HOLDING FORTH THE WORD OF LIFE
A sermon preached at Forest Fold Baptist Chapel, Crowborough, on November 17th, 1994.
‘Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.’ – Philippians 2:16
The subject for our consideration is briefly expressed, ‘Holding forth the Word of Life’, that phrase particularly, but not forgetting Paul’s concern that, ‘I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.’
There are two things which Paul is concerned about. The first is that the Philippian believers should live in a way which was distinctly, and very evidently Christian, and so you have a number of exhortations from verse 14. The second thing is that they should be ‘holding forth the word of life’. If either of those two things did not appear in the Church a Philippi, then he would feel that he had run in vain, and laboured in vain. You can see that there are these two great features of a real Christian Church which Paul is very, very much concerned about; how they live, and whether they hold forth the Word of Life.
This evening, I want to speak about holding forth the Word of Life particularly. To begin with a simple question, What is it; what is the Word of Life? How does the Bible speak about the Word of Life?
In the New Testament, you will find many, many references to the Word, or the Word of God. That is why I read Acts chapter 13. We might just look back at that chapter again, and see Paul preaching at Antioch and at verse 44, we read, ‘The next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.’ There is no doubt that what Paul was preaching, was the Word of God. It was the truth; the words were true; it is indeed the Word of God, the Word of Truth. Again, in verse 46, ‘Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said. It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing that ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.’ Now, you can see how deeply important is this Word of truth, for this Word of God is the Word of Life. Those who reject the Word of God and put it from them are, Paul says, ‘Judging themselves unworthy of everlasting life’. So it is a Word that has everlasting life bound up with it. To reject one is to reject the other. To despise one is to despise the other. To greet one with unbelief is to be devoid of the other. If we have no faith in the Word of God, then we have no everlasting life. The two things are so intimately woven together. There is a very precious passage in chapter 10 in Romans, verse 17, ‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God’. There is no doubt that the Apostle is speaking about the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ. They may hear many other things, but the vital thing to
hear is the Word of God. Then as they hear the Word of God, they believe the Word of God, and so they come to call upon the name of the Lord and are saved because, ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.
Again, in Ephesians, 1.13, Paul says, ‘in whom (that is in Christ) ye also trusted after that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation,’ Now, there you have the two things brought immediately together, the word of truth and the gospel. The one is the other.
The word of truth is the gospel, and the gospel is the gospel of your salvation. ‘In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.’
There is no doubt surely in our minds that what the Apostle is speaking about here when he speaks about holding forth from the Word of Life, is the Gospel, it is the Gospel concerning salvation through Jesus Christ alone. ‘The Word’ that describes everything in the New Testament gospel. It was just the New Testament gospel that came to be known as ‘the Word’ because it was so deeply significant. There are other phrases like the Word of God, the Word of truth, the Word of Life, but all with the same significance.
In the first Epistle of John, chapter 1 and verse 1, we are brought to the heart of things, because you have the Gospel concerning Christ, the message concerning the Son of God, referred to as ‘the Word of life’. Yet you also find that in the Gospel of John 1.1, Christ Himself, personally, is referred to as the Word. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ yet here in the first Epistle of John, verse 1, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life.’
Now, how did John do that for those who never saw Christ in the flesh? He did that by the spoken word. The spoken word is the Gospel, the word of life. Jesus Christ is personally the Word of Life;
that is one of His glorious titles – The Word of Life. Again, you can see the deep significance of what Paul is saying here in Philippians when he speaks of, ‘holding forth the word of life’. He is obviously thinking of the Gospel message, but he is surely thinking of the central Person, indeed the One who is the Word Himself, the Incarnate Word. We today have, what the hymnwriter, Joseph Hart, speaks of as ‘the written and the incarnate Word’. He is even bold enough to say;
‘The written and the Incarnate Word in all things are the same,’
By that, he means that they carry to the world the same message; they are not identical in every sense of the word, but they are the same. Jesus brings God’s Word, God’s message.
He is the revelation that God has given of Himself personally. The Gospel is the revelation that God has
given in written form, and the one is in total agreement with the other.
It is also called the Word of Life because it is a life-giving Word. In the Epistle of James chapter 1, and verse 18, James says, ‘Of his own will, (that is. God’s will) begat he us (He brought us to life, we are born again), with the word of truth, that we (that is, we who are born again we who have this spiritual life), should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.’ What a wonderful expression that is. We are begotten again by the Word of God. It is indeed then, the Word of Life. That is the first part of what I wanted to say, to try and express what the Word of Life is, so that we can see how vitally important it is in itself.
Then secondly, Paul is very concerned about what the Word of Life will do, and how it is to be held forth. Why should we be holding forth the Word of Life? Firstly, and obviously, because it is so vitally important. There is no other message in all the world which is so important as the Gospel. There are many things that are important and have their significance in the world, but there is nothing in the whole realm of human life and experience and speech, there is nothing in the whole realm of human literature to compare with the Word of God. It is
the Word of Life, so it must be held forth.
What happens when it is held forth? What happened when Paul was preaching in the Acts 13?
Well, first of all. God was speaking through Paul to dead sinners, to sinners dead in trespasses and in sins. Now some have denied what I have just said. Some have said that the Gospel has nothing to say to dead sinners. Some say, God only speaks to sinners in His law.
That is true, most certainly, that is true, but is that all? Is that all God does? Does He just tell sinners what He requires of them, and then pronounces His condemnation against them because they have broken His law? Well, He certainly does that, but is that all that He does? ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die’. A plain message of the Word is it not? ‘It is appointed unto man once to die, and after death, the judgment’. These things are repeated again and again. But is that all that the Bible has to say to sinners still in this spiritually dead condition? Let me read to you a few quotations from the Bible where I believe God speaks more than the condemning law to sinners who are rightly condemned by the law. God has more to say to them. But some may say, Why does God have more to say to them if they are dead in trespasses and in sins? They cannot respond to what He is saying. My answer to that is twofold. Firstly, God has a perfect right to say what He chooses to say to anyone, dead sinners included. Secondly, the Word of God is God’s appointed means of bringing sinners to life. It is a life-giving word. Now, when a life-giving word comes, it obviously comes to someone who is dead. It could not come to anyone else and be a life-giving Word. If it comes to the living, it may stimulate the life they already have, but it is not a life-giving Word. When it comes in power to dead sinners, it is a life-giving Word.
Consider a few relevant verses in Proverbs, where wisdom is personified. Wisdom in this case, is no other than God speaking, and God speaking through His own eternal Son. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, He is wisdom. Proverbs 1:20, ‘Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets; she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying. How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge.’ Now, who is God speaking to? He is speaking to the simple ones, those who love simplicity. He is speaking to the scorners delighting in their scorning and He is speaking to the fools who are hating knowledge. What does He say? Does He say, ‘I will condemn you to an eternal judgment because of your attitude’? No, He says, ‘Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you’. Now what is that really saying? In other words it is really saying to sinners, ‘Repent, turn you at my reproof’.
Again, in Proverbs 8.1-6, ‘Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart: Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.’ I believe those passages, along with others in Proverbs are very deeply significant. Wisdom is calling to men as men, fallen, sinful, foolish men, to understand wisdom.
Again, in Isaiah 55, God has something to say to the thirsty. Ah well, some will say, Yes, we believe that God speaks to those who have evidence of spiritual life, because they are spiritually thirsty, they are thirsting after spiritual things, and so you have these words, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea come, and buy wine and milk without money and without price’. Then notice the progression, ‘wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy one of Israel, for he hath glorified thee. Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found, call ye upon him while He is near.’
Some people would say, because of these verses; here are people who are quickened; here are people who are spiritually alive, and they are
being addressed as people who have a spiritual thirst. But that is only partly true because the verses go on to speak to others like this, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and Iet him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’
Now, clearly, the wicked is going in his wicked way, and who are the wicked who are going in their wicked way? They are those who the Bible describes as being dead in trespasses and in sins. I believe that as we hold forth the Word of Life, we hold forth the Word of life, not only to those who show evident signs of spiritual life and responsiveness, but we hold forth the Word of Life to those who are dead in trespasses and in sins and show not the slightest evidences of spiritual responsiveness They are the wicked and the unrighteous. I believe that is a very important and significant thing for us to grasp as we read our Bibles.
Let us now go to consider the pattern of the New Testament. Matthew 3.1-2. In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying. Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ and in verse 7, ‘But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’ Was that all he said? ‘You are a generation of vipers, you are heading for an eternal hell’. No, he says, ‘Bring forth fruits therefore meet for repentance.’ Now, what is that if it is not a spiritual activity? They are being commanded to a spiritual activity, to bring forth therefore fruits
meet for repentance. Matthew 4.17, ‘From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say. Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Mark 1.14, ‘Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye, and believe the Gospel.’ Mark 6.7, ‘He called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.’ And then in verse 12, ‘they went out, and preached that men should repent.’
I had friends many years ago who came under the influence of teaching which is theologically referred to as hyper-Calvinism; it was a very extreme form of hyper-Calvinism, and they once said to me quite emphatically, there are no ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’ in the Gospel. I suppose they were desperately trying to avoid any hint of mixing the law with the Gospel, any kind of legalism mixed up with the free grace of the Gospel, but they were confused, and they were wrong because there are ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ in the Gospel. ‘They went out and preached that men should repent.’
In John 12.34, ‘The people answered him. We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever, and how sayest thou. The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?
Then Jesus said unto them,
Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light.’ Now, who was He speaking to? He was speaking to people who did not understand what the Lord was saying. ‘Who is the son of man?’ They have no idea who this Son of man is, who He is referring to. Jesus said, ‘Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light lest the darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.’ Now, they were not the children of light when He said that were they, because He was speaking about them becoming the children of light? ‘That ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed and did hide Himself from them.’
Acts 3.19, ‘Repent ye therefore, and be converted.’ They were not converted, and they were not penitent when they had that word addressed to them, ‘that your sins may be blotted out,’ so they still had not had their sins forgiven, ‘when the time of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.’
There are many, many ways in which the New Testament addresses sinners in a very direct manner, and sets before sinners the absolute necessity of repentance and of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and indeed holds sinners accountable for their reaction to the Word of Life. That is another thing which needs to be very clearly before us. When God sends His Word amongst us, we are being held accountable by God for our reaction for that Word. We read in Acts 13 about these people who were really judging themselves unworthy of everlasting life. Clearly, God is holding them accountable for their reaction to the Word that is preached. ‘God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30). You could hardly have a stronger emphasis there – ‘all men everywhere’. Wherever this message comes. God is commanding all men everywhere. I know there are times in the Bible when the word ‘all’, or ‘all the world’, or ‘all men’, may have a restricted meaning. It may mean all who are born again, all who are elect; it may mean all who are believers, it may mean a large majority, and so on, but here it cannot have that sense. Wherever this message comes. ‘God now commandeth all men to repent’ – everywhere.
In Acts 26.19, when Paul is speaking before Agrippa, he says, ‘Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and then at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance’. Paul’s emphatic urgency could hardly be more strongly expressed.
Perhaps we could sum up one point which we need to remember in regard to the Word of Life, and that is that spiritual inability does not cancel out our accountability, and that is one error which some people have fallen into. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that we are sinners
who cannot do what God requires of us. The Lord says, ‘you will not come unto me that ye may have life’. ‘No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.’ There is our total inability clearly written in the page of Scripture. Yet our total spiritual inability does not cancel out our personal accountability. God addresses us as His creatures. He addresses us as rational creatures, not as sticks and stones but as living, rational creatures. He addresses us as His creatures with understanding, so our inability, unwillingness, and our rejection of the truth, is our sin, our sin for which we are held accountable before God Now these things are behind and in the background, of Philippians 2.16 ‘holding forth the word of life.’ No wonder Paul, on one occasion, said that his gospel was the savour of life unto life for some, but of death unto death to others, because when he preached the Word to them, they were accountable for their reactions to it. If they believed, they wen saved; if they did not believe, then they came under a double condemnation, because they had neither believed God speaking in His
law nor had they believed God speaking in His gospel.
I have been speaking about holding forth the Word of Life to those who have no concerns, but in Matthew 11.25, there are people who do have concerns. ‘At that time, Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these thing;
from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son reveal him.’ Now, there could not be a more emphatic declaration of God’s absolute sovereignty, and the absolute sovereignty of His divine Son than you have in those verses, but then immediately, the Lord speaks loudly and openly, and He says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’
Some have discussed, indeed argued about what is the ‘warrant of faith’: that is the phrase they use, ‘the warrant of faith’. What is there in the Bible that gives a person the warrant to come to Christ? Well, I believe both invitation and command are the warrant and the encouragement is in the promise. Here is the invitation and the command, ‘Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden.’ Here is the promise, ‘And I will give you rest.’ Here is the test of the reality of your faith. This is the obedience of faith, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ When we hold forth the Word of Life, we need to remember that God Himself is
speaking, it is the Word of God, it is Jesus Christ Himself who is
holding forth the invitation, and the promise, and the command of the Gospel.
When we are holding forth the Word of Life sometimes, we will be
holding it forth not only to those who show no signs of life, or those who are showing some concern in one way or another, but we shall also be holding it forth to those who are obviously believers, because believers need to be stimulated, they need to have the Word of Life, as it were, re-emphasised to them. An old lady once said to me, ‘You know, I am sure I shall never be too old to hear the Gospel’, and she meant God’s message to sinners. Although she was a believer of many years standing, and a very godly woman, she just loved to hear the Gospel. She delighted in the freeness of the Gospel, and its wonderful grace through Jesus Christ. It is certainly true that sheep can always feed on what the lambs can feed on. Yes, there is a growth in spiritual knowledge and stature, and we do not always feed with milk; there is strong meat for those who are of a full age, that is necessary in holding forth the Word of Life, but it is certainly still true that the simplest things of the Gospel are still precious and refreshing to those who are of longstanding in the faith. What a wonderful thing then, that the Word of Life is to be held forth. One thing that I have noticed is this. Even after many years in the Christian profession, and in experience of the things of God, it seems that I personally, and others I speak to, are in the same sort of situation. We seem, because of our own folly, and our own sin, to be in that same situation where we are going to have to look to Jesus as though it were the first time; it is not the first time, but it is as though it was the first time in our life, to come as the hymn puts it, ‘Just as we are, without one plea.’ However much we grow in grace, we shall never outgrow that. A fresh sense of our own sinfulness must drive us to our knees, and drive us again to the Saviour who speaks so graciously to those who have no marks of grace. The hymnwriter says,
Marks of grace I cannot show,
All polluted is my breast,
Yet I weary am I know
And the weary long for rest.
That is like coming all over again, as it was the first time,
Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling.
How did you come the first time? Well, just like that. How did you come every time since, as a sinner in need of pardon? Well you came with nothing in your hands just as you did at the beginning.
Holding forth the Word of Life is clearly, in the context, holding it forth by our own behaviour, by our own example. We hold forth the Word of Life in the sense that we show what the Word of Life has done in our own lives that others may be able to see the change that it has made. Also we hold it forth by and in our words. Acts chapter 8 is a very interesting passage. After the way in which Saul was persecuting the
Church, we read in verse 4, ‘Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.’ Clearly, there were men like Philip who were preaching it in a more public and open way but it does
not restrict it to Philip does it? It says, ‘they that were scattered abroad, and there were many, many of them, ‘they went everywhere preaching the Word.’ The Greek there, ‘preaching the word’, means announcing the good tidings, so that by word of mouth, they were announcing the good tidings, they were holding forth the Word of Life.
Since the time that the Scriptures were written, the printed page has
been holding forth the Word of Life. Paul was very concerned about the parchments on one occasion. He obviously wrote down things for the Churches to read. He insisted that they should be read. Since the invention of printing, Christian believers have been very concerned to spread the Word, to hold forth the Word of Life, on the printed page Bible translation, printing, and distribution is just another way of holding forth the Word of life.
Finally, the Gospel ministry is holding forth the Word of Life, and writing to Timothy, in those well known words in the second Epistle and chapter 4 Paul says, ‘I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.’ That is certainly true today. And so, we need to pray for, and support those whose purpose in life it is to preach the Word. They an holding forth the Word of Life in a special way, and it has always been the great concern of a living Church that the Word of Life should be held forth in the public ministry. Whether that be in buildings, or in the open air, there is a holding forth of the Word of Life in the public declaration the proclamation, the announcement of the herald who brings the King’s message. ‘Holding forth the Word of Life, that I may rejoice in the day
of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.’ Amen.