Words can build up and pull down. God’s prophets did both when they spoke God’s words (Jer. 1:9-10). Words chosen wisely and spoken properly benefit the “obedient ear” (v. 12). A word fitly spoken is like the adornment of beautiful jewelry. The Lord expects us to give attention to our words (how, when, why, and what we say). He also expects us to give attention to how and why we listen to fitly spoken words (with an obedient ear). The words we utter should be suitable to the moment. They will “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” (as the need may be) to warn, convict, save, and strengthen souls (2 Tim. 4:2). A message fitly spoken is not rash but is thoughtful words seasoned with grace (Col. 4:6). Such words are “good for necessary edification” (Eph. 4:29). These words are not bitter, malicious, angry, self-justifying harangues (Eph. 4:31). Fitly spoken words proceed from kind hearts of love (Eph. 4:32). Obedient ears give attention to messages fitly spoken. The obedient ear is committed to personal improvement and spiritual growth. Therefore, it listens to the fitly spoken word and follows God’s truth it promotes. Let us choose our words carefully. They will do great good or great harm. Let us listen carefully to fitly spoken words and obey the truth they advance.
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. (Philippians 1:15–17, NKJV)
When early Christians were persecuted for their faith, they “went everywhere, preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4). To “preach Christ” means more than telling about the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel they preached was “the word of the cross,” all of Christ’s truth, the “whole counsel of God” (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Gal. 1:6-9; Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:2-4). Paul knew some did not preach Christ from pure hearts and genuine faith (Phil. 1:12-18). Still, he rejoiced that Christ was preached even when he suffered from these pretenders (Phil. 1:18). In today’s passage, the apostle gives us motives markers for preaching Christ. Our hearts will be judged as well as the content of our message when we preach Christ. The apostle notes that sound gospel preaching includes: 1) Boldness to speak the word without fear (1:14); 2) Goodwill, not envy and strife (1:15); 3) Sincerely (honestly), without selfish ambition or harm to others (1:16); 4) Out of love for God and His truth, for brethren, and the lost (1:17); 5) In truth, not pretense (1:18). When we teach the gospel, let us maintain godly motives. Otherwise, we are little more than “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).
33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. (Mark 4:33–34, NKJV)
Jesus was the Master Teacher. He used parables to teach the gospel of the kingdom to the multitudes that gathered to Him in Galilee (Mk. 4:1-2). Then, away from the crowds, He explained the parables to His disciples (Mk. 4:10-12). Jesus knew His audience. He spoke the word “as they were able to hear it” to the crowd (v. 33). He did not impress them with scholarship or eloquence (a healthy reminder to preachers and teachers today, 1 Cor. 2:1). He was not condescending toward His audience. His goal was to teach them by planting the seed of God’s word into their hearts (Matt. 13:34-35). A godly woman once told young preachers, “Put the hay down where the calves can reach it, and the cows will have no trouble getting their fill.” Good advice. The parables challenged the crowd to ponder and prioritize God’s will. How people responded to Christ’s teachings exposed their hearts, and it still does (Mk. 4:11-12, 13-20). Away from the crowd, Jesus also took the time to explain the parables to His disciples (v. 34). He unraveled the parables’ meanings to them as He prepared them to take the gospel to the world (Mk. 16:15-16). We benefit from Jesus’ teaching style as we listen to His words and the explanations of truth His apostles, in turn, gave to the world (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:8-13).
1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2, NKJV)
The effectiveness of prayer was not an afterthought to Christians of the New Testament age (Jas. 5:16). The apostle Paul often asked brethren to pray for him, and he repeatedly prayed for his fellow Christians (1 Thess. 3:10; Eph. 6:18-19; Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:3, 9; 4:3). In today’s passage, Paul asked for specific prayers, something we ought to do, too. First, he asked for prayers that God’s word would triumph in its purposes (saving the lost and strengthening the saved, v. 1). The gospel was achieving these purposes in their lives (1 Thess. 1:2-9; 2 Thess. 1:3-4). We are confident they joined Paul in praying the gospel would win the race and be honored as other souls believed and obeyed Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17). Second, Paul asked them to pray for mutual deliverance from faithless, unreasonable, and wicked people (v. 2). Like the currents of a flowing river, forces of evil try to sweep us away and drown us in error and sin’s corruption. The Lord is active and faithful to rescue us and guard us against the evil one and his cohorts as we do what His apostles command (2 Thess. 3:3-4). May we offer such prayers daily.
Acts 8 is a chapter about preaching the gospel. Those who preached in this chapter were the persecuted, scattered saints (8:4), Philip the evangelist (8:5, 35, 40), and the apostles Peter and John (8:25). The message they preached was “the word” (8:4), “Christ” (8:5), things concerning the kingdom, the name of Jesus Christ, and baptism (8:12), “the word of the Lord” (8:25), “the gospel” (8:25), and “Jesus” (8:35). The result of their preaching was the conversion and salvation of souls. People believed and were baptized, and by doing so, they “received the word of God” (8:12-14). A sinning Christian learned from hearing the apostle’s teaching that he needed to repent and pray for God’s forgiveness (8:18-24). A lost Ethiopian came to believe in Jesus Christ and was baptized, resulting in great joy (8:35-39). One cannot read Acts 8 without being impressed with gospel preaching’s central role in saving sinners. The Samaritans, Simon, and the Ethiopian eunuch were brought to faith, obedience, and salvation from sins through preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sinners cannot hear the word of God, believe it, call on the name of the Lord, and be saved without gospel preaching (Rom. 10:13-17). Why and what are you preaching, preacher? What kind of preaching do you want, Christian? Gospel preaching is not entertainment. It is not a psychology session. It is not the pleasing pabulum of positive platitudes. It is not a sharing session of opinions. It is the proclamation of the gospel, God’s power to save the lost (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 1:6-12; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). We need more gospel preaching, not less.
2 And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:2–3, NKJV)
Israel’s wilderness wanderings tested their faith in the Lord God. Would they obey Him? Or would they rebel in disobedience when faced with hardships, setbacks, and uncertainties? God disciplined their hearts through the trial of hunger and by the blessing of daily manna (and other provisions, Deut. 8:4-6). God meant for their trials and blessings to humble them and turn their hearts to Him. God taught Israel by trials and blessings to live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” God also lovingly teaches and corrects us by trials and blessings, like parents who love their children, Heb. 12:4-11). Life is more than bread. Life is more than comfort. Like Israel, life with God that lasts forever comes from God when we obey Him. Jesus knew this when the devil tempted Him to sin (Matt. 4:3-4). Let us accept God’s training during times of trial and blessing that we may humbly obey the Lord God and live with Him now and forever.
13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13–14, NKJV)
It is hard to miss the point of this passage. Spiritual growth from infancy to maturity (“full age”) occurs by learning and using the word of God. It is crucial to see that knowing God’s word is not the same as being fully grown in Christ. We can amass knowledge of the Scriptures and still be an immature Christian. Today’s passage explains that partaking of the “first principles of the oracles of God” is like drinking milk. If milk is the only thing we eat, we will not grow sufficiently. These Christians were “unskilled” (inexperienced) “in the word of righteousness.” They were not using what they were taught from God’s word. The problem went beyond not knowing the word (true, they needed to learn more, Heb. 5:11). Their failure was not using God’s word to train themselves to distinguish good and evil (v. 14). In that state, they could not be teachers of God’s word (Heb. 5:12). Similarly, we remain spiritually weak when we know God’s word but do not apply it to our daily decisions and actions. Are you unskilled or experienced in using the word of God? Strive for spiritual maturity. Train yourself to use your knowledge of God’s word to recognize both good and evil.
1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. (Isaiah 53:1–2, NKJV)
No doubt, many are drawn to others based on their physical features. Yet, we can fairly say that Jesus Christ was not particularly handsome. He had “no form or comeliness…no beauty that we should desire Him.” Unlike Saul, who was tall and handsome, God’s Anointed did not draw people to Himself because of his outward appearance (1 Sam. 9:1-2; 10:23-24). Christ does not gather a following like Absalom, who “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” with false humility and flattery (2 Sam. 15:5-6). It was David, a man after God’s own heart, who typified God’s suffering servant (1 Sam. 13:14; Psa. 89:3-4). God looks on the heart, not physical appearance (1 Sam. 16:7). So, what draws your attention to Christ and the gospel? Is it a large church building full of wealthy people? Maybe it is cathedrals or temples built by human hands. Maybe it is the social program of the church. Furthermore, what are Christians using to draw people to Christ? It must always be the gospel, not things that appeal to the pride of the flesh. The Father draws sinners to Christ and salvation by hearing and learning His word, and so must we (Jno. 6:44-45).
3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:3–5, NKJV)
The Word (Christ) did not cling to the “form of God” when He became flesh (Phil. 2:5-7). That is, He emptied Himself of the glorious appearance of deity He shared with the Father “before the world was” (Jno. 17:5; Jno. 1:1, 14). Without divesting Himself of His Godhood, He took the “form of a bondservant” and became human (Phil. 2:7). His humility reached its zenith when He obediently died on the cross (Phil. 2:8). On the mountain, when Jesus was transfigured, Peter, James, and John saw a glimpse of His glory and heard the Father’s confirmation of His Sonship (Matt. 17:1-2; Lk. 9:32; 2 Pet. 1:16-17). Jesus is superior to the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). Therefore, we must hear the Son in everything He teaches (Acts 3:22-23). That means we go to His New Testament to inform and activate our faith, not to the Old Testament law and prophets (Heb. 1:1-2). We listen to the Son by hearing and accepting His apostles’ teachings (Jno. 13:20; Matt. 28:19-20). Are you listening to the Son of God?
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:8–10, NKJV)
The gospel is the “word of faith” the apostles preached. It is near, having been confessed by our mouths and believed in our hearts. The gospel of Christ is the message of “righteousness of faith,” not “righteousness of the law” (Rom. 10:4-7). But please see that the word of faith (gospel) is not a message of salvation by faith only, since “confession with your mouth” is belief plus confession. We are neither saved by faith alone or by confession alone. Both are said to be “unto” righteousness or salvation (v. 10). The preposition “unto” translates the Greek word eis, which denotes “entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, towards, for, among” (Thayer, 183). Believing the gospel in your heart and confessing Christ with your mouth move you toward salvation, but they are not all the gospel says to be saved. The word of faith commands us to repent or perish (Lk. 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30). The word of faith also commands us to be baptized “for (eis) the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Let us believe and follow all the gospel preached by the apostles. Then we have God’s assurance of being saved in Christ.