Sunday, November 6, 2016

How Can the Word be Alive?

by Dave

“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).

I love to read and I have read many books. I have read books that have deeply moved me, and books that have changed my mind on major issues. I have read books that were so powerful that I would have a hard time concentrating on other things during the day because I want to know what is going to happen. But I have always recognized that there is something different about the Bible. I am not always riveted by the Bible, not always moved, not always eager to pick it up in the morning. But I have seen that it affects me like no other book. I believe that the above verse gives the explanation for this difference: the Word of God is LIVING! Unlike other books, the Bible is alive. But what does that mean?

The Word is Profitable
As we were planning for our Tone Workshop Stacey mentioned that she would love for us to have a devotional each morning. I decided that since we are really building a foundation for a Bible translation project, it would be good to talk about the Word of God during this devotional time. So, throughout the two weeks we looked at different passages that addressed God’s Word. One such passage was:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
In discussing this verse, I focused on the fact that the Bible is profitable for correction, and how it is meant to correct false ideas that are either natural or cultural. I wanted to be applicational, so I used an situation from my life to illustrate the point. I talked about how I used to consider myself a very patient person, that is, until I had kids. I found out pretty early on that kids try my patience like nothing else in my life. And my natural reaction to their disobedience is to allow them to see my anger. My brain tells me that if I am angry enough they will realize they should not do it again. However, I explained, the Word of God discerned my thoughts and the intentions of my heart and has reminded me on numerous occasions that, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). My desired goal was to have obedient (righteous) children. But my method, showing my anger, could never achieve that goal, according the the book of James.

I said all this hoping it would make them think, but expecting to get straight on to business like the other days. However, one of the members of our group spoke up and said that she knew what the Bible said was true. She had seen that her anger did not bring about obedience in her children. Another piped up, explaining that he used to discipline his children in anger, hitting them all over their bodies. He explained that after becoming a Christian he repented of this practice. Still another, told us that once he beat his child so forcefully that the child fell unconscious. More than half of our participants used this as a time to confess that they had sinned in their parenting.

It is hard for me to communicate how shocking this was. I have almost never heard people confess their sins publicly here. We have observed that in the culture that surrounds us there is a lot of pressure to appear to be right at all times, which leads many to mask their errors and sins. This stems from another area of natural sinfulness, common in America as it is in Africa. We naturally prefer to justify ourselves when confronted with sin and weakness, which is the opposite of confession. So, what made the difference? Why would people, who are not used to confessing sin, start confessing at a linguistics workshop? 

The Word Gives Life
I believe the answer to this is that the Word of God is alive. Of the many books I have read, I have never read a book (save the Bible) that has brought me to repentance. When we say that the the Word of God is alive, we mean that it can do things that we cannot ourselves do. I often cannot see my own sin and I certainly do not have the power to bring about repentance when I do not even know that I have sinned.

I used the example of Lazarus with our work group. I am sure the idea did not originate with me. But when Lazarus died, he ceased to be able to act on his own. If I had called outside the tomb and said, “Lazarus, come out, you have one the visa lottery to go to the US!” he would not respond. Why? Because he is dead. But then came Jesus. And when he spoke, his words came with more than just hope, they came with power. When Jesus said “Lazarus come out!” along with the words came the power to come out. And guess what, he did! It was not the power of potential resurrection, it was the power of the resurrection.

That is what we mean when we say that the Word of God is alive. We are born dead in our transgressions and sins. We are powerless to change our situation. I have observed that my neighbors know something about feeling powerless. They believe in spiritual powers that are greater than them, but often do not have the resources to combat them. They understand and hate their poverty, but have no means for escaping. If you are wondering why we want to translate the Bible for these people, it is for these very reasons. Dead like Lazarus, they lack power, and they need power. Not power to overcome poverty in this life (Jesus was poor), but power to overcome sin. Not power to protect their houses from all sickness, but power to believe that a better life is yet to come. And in the meantime, they need not fear those who can kill the body. What my neighbors need is a living and active Word, able to convict them and convince them. And able to give life to their souls. What my neighbors need is the Bible.

It was exciting to see the power of the Word in action during this workshop. Can you imagine what we will see in the future? A people group that has almost no access to the power of God’s Word, reading it in their own language. I cannot wait to see that day. Pray that it will come soon.