Speaking God’s Word to One Another
The Bible has much to say to the importance, responsibility, and gift of speaking God’s word to others. We often think it is the preacher’s job, and that’s true; but it is also the job of every Christian. ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom’ (Col 3.16), and a wise and godly tongue commends knowledge, endures forever, brings healing, is a tree of life, and a treasure (Prov 15.2; 12.19, 18). We have the great privilege to bring the Word of God to another Christian, and indeed, “It is unchristian consciously to deprive another of the one decisive service we can render to him.”1
The Perils of Speaking God’s Word
We have the privilege, gift, and responsibility to speak the Word of God to one another, but it isn’t always easy. There are many perils and barriers to doing so. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together , points out three common perils.
The Speaker: One of the things Jesus so pointedly forces us to face is the need for a new heart, a new life, one in vital union with himself ( Matt 15.10-20; John 15. 1-17). Although God may use the words we speak in spite of us, we must always be attentive to our ourselves, and pray and seek that God work through us as loving and obedient servants. If we are not truly listening, we can’t possibly speak a fitting word for the situation or person. We can also contradict our words by our other ministries to each other (see previous posts). Being helpful, forgiving, humble, patient, and loving enable us to speak God’s word with power and effectiveness, but if God’s word comes from a bad source it undermines our words.
Balance: It is always difficult to know how much to say, and if to speak at all. How are we going to help anyway? Leave it up to the pastor on Sunday morning. We don’t want to talk too much, and yet we do not want to be silent when we ought to speak up. We are often stuck between ‘the responsibility to be silent and the responsibility to speak!’2
Fear: We fear the other person. We don’t want to offend, or go beyond our bounds. We definitely don’t want to be presumptuous, or think that we have the right to talk to another about eternal and ultimate things. I am my brother’s keeper? But, ‘A seemingly sacred respect for another’s freedom can be subject to the curse of God: “His blood will I require at thine hand”‘(Ez 3.18).
A seemingly sacred respect for another’s freedom can be subject to the curse of God
The Need to Speak
God has designed the different members of the church to need one another. One of the things we need from one another is God’s word. We need it from others, and we need to speak it to others because we know they are in the exact place we are: sinners in need of God’s gracious word of judgment and grace. We both need the same help, which should give us humility and the desire to speak God’s word, and to be spoken to from God’s word.
We both need the same help, which should give us humility and the desire to speak God’s word, and to be spoken to from God’s word.
To speak God’s word to each other will quickly involve dealing with sin. We will all fall into sin, and so we must help one another. James 5.19-20 says, ‘My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins,’ and Galatians 6.1 says, ‘Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.’ We must encourage and admonish. But to do so, we have to know how to receive it. ‘The more we learn to allow others to speak the Word to us, to accept humbly and gratefully even severe reproaches and admonitions, the more free and objective will we be in speaking ourselves.’3 The person who can’t receive admonition is touchy and can’t stand to be reproved, and in turn will ‘despise and slander his brother’ because he is prideful and unwilling to love himself and others.
Speaking God’s word, even when it is difficult, is a mercy because, if truly and wisely spoken, is a judgment and grace from God himself. This is the highest and best ministry we are given, but one that only comes from a close and living relationship with Jesus; a heart humbled and made alive by God’s word, and so a heart that lets that life giving word flow to others in truth and love.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954), 105.
- Ibid, 104.
- Ibid, 106.