Many will wonder why this article is titled this way. I mean, apparently there is an explosion of the word of God on the African continent, if you haven’t noticed. But the answer is simple – having heard a lot of sermons, I find it painful, if not appalling, that very few have stuck with me. I’ve had to downrightly condemn a lot of contemporary sermons as falsehood. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get on the high horse of super morality or spiritual knowledge. On the contrary, there are certain underlying principles about the word of God which enable us to discern when what we are hearing is NOT the word of God. As I always state, my writings are only an attempt to unearth just a little corner of the truth – the rest is up to God himself to reveal to us as we earnestly seek to know Him (Heb 11:6).
Conventional wisdom always informs us to tackle anything starting from a definition of the purpose, after which we define the process. Therefore it behoves us to first establish the purpose of the word of God, after which we look at the process that it seeks to achieve. We’ll look at the well beaten passage of 2 Ti 3:16-17 to help define the purpose.
Scripture Leads To Righteousness
“All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Ti 3:16).
Isn’t it interesting that the four cardinal uses of the word of God are all related to “straightening” or “guiding” us in the right way i.e. through teaching, rebuking, correcting and training? This training is done to teach us righteousness, so that we will be equipped for every good work. But how does knowing righteousness make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work”. Because according to Heb 5:13-14, that is the only means by which we know the will of God , and stay away from evil.
“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use, have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:13-14).
Righteousness Shows Us The Will of God
Remember what the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden was called? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What has this got to do with the above passage? The cardinal sin of the human race is our drive to establish our independence from God by deciding that we know what is good and what is evil i.e. we make our own choices. This nature of independence does not go away when we are born again, and must continuously (“by constant use”) be made to submit to what God defines as good or evil. That is when we will be said to be doing the will of God. Therefore, being trained in righteousness is knowing and doing what God says is good, not what our flesh, the world or the devil says is good. According to the above then, it is very dangerous to continuously feed on milk because then we will never be able to discern the will of God and do the same.
The importance of the word of God in achieving this maturity and perfection cannot be overstated, given the Apostle Paul’s command to the elders of the Ephesian church – a church he had started and nurtured – when he was about to leave them on another of his journeys.
“Now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among those who are sanctified” (Ac 20:32)
Here, the image of building a house or structure is used to describe the process of maturity, which should ultimately lead them to their inheritance – an inheritance which was promised from the foundation of the earth, to all spiritual descendants of Abraham – the inheritance of sonship with the Christ in God’s kingdom (Lk 22:28-30, Heb 12:28, Ro 8:17-20, Ro 8:29). This inheritance is described in several places of the New Testament as the hope of true disciples, and Ro 15:4 gives us clearly how by the “word of His grace” we have that same hope.
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.” (Ro 15:4).
Doing God’s Will Brings Perfection
The above notwithstanding, God wants us to arrive at the point when His will becomes perfect for us, not just good; “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). Then we would have achieved what Jesus Christ told His listeners on the mount; “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). We would then have joined the ranks of the Abraham and Job, who were described as blameless (Gen 17:1, Job 1:1).
Having done these righteous acts – acts which are according to the good, pleasing and perfect will of God – we would then be qualified to be a part of the wedding feast of Christ and his bride – the church.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints”(Rev 19:7-8)
It is interesting to note that the bride is adorned with our righteous acts i.e. we all will be wearing our righteous acts on that wedding day – I shudder to think of what will happen to those who do not have any. I believe the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1-14) holds the answer to the latter. As I’ve said before, the parables that Jesus spoke were not just stories, but things that will happen before, during and after he comes. He was only revealing the future.
I believe that by understanding these underlying foundations of what God’s will is for us and how He intends for His word to achieve it, we can by the guidance of the Spirit of God determine clearly when a certain “good news” (the word Gospel means “good news”) may not be good news after all.
The True Prophet
Because of this vision of God for the work that His word is supposed to achieve in us, it then becomes very essential to have this as the basis of understanding and expounding the word of God. Because of the fallibility of man and the tendency to only look at our circumstances when we come to God, there is also no doubt the tendency to twist the word of God to our advantage. This was what motivated Paul to strongly warn his “son” Timothy about the discharge of his duty as an apostle to the church in Ephesus – and it immediately follows in 2 Tim 4 right after stating the source and purpose of the word of God in the previous chapter as we’ve seen above.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Tim 4:1-2 (emphasis mine)
The true prophet of God seeks to present the ever unchanging purpose and vision of God in all it’s different lights, and rejects any inclinations to water down or misrepresent that purpose. As a result, they teach with:
great patience – because their aim is to make that vision as clear and comprehensible as possible. Such people are not in the business of numbers, but of ensuring that those over whom they are shepherds become “men of service”, such that together with their sheep, they “all may reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. (Eph 4:11-13).
careful instruction – because nothing of that vision should be left out. As much as it lies with them and is within their power as the Spirit enables them they, like Paul, would have been deemed NOT to have “hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Act 20:27).
The False Prophet
On the contrary, it is VERY easy to become a false prophet. In fact, we are living in an age where the false prophets far outnumber the true ones and are making the loudest noise with their own version of “the word of God”, and I live in full confidence of the fact that until God intervenes, there is only going to be more of them. And it is simply because they are in the business of telling us what our ears want to hear. Immediately after warning Timothy about how he should preach the word of God, Paul adds that:
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”(2 Tim 4:2)
Many of such men are busy in the enterprise of gaining worldly accolades and fame and they have totally abandoned the way of truth. I think we forget that the way to God is always a narrow one, and only a few find it. It is for such men that this was written:
“For as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18-19)
I have made reference to some of these so called “words of God” in some of my previous posts, but one such “gospel” which is on an unfortunate ascendency is the so called “motivational gospel”. This gospel has become so widespread that even our “good old” traditional protestant churches are being swallowed by it. To start with, I find it very glaring that most of the passages that refer to the purpose of the word of God place little emphasis on “motivation” or “encouragement”. There is rather an abundance of “teaching”, “rebuking”, “correcting” etc. Secondly, where we are encouraged by these passages, they are to motivate us to run the race of faith, whose evidence is in absolute obedience to God. We should be motivating ourselves to set our minds heavenwards, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Col 3), and work towards preparing our garments of righteous acts that will be given back to us to wear at the wedding of Christ and His bride. We should be reminding ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven, not on this earth (Phil 3:20-21).
You see, when a people keep their focus on this life and it’s pleasures, and continue to teach, encourage and “motivate” only in the direction of “God is here to solve your problems” and “God is here to make you rich” and “Your enemies are out to destroy you”; when a people’s total focus is on being the “head and not the tail” even more so in their business and social endeavours; when a people live for the day when men will acclaim them as having been “great” men “blessed” by God; when people will go to the ends of the earth to proclaim their faith but live in a neighbourhood where their poor next door neighbour is even afraid to approach them, I beg to differ that such persons have the word of God dwelling within them.
Instead of reminding these poor souls who come to warm their pews every Sunday of the glorious authority and rule that awaits them in Christ’s future kingdom (2 Ti 4:7; Mt 19:27; Rev 20:4-6), of building them up into men of service (Eph 2:11-13), of allowing them to serve one another with their God given spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:26;1 Pe 4:8-11; Col 3:16) we find these prophets only talking about how God will bless them on this imperfect earth marked for destruction by the same word of God.
Instead of reminding them of their calling to do good works (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:14; Rev 19:8) and above all to display the love that is the ultimate mark of our discipleship (Jn 13:34-35), they are busy in protecting the unscriptural institution called “the clergy” and building marvellous church buildings, forgetting that the people are the church. Instead of feeding the sheep and laying down their lives for them (Jn 10:11-12;2 Thess 3:7-9), they are busy feeding on the sheep (Ez 34:3; Phil 3:18-19).
Didn’t God promise the land of Caanan to all those he rescued from Egypt? Indeed, if “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Ex 12:37), why did God reject all of them and allow only two out of that generation – Joshua and Caleb – to enter the promised land? And God is good, making sure that the occurrences of the Exodus were recorded for us, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea …Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Co 10:1;5-6). Oh the lessons we have to learn from that Exodus!
I guess some of us are waiting for the day when Christ judges our works as depicted in 1 Cor 3:11-14, before we realise that it’s about quality, not quantity. My first fear is that it will be too late and too costly to wait for that discovery. But my greater fear is that if we keep on this path of disobedience, we will not even make it to that judgement, simply because we do not have anything to bring before Christ for testing. Like the unfaithful servant in The Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30), we will most certainly be amongst those “weeping and gnashing” their teeth.