Words, words, words. Words are powerful. The older and wiser I grow, I know the old adage is not true that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me.” When we think about situations in our lives where we have been run down, we can likely remember how negative and hurtful that was for us.
A torrent of words pours from the mass media and from every political platform and every soap box. Words move people to buy, sell, hate, and love. They can depress, distort, discourage, and deceive, poisoning the very springs of life, which is why we need to be so careful about what we hear and what we say.
But words can also create new thoughts and arouse courage, faith, and love. Such words are a great power for good. An unexpected word of kindness can change a life and set it on its feet again. A proverb says, “Good advice may fall on barren ground, but a kind word is never thrown away.”
Today, the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us how powerful the Word of God actually is. The writer chooses several words to highlight the power of God’s Word.
The first word to describe God’s Word is living. It is not like some books that have their day in the sun, but then fade away and die. It is not like some books which are so obscure that they appeal only to a handful of scholars. It is not like some books that have become totally irrelevant to our contemporary situation, having nothing to say to modern people. No, the Word of God is living because it is able to address the deepest needs of every human being, in every time and place. The Word of God never becomes a relic of antiquity because there is something in it for everyone. Whoever we are or whatever our situation, the Word of God speaks to us every day, if we but have the ears to hear it. It is living because it never becomes out-dated or irrelevant.
The second word used by the writer to describe God’s Word is active. This word takes us back to the story of creation where we remember, God spoke the Word, and out of that speaking the universe came into being. The Word of God itself is thus full of life-giving power when it creates. It is active in all the events of history. In this sense, the Word is equally as much in verb form as it is in noun form. Most significantly, the active Word of God is made known in Jesus, the Word Incarnate, who also participated in the act of creating the universe and redeeming it, as it is so eloquently communicated in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel.
It is effective since it works in and through people’s lives. When God sent the prophet Isaiah out to proclaim the Word; God reassured Isaiah that, ”so is it with my Word…it will not return to me empty without accomplishing my purpose and succeeding in the task for which I sent it.” (Isa 55:11) It is not enough to read, hear, and study God’s Word; it must also be lived and practiced every day. Its activeness and effectiveness give us energy, motivation, and determination in order to live out God’s Word.
The writer goes on to describe God’s Word in the following metaphor: it is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This metaphor of a sharp sword is found elsewhere in the Bible too. For example, in Isaiah 49:2, God makes the Servant’s mouth “like a sharp sword.” In the book of Revelation 1:16 and 2:12, Christ is described as having a sharp, two-edged sword coming from His mouth.
The sharpness of God’s Word is able to cut into and reveal every single aspect of our being. In its sharpness, it is like an x-ray or cat-scan—able to show us even the most secret, hidden and remote parts of our lives. Its two-edged sharpness is also like the scalpel, used with great precision and care in the hands of a surgeon. It is able to cut out and remove that which makes us ill and might even destroy us.
God’s Word, in all of its two-edged sharpness, can and does perform radical surgery upon us. Our emotions and thoughts, our actions and words, everything is laid bare and naked before God. It shatters our illusions, confronts us with our fears, judges us when we become too judgmental of others, reminds us of the consequences of our sins, gives us guidance and grace to deal with matters which we would rather forget or avoid. It also renews, recreates, empowers, and enlightens us—thus making it possible to accomplish great things with faith, hope, and love.