own lives.
- Learning to accurately quote the Scriptures (memorization) is, at the very least, a defense against temptation. Jesus demonstrated this in Matthew chapter four. But it also stands as the single most effective way to answer arguments against the Gospel: It puts the adversary into the position of arguing against God, rather than against our logic, or our understanding. Even if I only have a handful of memorized scriptures to use, they are a better tool (and/or a better “weapon”) than my own reasoning will ever be.
- Holding Forth the Word of Truth is what we are all supposed to be doing (Philippians 2:16): it means the Written Word as well as the Living Word. We are offering the spoken word, reflecting the Written Word, when we share with others. We offer a glimpse of Jesus, the Living Word, as they see the reality of Christ worked out in our lives; and we offer the Living Word as a permanent gift of Eternal Life, when we offer the Gospel as God’s only plan of salvation. All of this is “Holding forth the Word of Truth.”
- Feeding the Flock was specifically commanded to Peter (John 21:15-17), but, along with the Great Commission, it applies to all mature believers. We have a job to do, and while the main thrust of it has to do with offering the Gospel to a lost world, the other part has to do with building up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16.) The whole body ministers to itself, strengthening itself and becoming more effective in the assigned work. We encourage one another, and help one another with the burdens of life, and work together to see the assembly become healthy and strong, as well as reaching out to believers in other places, through missions, and letters and prayer.
- Discipleship is not only required of each of us as a lifestyle, it is the commanded means by which to transmit the values and knowledge and skills necessary to continue the spiritual “chain reaction.” It is the specific way that spiritual reproduction is to take place, and it is part of the great commission: When Jesus said, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” the Greek word “matheteuō,” translated “teach” in this passage, is actually the verb-form of the word “Disciple.” It actually means “be a disciple” or “make disciples,” depending upon the context. It is not the common word “didaskō,” meaning simply “to teach.” In the remainder of that verse, when it says “…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” the Greek word is from the common verb “didaskō,” simply meaning “teach.” But the stated goal is discipleship!
So, in 2nd Timothy 2:2, though he does use the common word “teach,” when Paul commanded Timothy “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also,” the idea is that Timothy is training disciples in the manner Jesus meant, whose purpose is to carry on the teaching of sound doctrine. The “Faithful Men” are those to whom he commits the training and the subsequent ministry. They are believers, and committed to the Lord, as well as being specifically those gifted to teach others: those who hopefully will become the leaders, elders and shepherds Paul had already described in 1st Timothy 3:1-8. But the fact is, we are to make disciples of all those hungry enough to feed on the Word. God is the one to decide specifically what He will do with their lives. We do not “assign” gifting nor individual tasks. Jesus is the head of the Church!
All of these are just examples of how God might choose to pour His Word through believers to reach out to others, whether to other believers or to unbelievers. This is by no means an exhaustive list: there are far more ways for God to pour His Word, His Grace, His Mercy and His Blessing through His people than there are ways for us to “drink in” the fullness of His Word. But we are told to feed on His Word and to expect to see His divine nature manifesting itself in our everyday lives. This is not something to be taken lightly, as if it is a “hobby” or a pastime. This is the core of who we are as His people! This is the “normal Christian life!”
Jesus is identified in several places in scripture as being “the Word of God:” the Living Word of God. It seems to me that the manner in which we respond to the written Word of God may reflect deeply on how we are really responding to the Living Word.
Give that some thought! Consider how you approach the Bible…and how often. It is far more than just an “instruction manual for life,” though we sometimes refer to it as such a manual. It is the ink-and-paper manifestation of God’s Redemptive plan for the Human Race. Thousands, over the centuries, have given their lives to make the Bible available to us. Thousands still today are spending their lives, and hazarding their lives, trying to bring the New Testament (and Jesus, personally) to people who have never heard of Him, and in whose language His name has never been spoken. It is evidently worth their lives to get that message to those who haven’t heard. How much is it worth to us?
Is it worth hearing God’s Word? (It must be, to most of you, at least: you are here, listening, and perhaps you also intend to read the notes and scriptures later.) Is it worth reading God’s Word? Is it worth studying it, carefully examining it word by word, phrase by phrase, spending the time to actually learn to understand what God says? Is it worth taking the trouble to memorize at least some key verses, so as to arm yourselves against the battle you know is already upon us? Is it worth taking the time, alone, to meditate on the Word, and allow God to actually speak through His Written Word, and by His Holy Spirit, so that He is free to work in your life, and set you free from the bondage of besetting sins, fears, worries, and distractions? Is it worth the time, and focus, and effort to do all of this?
I really hope it is! That is what this relationship is all about: it’s about getting to know Jesus, and learning to walk with Him, and being willing and able to serve as His hands, His feet, and His voice here among the human race.
Lord Jesus, please focus our hearts on You, the Personal Messiah and Savior, who died for us, to the extent that we will focus our minds upon Your written Word, allowing You to use Your Word to transform our lives, and remold us in Your image. Allow us to serve as Your hands, Your feet and Your voice so that as long as we live, we live for You.