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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

Hearing the Word

This sermon preview is part of "Pardon the Interruption: An Advent Series."

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As the rain and the snow

come down from heaven,

and do not return to it

without watering the earth

and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

- From Isaiah 55:6, 9-11 (NIV)


"All words, no follow through" is a complaint we might hear.

It's a complaint against people in life who "talk a big game" but do little.

Or, as the Elvis song put it, "A little less conversation, a little more action, please."

Christians often speak of God's word: the importance of God's word, the authority of God's word, and the power of God's word.

More than one person frustrated with the state of the church and believers in general has said, "Why isn't the church effective? What isn't the church doing something?"

In Scripture, the word of God is never just "merely words." But it is not our actions alone which go alongside God's word. God's word itself is effective. And if we have the eyes to see, we can see scripture doesn't just inspire or motivate us to do good things, God's word works something new in us.

The influential theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430) wrote in his Confessions: "Give what you command [O Lord], and then command whatever you will.” This idea is found in scripture: that whatever God commands, God supplies. That is, whatever God asks, he also is at work in that very thing. God's Word is never merely just words.

More recently, a philosopher by the name of J.L. Austin developed a theory of "speech acts," words that do something. He wrote a book in 1975 entitled How to Do Things with Words. Some words do things. Some examples are saying "I object!" in a courtroom, or "I do," in a wedding ceremony. There are, at certain times or places, where words are more than just words: they're actions.

The LORD speaking in the book of Isaiah is clear his word is not merely words.

"[S]o is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

- Isaiah 55:10-11 (NIV)

The hope of Advent is that God speaks into silence, and those are no mere words God gifts. The Word of God is alive and active. It is cutting and powerful. It achieves the purpose for which God sent it. And so receiving the word, hearing the word, is also no simply passive listening. It cannot go in one ear and out the other. Because to hear, and to receive, the word of God is to be affected by it, changed by it, altered by it — for the Lord's glory and our great good.


Reflection Questions

  1. Have you ever been confronted with a word, a message, which changed you? What happened?

  2. Last week, we discussed the problem of God's silence ("Waiting in the Dark"). This passage from Isaiah uses the imagery of rain coming down from the heavens and watering plants.

Elsewhere in scripture, with similar imagery, the letter of James talks about the word being planted in our hearts:

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. - James 1:21-22 (NIV)

There are two parts to this metaphor for receiving God's word:

  • removing "filth" and

  • humbly accepting the word planted in us.

Notice, we are not the planters of the word ourselves. The word comes from outside. But it is also true that we can participate in the word planted in us: humbly accepting it and doing what it says.

What needs to be removed from your life to help you hear the active and effective word of God?

3. What do you need to do to accept God's word and do what it says?

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