Only one Word can truly satisfy a hungry world
Words have impact – they have power to change hearts and the course of lives, and to mobilize citizens, armies, and global communities. Words can build up or tear down, bless or curse.
We can see a dramatic example of the power of words in JRR Tolkien’s epic work, The Lord of the Rings. In Part Two, The Two Towers, chapter six (portrayed in the movie version as well), we hear how Saruman, who allied himself with the dark Lord of Mordor, was able to weaken the defenses of the kingdom of Rohan by securing the allegiance of King Theoden’s chief counselor, named Grima Wormtongue. King Theoden had been a courageous defender of the free West. But Wormtongue succeeded in weaving a web of deception around the king and his court. As Theoden came under the spell of Wormtongue, the king physically lost his vitality and was crushed in spirit. He became an unwitting, vulnerable pawn of the enemy. When Gandalf the Wise spoke words of truth and courage to Theoden, he broke the spell which had bound the king.
“Now Theoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?” said Gandalf. ..”Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.”
As Theoden listened to Gandalf’s word of counsel, his hope was revived, and he rose up with renewed strength, courage, and determination to lead his people into battle against the enemy.
Words to rouse the spirit
When Britain was faced with the threat of invasion by Hitler’s forces, Winston Churchill, who had “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” rallied the entire nation from slumbering in fear to valiant courage and determination to defeat their enemy.
Never give in, never, never, never. ..Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. ..Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end ..we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength …whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
The power of Jesus’ words
When Jesus taught, he spoke with a power and authority unlike any other human being. “No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). He spoke the words which his Father in heaven gave him to speak (John 7:16; 8:26-29).
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 4), he spoke words of life to her. His words gave her revelation of God as well as revelation of her own sinful condition and her need for repentance and change of heart. Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah and offered her the living water of the Holy Spirit. She left her water jug at Jesus’ feet and immediately ran back to the village to tell everyone about her discovery. The people followed her back to the well so they could discover in person who Jesus was. John tells us that many believed in Jesus because of his word (John 4:31). They afterwards told the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
When Jesus spoke he not only conveyed spiritual truths. He imparted spiritual life as well – the abundant life that comes from God.
“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life”.(John 6:63)
Jesus’ words communicated the reality and power of God’s kingdom. From them flowed the power to dispel the darkness of sin and unbelief, and to mend broken lives. From his words flowed the power to overcome Satan and the fear of death. Jesus’ word brought truth, freedom, and abundant life to those who received it.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”.(John 8:31-32)
John in his first epistle testified: What we have seen, heard, and touched we proclaim as the word of life which existed from the beginning (1 John 1:1-4). John bears witness to what has existed from all eternity. This word of life is Jesus the word incarnate, but also Jesus as the word announced by the prophets and Jesus the word now preached throughout the Christian church for all ages to come.
God’s word is active and alive for us
The Word of God is not an abstract concept or idea that we engage our minds with if we so choose. God’s word is something more powerful and dynamic than that. Scripture tells us that God’s word has power to accomplish what he purposes. It is an agent of change and transformation. God keeps his word and he fulfils what he promises to do through his word.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it”.(Isaiah 55:10-11)
If we allow God’s word to penetrate our hearts and minds, it will consume and purify. It will cut away sin and everything else that would keep us from the love of God or hinder us from doing God’s will.
“Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?”(Jeremiah 23:29)
“The word of God is active and living, sharper than any two-edge sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.(Hebrews 4:12)
As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to conform our lives – the way we think, act, and speak – to his word.
“He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me”.(John 14:24)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom”.(Colossians 3:16)
(using the Apostle Paul as an example, we should) “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.(2 Corinthians 10:5)
God’s word, through the action and power of the Holy Spirit, will shape and transform us into the image of Christ, if we submit to it with faith and obedience.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”.(2 Corinthians 3:18)
Another title for the word of God is the sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17. Paul urges us to use the word of God as a weapon in our spiritual battle against the forces of Satan. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil, he subdued him with the word of God.
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’”.(Matthew 4:4)
“Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’”.(Matthew 4:7)
“Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’”.(Matthew 4:10)
Servants of the Word
St. Augustine of Hippo was recognized in his day (5th century) as a great teacher and church leader. Today his numerous sermons and books continue to instruct and inspire Christian teachers and disciples alike. Augustine told his fellow monks and his congregation at Hippo that he wanted to be remembered simply as a “servant of the Word.”
“We are servants of the Word – not our own word, of course, but the word of God, and of our Lord”.(Augustine, Sermon 114,1)
“When I unpack the holy Scriptures for you, it is as though I were breaking open bread for you. You who hunger, receive it. …What I am dealing out to you is not mine. What you eat, I eat. What you live on, I live on. We have in heaven a common storehouse, for from it comes the Word of God. …From that which I feast on – from that I feed you. I am a table-servant, not the master of the house. From that which I set before you – from that I too draw my life.”
Like St. Augustine and countless witnesses of the Christian faith throughout the ages – who courageously proclaimed the truth of the gospel, even in the face of opposition and persecution – we, too, are called to be beacons of hope in a world hopelessly adrift. The Lord calls his people to be a prophetic witness – a people who can live and speak God’s word with purity and sincerity, with humility and boldness. Our call is to be, like St. Augustine, servants of God’s word.
Our message, our witness to the Gospel, will only be credible if we live out what we say. Children instinctively distinguish between the words and actions of their parents. What one does speaks louder than what one says. When our words match our example and actions, then our words truly impact others.
The Gospel message and the way of life we are called to witness to as Christ’s disciples will go against the tide of the world and will provoke opposition from the world. But the gospel message will also bring blessing, freedom, peace, and refreshment to those who are hungry for God.
Only one Word can truly satisfy a hungry world
If we thirst for God’s word and receive it with a willingness to learn and obey, we will not be disappointed. It is the Lord himself who draws us to the springs of living waters to quench our thirst at the font of his word. He invites us to feast daily from the rich storehouse of his word. That word should be our daily bread that sustains us on our journey to the Father’s house in heaven.
Our Western media culture inundates us constantly with its words, sounds, and images promising pleasure, life, and happiness. Only one word, one image, can truly satisfy – that word and image is Jesus Christ, the Word of Life and Image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).
Top image: Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All), icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, Eqypt, painted in the 500s AD.
Don Schwager is the editor of Living Bulwark and author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website. He is a lay religious brother and life-time member of the Servants of the Word.