Holding Fast to the Word of Life (3)
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:14-18).
Hold on. Let me get this straight. Paul is commanding us to live blameless and innocent lives right smack dab in the middle of our crooked and twisted world. Right?
“So how, in heaven’s name, does he expect us to do this?” I’m so glad you asked! Let’s look closely at Paul’s answer, or yet again, God’s answer. It’s found in the first half of v. 16.
How do you “shine” in a sick, perverted, darkened world? By holding fast to the word that gives life! The key for us is the meaning of the word translated “holding fast.” It can mean to “hold fast” in the sense of guard and protect, but also to “hold forth” in the sense of make known and proclaim. Here, though, there is also the idea of “giving heed to” or “fixing one’s attention upon” (see 1 Timothy 4:16; Acts 3:5). Thus we are to explore it, explain it, embrace it, protect it, offer it to others by making it known, and focus upon it with dedication and devotion.
The “word of life” is both the good news of the gospel of what God has done for sinners in Jesus Christ as well as the word of revelation found in Scripture that explains what that gospel is. It is the word of “life” because it is there that we find truth regarding where life may be found, namely, in Christ. But it is also the word of “life” because it is used of the Spirit to impart new life (1 Peter 1:23-25).
Let me say this with as much force and sincerity as I can. The one thing that will prevent your light from being snuffed out by the darkness of this world is holding fast the word of life. The one thing that will protect you from becoming crooked and twisted like the world around you is holding fast to the word of life. The one thing that will guard your heart and ward off the perverse influence of a society such as ours is holding fast the word of life.
So, I want to take a few minutes and talk to you about what we all must do to “hold fast the word of life,” and in particular what this means for how you come into a corporate assembly on a Sunday where this “word” is proclaimed, explained, and preached. I could talk about numerous ways in which we heed Paul’s counsel, but I want to focus on only one dimension of what it means to hold fast the word of life. It is perhaps the most important dimension.
In other words, I want to say a few words about how you hear or how you listen to God’s Word. My suspicion is that most Christians rarely think twice about what they are doing on a Sunday morning and thus rarely if ever take steps to prepare their hearts and minds in advance for that glorious experience. And the simple fact is that if you don’t maintain a diligent and disciplined approach to hearing and responding to God’s Word you won’t shine as lights in this dark and twisted world.
But first, I want to respond to the horribly misleading and distorted perspective that I hear in certain circles of professing Christians today. We are being told that corporate gatherings where Scripture is preached and taught and explained and applied is outdated, ineffective, and even dangerous. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve either read or heard someone say, “Oh, I don’t need to gather with the church on a Sunday to hear someone preach. That’s so boring. It’s all about one man exercising his spiritual gift while hundreds of others sit passively and do nothing.”
How utterly insane! I can’t think of anything more active and engaging and participatory and practical than listening to God’s Word being explained and applied.
For one thing, listening to God’s Word is worship! When you hear a truth from Scripture about God’s love and marvel and perhaps even weep that you are a recipient of God’s saving affection, that’s worship! When you listen attentively to the truth of divine grace and mercy and your redemption and the forgiveness of sins and you are left breathless that so great a blessing is yours, even though you deserve hell, that is worship! When you feel conviction for your sin and are called to repentance for having hardened your heart against God, as Scripture pierces through your resistance and shines a light into the darkness of an indifferent soul, that is worship!
I simply don’t understand how anyone can suggest that listening to and heeding and thinking over and meditating upon the glorious truths of God’s Word is a waste of time, or that it doesn’t require energy and focus and is only about the person speaking and not the person hearing. Nonsense!
Consider what Jesus says about hearing the Word in the famous parable of the soils. Each of the four different types of soil is differentiated by how it “hears” the Word of God (see, See Luke 8:12, 13, 14, 15). Thus he concludes with this exhortation: “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” I think he’s telling us that if we have a heart devoted to hearing and responding to the Word we will be given understanding and our lives will bear the fruit of godliness.
Why is hearing important? Jesus says that our salvation depends upon it (Luke 8:12b). He says in Luke 8:15 that whether or not we “bear fruit” depends on how we hear.
So here are some practical suggestions for how to hear and “hold fast” the Word of Life.
Prepare for preaching by praying: “If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:3-5). See Psalm 119:18 and Ephesians 1:17-18.
Prepare for preaching by resting. If you find yourself listless on Sunday morning, struggling to stay awake, your mind wandering and your body weak, it may because the preacher is boring and not making any sense. If that’s true, shame on him. But it may also be because of what you did on Saturday night. I doubt if any parent would recommend that their teenager stay out late and indulge themselves in the world when they are scheduled the next morning for the ACT or SAT. But is not the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word of infinitely greater value?
Model for your children how to hear and hold fast the Word of life. Parents, do you by your own lifestyle teach your children that worship by hearing God’s Word is so optional that it doesn't matter whether you come or if you come you come exhausted and distracted and out of a sense of duty rather than delight and joyful anticipation for what God is going to say?
Hunger for God’s Word like you do for your favorite meal (1 Peter 2:2). If you find yourself already stuffed and not hungry for Scripture you need to ask, “What have I been eating that has dulled my appetite for Scripture?” Listen to what God himself says about his law, his precepts, his commandments in Scripture – “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10-11).
Be teachable, but not gullible. In other words, listen critically (Acts 17:11).
Be attentive. After all, God’s Word is your very life (Deut. 32:47).
Purify your heart and mind before you come to hear (James 1:21).
“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch - and then wonder why their spiritual lives are weak and their worship experience is shallow with no intensity. If you really want to hear the Word of God the way he means to be heard in truth and joy and power, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent and worthy of praise (see Philippians 4:8). Then watch your heart unshrivel and begin to hunger for the word of God” (John Piper).
Hear humbly (James 1:21). In other words, be open to rebuke. Be open to change. I’ve known people who come to church with a chip on their shoulder, daring the pastor to say something that they disagree with or hoping he will slip up in some way so they can decapitate him after the service. Or they come convinced they are infallible and omniscient and there is nothing more for them to learn. That is not humble listening. Now, it is true that some preachers are dull and ill-informed. Shame on them. If I’m a dufus and say something stupid or misleading or confusing, I’m not asking you to believe me or accept it as God’s truth.
Mingle the Word with faith (Gal. 3:5; Heb. 4:2). Pray that God would deepen your confidence in what you hear.
Practice what is preached (James 1:22).
Seek the Spirit (Luke 11:13).
For heaven’s sake, bring a Bible! Look at it. Read it. Write in it. Labor to cultivate a taste for God’s Word, through meditation and memorization. Transformation comes through the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:1ff.). Listening, though, is never purely an intellectual exercise. We listen to encounter God. We listen to hear his voice. We listen to experience his love. We listen to have our affections awakened.
All these points apply equally well to the songs we sing. Listen to them. Hear them well. Don’t just sing the words in our songs, think about them. Muse on them. Meditate on them. Turn them back into prayer.
And never forget, as someone once wisely said, that “when the singing is over, worship is not.” It is in our hearing and responding to God’s Word, in our reading and rejoicing over its truths, that Christ is adored and honored and his presence intensifies and his preeminence becomes preeminent.
How do we shine as lights in a crooked, dark, degenerate world? We do it by holding fast the Word of Life. Hold it firmly. Keep your eyes on it constantly. Fixate your mind in its truths. Don’t leave it. Give yourself to it. Exert a strong grip upon its principles and set a penetrating gaze on its truth.
In conclusion, do you want freedom? Then hold fast the word of life, for as Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Are you desperate for more faith? Then hold fast the word of life, for as Paul said, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Are you hungry for joy? Then hold fast the word of life, for Jesus said to his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Do you need more of the Spirit and his supernatural and miraculous power? Then hold fast to the Word of life, for Paul asked the Galatians, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:5).
Do you long to live blamelessly and without reproach, as Paul exhorted in Philippians 2:14-15? Do you aspire to shine brightly in a crooked and twisted generation? Then hold fast to the word of life, for Jesus prayed this to the Father: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).