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RECEIVING THE WORD OF GOD

by Kreighton L. Chan, M.D., M.Div., Deacon

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, September 28, 2008
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“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” (I Thessalonians 2:13).


The Word of God, the Bible, is faithfully preached behind this pulpit every Lord’s Day. It goeth forth every week with power and is heard by many. But whether it ultimately profits you depends wholly upon how you receive it – merely as the words of a man preaching, or as the very Word of God.

To begin, there are great distinctions to be made between the words of men and the Word of God, and each and every time the Word of God is vastly superior. In the history of man, there have been great men who have written or uttered swelling words – from the writings of Shakespeare, the poetry of Milton, the oratory of Cicero, the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, or the philosophies of Socrates, Confucius or Kong Fuzi, to the men who drafted England’s Magna Carta or the Constitution of our United States. John Kennedy uttered great speeches. So did President Reagan. Winston Churchill gave great and moving orations. Great though these are, and the men who wrote them, they pale into insignificance when compared to the Word of God.

The Bible is no ordinary book. There are many reasons for this but mainly because it is a supernatural Book, whose author is God Himself. The entire Bible from beginning to end, from Genesis through Revelation is inspired by God. The Greek word is theopneustos, “God-breathed” (II Timothy 3:16). Human authors were “carried along,” like a mighty wind moves a sail boat, directing them to write precisely what God wanted them to write (II Peter 1:21). These forty or so human authors of the Bible came from all walks of life, from shepherds to prophets, to kings. Their writings cover a span of some four thousand years. They have been transcribed in this Book, yet all wrote upon one common theme – the sinfulness of man, his condemnation, and salvation provided through His Son, Jesus Christ.

In addition to the remarkable unity of the Bible there are many other evidences that indeed the Bible is what it says it is – the plenary, verbally inspired, inerrant word of God. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran beginning in 1947 confirmed the remarkable accuracy, reliability, and preservation of the Word of God, remaining essentially unchanged from the earliest manuscripts dating back to the 2nd century before Christ. When the Bible speaks of ancient history it does so with great accuracy, repeatedly confirmed by archeology, and has even corrected the written annals of history. For example, secular history previously had no written record of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in the Gospels who approved the crucifixion of Christ. Many unbelieving scholars cited this as a gross error in the Bible. However, not long ago, a Roman coin was found with Pontius Pilate’s image and name on it verifying his existence and proving the liberal scholars wrong. Additionally, the many prophecies in the Word of God that have been remarkably fulfilled are an additional testament to its authenticity. The many prophecies made hundreds of years before describe the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, to the most minute details concerning His passion, to the prophecies concerning the return of the Jews to Palestine, to the present revival that we are now witnessing in the Third World – all bear record that this is a supernatural book, the Bible, the very Word of God.

Simon Greenleaf was a very influential nineteenth century attorney and is regarded as one of the greatest legal minds that ever lived, on par with the famed Blackstone in the latter part of the previous century. He was one of the principal founders of Harvard Law School and is the author of a Treatise on the Law of Evidence, considered a classic of American jurisprudence. He was an avowed atheist and sought to prove that Christ’s resurrection was a myth. In his approach, he applied the ancient documents as well as cross-examination principles in assessing the testimonies of witnesses to the Gospel writers. At last, after many years of research, he concluded,

It was impossible that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths that they had narrated, had not Jesus Christ actually risen from the dead.

Greenleaf continued,

All that Christianity asks of men on this subject is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in [a court of law]. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subject to rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of [the Apostles’] integrity, ability and truth. In the course of such an examination, the undesigned coincidences will multiply upon us at every step in our progress; the probability of veracity of the witnesses and of the reality of the occurrences which they relate will increase, until it acquires, for all practical purposes, the value and force of demonstration [of the truth of what they wrote] (Simon Greenleaf, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, Baker Book House, 1965 reprint of the 1874 edition, pages 29 and 47).

Greenleaf was convinced through the application of rules of legal evidence that the resurrection of Christ was the best supported event in all of ancient human history! So convinced was he of this that he later publicly professed Christ.

There are many compelling reasons to believe that the Bible is truly the Word of God. I have briefly touched upon some of the major apologetic arguments, or defenses used to support that the Bible is indeed the word of God – its amazing unity, its support from history and archeology, its preservation, fulfilled prophecy, and its internal consistency based upon [the principles of law]. You may be convinced by one or more of these lines of reasoning. You may truly believe that the Bible is the word of God, and yet not receive it as the word of God. To receive it properly you must go beyond the mere mental belief that that it is God’s Word until your heart is convinced that what it says is extremely relevant and has something terribly important to say to you about your human condition – that you are under sin, condemned by the law of God, and are under judgment. As our text said,

“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” (I Thessalonians 2:13).

Consider the Christians at the church at Thessalonica, a model of a New Testament local church, to whom the apostle Paul is referring. Paul said, “Thank we God without ceasing” for you. The church at Thessalonica was a cause of great blessing to him because they received the Word of God savingly and were steadfast, unmovable, abounding Christians, always doing the work of Lord, always doing the work of an evangelist. They were not like many of those in another church, the church at Corinth, full of bickering and sin, and they were not like some of those in the churches of Galatia who thought that their works added to God’s grace as the source of their justification. No, they were like the Christians in Rome whose “faith [was] spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8) and similar to the Christians that the apostle John referred to when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (III John 4). These Christians received the Word of God as the Word of God, and as a result, it “effectually” worked within them producing the fruits of the Spirit for which Paul rejoiced and was thankful for.

I know that our pastor too is very thankful to God for the many here in our local church who have received the word of God in truth, became converted to Christ, are zealous in evangelism, loving the lost in to our church, leading holy and separated lives, and sacrificing much to advance the cause of Christ in our local church.

Indeed this is the promise of the effectual working of the Bible faithfully preached in the life of a Christian.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16-17).

We see this in the lives of the members of the church at Thessalonica, how the inspired Word of God profited them, making them complete, sold-out, and overcoming Christians, and we see this also in our church. I, along with our pastor and church leaders, and the other leaders and adults in our church are thrilled to see several of our young people throw themselves into the work of an evangelist. That gives us great hope and encouragement as we consider the future of our local church, and we expect more great things to come with the Lord’s continued blessing!

You young people – Don’t stop hearing the Word of God after conversion. Don’t stop having a heart that welcomes what God would have you to do and to be. You cannot be a strong Christian without being firmly grounded in the Word of God. Be like David, a lover of the Word of God, who said,

“O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day”
     (Psalm 119:97).

Love God’s Word! It is sweeter than honey and a honeycomb to your soul. Memorize it and hide it in your heart that you might not sin against God.

The Christian life is filled is filled with many pitfalls that the world, the Devil, and the flesh have placed in your way. We must not be proud and confident lest we fall. We must not be foolish and trust in our own heart to guide our lives. Again, let us be like the Psalmist,

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Be afraid that you might stumble. Be afraid that you may make a wrong decision in the Christian life. Read and meditate upon the Word of God constantly that He may guide you in a clear and straight path.

Here Spurgeon’s rhapsody on the Word of God,

It is a living and incorruptible seed. It moves, it stirs itself, it lives, it communes with living men as a living Word. Solomon saith concerning it, “When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.” Have you never known what that means? Why, the Book has wrestled with me; the Book has smitten me; the Book has comforted me; the Book has smiled on me; the Book has frowned on me; the Book has clasped my hand; the Book has warmed my heart. The Book weeps with me, and sings with me; it whispers to me, and it preaches to me; it maps my way, and holds up my goings. You need not bring life to the Scripture; you shall draw life from the Scripture. Oftentimes a single verse has made us start up, as Lazarus came forth [from the grave] at the call of the Lord Jesus. When our soul has been faint, and ready to die, a single word, applied to the heart by the Spirit of God, has aroused us; for it is a quickening as well as a living Word (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 34, 1888, #2010, pages 144-145).

Getting back to our text,

“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” (I Thessalonians 2:13).

Notice that the word “received” is mentioned twice. However, the original words in Greek that are translated “received” are different. According to the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary,

The Greek for the first “received,” implies simply the hearing of it; the Greek of the second is “accepted,” or “welcomed” (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testament, Eerdmans, 1990 reprint edition, page 460).

Both the lost and the converted in the church at Thessalonica received the Word of God through the “hearing of it” but only those who were truly converted went beyond that and “welcomed” the Word of God in their hearts. The same is true today in our church. Until you welcome the Word of God that is preached you will never receive the Word of God properly and will never be converted. Many of you believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but when you hear it preached it has no effect on you. How different you are from the Ethiopian eunuch! Like you, he believed the Bible was the Word of God. But unlike you it bothered him that he did not understand it, and was not touched by it, and he welcomed the true explanation of the Bible from the evangelist Philip. He confessed his ignorance, humbled himself, and desired that God through the evangelist should speak to him through His Word. Philip asked him if he could understand what he was reading in the Bible.

“And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:31).

It is no wonder that he quickly became converted to Christ. His heart was open to Philip’s explanation of the Bible.

In the often quoted verse Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” we understand that the mere sound of the words of the Bible alone is insufficient to acquire saving faith. It must be accompanied by a prepared heart that welcomes what God would say to you through the preaching. The Lord Jesus said,

“Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it”
      (Luke 11:28).

Oh, if you’re lost tonight go beyond merely sitting in the chair, passively letting the sound of the preaching of the Word of God resonate only upon your eardrums. We pray to God that the words of the Bible may resonate upon your heart, not just on your eardrums! Prepare your heart for the preaching through prayer and a willingness to act upon what you hear in the sermons. Be careful how you hear by hearing with humility, with interest, to be instructed, with a teachableness, to be convicted of your sins. Look for these effects upon your heart by the preaching of the Word of God. Pray for them to take place and pray that God would help you to hear the Bible as the very Word of God in truth, that you may be converted to Christ.

Jesus is alive. His body rose physically from the dead and from the grave. He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God in Heaven. Come to Jesus. He will wash your sins away in His Blood. I pray that some have received the Word of God tonight and may God use it to the salvation of your souls. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. C. L. Cagan: II Timothy 3:16-17.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“I Know the Bible is True” (by B. B. McKinney, 1886-1952).