The Sufficiency of God’s Word for Life and Ministry
Many of us are drowning in a culture saturated by information and opportunities. Highly prized in our consumeristic world are control, integration, utmost personalization and developing consumer dependency. What we lack in this age of ultimate, immediate access is time, and the ability to readily discern on the spectrum of good, better and best. We also often lack the ability to distinguish between truth and well-articulated frauds. Knowledge is a click away but wisdom remains evasive. Unlimited options available to us, each well positioned to capture our attention and feed our common desires. It is nearly impossible to be content as the entire world chants, “better, faster, more” to create individual and mass discontent.
In contrast to these things are two ideas: (1) “Godliness with contentment is great gain”, and (2) the Word of God is truly sufficient for us in life and ministry. The purpose of this writing is to deal with the second idea.
To clarify, God’s Word is sufficient when partnered with God’s Spirit. Together they thoroughly inform us how to obtain eternal life, how to live life well, and how to minister successfully to others. Said another way, the Spirit is the catalyst of the Word, and together they are sufficient.
Sufficient here is intended to mean, we do not need anything else but the Scriptures which God has inspired and preserved for us using faithful men and women throughout history (2 Tim 3:16, Psa 12:7). This is to say no supplemental information to Scripture is essential for life or ministry. The Bible in and of itself is sufficient for us regarding all matters of faith, practice and life.
With this said, one additional clarification should be mentioned. The love for and fellowship of God’s people (the local church) is cherished by every true Christian and is certainly important for the application of Scripture in the context of spiritual growth. However, one’s connection to a particular assembly or religious institution does not impact the sufficiency of God’s Word. This is good news for those who are physically confined (lawfully or unjustly) or for those isolated due to health reasons or physical location. Inscribed on paper or written on our heart, the Word of God is not bound by our circumstances (2 Tim 2:9).
A detailed look at Hebrews 4:12-13 provides good insight as to why the Word of God is truly sufficient.
12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
When we first consider this text we are immediately drawn to previous verses with the first word, “For”. Reviewing the larger context, we see that the subject matter in verses 1-11 deals with Hebrew Christians learning to be content with what Jesus has done through His life, death and resurrection. No additional work from us individually or collectively can assist or add to His perfect work. The epistle’s author concludes his point in verse 11 saying, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest…” The point is, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. If we think we need to or can add to what Jesus did, then we are not truly resting in Christ and we are essentially living in unbelief.
This brings us to Hebrews 4:12-13. These verses are the pivot point of the passage, turning our attention from Jesus our Sabbath rest to Jesus our great high priest. Both topics speak to the mind of the Hebrew audience, the contextual umbrella of this epistle. It is at the junction of these two subjects where we find wonderful insight into the sufficiency of God’s Word in life and in ministry.
12 For the word of God is quick,
The first reason why the Scriptures are wholly sufficient to believers is because they are living words. Quick is a word not used frequently in American English conversation today. However, the word is appropriate and descriptive when referring to the living part of one’s finger nail called the quick of a nail. If you’ve ever clipped a nail too deep, you know precisely the point where the dead nail stops and the quick of the nail begins.
Because God’s Word is living, it is by definition dynamic. Only a dynamic, living book could be sufficient for us who are dynamic creatures. The Bible is dynamic in the sense that it is able to uniquely address our particular needs and circumstances today, and our different needs tomorrow. Again, God’s living Spirit provides us direction and encouragement for applying God’s Word from one day to the next.
God’s Word is not dynamic in the sense that it changes, nor is it inferred here that the Word is dynamic in some personal, interpretative way. These ideas, though popular in some circles, are contrary to the Scriptures themselves. God’s Word is both eternally settled and not to be privately interpreted (Psa 119:89, 1 Pet 2:20). That said, God’s Word does have the unique ability to guide us individually through all stages and situations in life.
Science and experience both teach us that only life produces life. This is also true of God’s living Word. God’s Word is creative and life giving, and it has been since the very beginning (Joh 1:1-4). Note how many times the phrase “God said” is mentioned during creation in Genesis chapter 1. God’s Words brought forth the very existence of our world, including us. In addition to life in a general sense, God’s Word gives us abundant life and eternal life (Joh 6:63, Joh 6:68, Jam 1:21). The life giving gospel message is directly tied to “the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-8).
Most importantly, God’s Word is living because it is not just a written text but a living person, Jesus. This point is subtly but clearly communicated in the passage when the Word in verse 12 changes to personal pronouns (his, him) in verse 13, and then to specific references of Jesus through the remainder of the chapter.
This point, that the Word and Jesus are interchangeable, is substantiated by other Scriptures. For example, the pre-incarnate Jesus was the “voice of the Lord God walking in the garden” of Eden (Gen 3:8). Jesus is described at incarnation to be ‘the Word made flesh’ (John 1:1-14). And Jesus is referred to as ‘The Word of God’ who in post-incarnate form will return to earth (Rev 19:13). To summarize, God’s Word is written as Scripture and exemplified as Jesus.
We have previously mentioned that God’s Word was certainly powerful when God spoke creation into existence. We have also noted that God’s Word is powerfully present in man’s salvation (Rom 10:17). To further the point, the Word is also powerful in the sanctification of believers (1 The 2:13). The Scriptures are essential to our growth and maturity, conforming us to the image and likeness of Jesus.
One noteworthy example of the transformational power of the Word in a person’s life is the apostle Paul. Consider that God’s Word was powerful enough to change the heart of a religious terrorist into a dedicated follower of Jesus (Acts 26:4-23). Initially God spoke to Paul directly, which was later confirmed and verified by the other apostles (2 Pet 3:15-16). In the following years God changed Paul from being a legalistic zealot to being a missionary of redemption and reconciliation. Paul went on to preach and teach the gospel of grace until he was himself imprisoned and killed. God’s Word is sufficient and powerful to radically change us for His glory and our good.
…and sharper than any two-edged sword,
God’s Word is said to be sharper than a sword because it has the ability to separate and distinguish things beyond the physical level. The Word is powerful in its ability to penetrate and separate. War descriptions and comparisons here are likely unpopular verbiage for some today. However, when consideration is given to those unjustly treated, exploited and oppressed, soft postures and phrases do not do justice to the reality of the spiritual war we are in (Psa 12).
To further this point, consider what the Scriptures say:
(1) Christians are servant and soldiers of Jesus (1 Cor 6:19-20, Eph 6:6-9, 2 Tim 2:3)
(2) Christians are in a spiritual war for the souls of men and women (Eph 6:10-12)
(3) God has fitted Christians for spiritual battle with spiritual gear, in particular His Word (Eph 6:13-17)
(4) To fight well Christians refuse to be entangled by worldly cares (2 Tim 2:4, 2 Cor 4:18)
The reality is, whether we chose to fully engage in spiritual battle or not, our adversary the Devil wants to destroy us and everyone around us (1 Pet 5:8). With this in mind, recall how Jesus responded to the Devil’s verbal and conceptual assaults. Jesus retaliated with “It is written” and by quoting Scripture (Luke 4:1-13). As Jesus modeled, the Scriptures are our sufficient and necessary protection. It is the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” held tightly in the believer’s hand, heart and head that is the best weapon of protection and advancement in this very real spiritual battle (Eph 6:17).
…piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,
Hebrews 4 further details how God’s Word is powerful. The Scriptures are powerful in that they penetrate into the very depth of a person, both spiritually (soul and spirit) and physically (joints and marrow).
It is evident from previous points that the Word is spiritually impactful, but what of its claim to have a physical impact? The greatest evidence of God’s Word having a direct physical impact is the involvement of God’s Word in creation (Genesis 1, John :1-3). We also read of other physical miracles throughout Scripture that are initiated by and tied to the Word.
With regard to the Scriptures having physical impact on us regularly and personally, consider the following. It is generally accepted that stress and worry (originating from observations, beliefs and thoughts) have a negative impact on one’s overall health – specifically through the degrading of one’s immune system (joints and marrow). It is reasonable to believe the opposite is true, that the Scriptures can be nourishing to one’s physical health, and this is exactly the claim of Scripture (Pro 3:1-8, Pro 4:20-22). The good truth of God’s Word is powerful in that it can positively impact both our mind and body.
…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
God’s Word is also powerful in that it penetrates and peers into the deepest part of who we are, exposing the very intents of our heart. Note that this is somewhat opposite of our typical understanding. We approach the Bible from the perspective of, us wanting to understand or discern what it means. However, the Bible says in verse 12, when we come honestly to Scripture, it discerns and reveals who we are. What other book on the planet makes this claim?
The Bible is powerfully sufficient because it pierces deep into our hearts to reveal who we really are, and what we’re really about even if we don’t initially, fully understand our own intentions and motivations.
13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest
The Word is also sufficient for ministry because it fully exposes not just us, but everyone around us including those we are called to minister to. The sufficiency of God’s Word in ministry is important to remember and depend on lest we resort to relying on our own observations and understandings which are limited and often errant (Pro 3:5).
Ministry is striving to do what Jesus did and how He did it. Jesus ministry was marked by grace and truth (Joh 1:17). What He did was sincerely love others while faithfully proclaiming God’s Truth. Following Jesus in these areas can be uncomfortable for many of us. Sometimes ministry is contrary to our natural tendencies which are to avoid conflict. However, we do not truly love people or the Truth if we are not willing to sincerely communicate and engage others with the Word.
The fact that no creature is exempt from the illumination and application of the Word should give Christian ministers confidence. Whether we are serving and ministering to those in our local community or across the world, the Bible is universally accurate and its discernment borderless. God’s Word is sufficient and applicable for all peoples, all places, all generations, all cultures and for any situation.
…in his sight:
Again, “in his sight” is the personalization of the Word as the person Jesus. Jesus is the living Word. To be exposed by God’s Word is to be exposed by Christ Himself and vice versa.
…but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
In the second half of verse 13 we are reminded of the power of God’s Word to illuminate “all things”, not just people. This means the Scriptures provide ministers instruction and discernment for circumstances too. This is important because ministers are often called upon to provide godly insight to situations. Knowing when and how to reprove, rebuke and exhort with patience and godly instruction is an essential part of ministering the Word to others (2 Tim 4:2).
One of the most noteworthy examples of wise ministry is found in the life of Solomon (1 Kin 3:16-28). When King Solomon says, “Bring me a sword” to distinguish truth in the complicated matter between two harlots, both who were claiming to be the mother of a child, the historical story pictures and points us to the discerning sword, God’s Word. The hearts of the women and the truth of the situation were both exposed under the king’s sword. When we view people and situations through the principles of God’s Word in ministry, God gives us clarity.
Lastly, the phrase “of him with whom we have to do” is of utmost significance. As ministers, we are to be reminded of our personal accountability to Christ. Though we work in ministry with and sometimes for others, we are ultimately responsible to Jesus. Our dealings, like those we minister to, are always, utterly and at all times before Him. The astute minister of God’s Word is always mindful of Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We are His representatives (2 Cor 5:20) and His servants (Mat 25:14-30). As such, as Spirit led ministers, people do not accept or reject us, they accept or reject Jesus. God’s Word is sufficient for us in ministry because it consistently reminds us that the focus, our focus, is the Lord. As ministers, this reminder helps us balance and maintain a posture of humility and confidence as we consider our own lives and minister to others.
Rob Sanders lives in Littleton, Colorado with his beautiful and intelligent wife of 25 years, four awesome kids and an aging Border Collie. His nine-to-five gig is in Downtown Denver as an energy executive. During off hours he poses as an upright bassist for the band Plain Faraday, reps his neighborhood team on the tennis court, disciples a few guys from his local church and tries to keep up with his talented and active kids who range in age from 7-17. One of Rob's favorite Bible verses is 2 Timothy 4:2, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine."