One of the greatest gifts God has given to men is that of His inspired word. It is able to build us up (cf. Acts 20:32) and save us (cf. Romans 16:16). It is also able to correct, instruct, reprove, train and equip us (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17). God’s word, it says of itself, “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; ESV).”
Yet, as powerful and wonderful as God’s word is, there are times when it won’t help you. Let us be clear about what is meant… it is never the situation that God’s word can’t help, but it is frequently true that it won’t. The power is there, but that power is not going to do anything in an individual life. Such a failure to help is not because of any defect in the word itself, rather it is a result of our failure to properly utilize it. The Bible is not a magical talisman which we can wave at a problem in order to make that problem go away. Rather, the scriptures are more akin to an instructional manual which teaches us how to overcome our problems through the strength which God supplies in His son. So, consider the following three situations where God’s word will fail to properly help you as intended.
First of all, God’s Word won’t help you if you refuse to listen to it. In the parable of the sower, Jesus likened the preaching of the word to the sowing of seeds (cf. Matthew 13:1-8). In explaining the parable, Jesus emphasized the role of hearing when he talked about the work of the gospel on the soil of the heart (cf. Matthew 13:18-23). The good soil was that which heard the word and allowed it to grow. The rocky soil, on the other hand, was that which refused to listen to the word in a meaningful way. They heard it and moved on, quickly forgetting what they had heard.
Jesus taught His disciples, “Whoever is of God, hears the words of God (John 8:47).” Jesus further said, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28).” It is a basic truth that the man who wants the good things God is offering in His word must be willing to pay attention to what God is saying. God’s word will never bless the one who refuses to listen to it. Frequently in the scriptures, Jesus urged those around Him, saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (cf. Matthew 11:15, 13:9, etc).” and lamented that the ears of His generation were dull, preventing them from being saved (cf. Matthew 13:15).
Practically speaking, this means that we must be willing to take the time to read, listen to, and meditate upon the word of God. Again, it is not a magic talisman which blesses you simply because you keep it on a bookshelf somewhere, or have it displayed on a coffee table. God meant for His word to be read and studied, and if we want to be blessed by it, we need to be reading and studying it.
Secondly, God’s Word won’t help you if you refuse to believe it. Jesus told His disciple to go out and preach the word to every nation, assuring them that the one who believed and was baptized would be saved, but also warning that the one who failed to believe the message they heard would perish (cf. Mark 16:15-16). Returning to the parable of the Sower, Jesus further clarified in Luke 8:2, that the problem with hearing was closely connected to one of faith: “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”
Elsewhere, the writer of Hebrews explains why some of the Israelites in the Old Testament perished, despite having God’s word. “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened (Hebrews 4:2; ESV).” Even if you hear what God is telling you in His word, if you refuse to believe it to be true, then it will never help you. Faith is an essential component of what allows God’s word to work in our hearts.
Thirdly, God’s Word won’t help you if you refuse to obey it. If we really believe what God tells us to do, then it is only sensible that we do it. If we again liken the Scriptures to a book of instructions, such instructions only have value when you actually follow what they tell you to do. A map does you no good if you choose to go a different direction. Therefore, Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matthew 7:24).”
Noah was saved, because when God told Him to build an ark for the saving of His household, Noah listened to God, believed God, and then went and did everything God had told Him to do (cf. Genesis 6:22, 7:5; Hebrews 11:7). In a like manner, God is telling us that there is a judgment coming, but He offers us an ark of safety in His Son if we are only willing to listen and obey (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-14).
God’s word is powerful, able to change lives, save souls, and shape us into the individuals God wants us to be. But it will never operate effectively on a heart that refuses to listen, refuses to believe, and ultimately refuses to obey.
If you would like to hear the word of God preached, the church of Christ invites you to come worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.