A clever little acrostic to help understand the proper attitude we must have toward the Word of God spells out “word”: the letter “W” represents worshipfully – read the Word with reverence. “O” stands for orderly – read systematically. “R” means regularly – read it daily. And finally, “D” reminds us to read the Bible directionally – with the intent to follow its instructions. As we progress through the studies on how to get more “umph” (understanding, meaning, practicality, hope, help, and healing) from the Word of God, we will examine each of these characteristics individually as we see how they can help us enhance our experience with the Word of God. However, before we go there, we must lay a bit of a foundation.
Let’s begin with Isaiah 55:11, So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. According to this passage, God’s Word never fails; however, in Jesus’ parable about a sower who sowed God’s Word (Mark 4:17), we see that the seed was not productive in three of the four different kinds of soil in which he planted it. To understand how these passages can both be accurate, we must recognize the difference between two different Greek words that are translated as the single term “word” in the English Bible – logos and rhema. Logos is a general message while rhema refers to a specific, individualized word for the individual hearer at the specific moment. When Jesus described the sower in His parable, He said that he was sowing logos. Although Isaiah was originally written in Hebrew, the Septuagint (the official Greek translation of the Old Testament) used rhema to communicate the concept of a word that never returns void and to elevate the message to the level of the “Word of the Lord.” Thus, it becomes apparent that the true message of God can be preached (as it was to all four soils) and even received (as it was by three of the soils) and yet not produce results (as was the case of the second and third soils). Only the seed in the fourth soil became productive – apparently because this was the only environment in which the logos germinated as rhema. In the other three soils, the Word was received as general information rather than as the individualized Word of God for the believers. However, when it was received as rhema in the fourth soil, it was productive and could not return to the Lord without accomplishing its purpose. Let’s just take a peek at some of the specific truths concerning the power of rhema: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word (rhema) that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4), Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word (rhema) I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:5), Jesus said, The words (rhema) that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63), Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words (rhema) of eternal life. (John 6:68), He that is of God heareth God’s words (rhema): ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. (John 8:47)
According to I Peter 1:23, Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever, the logos of God is an incorruptible seed that abides forever and is powerful enough to regenerate those who receive it. This is a vitally important point to remember when trying to understand what happened – or failed to happen – in the first three soils of Jesus’ story. There was nothing wrong with the seed; it even produced new birth in the two soils where it was received. However, situations occurred that kept that incorruptible seed from becoming productive and bearing fruit. In the case of the first soil, the seed never got a chance to germinate because the enemy stole it away immediately. Perhaps the hearer was simply too resistant to even listen to the message. In the case of the second soil, there were obstacles that kept the seed from taking solid root, causing it to wither before reaching maturity. Each time Jesus explained the parable (Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:14:20, Luke 8:11-15), He said that the problem was that the new convert had “no root.” The Apostle Paul associated our being “rooted” in Christ with faith. (Ephesians 3:17, Colossians 2:7) The seed in the third soil failed because of the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts and pleasures of this life – the temporal aspects of life that can destroy our faith. (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14) When the disciples asked Jesus about the rich man who went away sorrowful when he was asked to sell all that he had, Jesus gave them a lesson on how to transition from the third soil which was unfruitful because of the deceitfulness of riches to the fourth soil that produces a hundred-fold return (Mark 10:17-30) – a process that was explained in Hebrews 4:2 as necessitating the nutrient of faith in order to cause logos to take root as rhema, For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
Obviously, you must desire for the Word of God to be productive in your life, or you wouldn’t be wasting your time reading this book. Therefore, it would be advantageous to consider how to prepare your heart so that it is that productive fourth soil in which the Word of God can do its effectual work. Since we have just seen that the necessary fertilizer is faith, the next important issue would be to understand how to obtain this vital ingredient. Fortunately, there is a simple answer, So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word (rhema) of God. (Romans 10:17) However, that answer is actually cyclic in nature in that it tells us that we need rhema to gain faith; yet, the reason that we are seeking faith is so that we can receive rhema! At first, these two ideas seem mutually exclusive. Since logos must be mixed with faith which can only come through rhema, it seems illogical that anyone can ever have productive faith.
Perhaps the best way to understand the spiritual principle that unravels this conundrum is to consider a parable that Jesus taught as a follow-up to the parable of the sower. In this parable, Jesus explained that, when a seed is planted, it would produce first a blade, then an ear, and eventually the full corn in the ear. (Mark 4:26-28) When we remember that Jesus identified the seed that was sown as logos and notice that He used another term (corn) to refer to the seeds that make up the harvest, we can deduce that Jesus was specifically identifying them as different – likely as an attempt to identify the difference between a word that began as a logos and became a rhema. He described a morphing process in the germination of the seed – blade, ear, and corn. Although the corn and the seed are actually the same thing, Jesus wanted us to see them as uniquely different because of this transformation process. Between the two parables, Jesus twice admonished the disciples concerning their hearing – If any man have ears to hear, let him hear (verse 23) and Take heed what ye hear (verse 24). Our determinate decision to heed the general message will precipitate the transformation of logos into rhema, producing increased levels of faith that result in more rhema revelation. Notice a subtle difference between the wording in Mark’s gospel and the record in Luke’s account of the same statement by Jesus, Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have, (Luke 8:18) – what you hear versus how you hear. Obviously, what we listen to makes all the difference in the world. If we focus our attention on the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts and pleasures of this life, they will eventually choke the life out of our faith. If we – on the other hand – concentrate on hearing the logos of God, it will ultimately germinate into faith-producing rhema. However, the determinate factor isn’t simply what we hear but how we hear it. Mark 4:33 says that Jesus only spoke as He realized that His audience was able to hear His teachings. In John 8:43, Jesus attested that many of those who heard Him speak could not “hear” His words. In his account of the parable of the four soils, Luke recorded Jesus’ explanation of how we are to hear logos, But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15) First, we must have honest and good hearts – ones devoid of ulterior motives. Next, we must keep or obey the directions that we are given. (Deuteronomy 28:1, II Thessalonians 3:14, James 1:22-23, I Peter 3:1) Finally, we must understand the principles and apply patience to them so that the logos can go through all the stages of development (blade, ear, corn) until it is fully manifest as rhema. (II Timothy 2:15) If we do not hear and receive the Word of God with this kind of attentiveness, it will be ineffective in our lives. In fact, there are at least three conditions that will hinder us from receiving the Word of God so that it can accomplish its purpose in our lives. At least four times, the Bible addresses the topic of rendering the Word of God ineffective. In Matthew 15:6 and Mark 7:13, Jesus said that adherence to the people’s religious traditions had made the Word of God noneffective. In I Corinthians 1:17, Paul declared that, if he substituted human wisdom in the place of divine revelation in his preaching, the result would be to rob the message of the cross of its power. As we have already seen, Hebrews 4:2 used the historical event of the forty years that the Israelites spent in the desert as an illustration of how a lack of faith when hearing the Word of God will make the message void. It is interesting that the third element (holding to religious traditions) may actually be a combination of the first two (lack of faith in the heart when hearing the message and substituting human wisdom for divine revelation) in that human traditions come from the substitution of human wisdom and the acceptance of these traditions over the Word of God is a result of the lack of faith in the hearer.
Concerning the necessity of being able to appropriately hear the Word of God, preachers often interpret Romans 10:17 to say that we need to hear things repeatedly in order for them to produce faith in our lives. In fact, I remember one preacher saying, Faith comes by hearing, and hearing, and hearing, and hearing the Word of God. Actually, the verse doesn’t have anything to do with repetition; rather, it says that faith comes by hearing and that what we must hear in order to produce faith has to be the Word of God – specifically, the rhema of God. Hearing one word as rhema can change your entire life. Just think of Peter on the day that Jesus spoke one imperative to him, Follow Me. That one word was enough to make him leave his lifetime career and launch out into ministry without any background or training. (Matthew 4:19-20) Think about creation. God only commanded light to come one time (Genesis 1:3); yet, thousands of years later, light is still shining throughout the universe. Although He did repeat His directive to specific individuals (Genesis 9:1, 17:20, 35:11), God only had to tell the general human population one time to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28); yet, we have faithfully continued to reproduce our population until we number in the billions today. So, why do many of us believe that it is necessary for us to hear the Word of God repeatedly before it produces faith in our lives? Perhaps the answer has to do with our hearing. If we are listening to the Word of God as logos (general principles) rather than rhema (specific instructions), we are not hearing it properly; therefore, we may need repetition until we change our hearing so that it resonates in our hearts as rhema.
Remember that, in the parable of the four soils, Jesus used logos when speaking of the Word, signifying that the Word of God as it is entering into the hearts and minds of the hearers is simply general ideas; however, when Paul spoke of the Word of God in Romans 10:17, he used rhema, meaning the specific, individually-spoken Word of God. It seems that there is an intentional message here. The preached word is general information that can fall on hard soil and produce nothing, on stony or thorn-infested soil and fail before it becomes productive, or on fertile soil where it can bring forth a harvest. It is when those general ideas get into the fertile soil that they change from logos words to rhema words. One minister used the terminology of a precept becoming a concept based on the idea of conception in pregnancy. When the general precept or idea actually enters into the heart of a believer, that believer can become spiritually pregnant with the idea or truth to the point of conception of a concept. That spiritual seed impregnates the believer with a reality that can eventually be born into the physical world. The bridge between a precept and a concept is the communication of the Word into the heart of the believer in such a way that he actually believes it as a literal, infallible truth from God. In other words, just because we hear sermons on salvation or healing doesn’t mean that we will be saved or healed. It is only when we believe the truths that they can produce change in our lives. Notice that in Luke’s explanation of the parable, he specifically told us that the reason for the unproductive seed was the lack of believing on the part of the hearers, Those by the wayside are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:12-13)
Having introduced the concept of pregnancy, we can go one step further and consider the fact that not every act of intimacy results in the birth of a baby. Intercourse when the woman is not fertile, relationships that involve contraceptives, and abortions all negate the results of the intercourse. The same is true with our study of the Word of God. If we enter the study with an unfertile heart (one that holds to the traditions of men rather than being genuinely open to the Word), if we use a spiritual contraceptive (refusing to obey the directives we receive from the Word), or if we abort the pregnancy (not patiently allowing it to germinate and go through the gestation process), we will find that – even though the seed is fertile – our lives are barren.