Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Word Which Was Preached to You - 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

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When people answer the call to serve God in ministry, they find that suddenly they are the recipients of advice of some kind or another, some good, some bad, some solicited, some unsolicited, from nearly everyone they encounter. In the New Testament, we encounter young man named Timothy who had answered God’s call to pastoral ministry. He had the great privilege of being mentored by none other than the Apostle Paul. Paul knew this young man, and he knew the church that Timothy had gone to serve in Ephesus. And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned the young preacher that the days were soon coming when people, even those within the church, are going to become lovers of self and lovers of money; that they will be boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. He says that in the days to come, there will be many who will “not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” And he even suggests that there were already some like this in the church. Now, what advice do you think the great Apostle might give to the young preacher? How should he deal with these matters? Perhaps he should form a committee. Maybe he should call in a church consultant or schedule a special meeting to address the issues? No, rather, Paul gives him one piece of advice. One simple statement lays out Timothy’s ministerial strategy in the face of all of these adversities. In 2 Timothy 4:2, he tells young Timothy, “Preach the Word.” Three words. Preach the Word. And these words are not merely one man’s opinion. This is God’s inspired truth recorded in sacred scripture to admonish us all of the sufficiency, the authority, and the reliability of God’s Word.

Our passage today causes us to turn our thoughts to the subject of the Bible itself. Peter says in 1:25 that “this is the Word which was preached to you.” At some point along the way in their lives, these men and women and children had come under the preaching and teaching of Scripture. And it had a revolutionary effect on their lives. When we hear the Bible preached, when we read the Bible, or when we study it, we are not just hearing empty words. These words are powerful and effective if we incline ourselves to them. So we must be diligent as readers and as hearers of the Word and never think that we have just opened one of so many other books, or listened to one of so many other talks. This is God’s Word and it accomplishes God’s purposes when we take it in.

I. The Word Which Was Preached To You is God’s Word

In verse 23, Peter speaks of the Word of God, and in verse 25, quoting Isaiah, he refers to the Word of the Lord. And he says that this is the word which was preached to you. It is God’s Word. Now, I must say that not all preaching is the preaching of God’s Word. It is the Scripture, and not the sermon that is God’s Word. In what is called expository preaching, the sermon is thoroughly rooted in the sacred text and the truths of that text are drawn out and explained. So a preacher does not have God’s permission to come to the task of sermon preparation and say, “OK, I want to preach on a certain subject, and here is what I want to say about that subject, so now let me look through the Bible and find verses that support what I want to say.” That is not preaching God’s Word. That is abusing God’s word in order to preach my own words. And every person who attempts to preach or teach or speak in the name of Christ should come to the Bible and allow the text to dictate what we believe and what we will say. It is the text of Scripture, and not my opinions or any other person’s opinions, which God has declared to be His very word. So, in preaching or teaching, our words are only God’s words inasmuch as they accurately proclaim the truth of what is written in this Word, the Bible.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the prophets of that day by saying,

Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise Me, “The LORD has said, ‘You will have peace’”; And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, They say, 'Calamity will not come upon you.' But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? … I did not send these prophets, But they ran. I did not speak to them, But they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way And from the evil of their deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:16-22)

So, according to the Lord Himself, some who claim to speak for God actually do not. Those who do are those who spend time with God, and receive His word clearly, and then announce His word. Therefore, we should never be lazy listeners. We must be discerning, like those Christians at Berea in Acts 17, who are described as being “noble-minded … for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” When they heard the preached word, they returned to the written word to compare what they had heard with what God had spoken.

The Bible is God’s Word. We are told that twice explicitly in these few verses in First Peter. Therefore, because it comes from God, there are certain things that must be true about it. And Peter elaborates on a number of those things here. First he tells us that God’s Word is true. In verse 22, he says that these Christians have been obedient to the truth. We read in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man that He should lie.” People lie. It is characteristic of human beings to exaggerate, twist the facts, distort the truth, and even tell bold faced lies. But these things are not true of God. Titus 1:2 says that God never lies. Hebrews 6:18 says that it is impossible for God to lie. God can be trusted because He has never lied, He does not lie, He indeed cannot lie. Therefore, all that God says is true. Since all of Scripture is “inspired by God” or “God-breathed,” as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, and “the word of God,” as Peter says here, then Scripture must be truthful just as God is. As David prays in 2 Samuel 7:28, “You are God, and your words are true.”

Not only is God’s Word true, it is also pure. In 2:2, Peter compares the Word of God to pure milk. This idea of purity has to do with something that has not been adulterated or diluted. A chemical can be weakened by diluting it with water or another substance, and it is therefore no longer pure. Two substances can be combined in a mixture, resulting in something altogether different than the pure original substances. But the Bible has not been diluted in any way, and its truth has not been mixed with any error. We do not have to go through and determine which parts are true and which parts are not, because it is truth, without any mixture of error, in its entirety. David writes in Psalm 12:6, “The words of the Lord are pure words.” Therefore, we must be careful in our preaching, in our teaching and speaking of the word, and in our hearing and reading of the word, not to adulterate or dilute God’s truth with erroneous human opinions.

Then Peter also says that God’s Word is living (1:23). The context in which Peter says this has to do with seed. He says that you have been born again as a result of a certain kind of seed. This seed, He says is the living Word of God. I don’t know much about gardening or farming, but I do know that there is such a thing as bad seed. It may be old, dried out, cracked open, or otherwise damaged. If you put that seed into the ground, nothing happens. That seed is essentially dead. It cannot bring forth new life. But when you plant a good seed, a living seed, into the ground and care for it properly, that seed will bring forth new life. Peter is borrowing imagery from the Lord Jesus here, who taught a parable about a man who went out to sow seed. And the seed fell on four different kinds of soil. And some of that seed produced life, and some didn’t; and some sprouted quickly, and just as quickly died; but some of it grew and produced a bountiful harvest. Now here’s the thing – the problem was in the soil, not in the seed. It was the same seed that was sown on all the soils. The seed was good, and when Jesus explained this parable to His disciples, He told them that the seed is the Word of God. It is alive, and it has the ability to produce life in the soil of our lives if we nurture it once it has been sown.

When I was in college, I was a new Christian, but I was struggling to live for Christ. It seemed like every time I came home and attended church, my pastor preached a sermon that was exactly what I needed to hear. I thought someone was tipping the pastor off about my sins! I would return to my dorm room on campus and pick up my Bible, and I would open it up to some point and begin reading, and I would find that the text was exactly what I needed to read. Has that ever happened to you? How do we explain that? The Word of God is living! It is alive and it meets us at our point of need, it deposits itself into the soil of our lives, and it is good seed. Therefore, if it lands in good soil, a life that is willing to allow the seed bear fruit, then the seed will grow and transform us from the inside out.

These are not dead words on dead pages in a dead book! Try it – read any other book, and see if it is able to produce the kind of life within you that the Bible can. It cannot. The Bible is uniquely able to work its way down into the very foundation of your soul to produce new spiritual life in you. The writer of Hebrews said it this way Hebrews 4:12 -- For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No other book, no other word, has the ability to cut like this one. It is a living and active word that is sharper than the mightiest of swords. The sharpest sword, the sharpest scalpel, can divide the head from the neck, or the muscle from the bone, but the word of God is able to separate the soul and the spirit, the joints and the marrow, and to cut all the way down to the very thoughts and motives of the human heart. It is a living word.

And then Peter says in addition that the Word of God is both imperishable and enduring. These ideas are similar but not identical. That the word endures means that it has not been destroyed. That it is imperishable means that it cannot be destroyed. And God knows, plenty of people have tried to destroy it. Some of these have been inscribed in the pages of history books, and others have faded from memory altogether, but the Bible still stands.

The imperishable nature of the Bible is here contrasted with perishable human nature. In 1 Peter 1:24-25, you should find the words in all capital letters in most English Bibles. This is a way of indicating that the words are a quotation from the Old Testament, and in this case, it is from Isaiah 40: "ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER." Human beings come and go, and in the grand scheme of history, our lifespan is rather short. We are like grass, which quickly withers. Some human beings accomplish great things in their lives, but the glory of these accomplishments is like a flower. It lasts just a little while. But God’s Word does not quickly fade from view; it does not wither or fall; it stands forever. There has never been, and there never will be, a time throughout all eternity that these words are shown to be untrue.

Every now and then, someone will come up with some scientific or archaeological discovery that challenges the teachings of the Bible. But in every case, either the so-called science is found to be faulty, or else unprovable, or in some rare cases, Christians have discovered that their interpretation of Scripture rather than the words of Scripture were in error. More often than not, that which is discovered through the right practice of science, where results are repeatable and provable, or that which is discovered buried in the sands of history, has served to confirm the truthfulness of the Bible and the errors of men rather than vice-versa. And every human effort to stamp out the Word of God has resulted in utter failure.

In 1971, Ravi Zacharias was ministering in Vietnam as the war was going on. He had a young Christian interpreter traveling with him by the name of Hien Pham. Shortly after the Communists took over all of Vietnam, Hien was arrested for aiding and abetting the Americans. While he was in prison, his Communist captors sought to brainwash him into renouncing the Christian faith. Over time, Hien began to weaken. He began to think that maybe the Christians had lied to him; maybe God did not exist. One night, he made up his mind that he would go to sleep and wake up the next day to never pray or consider himself a Christian again. The next morning, Hien was ordered to clean the prison’s latrines. As he emptied all the foul contents, his eyes caught a glimpse of paper that appeared to be written in English. He washed off the paper and stuck in his pocket to read later. That night, he pulled out this piece of paper and began to read it. This is what he read: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Of course Hien was reading from Romans, Chapter 8. The next day, Hien volunteered to clean the latrine, and continued to do so regularly. And every day, Hien would find pages of Scripture soiled by human waste. Apparently someone in the camp was using a Bible as toilet paper. But over time, page by page, Hien reassembled a significant portion of the Bible, and those pages became words of life to him.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). And here Peter tells us that the word which has been preached to us is God’s Word, therefore it is true, pure, living, imperishable, and enduring.

II. The Word Which Was Preached To You Accomplishes God’s Purposes

We are a fickle people, are we not? For evidence of this we need only see how people react to changes in the weather. When it rains, we complain about getting wet; if it doesn’t rain, we complain about how much we need it. We know that we need the rain, because when it comes, it waters the plant life and restores the water supplies. Rain always accomplishes a purpose when it comes. And God says that His Word is like this. In Isaiah 55, God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). When God’s Word goes forth, it accomplishes His divine purposes. And Peter tells us here what those purposes are.

First, when God’s Word is proclaimed, or shared, or taught, or read, it has the ability to produce regeneration. This is the theological term we use to indicate the new birth, as Jesus said in John 3, “You must be born again.” We are all born dead; we are spiritually still-born, dead in our trespasses and sins. If we would be made alive spiritually, we must be born again. In regeneration, we are set free from the death of sin and made alive to God by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus referred to this as being born “of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit must regenerate us. We cannot regenerate ourselves. We are spiritually dead and can do no good work to commend ourselves to God. The Spirit must make us alive. And He has sovereignly chosen to do this through the Word of God. Peter says here that we have been born again, not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is through the living and enduring Word of God. As the Word enters our life through reading it or hearing it, the Spirit of God nurtures the seed of the Word to produce faith in us.

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet was taken out to a valley full of dry bones in a vision, and the Lord asked him, “Can these dry bones live?” Ezekiel confessed that he did not know. But God told Ezekiel to do something very strange. The Lord told Ezekiel to preach to the bones. And as he preached the Word of God to those bones, they began to rattle around and assemble themselves together, and they became covered once more with skin, but they were not yet alive. Then the Lord told Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind. In Hebrew this word for wind is ru’ach, the same word translated as spirit. I believe the Lord was commanding His prophet to speak to the Holy Spirit. And as Ezekiel prophesied to the Spirit, the Spirit began to move, a wind began to blow across those dead skeletons, and they became alive.

God has given us the same task He gave to Ezekiel. He has told us to go into all the world and make disciples for Him. But Lord, these are just corpses! They are dead in sin, so how can they be made alive? And the Lord would have us to proclaim His word to those who are dead in sin, and as we do, His Spirit will move and bring them to life as they hear and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said in Romans 10:17 that faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. So we announce God’s word to the world, and tell them that in Jesus Christ God has become a man, and He has satisfied the righteous demands of God’s Law on our behalf, and He has taken our place in death by taking our sins upon Himself at the cross, and He has conquered sin and death through His resurrection and will save all who trust in Him as Lord and Savior. And as this message goes forth, it is like seed being sown. And the Spirit of God will nurture that seed. There may be some soil issues that prevent growth initially; but the seed is good. So we keep sowing, and we try to cultivate that soil and sow more and more seed into it, and as we do the Spirit brings new life in the divine work of regeneration as people are born again to new life in Christ.

But God’s work is not completed at regeneration. It continues through sanctification, that divine work of the Holy Spirit by which He shapes us and molds us into the image of Jesus Christ. As He sanctifies us, He makes us holy; He makes our lives a reflection of what He has declared us to be: the righteous people of God. And how does the Spirit accomplish sanctification in us? The same way He accomplishes regeneration in us: through the Word of God. Jesus prayed to the Father for His followers in John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” Peter says here that we should crave this Word, long for this word as a newborn baby longs for his mother’s milk. We are spiritual infants and we need the nourishment that God’s Word supplies if we are to grow. So we long for the pure milk of the Word, he says, and by it, we are able to grow in respect to salvation. With every drop of the Word we swallow, we taste the kindness of the Lord and grow more into His likeness.

As we obey the word, we are purifying our souls, he says in 1:22. And as a result of His sanctifying work, we are coming into a more mature and sincere love for God that manifests itself in a love for one another. This love, he says is sincere, fervent, and from the heart. It is not fake. Where the Spirit of God is not at work, it has to be faked; but it can’t be faked for long. But where the Spirit is working His purpose of sanctification by the word, love is growing within us genuinely and sincerely. We begin to put off the things that operate against love; things which Peter mentions here in 2:1 – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander. The language of putting off has to do with taking off a garment. It is as if the Word and the Spirit have grown us to the point that those characteristics no longer fit. So we must put them off. And as we do, they are replaced with a sincere, fervent, and heartfelt love for the brethren – our fellow believers in Jesus Christ.

And God will continue His work of sanctification in us until it is completed perfectly. That will not happen in this life. He will never be finished with us here and now; but 1 John 3 tells us that we will see Christ face to face one day, and when we do, we will be transformed; we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. This is glorification. This is when the transformation of our entire being will be complete and we will stand perfect in glory with Christ for all eternity. Because we have been born, not of perishable seed as all humanity is, but born again of imperishable, eternally enduring seed, we have the assurance of eternal life, which will be lived forever in the presence of Christ and in the likeness of Christ in heaven. Those who have not been born again by this enduring seed will perish eternally. I heard Howard Hendricks say once that there are only two things present today on this planet which will survive eternally: the word of God and the souls of men. Those who have been born again will live forever in heaven; those who have not will exist forever in hell; and the word of God will endure forever. So if we want to invest our lives in something that will matter for eternity, there is nothing better than to spend our lives depositing the Word of God into the souls of men.

This Word which was preached to you, God’s true and pure, living, imperishable and enduring Word, will accomplish His purposes in you to bring you into salvation through the new birth, and to transform you into the likeness of Christ, purifying you from the inside out and creating a sincere love for your fellow Christian, until the day we see Christ face to face.

So then, what shall we do? We must not take such a Word as this for granted! No Peter indicates two responsibilities we have to the Word here. First, in 2:2, we should long for it. We should desire this Word as if it were more important to us than food. And in fact, it is. Jesus said, “MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD” (Matthew 4:4). This is our milk, it is our meat, it is our bread. We will starve without it. So we need to feast upon it at every opportunity. We do this by reading it, hearing it read and proclaimed, studying it in depth, memorizing it, meditating on it, as often as possible. And secondly, Peter tells us in 1:22 that we must obey this Word. The purpose of spending time in the Bible is not to accumulate more facts. It is to transform our lives, and this is only possible as we obey what we find in the Word. And as we long for the Word and obey the Word, we will find the Spirit of God growing us in our faith and transforming our lives for God’s glory.

Do you have confidence in the Bible as God’s Word? Has it brought you to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it at work in your life shaping you to become more like Christ? Do you long for it? Do you obey it? This is the word which was preached to you.

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