The Work of the Word Part 1
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/10/2003
"The Work of the Word"
2 Timothy 3:15-16a
For this morning, let me draw your attention for the time we have in God's Word back to 2 Timothy chapter 3. Looking
again at the passage which has been our focus for a number of weeks. Obviously in studying through 2 Timothy we have
come across this passage, verses 15 to 17, in the context of the third chapter. The first week that we looked at it we
discussed primarily its intent with regard to Paul writing Timothy, that is the primary significance of it in its context. And then
feeling that one look at that text didn't really do justice to it, we took another week and examined the whole idea indicated in
verse 16 of all Scripture being inspired by God because that is a tremendously impactful statement that goes way beyond
any specific instruction Paul could give to Timothy. The fact that Scripture is inspired is of monumental consequence and so
we dug a little more deeply into the matter of inspiration.
And as I was planning to kind of move on in 2 Timothy, I was rereading the epistle and I came back to this same section
and in reading it I realized that there was one further tremendously important issue here that had not been addressed that I
needed to deal with and that has to do with what I like to call the work of the Word...the work of the Word. We talked
about the fact that it was inspired but we must also focus on its work. And you will notice in verse 15 that it says that the
sacred writings are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Initially the work
of the Word is salvation. Then in verse 16, it is useful, that is inspired Scripture is useful, for teaching, for reproof, for
correction and for training in righteousness with the idea that the end product may be a man of God adequate and equipped
for every good work.
Now a simple reading of those verses indicates to us five elements of the work of the Word...salvation, teaching, reproof,
correction, training and righteousness. Those are the things which the Word does, which the Scripture produces. They're not
new to me, they're not new to most of you, they're new to perhaps some of you. And as I thought about it I thought, "Well,
it's pretty basic but it's also pretty important." And let me say by way of general introduction that the distinguishing
characteristic, I hope, of my own ministry and of Grace Community Church, is a very very strong commitment to the
authority of the Word of God. We are definitely a church committed to God's Word. We endeavor to teach God's Word,
to preach God's Word, to implement God's Word, to live God's Word, to proclaim God's Word, to exalt God's Word. It is
the focal point of everything that we do. When God speaks, we listen.
I think so many times of Revelation 2 and 3, if you have ears to hear then hear what the Spirit says to the churches. So we
have always been a church that listens to the Word of God, that is committed to the Word of God, that is submissive to the
Word of God. And the focal point of our ministry has been the Scripture. There are many things that a church can do. There
are many focuses. There are many sort of themes that a church can camp on. But for us for all these years it has been the
Word of God. Our church, our personal lives are dominated by the Word of God. Week in and week out we teach the
Bible. Here in the services we preach it expositorily, that is explaining its meaning. We go through scripture after scripture
after scripture. The reason for that is because of the work of the Word. Because we understand what it does, that's why we
give it the main attention.
Let me just remind you of a very important promise with regard to this. Isaiah 55:10 and 11, you don't need to look it up,
just listen. "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there without watering the earth and
making it bare and sprout and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be which goes forth
from My mouth. It shall not return to Me empty or void, without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in the
matter for which I send it."
In other words, God says when I send My Word it always does its work...it always does its work. It never comes back
empty. Just like rain and snow produces what grows, My Word produces My will. The Bible is God's messenger. It
accomplishes His will. It accomplishes His purpose. The Word of God is depicted in Psalm 147 as a swift messenger. It
runs to do God's work. It runs to accomplish God's goals.
You might look just at Psalm 147 for a moment. There are several verses there that really are very vivid. Verse 15, "He
sends forth His command to the earth," that's verse 15, "He sends forth His command to the earth, His Word runs very
swiftly. He gives snow like wool. He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments. Who can stand before
His cold? He sends forth His Word and melts them. He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow. He declares His
words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel."
And here is this sort of intertwined analogy as God sends the cold and frost and the sun and all the natural elements to
produce what He wants to produce, so He sends His Word. And the Word is analogous to that, it goes out to produce the
ends that God has intended for it. That's a tremendous confidence that we have who teach the Word of God, who articulate
the Word of God, to know that it always accomplishes what God wants it to do, never comes back empty, always
produces, always produces, like rain and snow and all the other things that God sends with production in mind. The Word is
productive. It is prolific and it accomplishes its purpose. Every word out of God's mouth is bread, it says in Deuteronomy
8:3. It feeds somebody. It nourishes somebody. It makes somebody grow. It accomplishes something.
And so we want to ask the question then, if it does accomplish something, what does it accomplish? What is the work of the
Word? What is the purpose of the Word? And let's look at these five things, we'll look at two of them this morning, just
briefly giving you what may for most of you be review and then the other three next Lord's day.
The first one is that the Word produces salvation. You'll notice that very familiar verse that we looked at in chapter 3 verse
15. It says that the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation which comes, of course,
through faith in Christ Jesus. The thing that he says there is the Word, the sacred writings--referring to Scripture--, have
primarily in that particular verse reference to the Old Testament, but nonetheless Scripture produces salvation. Scripture
produces salvation. It makes you wise unto salvation. It is the instrument of salvation. The practical implications of this are
Before we look at those though let's see if we can't reinforce that truth a little bit by looking namely at the testimony of Jesus
Himself. Turn in your Bible to John's gospel. And in John's gospel we have the continual teaching of Jesus about the power
of His word and the Word of God. But in chapter 5 and verse 24 we read this, the words of Jesus, "Truly truly I say to you,
he who hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out
of death into life." That is a tremendous verse. That is a verse that binds up the essence of the gospel. Believing in God, the
God who sent Christ, and hearing the Word brings eternal life and delivers one from judgment, passing out of death into life.
And note, please, the key to it all verse 24, "He who hears My Word." The Word is the agency. The Word is that which
begets new life. In John chapter 6, I draw your attention to a couple of verses toward the end of the chapter. And Jesus
again teaching in this familiar section where He speaks on the bread of life, but in verse 63 He says, "It is the Spirit who
gives life, the flesh profits nothing." Then this, "The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life and if they haven't
effected that in you," verse 64 implies, "that's because some of you don't believe." So, the Word mixed with faith produces
Chapter 12 of John, and there are other texts you could look at but these are highlights. Chapter 12 and verse 49, Jesus
says, "I did not speak on My own initiative." Even Jesus operated under delegated authority and operated by speaking only
that which was the Word of God. He said, "My Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment what to say and
what to speak and I know that His commandment is eternal life, therefore the things I speak I speak just as the Father has
told Me." And again Jesus is articulating the reality that the Word is that which produces eternal life...the Word brings life.
The sum of it all comes in that great watershed verse 31 of chapter 20 in John's gospel which really gives us the reason for
the whole book...the whole gospel. "These have been written...these have been written," says John, "that you may believe
that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name." And again, eternal life comes by
believing the written Word, the revealed Word, the Word of God. Scripture then is the source of that truth which brings
Look again further into the New Testament, the tenth chapter of Romans and we find that the Apostle Paul was committed
to the same truth. In Romans chapter 10, a familiar verse, 17 says, "So faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of
Christ." Or some manuscripts the Word of God, I think, preferably the Word of Christ, the New American has it that way.
But the point is, one way or the other it's the Word of God or the Word of Christ which are one and the same that produces
salvation. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. That's why you have to have preachers. That's why
you have to have those who will go out and speak the truth. It says in verse 13, "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord
will be saved." But how are they going to call on Him in whom they have not believed and how they going to believe in
whom they have not heard and how will they hear without a preacher and how will they preach unless they are sent? And
even when they are sent the implication is they must hear the Word of Christ. So it is again emphasized that the Scripture is
In Ephesians chapter 5, that great section on marriage as compared to the church. Verse 25 says, "Husbands, love your
wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the
washing of water with the Word." Christ has cleansed His church, saved His church by the washing of water with the Word.
The Word again the agency.
And Paul writing to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 refers to the work...the Word of God which performs its
work in you who believe. The Word works. Now salvation occurs when you have a ready heart that is open to believe,
mixed with the revelation of God. The Word of God in a ready heart, that's the issue.
James refers to the same dynamic in James 1:18. He says, "He brought us forth, He begot us, He redeemed us, He saved us
by the Word of truth...by the Word of truth."
So, the Scripture, the Word of God, is the source of salvation. That's why Philippians 2:16 calls it the "Word of life." It is
characterized as that which gives life. Psalm 19:7, "The law of the Lord is perfect," what's the rest of the verse? "Converting
the soul." It has the power to convert.
And I think back to Nehemiah, a tremendous illustration of this. Look with me for a moment to the eighth chapter of
Nehemiah, it's a few books to the left of Psalms. And in Nehemiah chapter 8 we have the introduction of a revival. In
Nehemiah chapter 8 it begins...the beginning of a real revival. And I believe there were many people who were saved in the
true sense of Old Testament salvation at this revival. All the people gathered as one man at the gate which was in front of the
water gate, the square which is front of the water gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses.
Three little words, "Bring the book," really keyed the whole thing. And he brought the law before the assembly of men,
women and all who could listen with understanding and the first day of the seventh month he read from it before the square
which was in front of the water gate from early morning until midday in the presence of men and women, those who could
understand, all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
They stood there and listened to it being read hour after hour after hour. There was a wooden podium, verse 4, set up for
that purpose. And Ezra, verse 5, opened the book in the sight of all the people, standing up above the people, and he
opened it and all the people stood up. He blessed the Lord the great God and all the people answered, Amen, Amen. Lifting
up their hands they bowed low, worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Verse 8 says that as they read from the
book, from the law of God, they translated to give the sense so that they would understand the reading...it had to go from
Hebrew into Aramaic which was their commoner language and had to be explained to them. And so they were reading and
explaining the Word. The people's response was amazing, it says at the end of verse 9, they were weeping when they heard
the words of the law. They were grieved over their sin. They were struck because of the dirth of the law of God in their
The end result of all of this was the people really drew their hearts back to God. This reading went on. At the end of verse
18 it says they celebrated the feast for seven days and they read from the book of the law, the first part of the verse says
daily from the first day to the last day. Then the people began to praise God in chapter 9. They were praising and lifting up
adoration to the God who had revealed Himself in Scripture. They were getting their hearts right. Down in verse 28 of
chapter 10 after that long list of people who signed the document, it says that they were joining together, making a
commitment, taking a curse, verse 29, making an oath to walk in God's law, to keep and observe all the commandments of
God our Lord and His ordinance and His statutes.
The net result was the people made a commitment to God. And I believe there was salvation that period of time, through
that seven-day feast, there was a great movement of God and many were saved. And it was a direct result of simply
standing and reading and translating, explaining the Scripture. It has the power to convert the soul, the power to save.
Look at another illustration, taken from the New Testament, namely the eighth chapter of Luke in which our Lord teaches a
familiar parable which makes the same major point. Jesus teaching here about the parable of the soils and the sower and the
seed. Verse 5 says of Luke 8, "The sower went out to sow his seed and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, was
trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, as soon as it grew up it withered away
because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed
fell into good soil, grew up, produced a crop a hundred times as great." And He said, "You better listen to the things I'm
Then in verse 9 they asked Him what it was He was saying. He's explaining, starting in verse 10, "To you it has been granted
to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, to the rest it is in parables in order that they seeing may not see and hearing
they may not understand." In other words, He says I'm going to explain it to you because obviously you belong to God. To
them it will remain a riddle.
The explanation then comes in verse 11. "In the parable the seed is the Word of God." That which produces new life in
good soil is the Word of God. That's the point. If the soil isn't right, you're not going to get the product. If it's hard soil like
the soil on the road, it says those beside the road are those who have heard, the devil comes, takes away the Word from
their hearts so they may not believe and be saved. And those on the rocky soil are those who when they have received the
Word, receive it with joy and they have no firm root. They believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And the
seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard and as they go on their way they are choked with
worries and riches and pleasures of this life and bring no fruit to maturity. The Word of God will fall into places where the
soil is not ready. Its full of weeds, full of rocks or just hard. But, verse 15, when the seed falls into good soil, those are the
ones who have heard the Word in an honest and good heart and hold it fast and bear fruit with perseverance.
So what you have here is the Word of God placed in a readied heart, a prepared heart produces salvation. The practical
implications of this are obvious. The heart and soul of our evangelistic ministry must be the Word of God. People will
sometimes say, "Well, if you teach the Bible all the time when do you do your evangelism?" Beloved, the Bible is the greatest
tool of evangelism. How could we ever come to the point where we would even question such? When Jesus was asked by a
lawyer in Luke 10:25 and 26, he said, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus said to that man, What is written in the
law and how does it read to you?" Go to the Scripture. Go to the Scripture. You can go back to the Old Testament, the
sacred writings and they are able to make you wise unto salvation which, of course, has come in the fullness of time through
that which Christ has accomplished. What does the Scripture say? Jesus said search the scriptures for they are they which
speak of Me.
And then one very very explicit text. First Peter 1, turn to it for a moment, verse 23, "You have been born again," it says,
"not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is--referring to the seed--through the living and abiding Word of
God." The seed is the Word of God again. It is that seed placed in good soil that produces salvation. So if we want to be
effective in evangelism, we want to teach God's Word. If we want to be effective in reaching our friends, we want to give
them God's Word.
Instead of making it very complicated, let me make it as simple as I possible can for you. If you know somebody who is not
saved, first thing to do is give them a what? A Bible..Bible, remember that? Don't get too complex. Don't get too carried
away with feeling inadequate because you can't explain every theological issue. I mean, you don't need to know all the
answers to all the questions, the Bible will be enough.
I talked to a young lady a couple of days ago and she said, "You know, there's so many things I don't understand." Comes
out of a drug oriented background. "So many things I don't understand." But she said, "One thing I do understand." She
said, "The other night I read the chapter in the Bible called Ephesians," that's the way she said it. "I read the chapter in the
Bible called Ephesians. Boy, you can't read that without knowing what the truth is." I said, "Well, that's very interesting." She
said, "It's pretty clear there." And I really believe, of course, the Lord has worked on her heart. She has professed faith in
Christ and all of a sudden stuff is becoming alive to her but it came through the reading of God's Word.
It's not as complex as we want to make it. And, of course, focusing on that, when you give someone a Bible, encourage
them to read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and see if they can survive that. If they can survive that, the soil isn't ready,
there's nothing wrong with the seed. The soil isn't ready. God hasn't prepared the soil. But the seed is there. So we need to
be committed to that. He says you have been born again through the living and abiding Word of God. And verse 25 says,
"This is the Word which was preached to you." He illustrates it in that passage with a quote out of Isaiah chapter 40,
comparing the Word of God to the passing flesh. The Word abides, it lives forever, it does its work, it produces life.
This can be illustrated, I think, quite simply in a rather brief but beautiful account of a woman's conversion in Acts 16. Lydia
was her name. And it tells about her in verse 14, just very briefly. "A certain woman," Acts 16:14, "named Lydia from the
city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics." This is a business woman, sold purple fabrics for a living. "She was a worshiper of
God," that is to say she was upright in the sense of seeking the true God and seeking to worship the true God but had not
yet been exposed to the gospel of Christ. She was listening, and then this: "And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the
things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized," so forth and so on.
I love that. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. That's the essence of salvation. You speak
the truth of God's Word and let the Lord open the heart.
END OF SIDE ONE
Theoretically it wouldn't do a bit of God if the Lord was opening the heart and there wasn't any truth there. It doesn't do any
good, also, for us to speak truth if the heart is not open except for the fact that we have discharged our duty. It cannot bring
salvation unless the heart is opened. So our task is to spread the Word, spread the seed, preach the truth, give out God's
Word and God's part is sovereignly, graciously to open the heart.
The implications again, I just reiterate to you, are clear. Now in evangelism we want to give people God's Word, it's that
simple, that basic. I mean, this is...this is primer kind of stuff, very basic. But it helps me as we sort of stop here after nearly
20 years of ministry to just go all the way back and say, "Why are we doing this?" Because this is what we are to do. There
isn't anything more. Somebody might say, "Well, you know, we've been doing this a long time, can't we do something
different?" No. "I mean, we have been teaching the Bible a long time, we've been having expository teaching, we've been
going over this biblical...can't we do something else?" No. There never will be anything else because this is what we're
mandated to do, this is that which brings salvation.
There's a second thing, let's look at verse 16 of 2 Timothy 3 and that list that is there indicates four things in addition to
salvation that is the work of the word. First is teaching, then reproof, then correction, and training in righteousness. We'll
save the last three for next time and look just at the one that the Scripture says is teaching or doctrine.
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for doctrine, teaching." This function obviously takes place after salvation has
occurred. You can't give doctrine, you can't teach doctrine to a non-believer. Why? First Corinthians 2:14, "The natural man
understandeth not the things of God, they are foolishness to him because they are spiritually discerned and he's spiritually
dead, but we who are saved," he says in verse 16, "have the mind of Christ." We have the Holy Spirit, 1 John tells us,
chapter 2. We have no need to be taught by men because we have an anointing from God who teaches us all things. So
when you become a believer you receive what theologians have chosen to call "the ministry of illumination by the Holy
Spirit." The Spirit takes up residence in your heart and begins to illuminate the Word to you and you begin to be able to
learn what it teaches.
Now the term "teaching" here does not describe a process, it describes content. It describes a body of truth, that which is
taught, didaskalia, that which is taught. The Scripture then is to deposit with you truth. It gives you a body of truth by which
you are to think and act. That's basically it. The Scripture is a body of truth which is to control your thinking and your acting.
And so as you study the Word of God you accumulate that body of truth. And the more of that you accumulate, the more
circumscribed to God's standard your behavior, your conduct becomes. But it starts with content.
People, and I've said this for years, people cannot do what they do not know. They cannot function on principles they do
not understand. They cannot live out non-existent truth. If you don't know it, you can't do it. Oh, maybe once in a while
you'll stumble across it like the blind pig who finds a slop now and then. But generally speaking, you're only going to be able
to do what you understand. And so primarily the Scripture then is there to provide for the saved person a repository of truth,
principles for life and thought. In fact, we have noted a couple of times in our study of 1 and 2 Timothy that Paul says to
Timothy, "Guard that deposit which is entrusted to you," that body of truth. Paul looked at apostolic doctrine at that which
God had taught him and which God had ordained that he pass on as a body of truth to be given. He says in Acts chapter 20,
"I have not failed to declare unto you the whole counsel of God. I taught you night and day with tears. I taught you publicly, I
taught you from house to house." He preached every weekend in the synagogue. Always, always giving out truth in order
that people might have a deposit of truth which would govern their life. And that truth is the same as God's Word. It says in
John 17:17 that Jesus said, "Thy Word is truth," to the Father, "Thy Word is truth."
I've always had that kind of a...I don't know, that's almost an insatiable hunger in my own heart, to understand God's Word.
It just...I have this hunger to understand it, I want to know what it means by what it says. I can read what it says, I want to
know what it means by what it says. And that appetite more than anything else in ministry drives me to study. It compels me.
It's the desire to know what God says. I want that body of truth. I don't want any holes. I don't want anything left out. Many
people through the years of my ministry have come to me and said, "Well, if I would have known that I never would have
done this...well, if I knew that the Bible taught that, I wouldn't have done this...If I would have known that I never would
have been in this mess." That's right. You want
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