The Working Word
THE WORKING WORD
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: January 2, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I have titled this lesson “The Working Word.” Its purpose is to encourage us to renew our diligence in the Scriptures throughout 2019 – not only in our personal devotions, but also in our relationships with each other as a church family.
I have been reading through Pastor Douglas Wilson’s book Rules for Reformers, and in it he makes this short punchy statement: “It is not what you are doing when reading Scripture. It is what Scripture is doing when you are reading Scripture.”
That which “Scripture is doing” – and that which God is doing through Scripture – is what really counts! We might be reading, meditating, studying, memorizing, and talking about Scripture, but if the holy Word isn’t doing its work in us, then we do what we do in vain.
But by faith we understand that engaging with Scripture in an attitude of trusting God is not in vain, because God works mightily in His people through His Word. The basis of my encouragement to us to engage diligently with the Scriptures is the promise that God will engage diligently with us as we do so.
THREE WORDS ABOUT THE WORD
1) God’s Word is the Word of God
First, God’s Word is the word of God, not the word of men: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God…” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) Though the gospel message was and is proclaimed by human preachers (apostles, evangelists, pastors), the gospel message is “of God” and from God. The gospel is God’s message, God’s word. Though the gospel message and all its related instruction, along with the entirety of the Old Testament, was written down by human authors, the Bible is God’s word to humanity, and we ought to read it as such. Religious men didn’t dream it up, and its content is not inspirational literature that consists of inspiring human perspectives on spiritual realities. As the apostle Peter wrote: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
2) God’s Word is Full of Power
Second, since God’s Word is the word of God, we know that it is full of power. As Pastor John Piper so well put it: “God speaks, [and] quasars come into being.”
Scripture says: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”” (Genesis 1:1-3) God speaks, and light shows up on the dark canvas.
“Some were fools through their sinful ways and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” (Psalm 107:17-20) God speaks, and death, distress, and destruction are turned back.
“Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25) God speaks, and the stormy sea is set at peace.
Understand this: the words of men are not essential to your spiritual welfare, and the words of many people can be safely ignored. But God’s Word is essential to your well-being, and it is perilous to ignore His words. Let God’s people say: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50)
3) God’s Word Works Powerfully in God’s People
Third, God’s powerful word is powerfully at work in His people: “… when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) God’s truth is working in His people, effectively producing transformation and renewal. This transformation and renewal begins in the hour of conversion and then continues throughout the Christian life.
Paul had written in 1 Thessalonians 1:
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10)
Notice three things in relation this passage:
1) The preaching and reception of the gospel involved human preachers and human recipients, but it was not a merely human experience. We know this because Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit was involved in the coming and receiving of the gospel. What we see here is God’s Word, brought to God’s chosen ones, by the power of God’s Spirit.
2) This Holy-Spirit-generated reception of God’s Word is evidenced in an unmistakable conversion: the Thessalonians turned “from idols” and “to God,” that they might render worship and service to “the living and true God,” and all this was flavored by “the joy of the Holy Spirit.”
3) This “word of God… at work in you” reality is seen not only in the clear turning of conversion, but also in the clear transforming of their lives: their faith is working, their love is laboring, their hope is enduring (1:3). They “became imitators of [Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy] and of the Lord” (1:6); they “became an example” (1:7); they “became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea” (1 Thessalonians 2:14). Indeed, they experienced the “affliction” (1:6) and “suffering” (1 Thessalonians 2:14) that comes from unbelievers who oppose the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). They experienced this opposition because they had become faithful proclaimers and practitioners of this gospel, “the word of God” that – in the power of the Holy Spirit – brings about transformation in God’s believing people.
We are to be devoted to God’s Word precisely because it is God’s Word, not man’s word.
We are to understand that God’s Word is powerful – powerful to create the universe, powerful to calm a storm, powerful to convert sinners and transform them into faith-filled, love-filled, hope-filled worshipers of God Almighty.
We are to have great expectation that this Word which has begun to change us will continue to change us, because the Word “is at work in [us] believers.”
APPLICATION: MINISTER GOD’S WORD TO OTHERS
Since these things are so, the point of application is to say that we simply must give ourselves to God’s Word. Indeed, we are to be a congregation in which congregants minister God’s Word to one another. Notice how ministering the Word to others is such a prominent feature in 1 Thessalonians:
1) Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy ministered the Word to the congregation. They evangelized the congregation (1 Thessalonians 1:4–2:8). They taught the congregation: “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). They continued to minister the Word to the congregation by writing and sending this particular letter (1 Thessalonians) and a subsequent letter (2 Thessalonians).
2) There were also pastoral leaders who ministered the Word to the congregation: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
3) In addition to instruction from pastors, congregants were also expected to minister the Word to each other. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Those who are discouraged and fainthearted don’t need the encouragement that comes from the well of worldly sentimentality or human wisdom, they need the encouragement that comes from gospel. Speak “the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:8), “which is at work in you believers.”
Those who are idle – those who are being negligent in their Christian duties – don’t need the admonishment that comes from clever manipulative techniques, they need the admonishment that comes from the Bible. Speak God’s message, “which is at work in you believers.”
Those who are weak don’t need the help and strength that comes from men, they need the help and strength that come from God. Speak “the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t also offer practical help. The “labor of love” (1:3) certainly includes all kinds of practical efforts to help one another. But the point in this lesson involves the reality that we all need words. Suffering Christians need words. Discouraged Christians need words. Drifting-toward-unfaithfulness Christians need words. Weak Christians need words. But the words we need are not self-help pick-me-ups or shallow feel-goods, but words that have the power and authority to cast down every obstacle in our path or in our heart – indeed words that have the power and authority to renew our hearts and keep us going and growing in the reality of faith, hope, and love. In other words, the words that we need are God’s words, working effectively in God’s people by the power of God’s Spirit.
Treasure this Word in your own heart, and take this all-sufficient treasure of divine truth and tell it to one another over and over and over again.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:28)
 Douglas Wilson, Rules for Reformers. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2014: Kindle Version Page 202 of 281.
 John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Pulpit,” a short video published by Desiring God (May 22, 2013) and available on YouTube.