What comes to your mind when I mention the word of God?
I suspect that 99.something% of you immediately thought of the Bible. This is true. The Bible contains the words God spoke to his ancient prophets.
for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:21 NASB)
This includes the words of instruction God gave to Moses. The Bible also contains the words written by the authors of the New Testament as they were inspired by God’s Spirit.
The Bible is the word of God. The Bible is God-breathed. The Bible is full of life. The Bible is God’s message to mankind.
What does the word of God have to say about the word of God? Let’s look at the New Testament in particular, beginning with the early believers in Jerusalem.
- After Peter and John were released from jail, they returned to their friends who praised God and prayed that they would continue to speak the word of God with all boldness (Acts 4:29, 31).
- The twelve emphasized their role to preach the word of God (Acts 6:2).
- Shortly thereafter, “the word of God continued to increase” (Acts 6:7).
- Those who were scattered due to persecution went around (literally) “good newsing the word” (Acts 8:4).
What is most curious is that none of these passages are in reference to a book. They are all about the spoken message of the gospel.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, (Acts 8:14 ESV)
Did Samaria receive scrolls? No, the “word of God” they received was the message of the gospel. Acts 8:25 clearly and explicitly states that the word of the Lord was a spoken message. Not only the Samaritans, but Gentiles also “received the word of God” (Acts 11:1). They did not receive a text; they received a spoken message.
But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:24 ESV)
Was this in reference to the Bible being written (“increased”) and distributed (“multiplied”)? No. The word of God that increased and multiplied was the good news of the kingdom.
The word of God was proclaimed (Acts 13:5), heard (13:7, 44), spoken (13:46), and it spread throughout the region (13:49). All these references pertain to the spoken word of the gospel.
Perhaps there is more to “the word of God” than it being simply a book? Maybe we need to recalibrate our understanding of what the word of God is.
THE SPOKEN WORD OF GOD
Paul wrote that he was unwilling “to tamper with God’s word” (2 Cor. 4:2). The next three verses indicate that the word he was referencing was the gospel.
In Ephesians 1:13, Paul wrote of the “word of truth” and he wasn’t referencing a book. It was the gospel of their salvation that was audibly heard. The same in Colossians 1:5. And when Paul wrote to the Colossians to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” he wasn’t talking about a text. He was talking about the same indwelling word that James was:
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21 ESV)
This word is a word that dwells inside a believer. It is implanted within! It is an indwelling word. It is the very message of the gospel that saves souls!
This abstract, invisible, yet powerful word is living and abiding, just as Peter wrote (1 Pet. 1:23).
…the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:25 ESV)
John wrote that “the word of God abides in you” (1 John 2:14), which is the same as the word of Christ that dwells in you richly: the good news of Jesus!
The following verse is often quoted with reference to the Bible:
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. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)
Is the Bible living and active? Yes! Is the Bible sharper than any two-edged sword, that pierces the heart, discerning its thoughts and intentions? Yes! Absolutely, yes!
It’s just that Hebrews 4:12 isn’t about the Bible. It’s about the good news that was preached to wilderness Israel (see Heb. 4:2), but they rejected it because of unbelief. Hebrews 4:12 is about the truth of the gospel.
The gospel is the word of God. The gospel is God-breathed. The gospel is full of life. The gospel is God’s message to mankind.
The Bible tells us about the word of God. The Bible informs us about the gospel. But the Bible is not referring to itself when we read in the Bible about the “word of God.”
So am I saying that the Bible is not the word of God? No, the Bible is the word of God. It’s the word of God in written form. The gospel is the spoken word of God. The gospel is what the Bible is referring to when it references the word of God.
…but wait, there’s more!
THE LIVING WORD OF GOD
John gives us another dimension of the word of God:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. (Revelation 19:11-13 ESV)
The word of God is also a person! The word of God is especially a person! This person is Jesus. Jesus is the word of God!
A word is a message, an expression, a saying. God’s word is His message to mankind. Ultimately, Jesus is God’s expression of himself to humanity.
Jesus was “in the beginning” (John 1:1). By the word of Jesus did creation form (see Col. 1:16 & Psalm 33:6-9). “The heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God” (2 Pet. 3:5). Jesus is the word of God that spoke the earth into formation.
Jesus is God’s greatest expression to mankind. Philip said “Show us the Father and it is enough for us” (John 14:8). Jesus responded, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is the Father’s expression of himself.
Jesus is the word of God. Jesus is God-breathed. Jesus is full of life. Jesus is God’s message to mankind.
In the beginning was God’s expression to mankind, God’s expression to mankind was with God, God’s expression to mankind was God … God’s expression to mankind became flesh and dwelt among us. (adaptation of John 1:1, 14a)
The word of God is a Person. The word of God is a living and active Person. The word of God is a powerful Person who is sharper than any two-edged sword, discerning the thoughts and intent of the heart.
So…what is going on here?
A TRINITY OF WORDS
There are, as I see it, a trinity of sorts of the word of God. There is the written word (the Bible), the spoken word (the gospel), and the living word (Jesus).
The written word informs us of the gospel and of Jesus. The spoken word brings the realities of God’s kingdom to bear on those who receive its message implanted on their hearts. The living word is what empowers both the written word and the spoken word and is the focus of their attention.
The focal point of the Bible is Jesus. The focal point of the gospel is Jesus. Jesus is what gives life to both the Bible and the gospel message about him.
Jesus is the living word of God. Jesus is an infinite source of life.
Jesus is what gives life to the Bible. Without Jesus, the Bible is merely text on paper.
Jesus is what gives life to the gospel. Without Jesus, the gospel is merely a fable that gets passed down by oral tradition.
We are instructed to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16). How does this happen? This happens for all those who have been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:8-11). Jesus, by His Spirit, is how the gospel message can indwell someone. It is Christ who is the “implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
When “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24), it was Christ who was increasing and multiplying. Recall that Jesus told his disciples prior to his death that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The word of God that increased and multiplied was (and still is) the bearing much fruit of Christ himself. Christ is bearing fruit by indwelling each new member of the kingdom of God who receives his good news.
Therefore, when we read in the written word about the early believers who were preaching the spoken word, what they were preaching was Christ:
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:5 ESV)
The gospel message is the testimony of Jesus spoken to others. The Bible is the testimony of Jesus documented in writing. Whether written in a predictive manner (i.e., the Old Testament) or written in hindsight (i.e., the New Testament), the entirety of the Bible is the testimony of Jesus.
The danger, then, is when we emphasize the Bible as being the word of God. This can happen to the neglect of recognizing that Jesus is God’s highest expression of himself. The Bible is the word from God that testifies to us about who Jesus is and what he said and did.
We can easily get caught in the trap of exalting the Bible as the word of God when it is Jesus who is to be exalted. The Bible is the means to which we may preach Christ. The Bible is the means by which we might exalt Christ.
But let us not exalt the Bible to the position where Christ belongs! Emphasize Christ as God’s message to mankind and utilize the Bible to direct your thoughts and affections unto him.
Yes, love the Scriptures! But don’t love them to the point that they replace Christ. You might place your affections upon the Scriptures, but don’t do so because you want to learn facts so that you might beat an opponent in an argument. This is not honoring to the Lord, nor are those affections commended by God.
Place your affections upon Christ, and go to the Scriptures because you find him there! The Scriptures testify of the truth of Jesus. Devote yourself to Jesus and utilize the Scriptures to increase your devotion to him. A person may have a devotion to study the Scriptures but have a heart that is far from him.
When we emphasize the Scriptures as the word of God, we may be doing so in a manner that we bypass Christ. May our focus, attention, energy, and devotion be upon Christ and his indwelling within you, and allow the truth of the Scriptures to direct you deeper into your immersion into Christ.
This is all because Jesus is the greatest and highest expression of God to mankind. Jesus is the ultimate message of God. Jesus is the living word of God and it is only by his power and life that the Scriptures are precious to believers.
Praise Jesus! Exalt Jesus! Let us place our confidence in and give our utter devotion to Jesus and only Jesus, the living word!
Now…what comes to your mind when I mention the word of God?