Handling the Word of God
The Word of God, the Bible, is an essential component in every believer’s life. Matthew 4:4 says “..Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God”. The Word of God is necessary for our sustenance in the same way that food is necessary for our life.
“Bread is a second cause; the LORD Himself is the first source of our sustenance.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon
This may be old news to many of us; however, often times I feel that we as Christians are somewhat unsure of how to really approach the Word of God.
Rightly Handling the Word of God
2 Timothy 2:15 says
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
This verse indicates that there is a proper way to handle the word of truth. Psalm 1 gives an example of one who is taking in the Word of God in the proper way.
"1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3
This blessed one is yielding fruit (John 15:5) and experiencing newness of life (Romans 6:4). He is sturdy and useful in God’s hands.
Likewise, there also are improper ways to approach the Word. John 5:39-40 shows an example of the Jewish religionists who searched the Scriptures but could not find the One concerning whom they testified.
"39 You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is these that testify concerning Me. 40 Yet you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." John 5:39-40
These people were reading the Scriptures, but they regrettably missed Jesus. The lesson to learn here is that the proper handling of the Word is of utmost importance. We as seeking Christians mustn’t be loose in our consideration of what the Bible is to us. The Bible contains many profound truths and principles that can be applied to our lives, but it is much more than that. The Bible is described as spirit and life (Matthew 4:4), the breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and even mysteriously God Himself (John 1:1-2).
Witness Lee describes reading the Word as a means to contact God
"If we would contact the Lord in our spirit as we read the Bible, the Word will become spirit and life to us. In our spiritual experience, it will be God’s breath. Whenever we read the Word, we need to touch the source of the word, and this source is God Himself." ― Life-Study of Exodus; Witness Lee
George Mueller notes that the Spirit and the Word must be inseparable.
“The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Ghost guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.” ― Answers To Prayer; George Mueller
These quotes highlight the fact that the Bible is much more than black and white words on paper that convey facts and principles; the Bible is a book that imparts life. Its goal is to supply spiritual nourishment to every believer for growth and fruit bearing. We as believers must tap into this spiritual component of the Word in our handling of the Scriptures. What does this really look like?
Following the Pattern in Psalm 119
We can learn a lot from reading Psalm 119, which documents one’s complete experience of the Word of God.
"Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart.” Psalm 119:2
"Turn to me, and be gracious to me, As is Your custom with those who love your name.” Psalm 119:132
The psalmist comes to the Word with a seeking heart and a loving heart. This is altogether different than the Jewish religionists mentioned earlier. They were adamant in their following of the law, but their pursuit was devoid of God. To them, the written law was their focus, rather than the God that was present in them. We see from this that our approach to the Word really depends on the condition of our heart. Our reading of the Scriptures must be grounded in our pursuit of God Himself.
The psalmist in this chapter gives us an example of one who is reading the Word with a loving and seeking heart.
"Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments.” Psalm 119:66
The psalmist believed the Word of God; he believed in its genuineness, its authority, and its power.
"I have chosen the way of the truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.” Psalm 119:30
The psalmist made a conscious decision to choose the Word, to choose the way of the truth.
"Your word is very pure, and Your servant loves it.” Psalm 119:140
The psalmist loves the Word of God. Loving the Word is mentioned eleven times in this psalm.
"I will take delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” Psalm 119:16
The Word of God brought delight and joy to the psalmist.
"How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! Yea sweeter than honey to my mouth.” Psalm 119:103
The psalmist tasted and experienced the Word of God (1 Peter 2:3). This signifies something subjective, something within the realm of spiritual experience.
"I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies.” Psalm 119:14
The psalmist rejoiced in the Word. Rejoicing connotes more than just being in a state of joy but even verbally praising God.
"Thy statues have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Psalm 119:54
The psalmist sang of God’s Word.
"My hands also will I lift up unto Thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will muse upon Thy statutes.” Psalm 119:48
The psalmist mused and meditated on the Word of God by spending time in prayer and fellowship with God. This is to dig into the Word of God and discover the depths of the spiritual truths.
May we be encouraged by the rich and vast experiences of this psalmist. May we come to His Word daily with a loving and seeking heart. If we would consistently come to the Word in this way, we will be like those blessed people, planted and rooted by rivers of living water.
We have this treasure in earthen vessels
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not out of us” 2 Corinthians 4:7
This verse has been a favorite of mine for a while. It is simple, yet profound. It is simple because it presents a straightforward illustration regarding the fundamental elements that exist in our Christian life. It is profound because upon our consideration of being earthen vessels filled with a treasure, we are brought into God’s true design and can live the Christian life as He intends for us to live it.
We are Vessels Designed to Contain the Treasure.
As human beings, we are described as earthen vessels/jars of clay in the Bible.
“… Indeed, as the clay is in the hand of the potter, so you are in My hand, O house of Israel” Jeremiah 18:6
“… he will be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, useful to the master, prepared for every good work” 2 Tim 2:21
This indicates that by design, human beings were meant to contain something. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has put eternity in their hearts”. The amplified Bible describes this eternity as
“A divinely implanted sense of a purpose working throughout the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy”.
This implanted eternity further supports the notion that we are vessels. Within us is an aspiration for something eternal, a deep longing for purpose and satisfaction. This longing can be thought of as an empty vessel. It is when the vessel is filled that it experiences fulfillment and satisfaction. On the earth, billions of people are in this condition, a condition of seeking fulfillment and satisfaction. The things of this world can satisfy us to an extent; however, this satisfaction is temporary and fleeting. Temporal things can never satisfy the eternal longing. We were designed to be filled with the eternal One, that is the Triune God, who can ultimately satisfy man to the fullest extent.
As Christians, we have received God into our vessel! Hallelujah! It is a wondrous fact.
This treasure is in us a well of water springing up into eternal life [John 4:14]. It is an abundant, rich, and bountiful supply. Herein lies the secret of our Christian life. The treasure within us issues into a power that is of God and not of us. This divine power is one that differentiates a Christian from a non-Christian and results in a life that transcends. The details of this life are described in the following verses.
"We are pressed on every side but not constricted" - 2 Corinthians 4:8a
"Persecuted but not abandoned; cast down but not destroyed;" - 2 Corinthians 4:9
These overcoming qualities are not attributed to the virtues of our humanity, rather it is the product of the power of God operating in Paul. Strikingly, these extraordinary responses are described further as the manifestation of the life of Jesus in our bodies [2 Corinthians 4:10]. This is how God designed the Christian life. It is to allow the treasure to take root in our hearts and transform and conform us to the image of the Firstborn Son. Giving heed to this treasure in our vessels impacts all facets of our life. It fills our spirit and influences all the parts of our soul: our mind, emotion, and will. A living that intimately involves this treasure will cause Christ to be magnified in our bodies [Philippians 1:20].
Living the Christian Life According to God’s Design.
As we muse upon this passage, we may clearly see this illustration of our condition as vessels with a treasure; however, practically we may not be clear on how to live in this manner. In my experience, it is easy to have zeal for proper Christian living. It is easy to try to display genuine love, to exercise my own patience to handle circumstances, and force myself to manufacture joy; however, our own love, patience, and joy is regrettably limited. Often times, we have the tendency to try to present ourselves as “holier” than we actually are by polishing, painting, and “beautifying” our vessel. We seem like we are shining outwardly, but inwardly we are empty. In fact, this was how Jesus described the Pharisees, as whitewashed tombs [Matthew 23:27]. We are trying, even with good intention, to be good and useful in God’s hands; however, we are not taking the way of God’s design.
God’s design begins with our acknowledgement that we are earthen vessels or jars of clay. This descriptor, earthen, is noteworthy, and we must be constantly reminded of this. Being earthen or made of clay signifies that we are lowly and our constituents are not of much worth. This does not mean that we have no value, but rather what is generated by us is insufficient to fulfill God’s demands.
“For all of us became like him who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” Isaiah 64:6
An earthen vessel is not very glorious; however, when the treasure is being manifested from it, it becomes of great value. It becomes useful. Even, it becomes fragrant.
“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God…” 2 Corinthians 2:15a
The glory is His, not ours. Following God’s design and allowing our living and works to be a product of the treasure in us is not an easy, quick endeavor; it is a day by day process. If we would daily take this way of seeking, beholding, and conversing with God through His Word, prayer, and genuine fellowship in His Body, we will find that His qualities: His love, His care, His life, will begin to be manifested in our life.
As we consider 2 Corinthians 4:7, we see what we as Christians are. We are simply lowly vessels, but we have this treasure in us that allows us to live a life beyond the normal human capacity. We are able to express the life of Christ, an overcoming and transcending life. This is God’s design. In order to experience this, we must set ourselves aside and give heed to this treasure within us. Chris Poblete sums this up nicely.
So then, the believer holds within himself (as an earthen vessel) an exceedingly valuable treasure. And he is given this treasure that the transcendent, extraordinary excellency of the power would be recognized of God and not of us. The dynamic, animating force that is to develop, drive, and produce a Christian life is to come from the contents of the vessel, not the vessel itself. - “Earthen Vessels with Heavenly Treasure” by Chris Poblete
Praise the Lord for this design! May we all see that the source and supply of our Christian life lies in this treasure that is dwelling within us.
How Do We Experience Spiritual Progress?
After we take Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are born again, this time of the Spirit [John 3:5], and we become newborn babes in Christ [1 Peter 2:2]. As we rejoice in this fact, we must realize that this is not the end of our Christian experience, but rather the beginning. One crucial element of the normal Christian life lies in our participation in spiritual growth.
"Whom we announce, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man full-grown in Christ;” — Colossians 1:28
"Therefore leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us be brought on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith in God,” — Hebrews 6:1
It is clear through these verses that there is a desire and need for believers to be brought on to maturity, but what does that mean? And how can we attain it?
"We must reiterate that spiritual progress on the positive side is the increase of the element of God, and on the negative side it is the decrease of things usurping God’s place" — "Spiritual Progress" by Watchman Nee
We can sum up that thought with this “equation”:
Spiritual Progress = The addition of the element of God within us – The things usurping God’s place in our hearts
The Addition of the Element of God
“That Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith” — Ephesians 3:17
“..until Christ is formed in you” — Galatians 4:19
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels..” — 2 Corinthians 4:7
After our salvation, we received Christ into our spirit. Then, Christ begins to make His home in our hearts; He begins to be formed in us. We begin this process of receiving the element of God into us. A good illustration of this is presented in John 15, where Jesus reveals that He is the vine, and we are the branches. A branch is something that is altogether dependent on the vine for growth. From the position of a branch, it has no power in itself; it can bear no fruit nor generate anything; it needs the supply from the vine. We as branches connected to the Vine, are being supplied with the element of God to produce fruit! What this produces is revealed in Galatians 5:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law." — Galatians 5:22-23
So in our Christian life, we must be ones that are abiding in the vine. Abiding means that we spend time in the Lord’s presence through His Word, through constant prayers, and through genuine fellowship in the Body. By pursuing God in this way, we will be receiving the element of God into us and will spontaneously exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. Living a life of abiding in Him will result in spiritual progress.
Decrease of the Things Usurping God’s Place
Spiritual progress goes beyond what we are gaining; it also involves a shedding off of the things that are taking God’s place in our hearts.
"We should ask ourselves what our condition today is. From the day we were saved until now, how many things, events, and people are still occupying us and depriving God of His rightful place?" — "Spiritual Progress" by Watchman Nee
God has a rightful place in a believer’s heart; however, in our experience, we can probably say that our hearts are not pure. It has been mixed and defiled by the things of the world [1 John 2:15-17] and by the lusts of the flesh [Galatians 5:19-21]. If we are honest with ourselves, we can all perhaps make a list of the things that have preeminence over Christ. As a part of spiritual progress, however, each item that is taking God’s place in our hearts is being removed. Light is being shined into our hearts to reveal to us what our true condition is, and this shining will allow God to occupy our hearts in a stronger way.
Experiencing Spiritual Progress
Now that we’ve seen the components involved in spiritual progress, we have to address the question of how we experience spiritual progress. Spiritual progress is not gained by us meticulously following a set of rules. We cannot try harder in a legal way to get more of God’s element into us; neither can we force our heart to be pure. How then can spiritual progress be achieved?
"For the love of Christ constrains us.." — 2 Corinthians 5:14
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." — Matthew 6:15
The impetus for spiritual progress is simply love, love for the Triune God.
Our love for the Lord grows as we “know Him” [Philippians 3:10], as we “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” [Psalms 27:4]. We know Him and appreciate His beauty by seeking Him in a genuine way [Matthew 7:7]. As we love the Lord, our hearts will be open to Him, and He will be able to increase His life in us and cause us to see our real condition. We will begin to have a genuine desire to abide in Him more, and we will see more clearly the things that are occupying our hearts. As this process continues, we will see the fruit of the Spirit being manifest in our lives, and we will slowly begin to shed away the things of the old creation. The product of this is a believer that is living a life like Christ, one that is conformed to His image [Romans 8:29].
Our goal is not to seek spiritual progress, but rather God. It is in this pursuit of loving, seeking, and abiding in God that we begin to experience spiritual progress.