Hearing the Bible Speak for the First Time

This is another one from my time on the mission field. It’s a quick story about a young church leader reading a passage for the first time. This post comes with an assignment. Before you go any further, you need to read Acts 5:12- 42. This post will make a lot more sense if you do.

The word of God is powerful.

As a matter of fact, the best words I can use to describe it are the ones it uses to describe itself. Hebrews informs us that, “the word of God 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)

This is no mere book. A well-written book can inspire people to great (or awful) things. Books have inspired conquest and war. Manifestos have started political movements that took the world by storm. They have changed public opinion and directed the course of societies. But at most, a book can enlighten or inform. It can convince or persuade. However, even the most impressive book cannot know its reader’s thoughts.

The Bible is not just a book. It is the words of God written on paper.

The Bible is alive and active. Books are merely man’s thoughts penned out on paper. They are memories of ideas conceived in the minds of men. They are past tense, the record of thoughts that once were. The Bible is not past tense; it is timeless. It speaks with a voice that no man can recreate. Its sharp edge drives past bone and marrow straight to the heart of man. It knows a man’s thoughts and intentions. A book can only give a man an idea. Ah, but the word of God actually looks into a man’s heart, discovers his inner self, and brings it to the surface, revealing aspects even he did not know about himself. The Bible knows you better than you do.

I was reminded of this Friday.

Fridays are a day we have set aside for leadership training. Each week we have men from villages where we have churches (or churches starting) gather to learn how to teach the word of God to their respective groups. This past Friday was no exception.

A month ago, we made a decision to walk all of our groups through a unified curriculum. This way, they would be able to learn together and teach each other as they grow. We settled on the book of Acts, of course.

Last Friday, we finished chapter 5.

Like any other week, we started with small talk and discussions of the past week’s study. We talked over the day to day things that happened in life that week, and one of the men present made a point to request prayer.

It appears the local religious leadership in their village was starting to put some subtle pressure on them about their lack of participation in Islam. Truly, as small as that village is, everyone in town knew they had become Christians. This was just the beginning stages of pressure that will inevitably get worse as the village realizes this small band of believers is serious about their commitment. In that moment, he seemed concerned about the reality that this would get worse as they moved forward. He was not dissuaded by any means, but asked for prayer as they stayed the course.

Then we studied the passage.

If you did not do your assignment above, now is the opportune moment to stop reading and go read Acts 5:12-42.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard this passage taught in Sunday school, you have sat through a number of sermons on it, and you have probably done some form of book study that has referenced it. I cannot count on my two hands the number of times I have personally taught this passage.

And just like any other “well seasoned Christian,” I had my talking points in mind as we read the passage. I knew all the things I had been taught to point out, the little tidbits of doctrine and the application points that we are supposed to “take away” from the passage. I was ready to point out how this passage pushed us to obedience and God had given commands to follow, even when it appears dangerous.

Then my friend with the prayer request spoke up, and twisted my thoughts upside down.

You see, he had just read this passage for the very first time. He did not grow up in a Sunday school. He had not seen cutouts of Peter and the apostles live this out in flannelgraph like I did. He had never heard the words of Acts 5, until that moment.

With relief in his face, he had just heard a story about people being obedient to follow God, being thrown in jail for it, and God doing the miraculous to see them through it. A man, staring down the face of persecution heard God’s word say God can do the miraculous in the face of persecution.

His thoughts were not on the sober call to obedience that exists in the passage. (The very thing I have always been so quick to point out to people in the States, who do have a problem with obedience.) There was no question of whether or not to be obedient. In his mind, the obedience was the given. Why would anyone not be obedient to what God had asked? He is God.

But to see God reach down and do the miraculous for those who had committed to his work. That was the real story for my friend. His heart found rest in a God who can (and often will) do the impossible to take care of those who are obedient. God’s word looked down into his heart. It discerned his thoughts and his intentions, and it spoke to his needs. It spoke to that uncertainty that we all face at times. For him, that uncertainty had happened that week. The anxiety of potential danger was surfacing, and the word of God saw his heart and spoke loudly in that moment.

God’s word is not just a book. Sure, it is a stack of pages bound together in a cover. Yes, human hands penned it, and it was transcribed by countless more. But its words come from the mouth of God. It is alive, and its edge is so sharp it cuts to the core. For some, it stabs in with the searing pain of conviction as it seeks to slice away sin and wickedness. For others, like my friend, it trims away uncertainty and worry and replaces it with comfort and hope.

Praise God, what a precious gift we have been given!

Keelan Cook Administrator
Senior Church Consultant

Keelan leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. He is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB.

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