If you don’t study it, He won’t speak it…

The Written Word begins…

I believe God speaks today. I also believe that his speech today must be subordinated to his speech yesterday, or else we’re all in trouble.

I get jittery when I hear people speak “a word from the Lord” that is not the Written Word of the Lord.  I do believe that God still speaks today.  But how does he speak?

HE ALWAYS ECHOES HIS WRITTEN WORD INTO A LIVING SITUATION. That’s how God still speaks. In other words:

The word of the Lord spoken into your life can never exceed the WORD of the Lord studied into your life. 

God simply won’t inject the Bible into you. If you don’t study it, He won’t speak it. If you don’t study the written Word, God won’t speak his current word into your life.  We are people of a BOOK, not people of “an inner impression.” Scripture is the mind of Christ. It is the supreme authority for faith and life. No inner hunches, no dreams and visions, no preacher’s exhortations, no mass hysteria will ever take the place of the B-I-B-L-E. 

Does this mean we can never say “The Lord told me…”? Of course we can say that: When a dear old saint with a worn out Bible says “The Lord told me…” then I will sit up and listen. Otherwise, no so much. 

A child went on a journey. For the journey, the Father wrote letters. These letters overflowed with the Father’s wisdom for the journey’s every circumstance. The letters were tucked into the backpack and off the child went. Along the way the child met hardship. The child cried out for wisdom, but his Father seemingly paid no attention. The child met heartbreak, and prayed fervently for guidance, but the Father seemingly paid no attention. The child met a fork in the road, and, after beseeching the Father’s wisdom, the child trusted an inner impression and took the wrong fork. Trials. Adversities. Suffering. Loss. The child wandered like a rudderless ship at sea… Every prayer for wisdom was met with silence from the Father.

The child stumbled home one day, shedding bitter tears before the Father. “Why didn’t you hear my cries?”

“I heard every word you said,” the Father replied. “You just never bothered to read mine.”

I get jittery when novice Christians, with little exposure to Scripture, are told to trust their inner impressions as if they were a fresh word from God.  Our standard is and must always be the Written Word. Until that standard is hardwired into our souls, then the “inner voice of God” is more likely to be the inner voice of our preachers who are not doing their jobs. Unless the standard is Scripture, we are subject to every emotional whim and manipulative device of Satan.

We must test all things by Scripture. Is God’s Word not sufficient for every circumstance of life? Of course it is. We already have a Word from the Lord for every situation:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NKJV).

If you don’t learn the Bible, God won’t speak into your life. Why should God impart new revelation to a child too lazy to absorb old revelation? In such a case, you can have no confidence your inner impressions are from him: they are far more likely to be from your own emotions, or your narcissistic flesh, or your ear-tickling Bible teachers, or your dysfunctional father, or “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1).  You cannot say with any degree of confidence your inner voice is of God. Without Scripture integrated into your soul, by what standard can you sort out the dysfunctional voices of your past from the divine wisdom of God?

Can God speak when and where and how he wills? Of course he can. I do not limit God. But God has already deposited an inerrant, unchanging, once for all truth into the hands of his people. I have a hunch he wants us all to start there. Might he impart dreams and visions on the frontiers of mission work? Yes. Without doubt. But that is exceptional; we cannot make it the norm.

We must get past a snippet view of Scripture. We must apply our minds to wisdom. We must feast upon the fulness of the whole counsel of God. Pastors and leaders especially must “labor in the Word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).

How firm a foundation,
Ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith,
In His excellent Word!
What more can he say,
Than to you he HATH SAID,
To you, who for refuge
To Jesus have fled?

  • “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!” Psalms 119:11, NKJV.
  • hebrewbible.jpg“Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16, NKJV.
  • ““Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word [logos]” Acts 4:29, NKJV.
  • ““So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word [logos] of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32, NKJV.

Sit down at the feet of Jesus, study his written Word in depth and fulness, apply yourself to knowledge, and then go minister. Christians–especially those in ministry–should DRIP the Bible. Back to the Bible!

There’s a mistaken teaching in the church that overemphasizes the difference between two Greek words, logos and rhema. Both are translated “word.” The teaching says that logos refers to the written word of God in its totality, whereas rhema refers to a specific word of God given to a person in a situation. There is no strong case for this from Scripture.  Check out this excellent study on the topic. I would add that there is no such distinction in Hebrew.

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16 thoughts on “If you don’t study it, He won’t speak it…

  1. Good points and much needed, Bill. Just a minor quibble (maybe you even agree):

    “HE ALWAYS ECHOES HIS WRITTEN WORD INTO A LIVING SITUATION.”

    I agree that without the Word dwelling richly within us (via Spirit-guided memorization, meditation, study), we will be unable to distinguish between the voices of self, satanic spirits, the world, indigestion and God and if we allow ourselves to be guided by such intuitions without being deeply in the Word (and involved in Christian community), we will end up being deceived more often than not (often even by seemingly good things that aren’t God things).

    But God has spoken to me and it hasn’t always been exactly an “echo” of His Word, sometimes it has been a supplement. In the most dramatic cases He has told me to do the opposite of what I had thought He wanted me to do.

    Without these revelations I wouldn’t have the wife (and the three wonderful adult Christian daughters) I have, nor live where I live, nor be ministering as and where I am ministering. In fact most of the circumstances of my life that seem so wonderful and God-blessed to me today, and fill my heart with daily gratitude and joy- most of these come from the three or four times God spoke to me out of the blue and told me to go another way.

    I would have never ever figured those things out by Bible study alone; in fact I was being guided by my best understanding of how to apply Biblical principles to my situation (whether dating or career path or whatever) in each case where God then told me (extrabiblically) to do a 180.

    But I was (and am) deeply into the Bible and I have always been skeptical of my intuitions. A good word, Bill, and perhaps (?) you already do agree with my “objection”.

  2. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment… I’ll give you “extrabiblical” words from the Lord if you give me the following… (Let me know if we have a deal):

    1. Extrabiblical words from God can never be COUNTER-biblical. They must always align with Scripture in every particular. I’m sure you’d assume that…

    2. Extrabiblical words from God can never OVER-rule Scripture. Which is only slightly different from number one, above.

    3. Extrabiblical words from God flow out of a heart saturated w/Scripture. Why should God give that kind of on-the-spot PERIPHERAL guidance if we’ve already chosen to ignore the abiding CORE guidance from Scripture? We can’t ignore God’s Written Word and expect him to supply his immediate, supernatural word, can we?

    4. Extrabiblical words are reserved, by an large, for those who honor God’s Word most… again, a restatement of #3, but one step farther. If we are faithful to God’s Word, he will be faithful, by his Spirit, into formulating his word in our souls in such a way that he guides us step by step, which is how I would view your experiences of divine guidance via a word from the Lord.

    What do you think?

  3. One of your most concise, bold, spot-on posts. Outstanding. Preach it! I have seen so many people make ruinous decisions and spread chaos by alleging a special “word from the Lord.” These are typically the least Biblically literate people. So amen!

  4. Bill…

    This topic is very refreshing.

    We seek to “rightly divide” the word of truth, and then to believe it. There were many examples in the Old Testament of “direct” revelation from God, and yet some who heard did not mix that Word from God with faith (Heb 4:2). In other words, the sensationalism of direct, special revelation from God in the Old Testament did not always result in the obedience in faith.

    As you indicated, we have the infallible, inspired written word, the touchstone of our confession. The point is that we need to obey in faith the written word in order to define (what we may see/hear through other believers, teachers, or other such voices) as God’s “speaking” to us today… In other words, you cannot discriminate what is uncertain (other voices) if you do not obey what is certain (God’s written word).

    Grace,
    Joseph

  5. Bill
    Read your post and liked it. Good job! My rebuttal to Pastor Mark is that his voice from God can NEVER ever be tested so I don’t think that you can make a substantial case that the direction he got was from God. Sorry Pastor Mark 🙂 I suppose it could be but you’ll never know. I liked your take that God cannot speak to you through with His word if you doh’t know the written word. We truly are people of The Book! Thanks. You’ve come a long way, LOL.

  6. I was wondering if you’ve read McKnight’s “Blue Parakeet” yet? It’s not about extra-biblical words, but it is about interpretation and God’s Word being in living situations. What’s your critique if you have read it?

  7. I would say that while Biblical Study is important to discern the word of the Lord. I would contend that God is not limited to communicating through the bible alone. If I recall my studies, there are plenty of passages in the Bible that attest to this fact. Without being accused of animism, God’s creation speaks, the rocks would cry out and God reaches out to us even if we constantly change the channel. And might I add, ignorance of his word has never been a valid excuse. He is faithful even when we are faithless. And knowing and doing are two different things, as we have many biblical examples of this. Too far to one side or the other has never been balanced or accurate. Too much Spirit and not enough word or vice versa has led to many misunderstandings and missteps. I can recall one particlar situation when neither option was anti-biblical and God Spoke, you choose. I did.

  8. Hi Bill,

    I’ve read and re-read your post since you put it up – because it’s so wonderful and well timed! I’ve been hearing a lot of this kind of talk lately (the “the Spirit tells me all I need to know” talk), and it’s been pretty disheartening. So, as usual, God makes sure I get the direction I need – back to the Bible! – to find the answers. What a comfort He is, and I thank you for letting Him use you so well!

    Still listening in Washington

  9. Dominic…

    You may be referring to the conscience… and you are right. The conscience, however, was fractured in the Fall, and that is why the conscience (by itself) cannot lead us to knowing God or his express will.

    You are right in pointing to the conscience as a beacon. Too often my memory fails me, however, my conscience is the moral compass. Terms like “conviction” in the Bible remind us that the Spirit of God leverages the conscience “to speak” to us (in most cases in tandem with the hearing of the Word of God).

    Grace,
    Joseph

  10. Dominick

    Give some examples. 🙂 Of course God is not limited in speaking to us only through the Bible but you can NEVER say whether it was God or not if he speaks to you outside of the Bible. Unless…we have someone out there who has the gift of discerning the spirit–but that person doesn’t exist anymore 🙂

  11. God has put limits on himself in that he speaks to us through the Bible because he’s making us a people that respond to him and live by faith. At least that’s how I see things.

  12. This post has made me think and ponder.

    I totally agree that the Word of God, the Bible, is the ultimate, living, and physical source of God’s word,character, preferences, etc. I am an avid reader and a student of it.

    I get the point of people getting a “word from the Lord” that isn’t supported by scripture. Anything contrary to His word is not God’s will. I have seen “flaky.”

    But then I think of illiterate people. What of them? Will they not hear from God accurately? Will He not, through the Holy Spirit, speak truth to this person who has never read nor studied the Word?

    What of the prisoner of war who has only one scripture from Sunday school in his quiver–not a student of the word, but mighty and powerful in faith and Godliness, clinging to John 3:16?

    God’s word is so powerful that He could take one scripture, plant it in a person’s heart, and speak consistently through that ONE word. Could a person not accurately interpret and know the full character of God from that one scripture because he/she is not a student of the word?

    Not arguing, just pondering. I guess my quibble is that the post implied studying as in “quantity” and time but I think God, in His grace toward circumstance, can multiply and speak through the study of even just ONE true word.

  13. On the inside of my Bible, I have written:

    It is evident from both the testimony of Scripture and one’s own experience that a mature knowledge (Gk. epignosis) of the Word of God is not something which a person acquires over a short period of time – weeks, months, or even several years. Neither the disciples nor Paul came into a mature knowledge of the Word in such a manner. And it is no different for Christians today. Rather, multiplied years of study are involved in christian maturity. A proper, mature knowledge of the Word takes time, lots of time – time which few are willing to devote to such a study. The price which one must pay for a knowledge of the the Word of God, in this respect, could be stated in two words: Eternal Review. And few are willing to pay the price.

    Words by: Arlen Chitwood

  14. Thanks for the post, which I thought was excellent in bringing up the essentials. I was googling for the rhema/logos issue when I found your post and William Dicks’ one which you have linked here as well. I may blog about it today and would like permission to quote you, linked of course.

    Anyway, it all start when alarm bells were ringing in me when I heard a speaker yesterday, who differentiated rhema and logos so distinctly. I remember reading it somewhere, I think it was Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, that logos and rhema are two words that are used interchangeably. And so when the speaker placed so much differentiatian to it, I was disturbed. It gives me the impression that one can “read the Logos” and then “wait for the Rhema”. How utterly wrong that is to me. (And that was not long after I lamented about how disinterested Christians are in the study of Scriptures nowadays.

    It also reminded me of Paul’s teaching to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:7, one of my favourite verse: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (ESV). There is much work to do in order to understand God’s word.

    But on the other hand, I do believe that God do speak to us extrabiblically, because it had happened to me before, and twice only in my entire life. Once, 10 years ago and the second time, about 2 months ago. So I am not saying that God does not speak extrabiblically. I have 2 thoughts on it: (1) He chooses how he wants to connect with us, and (2) we are not to yearn for God to speak to us other than through His written Word, so that we don’t start treating any thought or idea or dream or whatever to be a revelation from God.

    That said, I think it is a different matter altoghether from the logos/rhema discussion.

    • Thank you, and yes, quote away! Carson’s book is a great resource on this kind of fallacy… overplaying distinctions between synonyms.

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