The Saving Power of the Word of God

Met. Anthony sketch

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev

Any established group has to meet in order to hold conversations about its own matters, which brings the members together. Our circle was gathered for the preaching and listening to the word of God. With the same aim it brought us together today in this room, full of light, making some people leave secular matters, depriving the others of rest after heavy daily work, reporting to all of us the unanimous spirit and filling everybody with thirst for the word of God, as the Psalmist said: "The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver…. How sweet are Thy words unto my mouth! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Ps. 118:72, 103).

But where exactly can be found this mysterious strength of the word of God, which brings us here? What qualities turn out to be so powerful and effective? What is, at last, the influence of the word of God upon the heart and life of man? All this we shall hear today, on this day of annual celebration dedicated to the word of God. But who will clarify this to us? Can natural reason explain the action of the divine word?—No; our soul only feels its life-giving power, but by itself will never be able to understand where it comes from, as the Lord said: "The wind bloweth where it willeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8). But if our mind is not able to define the laws of the word, then we shall be taught by revelation. Let the very Word, Which has incarnated, reveal to us His action and teach us, first, what significance the word of God should have in Christian life, and secondly, what fruits it will bring for a believer in this and the future life.

We have to discuss the first matter only because many consider the reading and preaching of the word of God almost unnecessary for salvation, hoping to earn it with good deeds and the fulfillment of the Church’s requirements; and the others, on the contrary, are ready to consign the entire nature of salvation to the studying of the Bible and do not consider it necessary to exercise their will in virtue. Despite these extremes, the divine Scriptures show the perfect combination of how to perceive the word and strengthen it in Christian life. If we wish to search for the possibility of the message of the word of God, both for the beginning of Christian life and for strengthening it, we shall learn that the Christian Faith itself, very Christianity, is sometimes called the teaching of the word. Accordingly, in the Acts it is said that after the Baptism of Cornelius the Centurion, who was a heathen, "the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God" (Acts 11:1), i.e., the Christian Faith. About it Apostle Paul said in Antiochia of Pisidia: "To you is the word of this salvation sent" (13:26). In the same chapter it is said that the heathens "glorified the word of the Lord" (13:48). If the acceptance of Christianity is called in the Bible the acceptance of the word of God, then the process of the perfection of men, taking place in Christian life, is called the development of the word of God, as it is mentioned many times in the Acts: "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" (19:20; 12:24, comp. 1 Tim. 2:9 and the like).

Thus, if the goal of divine faith was understood as the assimilation of the word of God, then it is rather understandable that the preachers of this Faith—the holy apostles—considered preaching to be the main matter, called themselves the servants of the word, and rejected external affairs, ordering the election of deacons and saying: "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 2:41; 1 Tim. 4:12; 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:2; Heb. 13:7; Rev. 1:2, 9; 20:4).

But how very mistaken is the one who thinks that Christian life is limited to the process of listening to the word of God, that the word of God by itself, without our efforts, can sanctify us. On the contrary, in the parable about the sower, the Lord clearly showed that the simple acceptance of the word through faith without a struggle is not more stable than that sprouting seed on the stony ground, which withers in the heat of the sun; that only those souls can be suitable for the divine kingdom which, having accepted the word, "bring forth fruit with patience," and only that one who, listening to the teaching of Christ, fulfills it, erects the building of salvation on the good ground (Luke 6:47). The disciple of God will be the one who continues in His word (John 8:32), who keeps it (8:52), who, having received it in meekness (James 1:21), is the doer of the word (1:22), not only a hearer (1:23), for the Jews as well heard the word, but it is said about them: "The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Heb. 4:2). At that time among Christians there appeared talkative rebels, but the apostle threatened them to come and test "not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power" (1 Cor. 4:19). About his message the apostle said that "our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much fullness of assurance" (1 Thes. 1:5).

So, the word of God gets its saving significance only with the firm decision for one to change his own sinful life and with the striving of man to accomplish what he has decided, what is within his powers. Let the sectarians, who calmed their conscience in pure, dead faith and who are saying that the blissful word of God by itself creates new life in them without any efforts of their own, become silent. The very Word teaches us, the faithful, that the evangelic teaching saves only on the condition that man struggles against his sins.

So, the first influence of the word of God onto our life is reflected in our spiritual revival. In this way, Apostle Iakovos (James) says that God "begat us with the word of truth" (1:18), and Apostle Peter explains that this birth through the word differs from temporal birth, for it leads us into eternal, non-temporal life. The people born in the word must be absolute strangers to any malice, flattery, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, as newborn babes; loving only that pure rational milk, which gives us the opportunity to taste "that the Lord is good" (1 Pet. 2:3).

Have you experienced this new birth through the word? Was there a moment in your life when you felt in yourself the beginning of new life, not the one in which your body, your secular calculations live, but that gracious life for which you need nothing but God and the fulfillment of His commandments, for the sake of which man is ready to agree to torture and death, when he is prepared to forget his former life and feels himself, according to the word of the apostle, as a newborn babe, free of any cunning and envy? Can you say that you are revived by the word?—God gave you all so that you could reach perfection of this birth within you: He cleansed you with water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism, but remember that this holy mystery (sacrament) will bring forth fruit within you only when you yourself will consciously be revived by the word, because the purification and sanctification of the Church happens through Baptism, but in no other way than by the means of the word, as it is said in the Scripture: “having cleansed her in the laver of the water with the word [Eph. 5:26].”

So, if in your life you have not experienced such decisiveness to set aside self-love and sin and live for God, if you have not accepted the words of Christ that one has to be born from above, if you have not experienced how new life’s spiritual strength comes to you, and according to the teaching of the Savior, suddenly overwhelms our hearts (John 3:8) as an unexpected blowing of the wind, then pray and ask God to give you the opportunity to be revived by the word, for you received the principal element for revival in Holy Baptism.

But if you were in that state, if the message of the word of God opened your eyes and you saw life and death, truth and the lie, and rose up in firmness of purpose to live for God, then be careful and do not lose this life; nourish it and make it bring forth its fruits so that it should not remain in you fruitless. How should one nourish it? It happens, again, through the word of God. This is what the New Testament says about the significance of the word of God for those who have been revived by water and spirit, for Christians, whom God had already begotten by the word of truth.

For the maintenance of physical life one needs food and drink: in the same way, spiritual life cannot be maintained without learning or listening to the word of God. Concerning this, the Lord says in the conversation with the Samaritan woman: "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him,…it shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). Having spoken about such drinking of His word, the Lord calls the fulfillment of His commandments food. The way food and drink maintain and strengthen the body, in the same way the word of God and Christian virtues nourish newly revived, spiritual life. This life is begotten in us by God as with plants, and the servants of the word "plant and water them" (1 Cor. 3:5).

The word of God is so necessary for supporting in us that glorious life that it is even called “the word of grace” in the holy Bible (Luke 4:22; Acts 14:3; 20:35), or as “the word of life” (Acts 5:20; 7:38), or, finally, as life itself or light (John 1:4; 6:63). The life-giving power of the word of Christ was seen in the fact that the people listening to it at once decided that this was the word of God (Luke 5:1), and Christ was a preaching prophet (John 7:49). The Lord Himself called those listening to the word of God blessed and cleansed "through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3). Then Apostle Paul even more expressively describes the action of the word, saying: “For the Logos [Word] of God is living and effective, and sharper than every two-edged sword, even going through as far as the dividing of both soul and spirit, and of both joints and marrows, and is a discerner of the ponderings and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Why is it so?—It is because it meets with the same demands with which the human heart is filled, as the apostle explains in another epistle: "The word is near thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach" (Rom. 10:8).

O Christian! Does the word of God which you hear or read satiate you? Does it quench your spiritual thirst; does it introduce light into your life and make your conscience open for the analysis of all intentions and actions? To fulfill this spiritual feeding by the word, the Lord gives to you His very body and blood in the semblance of bread and wine. Are you truly feeding yourself with the word of life; is it really the evangelic message which raises you above the world of flesh and passions and fills you with spiritual joy about God? If it is so, then thanks be to God!

But you should know that for this you will have to suffer from the world, which lies in the evil one. We have heard that the word of God leads to the separation of the soul and spirit: it also divides passionate people from the spiritual, arming the first against the second, as righteous Simeon predicted, holding in his arms the incarnate Word (Luke 2:35). Already within the life of the Savior the prophecy about the sufferings on earth for the sake of the word of God started coming true, as He said about Himself to His enemies: “But ye seek to kill Me, because My word findeth no room in you (Jn. 8:37).... Because ye are not able to hear My word” (Jn. 8:43); and about the apostles in the prayer to the Father: "I have given them Thy word; and the world hath hated them" (John 17:14). Therefore the Lord said to His disciples that they should "think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household" (Mt. 10:34-36). And the observer of the mysteries of the future lot of the Church, St. John, saw in the Revelation multitudes of the righteous slain for the word.

In this way, the word of God, together with spiritual life, promises us sufferings and even physical death. Shall we be scared of them and confounded by a mundane condemnation for the word of God? Let it not be so, for the Lord said: "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). But if it is so, with what should we fight, protecting the word?—The answer is: with the very word, for, according to the statement of Apostle Paul, it is "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17), it is invincible, for "the word of God is not bound" (2 Tim. 2:9). It is not afraid of earthly contempt, mockery, earthly judgment, for it is not the world that judges the word of God, but the world is judged itself by this word, as the Lord told us: "And if any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge him not…. He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:47-48).

But why is the word of God the judge of the universe? Because the commandments of Christ are not accidental resolutions, but represent the qualities of the heavenly Ruler, as it is said in the Scriptures: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the Life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness overcame it not…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of an Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-6, 14).

So, do you understand why the world is judged by the word of God? Because those who have accepted the word, have accepted the One Who brought this word onto the earth and received the One Who said: "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23). This is why the person having accepted the word of God is not scared of the world: because he lives in unity with God the Father, Who is seen only by those believing eyes, just like the constant Judge of the world [Christ], as John had seen Him in the Revelation: “And I saw the heaven having been opened, and behold, a white horse, and the One sitting on him being called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. And His eyes were as a flame of fire, and upon His head were many diadems, having names which have been written, and a name which hath been written that no one knoweth except He Himself; and He hath been clothed with an outer garment having been dipped in blood, and His name hath been called The Logos of God. And the armies which were in the heaven were following Him on white horses, having been clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth forth a sharp two-edged sword, in order that with it He should smite the nations; and He Himself shall shepherd them with an iron rod; and He Himself treadeth the wine-vat of the wine of the anger of the wrath of God the Almighty. And He hath on His outer garment and on His thigh a name having been written: “King of kings and Lord of lords.” [Rev. 19:11-16] This is Him with Whom the assimilation of the word of God connects us: with the pre-eternal and unchangeable Word, ruling the universe since the beginning.

In this unity with God is the fourth point of the evangelic message, and the fifth is in the fact that because this divine life is unchangeable and eternal, as Christ (2 Cor. 1:18-21), then exactly through the word of the Gospel, received and fulfilled through faith, we step into eternal life, as the Lord promised: “Verily, verily, I say to you, that the one who heareth My word and believeth the One Who sent Me hath everlasting life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed over out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24).

Should we continue speaking about the use of the word of God, brothers? Shall we continue neglecting everything most precious on earth and in heaven? Shall we prefer commotion and decay to the word? Let it not be! And if we are weak and infirm to do good, then let us pray to the divine Word, so that He may strengthen within us love for listening to and proclaiming, for acceptance and fulfillment of the word here, on earth, and may award us with better understanding of it in heaven after we leave the body. "O great and holiest Pascha, Christ. O Wisdom and Word and Power of God, grant us truly to partake of Thee in the day without evening of Thy kingdom!"

Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
Contact: Archbishop Gregory
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