From Confusion to Clarity in the Church

At Heritage College and Seminary, we exist to see Christ’s church flourish–in Canada and around the world.  In partnership with local churches, we do our very best to equip men and women to faithfully serve Christ, His Church, and His global mission.

BibleEverything we do is based on the foundation of God’s inspired, inerrant Word.  We are convinced that only as our graduates are grounded in Scripture will they be useful in ministry.  So we constantly and consistently get our students engaged in studying, understanding and applying God’s Word.

This emphasis on the authority and priority of God’s Word is desperately needed in our day.  Many Christians are confused.  They regularly hear from Christian leaders—pastors, theologians, authors—who claim to speak for God but give conflicting and contradictory messages.

This problem of conflicting viewpoints from spiritual leaders is serious, but it’s not new.  The same problem existed 2500 years ago.  We know this from the storyline of the ancient book of Jeremiah.  In Jeremiah’s day, many claimed to speak for God but gave radically divergent messages.  The result was a deep-level, widespread spiritual confusion.

Thankfully, God stepped in to clear things up—not just for Jeremiah’s time, but for all time. He delivered a message that cuts through the spiritual chaos. That message, found in Jeremiah 23, can clear up much of our confusion and point us true north spiritually.

Reflect on these words, recorded in Jeremiah 23:28-29 “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

These words were given when Israel was in crisis. Babylon—the super-power of the day—had recently captured Jerusalem and exiled the king and leading citizens. In the confusion that followed, a number of prophets came forward, all claiming to speak for God. Many of these prophets promised Babylon would soon be brought down and the exiles brought home. Other prophets—including Jeremiah—claimed the Babylonians would stay large and in charge for decades.  People were confused.

God spoke into the confusion to bring spiritual clarity.  He wanted His word heard above all other words: “Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” (23:28).  Notice how the term “word” is repeated twice.  On top of that, the Hebrew verb translated “speak” also means “word.”  So you could translate verse 28:  “but let him who has my word, word my word faithfully.”  Do you get the point?  God wants His word heard above all other words.

God wanted His word to be heard, not just in Jeremiah’s time, but for all time.  So He instructed Jeremiah to write down the message (see 36:1-2).  Jeremiah’s writings eventually became part of our Scriptures—the Word of God. Now we can open the Bible and read the very words of God.

Someone could say, “The world has changed since the Bible was written.  Why elevate the Bible above all other voices?” Jeremiah 23:28-29 answers by highlighting three ways God’s Word is superior and should be our supreme authority in life.

God’s Word is like grain—it will nourish you

grainIn verse 28, God says His Word is like wheat rather than straw. Word is high-fiber nutrition.  It’s what people need to grow spiritually strong.

Several years ago, our son Michael served as a youth pastor at a church in Ottawa.  He worked hard each week to prepare biblical messages for his students.  One day he heard a radio interview that left him confused and troubled.  In the interview, a ministry specialist advised youth workers to spend less time preparing biblical messages and more time building relationships with students.  He claimed students would forget the messages but remember the one-on-one times at Tim Horton’s.

Michael wondered if he was wasting his time preparing talks from Scripture?  I responded by asking him how many meals he remembered from childhood?  He only recalled a few—Thanksgiving dinners and birthday celebrations. I reminded him that even though he had forgotten, the nutritious meals his mother regularly prepared helped him grow up healthy.  In the same way, giving his students a steady diet of God’s Word would help them grow up spiritually healthy. God’s Word is like grain—it nourishes us.

God’s Word is like fire—it will refine you

fireA second reason God’s Word needs to be heard is because it refines like fire.  A refiner’s fire purifies silver by burning away dross (Jeremiah 6:29).  All of us are a mixture of silver and dross.  So all of us need the refining fire of God’s Word to burn impurities from our lives.

Linda and I saw the refining power of God’s Word when we led a marriage seminar in Tanzania.  In the seminar, we worked through key biblical passages on marriage—Genesis 1-2, Song of Songs, Matthew 19, Ephesians 5.  At one point, a young pastor stood and recounted the first time he brought his new bride back to his family.  In his tribe’s tradition, when a woman marries a man, she becomes the servant of his siblings.  So on their first morning back home, his sisters heaped piles of laundry on his doorstep, expecting his wife to do their wash.  The young pastor scooped up the laundry, carried it back to his sisters and said, “If you do this again, I will burn your clothes.”

At this point, some in the seminar reacted with surprise. They realized he was going against tribal expectations.  Then the young pastor finished his story, explaining that he told his sisters,  “The Bible says a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.  She is now my wife and not your servant. If you need help with your laundry, come and ask me first and we will consider how we can help you.”

The people in the seminar nodded their approval.  The Word of God was doing its refining work, challenging and changing perspectives.  After the seminar, one of the participants had a question for me.  “Is it true,” he asked, “Christians in Canada often get divorced?”  I had to acknowledge this did happen.  “How can this be?” he inquired, “since the Bible says what God has joined together in marriage we are not to separate?”  It’s not just people in Tanzania who need the Word of God to refine them.

God’s Word is like a hammer—it will break you

hammerThe most striking picture of God’s Word found in verses 28-29 is that of a “hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.”  What a contrast to the false prophets whose messages were a pat on the back.  Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you . . . . They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17).

God’s Word often confronts us, hammering our hardened hearts.  A while back, I read the account of the disciples caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  In their panic, they wake Jesus and accuse Him of being unconcerned.  Jesus rebukes the wind and then rebukes his disciples:  “Why are you so afraid, have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

That morning, as I read Jesus’ words, I sensed God’s Word hammering my unbelieving heart.  Like the first disciples, I was giving way to fear in the storms I was facing.  Why was I so afraid?  After all I’d seen God accomplish, why was my faith so small?   Thankfully, when God’s Word comes like a hammer, it doesn’t break us to leave us shattered.  Instead, it actually rebuilds us to make us stronger. The Word that breaks also remakes.

Back to the Bible

Those of us who love Christ and His Church must listen carefully to the message of the Lord that came through Jeremiah.   In our personal and professional lives, we must continually turn to God’s Word to correct our thinking and direct our living. Only God’s Word is like grain that nourishes, a fire that refines and a hammer that breaks.  When we are confused by the cacophony of voices and viewpoints around us, we need to look to God’s Word to point us true north spiritually.

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