“The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” St. Paul says. The connection between these 3 things – the Word of God, our mouths, and our hearts – is at the center of the mystery of how God comes down and saves man. Of course, it is all of God through and through, as the loving will of the Father is faithfully executed through the Son and by the Spirit. But these are the 3 divinely appointed instruments which God has appointed as means of our salvation.
It’s a mistake to think of these 3 things as independent things that can be separated. Instead, we should think of them as a trinity of means, a three in one that works only when all 3 work together. There are many things that could be said about how God uses His Word and our mouths and hearts as means of working His salvation. But there is one in particular that I’d like to look at, and that is how the 3 relate in this order: Word-heart-Word-mouth. In particular, Paul seems to be concerned about this pattern: Word-(my) heart-Word-(my) mouth-Word-(another’s) heart.
How is that people are saved? We know it is by confessing with the mouth and believing in the heart, as well as through repentance and baptism. But how is that people are brought to the point that they confess and believe and repent and are baptized?
This most miraculous of transformations takes place between people, and this should not surprise us. Just as God was incarnated into Jesus of Nazareth, so is His Word, in a way, incarnated into us. First, Jesus, the Word, has come to dwell in us as His Temple; second, the Word of God which first comes into our hearts spreads through all our life and must eventually come out of our mouths, where God speaks through us to another human. And there, as we meet that other person in the presence of God Himself, there is a trinity of people that are united by the power of God: God Himself, me, and the person to whom I am speaking.
There is an incredible sequence of events that is set into motion in this way, so that God Almighty actually speaks through me and uses me as an instrument of salvation in the life of someone else. But this most profound and beautiful human interaction is so easily short-circuited because sometimes the human heart does not want the Word, and when the heart does not want the Word (which is to not want God) then the mouth ceases to speak of God. And when the mouth ceases to speak of God then others cease to hear the Word of God and the message of salvation is muted.
Reversing Paul’s order of how people come to faith, we see this order of how God works to bring His Word and our hearts and mouths together:
1. Christians are sent to proclaim God’s Word
2. Christians proclaim God’s Word
3. People hear God’s Word
4. People believe God’s Word
5. People call on Him in whom they have believed
What if Step #1 above gets short-circuited? What if Christians who are sent to proclaim God’s Word refuse to go? No step #1, no step #2: proclamation of God’s Word. No #2, no #3: people hearing God’s Word, and so on.
The work of God in our lives may therefore be stopped at any point in this divinely ordained way of coming to the Lord. Sometimes people are not brought to life by God because the appointed Christians didn’t go when sent, and other times those who hear refuse to truly hear or believe. But the point is that they have no chance at all if we do not do what the Lord has commissioned us to do.
We short circuit God’s work in the world, which He miraculously works through us, every time we refuse to speak when we ought to. This speaking is not only “preaching” as we may know it, or being a missionary or witness, so to speak. We also short circuit God’s work even among Christians when we refuse to speak and do what God has commanded us to do. Every time we should have thanked God but refused to, out of pride or forgetfulness, God is robbed a little of His glory, and those around us see a little less of God. Every time we refuse to sing God’s praises in response to His grace in our lives, the gospel and those intended to hear it today are impoverished a little more.
This work of short circuiting begins when we close our hearts to the Word of God in our lives, refusing to live by what we have heard. When we close our hearts to God and His Word, then we don’t feel like going when sent or like speaking when we do get there, or we don’t even hear it when others speak of God to us.
God’s Word is therefore supposed to be very close to us, because it is how God comes to us. His Word most certainly comes to us in the form of the Bible, but there is more to it. Remember: you can’t separate God’s Word from either our hearts or our mouths. It’s not enough to say, “Here kid – here’s a Bible” and expect people to come to faith. Most of us are like the Ethiopian eunuch reading the scroll of Isaiah and in need of a Philip to come and help us understand. Every time God sends a Bible into someone’s life He also sends a person with it, and usually more than one.
Therefore, the Word of God must be incarnated into our lives. It must be more than black blood poured out on thin skins of white: it must be incarnated into the red blood and the flesh of our lives so that Word and Spirit and flesh all join together to bear witness to Jesus Christ. The Body of Christ, the Church, must be the Temple where the Spirit and the Word are kept and through which the Spirit and the Word are given to others.
Therefore, make sure that today “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” And make sure that this Word is spoken and lived into the lives of the people God has put in your life.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way to keep the Word of the Lord close to my heart today, or to proclaim His Word to one person today.
Prayer: Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. What would it take for you to hold the Word of God closer to your heart?
2. What simple ways can you think of to share the Word of God with someone today? (It doesn’t have to be an unbeliever!)
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson