The Big Picture and the Word of God

John Piper,in a sermon from Hebrews 4:12-13 “The Word of God: Living, Active, Sharp”

Now let’s step back a minute and get the big picture. Some of you are analyzing people and you like to analyze the parts of a text. And some of you are synthesizing people and you like to see the synthesis—the big picture, when it is all put back together again. So listen up, all you synthesizers who like the big picture. There are four stages.

Stage #1

The aim of life, according to this chapter of the book of Hebrews, is to enter God’s rest—to be saved from our sin and spend eternity joyfully in God’s restful presence. That’s the great goal of life—and to lovingly take as many people there with us as we can (which is why this author wrote the letter!).

Stage #2

To enter this great and joyful rest we must trust God. Verse 3: “We who have believed enter that rest.” So the utterly indispensable means of getting to heaven is believing God. Trusting him.

Stage #3

To believe God, to trust him, we must hear his Word. We must hear the good news. We must know the promises that he makes for us to believe. That’s why verse 2 is so definite about this matter: “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also.” If they, or if we, didn’t have the good news preached to us, then we would not be able to believe the Word of God. So this stage is utterly crucial. The Word of God, the good news, the promises of God, have been preached to us. This is what makes faith possible.

Stage #4

Finally, we must now be diligent lest we give way to unbelief. This is the front-burner issue for the book of Hebrews.

  • Hebrews 2:1, “Pay much close attention to what [you] have heard”—the Word.
  • Hebrews 3:1, “Consider Jesus, the Apostle . . . of our confession”—Apostle = the one who speaks the Word.
  • Hebrews 2:12, “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart”—a heart not hearing and believing the Word.
  • Hebrews 3:15, “Today if you hear his voice [his Word], do not harden your hearts.”

So now we can see the burden of this book in the light of the big picture.

  1. The great aim is that we will enter into God’s rest and enjoy his restful fellowship.
  2. The great means to get there is trusting him.
  3. The focus of our trust is his Word, his promises, his good news (as it’s called in 4:2).
  4. To keep on believing the promises of God we must be diligent, pay attention, consider, take care, and not harden our hearts. In other words the pathway to heaven is a path of unremitting focus and earnestness and vigilance toward the Word of God.

About the Word

Now the point of today’s text (Hebrews 4:12–13) is to help us do that by telling us about this Word. Be diligent, verse 11 says, because (verse 12 says) the Word of God is . . . And then it tells us about this Word.

sword_of_the_spiritSo let’s read again what it says about this Word. Verse 12:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Now I am tempted to take every word here and probe into why it is used. Like, why mention joints and bone marrow? And what’s the difference between spirit and soul? And what precisely is the difference between thoughts and intentions? And do the words “living and active” perhaps correspond to any of these other pairs: spirit-soul, joints-marrow, thoughts-intentions? Is the “heart” (mentioned at the end of the verse) different from the soul and spirit? And so on. These are good questions and they are worth meditating on for hours.

But this morning I don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. I wonder if we couldn’t all agree on this much from verse 12: one of the functions of the Word of God when it comes into us is that it penetrates very deep—like a sword through tough, hard layers—and makes judgments about what’s there.

The word “judge” in verse 12 (“to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”) does not mean “condemn.” It means “assess.” When we show somebody a painting and say, “What’s your judgment?” we don’t mean, “What’s your condemnation?” We mean, “What’s your assessment of the quality? Is it good or bad?” So the Word of God penetrates to the deepest place in our lives and assesses what’s there. Is it good or bad?

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