While preaching a Sunday sermon in a church, I used the story of Stephen the martyr in Acts 6-7 as an illustration. Why was Jesus mentioned as standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56)? His standard posture elsewhere in Scripture was to be seated. Was it because in these early days, Stephen saw the risen Jesus just before He sat down? That is Logic’s answer, but not very satisfying. I then pointed to Love’s answer. Jesus stood up to show His concern for His disciple and lovingly to welcome His martyred servant.
As the congregation was leaving after the service, people shook my hands at the door. Then one elderly woman stood before me with tears running down her face. She had tragically lost her son Stephen many years ago, but carried with her an open wound in her heart as she mourned the loss of her beloved son. She told me that the words of the sermon finally brought healing as she felt God had revealed what had happened to her son, and how the Lord had taken care of him. “Today, I found the answer and God has healed me,” she quietly said.
I was deeply moved by how God works in a sermon. We prepare the text, preach the message, and the Holy Spirit does the rest. He
takes the words and applies it to different hearts in different ways. It is amazing and a mystery how this actually works.
What is true of the spoken word is also true of the written word.
We believe that the Word of God was written down as Spirit-inspired writers heard God speak to them. They were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21), and their writings were “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16).
This brings us to the first mystery—the mystery of hearing. In Isaiah 50:4-5, we read how God “opens” and “wakens” our ears to enable us to hear Him as one being taught (Hebrew limmud, meaning disciple). We need God’s enabling grace to be able to hear Him teach us. Amid the noises and voices around and in us, it is a wonderful privilege to be able to hear the divine voice.
The second mystery is the mystery of speaking—or writing. What we hear not only heals and transforms us, but is also passed on to
others for their benefit. We echo what we hear that others may be blessed (1 Thess 1:8, NET Bible). The open ear that hears God is connected with the open mouth that speaks “the word that sustains the weary” (Isa 50:4). Such words come to the weak and wounded, the lost and lonely, the burdened and the broken, as words that bring healing, strength and hope. They are God’s words spoken and written through human means, and have a power of their own.
The third mystery is the mystery of reading. Is it not a wonder that God speaks to us through the Bible, which is a compilation of ancient
writings? In theological language we refer to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, who not only inspires writers but also illuminates the minds of readers so that they will understand (1 Cor 2:11-15). It is a mystery that words written so long ago in far-away contexts come to us as freshly spoken ones, and in such personal tones. How is this possible?
Face-to-face speaking is an intimate way of communication. The breath arising from inside the speaker falls on the listener. When we read
God’s Word, we are reading an antique text. As we read, the Spirit speaks those words to us and we feel God’s breath on us as if we are personally listening to Him. The written Word is the voice of God, and the Holy Spirit provides His breath. Thus the Word and the Spirit make it possible for us to hear God personally at the given moment.
It is in this way that God’s Word brings healing and sustenance, encouragement and life. The healing comes gently at times, and may feel like soothing balm. At other times, it may feel like a sword. The writer of Hebrews describes how the Word of God lays everything bare before God (Heb 4:13). The Greek word here is a technical word used in gladiator fights when the victor pulls back the head of the loser and raises his sword over his exposed neck, as he looks to the emperor for a sign whether to bring down his sword or not. Indeed, the Greek word is connected with the word “trachea” (our
windpipe in the throat). What a scary moment!
God’s Word, of course, is not a gladiator’s sword that kills but a surgeon’s scalpel that heals. It exposes us and makes us vulnerable—not to destroy us but to heal us. It may not be pleasant at the moment, but it leads to true healing. Such is the power of words connected with God.
These insights about God’s Word and how it brings healing and hope apply to human writers too. Though we are not writing Scripture as such, and the process of writing is not the same as the writing of Scripture, nevertheless, we experience something similar. We need to be inspired by God as we write. We need to have open ears that hear truly wise and life-giving words and thoughts. We need to pray for those who will read what we write that they may experience healing and encouragement, instruction and inspiration. How can we ensure that when people read our writings, it will be as if we are there before them, speaking to them heart to heart? We have no control over this, as it
is a mystery, when the Holy Spirit uses the words we have written to bring immediacy and healing to those who need it. This is especially so if those words or thoughts originated from Him.
It is a wonderful mystery.
BISHOP EMERITUS ROBERT M. SOLOMON was Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000–2012. He had served previously as a medical doctor, church pastor, principal of Trinity Theological College and president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore. Dr. Solomon has degrees in medicine, theology, intercultural studies, and a PhD in pastoral theology from the University of Edinburgh.
This article was first published in the LittWorld 2018 souvenir magazine.