12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Pastor Tim Keller tells a fascinating story about a man named Emile Cailliet, who was a professor of philosophy at Princeton University many years ago. Before he became a Christian, he says, when he was a younger man, he decided he was going to create a special book for himself. Every time he read something anywhere that really moved him, really inspired him, really helped him, he copied it carefully into this notebook.
So he was amassing all of his most favorite passages, his most compelling and inspiring and convicting texts he’d ever seen. He couldn’t wait for the day in which he would sit down and just read right through it. He thought he was amassing a book that would understand him, a book that would counsel him, would lift him up, would inspire him, would help him through the hardest times.
So at one point, after he’d been doing this for months, or maybe years, he sat down with his book under a tree, if I remember, and he opened the book in eager anticipation, thinking about how this book was really going to lift him up and help him. As he started reading through it, he was just filled with disappointment, because he realized he had changed. There were passages he was looking at saying, “Why did I think that was so important?” He had changed. Even two years, three years … He was disappointed.
When he became a Christian and the Holy Spirit came into his life, and the Holy Spirit now is the author of this book, he came to realize the Bible was the book he’d been looking for. Because Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, judging the very thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
He had always been looking for a book that was alive, a book that would understand him, a book that moved when he moved, and no matter where he was, no matter what his situation, would come right at him and inspire him and expose him and convict him and show him where he was and show him who he was. It was the Word of God.
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
God’s Word is not dead words on a page by a dead author. As I’ve said before, when you read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you don’t interact with Mark Twain, the author – he’s dead. When you read the origin story of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, you won’t meet Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, sadly, because he is no longer alive. When you read the Bible, on the other hand, you will indeed encounter God – the living God – who is present in and through His living Word. The Bible is God-breathed, Spirit soaked and vibrant with life.
How is God’s Word a sword? To be sure – the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit – when we speak/quote God’s Word, we can engage in spiritual battle, much like Jesus did in Matthew 4, when tempted by the devil. The writer of Hebrews seems to have another aspect of God’s Word being a sword in this passage however, and Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones captures that aspect quite rightly by saying:
[God’s Word] is a convicting word, a deep word, a penetrating word. Oh, the contrast this presents to the word of men! How superficial the latter are, how superficial the words of the politicians and the philosophers.
“Ah, but the psychologists,” you may say, “have deep analysis.”
But when you put their analysis by the side of this word, the psychologists’ words are merely like ripples on the surface. Here is the only word—God’s word—that can really convict and penetrate. Notice the terms used: “two-edged sword”—not merely one edge but two edges; it cuts twice, it cuts thoroughly. And it is “sharper.” That means that God’s Word is incisive; it is penetrating. It has a quality that enables it to lay bare all self-delusions, all sophistries, all pretenses and excuses. It is “piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.” It gets down to every part and portion of life.
Nothing else does that. Some teachings affect you in one part of your experience, others in another, but here is a word that deals with every single part. It analyzes, it dissects, it opens our “soul and spirit … joints and marrow.” There is nothing about us that it does not know. Moreover, we are told here that it is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The word “discerner” means that it has a judging quality, a discriminating quality. Like a judge on the bench, it can sift and analyze the evidence. The advocate puts his case very plausibly. He does not reveal certain facts; he brings others out and exaggerates them. Ah, but the judge sitting on the bench can discriminate, he can analyze; he puts the relative and due proportion to every statement that is made. That is the meaning of the word “discerner.” And the Word does this with the very thoughts and intents of our hearts—our reflections, our imaginations, our ideas, our conceptions—and it does this at the depth of our being, in that which is called “the heart.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Word of God,” in Triumphant Christianity, vol. 5, Studies in the Book of Acts (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 84.
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