Pastor John’s message, The Word of God Is at Work in You, was exceedingly helpful to me and I commend it to you.
As he made seven observations about the text, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, to open the sermon, observations 3 and 4 particularly caught my attention.
3. The Thessalonians heard the words of Paul.
Verse 13b: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us . . .” God spoke, humans gave his word through their words, and the Thessalonians heard that. They heard the sounds. They knew the Greek language. They construed meaning with their minds.
God uses humans to deliver his word, and he delivers it to humans. Human minds hear and understand the word from God, and then another set of human minds receive it from those human mouths and again hear and understand it.
From the perspective of having a child with severe cognitive disabilities, this appears to raise a problem. My son Paul can ‘hear’ from the sense that his ears work, but he cannot understand or make sense of most of what he hears. And he also cannot communicate much of what he actually understands. Is the Gospel closed to him?
Thankfully, the fourth observation follows:
4. As they heard, God acted on their minds and hearts.
What did he do? And how do we know this?
What he did was enable them to receive Paul’s words as the word of God. Verse 13b: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.” That’s what God did. He opened their mind and heart to know that Paul was speaking the word of God, and he gave them the inclination to receive it for what it is, not mere human words, but God’s word.
How do we know God did this? Because at the beginning of verse 13, just before saying that they received his word as the word of God, Paul says, “And we also thank God constantly for this.” For what?, “That when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.”
But why would Paul thank God for this? Why would he thank God that the hearts of the Thessalonians grasped the divine nature of the human word? Why would he thank God that the hearts of the Thessalonians embraced the human words as divine word? The reason is that God enabled them to do this.
I may be going out on a limb with this, but if it is necessary for God to make this understanding possible for people with ‘normal’ cognitive abilities, is it not also possible for God to do so for those with limited cognitive abilities? After all, he knows everything about every human being that he has made, and when compared to God, all of us live with pretty impaired cognitive abilities!
The Thessalonians could communicate that they understood these words were coming from God, but that doesn’t change the primary actor being God. Paul was obviously encouraged to know how it was being received! But the evidence of their receiving it was only that – evidence of God’s prior actions to give them understanding.
So, I don’t think it is a stretch to include those who have limited abilities to understand anything and no ability to communicate what they understand as being entirely able, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to embrace truths about who God is and what he has done for them.
When Paul was younger we spent time teaching him Bible verses. He even earned a bag after reciting five verses. But I gave up on that because I didn’t think it was really worthwhile; he was just repeating a string of words.
Or so I assumed. Maybe there was more going on than I realized through the work of the Holy Spirit. It raises questions about whether I believe Isaiah 55:10-11 to be true:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there 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 out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)
What do you think?