Q: How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A: That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with
diligence, preparation and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our
hearts, and practice it in our lives.
1 Peter 2:1-2: So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like
newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into
As we continue to work through these ordinary means of grace, we come to a question that reminds us that we, as readers and hearers of the Word, have responsibilities. We must consider how we are to receive the Word read and preached.
Starr Meade reminds us of something very true. She writes, "God's Word is not like a magic formula that makes things happen whenever someone uses it. We must read and hear God's Word in certain ways if it is going to be effective..." The catechism answer this week tells us of these "certain ways" that we are to read and hear the Word. First, we should be diligent in the reading and hearing of the Word. This means we need to read it and hear it preached often! The ministry of the Word, as we saw in last week's blog, is something that we need to participate in often. It's vital to both the conversion of new Christians, but also to the ongoing discipleship of God's people. Secondly, we need to prepare ourselves for the hearing and reading of God's Word. Prayer is the recommended (and probably the best) way to prepare for the reading and hearing of God's Word. Whether we are going into a worship service, or we are opening the Bible in our devotional life, our hearts need to be prepped to hear the Word of God. We can pray for the Holy Spirit's help here. We can ask for the Spirit to prepare and soften our hearts for what God is about to say to us in his Word, and we can ask the Spirit for understanding as we explore the words of the eternal God. Thirdly, we are to receive it in faith and love. We as God's people need to recognize that this is the Word of God! We receive it, trusting that God's Word is, indeed, trustworthy! B.B. Warfield, an early 20th century Presbyterian theologian, wrote about this often. He wrote about how we as Christians should come to the Word without a spirit of skepticism, but rather, in a spirit of faith, of trust, knowing that if God is indeed trustworthy, then his Word is equally trustworthy. We receive the Word in love, knowing that this is the revelation of our loving God, and he has been incredibly gracious to us in giving us his Word! Fourthly we are to lay the Word up in our hearts and practice it in our lives. This is what James is talking about in James 1:22, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves". If we read and hear the Word prayerfully, receiving it in faith and love, then what logically follows is that our actions, the way we live, will slowly be shaped by the Word. And if we do not find our lives, our actions, our works, being shaped by the Word, then it begs the question, are we truly receiving it in faith and love? Are we truly laying it up in our hearts? Or, are we being "hearers only"?
If I can get personal for a moment, I must confess that too often, I do not do this kind of preparation when I read or hear the Word. And I'm certain that I'm not alone in this. But while this catechism reminds us of our duty and responsibility when it comes to reading and hearing the Word, we know that God's grace is still at work. We have this promise of Isaiah 55:11:
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.