What does it mean, to “Receive the Word of God?”
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
1st Thessalonians 2:13-16
13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
14 For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: 15 Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: 16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
Remember, the books of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians sprang out of a history of persecution. Within three weeks after the Gospel had first come to Thessalonica, the percecution had begun. The unbelieving Jews physically attacked anyone who professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah. And the attacks did not stop when the Apostles left town.
Paul cited the overall rejection of God, and His Word, and His Prophets, and of Jesus Himself. He pointed out that, as a nation, the Jews had officially rejected their own God, killing His prophets and crucifying the Messiah, all while claiming to be the people of God.
Jesus had first declared this sad truth, at length, in Matthew 23.
“29Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
WHO sent the prophets?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
This was National Response, not Individual.
Though many Jews had believed in Jesus, and had trusted in Him as their Savior, and believed in Him as the Messiah, Jerusalem rejected Him and eventually crucified Him. Jerusalem was the “official leader” of Israel as a nation. And Jesus warned them that they will not see Him again, until, as a nation (Jerusalem leading the way) they repent and trust Him as their Messiah.
Paul reiterates this truth, but He first expresses his joy that the Thessalonian believers did not fall into thatcategory. They had received the Word of truth “not as the word of man,but as it is in truth, the word of God.” Paul went on to say that the result of them receiving that Gospel as the Word of God was that the Word had begun to have a powerful effect on their lives: He said, it “…effectually worketh also in you that believe.” So, how does one receive the Word in that way? How can we allow God’s Word to have that sort of effect in our lives?
Receiving the Word of God
Romans 1:5 uses an odd phrase. It says that the Gospel went out “for the obedience of Faith.”
Sometimes, the only response required, is that we “believe God,” as opposed to believing some other source of information. (John 6:28. 29) But, when we read in Hebrews 11, about the people we consider the Biblical “heroes of faith,” we can see that in every case, faith was demonstrated by an action. Throughout the Bible we see that, in reality, Faith is an Obedient Response to a Revealed Truth.
As we studied through the books of Moses we saw, repeatedly, that, despite the abundant unmistakable proofs of God’s faithfulness and care for them, the Children of Israel rebelled, and they chose to not “believe God.”
In virtually every case, the result was that they wanted to return to Egypt. They remembered the abundant and cheap food in Egypt, and they equated Egypt with “easy life.” They had forgotten that they had become slaves there, and had even begun to be victims of attempted genocide.
Contrast between people’s responses to the Word of God
When Moses and Aaron brought them the Word they had just received, from God, in person, in the wilderness, they quickly forgot who they were dealing with, and they rebelled. They did not respect His Word as the Word of the Living God.
In contrast, the Ninevites were enemies of Israel, but when Jonah warned them of the coming Judgment, they believed God. The whole city repented of their sins, and God postponed the coming Judgment.
Jesus testified that those ancient Ninevites would bear witness against Israel in the final Judgment, because they had repented at the Word, coming through Jonah (who was a very reluctant prophet.) The citizens of Jerusalem had not repented, though God’s Word came to them from the mouth of God, the Son: Jesus, the Messiah!
That is a very sharp contrast. The enemies of Israel, in Nineveh, though grossly ungodly people, had repented at His Word, But, in Jerusalem, His “own” people chose to kill the messengers!
How did I receive the Gospel?
When I first heard the Gospel it meant nothing to me: So, I did not see that I was a lost sinner, needing a Savior. I doubted the truth of the Bible as a whole and I equated the “Bible stories” with Greek mythology, and other “legendary” history. Initially, I was not antagonistic toward Jesus, but He seemed irrelevant to me and my life. Eventually I did become more antagonistic toward the Gospel, and I began interrupting believer’s attempts to share Christ with the lost.
But when I was eighteen, a classmate shared a rather obscure verse with me that caused me to start thinking seriously. She asked me for my definition of Sin. I had no solid answer, because, by that time I considered myself an atheist. But after a moment, I replied that, “I suppose that, if I were to do something that violated my conscience, then it must at least be a sin against myself. And, if there is a God, then (it would seem) that would have to qualify as a sin against God, as well.”
What changed my thinking?
She replied, “Chet, that is exactly what God says!” I was surprised to hear that: so, she opened her Bible, and showed me James 4:17 “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
I was amazed! I thought “God agrees with me!” (What an incredibly backward and vain idea!) But, inwardly, I thought, “Then all I have to do is live with a clean conscience, and God will have no problem with me!” (Can you hear the laughter from the angelic host?) So, I tried to do that, but, of course, what immediately resulted was that my conscience was awakened, and I became aware of all my bad motives and evil thoughts, and the filth that came out of my mouth.
I Was Dealing With God, not Man!
Within a month, I was getting quite depressed and hopeless, because, for the first time, I was keenly aware that I was a condemned sinner! (As you know, that’s the bad news of the Gospel!) Then I began to take God’s Word more seriously. I tried to read it, but I couldn’t understand it.
But when I threw myself on His Mercy and received His Grace, by Faith, then His Word began to come alive for me. I began to understand it, at least at a “baby food” level. You see, that is when the Gospel became “Good News!” And that Good News has become better and better, over the last fifty years. The more I learn of His Word and the more I experience His Grace and His Mercy, the sweeter that “Good News” has become to me.
Testing the Concept
Initially, I did not receive the Gospel as the Word of God. But after I did, and I actually knew the Author, I still had to make some “adjustments.” I truly believed that the Bible was the Word of God, but that belief had not been seriously tested.
A young roommate in Bible school confronted me about my (then) opinion that “Evolution and Creation could somehow be reconciled, as both being true.” He said, “No, Chet, they are mutually exclusive! They could both be false, or one true and the other false, or vice versa, but they cannot both be true.” When I started to protest, he cut me off, and gave me a series of examples from the Creation story in Genesis, each of which was diametrically opposed to what Evolution claims.
I was stumped! It was clear that I had to make a decision!
The Decision We Always Face:
Ultimately, I decided that God’s Word had to stand. I chose to believe God’s Word, and allow Him time to show me why that was a good choice. And, over the last 48 years, the proof has piled higher and deeper, that the Creation account is accurate. I realize that not everyone agrees about this, and I try not to argue with people about it. But: it turns out that not only it is accurate, but it is also critical to the Gospel. Why?
Because, if “death came into the world through Adam,” (as Romans 5:12 states,) then the hundreds of millions of years of death, procreation, and more death, and change (necessary for evolution of humans to have occurred) cannot have happened. 1st Corinthians 15:22 confirms this fact, reminding us that we “all died in Adam.” There are other similar arguments, comparing scripture with physical science.
Whose Authority Matters?
But even without all the extrabiblical studies, comparisons, and arguments, I eventually realized that the core issue is that Jesus Christ treated the Creation account (and all the Old Testament) as history… as fact. (Not as mythology, or fables or any other sort of fiction.) He acknowledged the metaphors that are hidden there, and He expanded upon some of them. But neither He nor any of His Apostles gave room for any doubt that the entire Old Testament was given by direct inspiration of God. It was to be taken as truth, and as truly being the literal “Word of God.”
I was only beginning to comprehend “Who Jesus Is,” as the Incarnate God: God, in the Flesh. It had not yet occurred to me that the Bible is HIS Word. But I did know that He was my Savior, and He is the author of truth. I could rest in that alone. Any evidence beyond that central fact was just “extra.”
How do We Receive the Word?
When we hear teaching from the Bible, we are told to read carefully, check what we hear against other parts of Scripture, and make sure it is sound doctrine. Ask questions. If we don’t know where to find them, we are supposed to ask for supporting passages. (See Acts 17:10, 11.)
But once we know the teaching is correct, and we agree that the Bible truly is God’s Word, then our response becomes critically important: “What will we DO with that information?”
There is an old saying, “The distance between knowledge and wisdom (or understanding,) is usually about sixteen inches.” The implication is that “You may have the information in your head, but it has not found its way to the heart.” Another way I have heard the same idea taught, is, “You have that idea in your library, but you have not moved it into your living room.” It is not yet affecting your behavior.
We are Accountable
Once we know what God says, then we become accountable for that information, and we are called to respond! We can no longer argue that “Well, that is just what so and so believes!” If you know for sure that God says it, then it doesn’t matter who taught it to you. The young girl who initially shared James 4:17 with me was only seventeen. But God used her to speak to me! The young man who first confronted me about the disconnect between evolution and Creation was only eighteen (I was almost 21.) But he was right, and God used him to speak to my heart!
How you respond to God’s Word reveals how you are “receiving” His Word. And it should be an indicator as to how your walk with God is going. Remember: In John 1:14, we see that Jesus is the “Word made Flesh!” And, Revelation 19:13 says He is “The Word of God.” How we respond to the Written Word is exactly how we are responding to Jesus, the Living Word of God! Give that some thought!
Lord Jesus, please awaken us to our desperate need to feed on Your Word, and to respond as though You were speaking directly to us, face-to-face. Raise us up to walk as Your Disciples.