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. The Word of God, Living and active


http://www.elmwood-church.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/wordofGod-active.jpgHebrews 4:12 (ESV) 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”


The verse before us today is one of the easiest verses to preach out of context, but it is a different ballgame in context. Most Christians I know, love this verse, but have very little understanding of that which actually surrounds it. I have heard many sermons on this section, and it is nearly always treated in isolation to the preceding verses, and it is a very dangerous thing to do as it has that joining word ‘for’ which links it to the previous section. And when we see the word ‘for’ or ‘therefore’ we must always ask what it is there for.

Today is a special day, as we have the Murray Louw with us from the Bible Society. So, my temptation is to simply look at verse 12 and to zoom in on the living and active word of God. But I would not do you justice if I do not give you a bit of the big picture. So we are going to take a telescope this morning and we are firstly going to look at this verse by staring in at the wide end so that we can see the big picture, then we will turn the telescope around and zoom in on verse 12, without going into it in too much detail.

Point 1. The big picture.

A verse that will help us to understand the relevance of verse 12 is verse 11. Hebrews 4:11 (ESV) “11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” And then only we can add: “for the word of God is living….” The Hebrew writer is making an interesting comment here. He is referring again to previous verses when he says “let us therefore strive to enter our rest” and in reality ‘by not falling into the same kind of disobedience” and how will we get that right, with the word of God that is living and active.

So, what is going on here?

The Hebrew writer is cautioning us not to be like Israel. They were the ones who never entered into their rest due to unbelief. Verse 11 really points directly back to Hebrews 3:19 (ESV) “19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” So, their disobedience that we read about in chapter 4:11 is a disobedience of unbelief. They did not trust God and that lack of trust kept them out of their rest, and the Hebrew writer is saying to the people of his day and to us today, ‘do not be like them’.  Their failure to trust God’s word kept them out of God's rest. And it will keep you out of God's rest, and the problem is not with the Word of God but with us “for the Word of God is living”.

Today we have seen the history of the Bible Society in a video. We have seen the privilege we have of owning our own Bibles. Many of us have more than one. I have 100’s on my computer. In front of us there is a display of big Bibles and small Bibles, and there is a page in a frame from the 1599 Geneva Bible. That page is 315 years old and people literally died to own it. But we can all have Bibles, but if they are not read, or to put it simply, if we do not hear the Word of God, we can miss our rest.

This was the problem with Israel. Hebrews 4:2 (ESV) 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” You and I hear the good news every week, but does it benefit us? Are we growing in our understanding and obedience? They all listened, but they were not all united with those who actually listened and obeyed, because they did not show faith in the Word of God. They heard the promises of God, they heard that God would care for them, that God would forgive them, that God would be merciful to them and give them victory, but they did not trust the Word of God.

So, we cannot look at verse 12 without understanding that which was enjoined to us by verse 11. Christian, we can hear the Word of God over and over again, but we can make the same mistake as Israel, we can hear, and at the same time we do not trust it and therefore the Word of God is of no profit to us, as it was of no profit to them, because they did not meet it by faith. A few weeks ago I told you about the young man who died and at his funeral his father brought me his son’s Bible in tears, as he came under conviction. Because in the front of the Bible the young man wrote: “I pray for my parents who have so many Bibles, but they do not read it.”  So, all the Bibles on their shelf meant nothing, it did not profit them.

You can belong to a Bible preaching church like ours, but if you are unfaithful in attending, it does not profit you. I am grateful that we can publish our sermons on the internet, but if you miss a service and do not read the notes or find other ways to grow in the Word you could just miss your rest. That is why the Hebrew writer cries in Hebrews 4:11 (ESV) 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Some translations say: “be diligent to enter that rest.” Now fasten your seatbelts and listen carefully to the following statement. In short, it means Be diligent to hear the word, be diligent to believe in it, to trust the good news, to embrace it and hold to it and be satisfied by it, so that you don't murmur and want to forsake God and go back to the Egypt of sin.”

So, verse 12 is now going to tell us the value of the Word of God for entering into God’s eternal rest. So, let me summarise what all the previous verses are about, and today you must simply believe me as we do not have time to work through it all. The question really is this. Why should we be diligent or why must we strive to enter that rest?

The answer is in short. Because the Word of God is alive and the only way you will enter God’s rest is by hearing and believing the Word of God.

Let me make four more statements before we get into verse 12.

  1. The aim of life, according to this chapter of the book of Hebrews, is to enter God's rest—to be saved from our sin and spend eternity joyfully in God's restful presence. That's the great goal of life—and to lovingly take as many people there with us as we can (which is why this author wrote the letter!).
  2. To enter this great and joyful rest we must trust God. Look at Hebrews 4:3 (ESV) 3 For we who have believed enter that rest…” So the utterly indispensable means of getting to heaven is believing God. Trusting him. Let me tell you this, in spite of what anybody says, and in spite of all the gimmicks, and pop psychology and fads that are going around, we must understand that faith still comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
  3. To believe God, to trust Him, we must hear His Word. We must hear the good news. We must know the promises that he makes for us to believe. That's why verse 2 is so definite about this matter: Hebrews 4:2 (ESV) 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” Do you realise that Israel had no excuse as they had the Word of God preached to them?
  4. If they, or if we, didn't have the good news preached to us, then we would not be able to believe the Word of God. So this is utterly crucial. The Word of God, the good news, the promises of God, have been preached to us. This is what makes faith possible. These four comments that I made now are key into understanding verse 12. The preceding sections drive us to it. Let me give you a few more verses to consider.

Hebrews 2:1 (ESV) 1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Pay attention to God’s word so that you do not miss your rest.

Hebrews 3:12 (ESV) 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Be careful that you are not developing a heart that is not hearing and not believing.

Hebrews 3:15 (ESV) 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” You either join Israel in rebellion or you listen to God’s word that is living and you obey.

Do you want to enter into the eternal rest, are you willing to trust Him? Then you are required to be diligent, to pay attention, consider, take care, and not harden our hearts. In other words, to quote John Piper: “the pathway to heaven is a path of unremitting focus and earnestness and vigilance toward the Word of God.” Why? And this brings us to verse 12. “For the Word of God is ….”

Point 2. The focus.

Now, we turn the telescope around and we look in on the narrow side and focus on the smaller picture, which is the Word of God for us today and what it means in our lives.

So, we have seen that verse 11 says: “let us strive” or “be diligent”. Why should we be diligent? Well, if you look backwards at the wider picture, you must be diligent or strive, so that you do not end up in disobedience like Israel did and missed their rest, and if you look forward at the narrower picture, you must be diligent because: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”, and it will keep you from missing your rest.

I wish I had time this morning to expound this text in detail. To do full justice we can look at what a double edged sword is and how they differed for the hand to hand combat sword that you would use in a battle. We can spend time to compare soul and spirit and why it is used here. We can also expound on the meaning of joints and marrow in this verse as well as the difference between thoughts and intentions. My purpose is different today.

Let me just say this in summary, and then I will go where I am going. From this verse we know that the Word of God which is living cuts deep into you, dissecting every aspect of your life, and it is able to discern your relationship with God. Martin Luther made a similar comment, but here is my version thereof. “The Word of God is alive, it has eyes and it looks deep into you, it has feet and it will chase after you, it has hands and it will take hold of you and it has a mouth and it will speak to you.”

Now I am tempted to take every word here and probe into why it is used. Like, why mention joints and bone marrow? And what's the difference between spirit and soul? And what precisely is the difference between thoughts and intentions? And do the words "living and active" perhaps correspond to any of these other pairs: spirit-soul, joints-marrow, thoughts-intentions? Is the "heart" (mentioned at the end of the verse) different from the soul and spirit? And so on. These are good questions and they are worth meditating on for hours.

So I hope we all agree that the Word of God penetrates to the deepest place in our lives and discerns what is there. Is it good or bad? But what is in focus in verse 12?

2.1 Eternity is in focus.

Do you realise that what is ultimately at stake in verse 12, is not actually the ability of the Word of God to discern your thoughts and intentions, but whether you are going to obey it or not. And if you are totally unwilling to obey it, eternity is at stake. You can have lots of Bibles, you can sit under Bible teaching, you can read through the Bible in a year, but do you believe it and are you willing to obey it? The Israelites could not enter their rest due to unbelief, and if you are unbelieving you are facing the same danger. You can call yourself a Christian but, are you trusting the Word of God in faith as it exposes you. James says that the Word of God is like a mirror, and it does not help to look long into the mirror and not to do anything about what you see. It's unbelief that will keep us out of God's rest.

The Word of God penetrates to the bottom of all our defences and deceptions and exposes belief or unbelief. It assesses our thoughts and intentions as to whether they are believing thoughts and intentions or unbelieving. Are we trusting the promises of God or aren't we?

2.2 God’s promises are in focus.

Why do I say that? Well, the central message is the issue of having an unbelieving heart. For that reason, we need to understand the promised rest, and the Word of God which is living is that by which we will encourage each other to enter that rest. What stands in the way is the deception of sin, and God’s Word will expose it, but will you obey?

Look at Hebrews 3:12-13 (ESV) 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Here are some critical questions here for us at Logos today that I want to highlight.

  1. Is there someone in our midst today who is not trusting God? Paul will remind you in 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV) to 5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” You see my friend, the Word of God is going to discern you thoughts and intentions, and you can examine yourself in the light of God’s Word. When you read God’s word, do you believe you are functioning as someone who can say, that I know, I have confidence that Christ is in me, because I know that I am living a life of obedience and that I will enter my rest. By the way the Word of God is clear that all people are exposed by the Word of God. Hebrews 4:13 (ESV) 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Even these atheists that I debate on a daily basis are exposed by the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit, but they act in unbelief, and unless they repent, they will never enter into God’s rest.
  2. Do you realise that when it comes to the Word of God that we are important to one another. We need each other. Why do I say so? Look again at Hebrews 3:13: 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” It is not nice to be exhorted. But let me tell you this. When a fellow brother or sister exhorts you in your sin, it is because they love you and do not want to see sin hardening your heart. Now, if you act in rebellion, get your nose out of joint, and reject their right to exhort you, guess what? You are showing signs of an already hardened heart. You have already been deceived in your sinfulness. So, if you think your fellow Christian is unkind in pointing sin out in your life, the opposite is true. What is of utmost importance here again, is that we do that through the Word of God. It is not our opinions, our traditions, our personal laws that ought to judge one another, but God’s Word.

Sin deceives us, but the Word of God will expose that deception, because “the Word of God is living and active” and penetrates to the bottom of our lives and rips the pleasant mask off the ugly face of sin off us. The deception of sin causes us to start believing the lies of sin instead of the promises of God.

Israel did not trust the promises of God. Rather they trusted the promises of sin. They were promised a rest in Canaan, they were promised a spiritual rest and they were promised an eternal rest, and all they needed to do was to believe God’s promises, and to obey His Word to them. If they did that, it would go well with them. God’s laws were living and active then, and it had benefits. They would possess the land, it would go well with their days would be long. Sin has this ability to steal years and to even steal life from you.

2.3 Our hope is in focus.

What is our only hope, to not be caught out by the deception of sin and to miss our rest? God’s Word is our only hope. The more you are exposed to it, the more hopeful you become. Let’s ask our medical doctors here today. How many of you would have qualified if you only attended a quarter of your classes at university? How many of you would have qualified if you did not read and study your material? How many would have qualified is you did not write and pass the tests?

Sadly, so many Christians today will claim that the Word of God is living, but they find the smallest excuses not to sit under it, not to read and study it, and they do not enjoy being tested and exposed by it. They want to do the bare minimum, and they want to be told, that they are okay. What does it help as far as eternity is concerned if your pastor and friend says you are okay, but the Word of God and the God of His Word disagrees?

Get back to God and His Word. The good news of God's promises and the warnings of his judgment are sharp enough and living enough and active enough to penetrate to the bottom of my heart and show me that the lies of sin are indeed lies, and that His promises are true.

I know that I have not done full justice to the text this morning, but I hope that you have seen that Hebrews 4:12 is meaningless in a sense if you do not see it in the light of verse 11, and even chapter 3. Let us not be like Israel and miss our rest due to disobedience. Rather, be diligent to enter God's rest by fighting off the disobedience of unbelief, and you can do it, if you are willing to submit to God’s word that is penetrating the very fibre of your life, exposing your heart, and thoughts and mind and spirit and soul.

And so we end this message at a point of crisis. You have heard the Word of God. Much has been exposed to your own conscience this morning. And now as verse 13 says, “13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

What will you do with what he has exposed, and what he now is watching? Do you really love His word, and do you obey His word? Then enter your rest. I hope the answer for you this morning is to turn from the deceptive promises of sin, and to trust in the all-satisfying promises of God.


Logos Community Church: 2 November 2014

Soli Deo Gloria!