The Word of His Power: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 12)

also bearing all things in the word of his power;

 

Beloved, we have asked the question in terms of what “all things” refers to, but we must also pose the question as to just what is the “word of his power.”  Indeed, the simplest and most straight-forward answer, particularly in the context of the creation language that precedes it, is the idea that God spoke all things in to being and, as John reminds us that Jesus is the very Word by which God created (John 1:1-2).  Yet, the language of this passage in Hebrews is not limited to the work of creation, but encompasses the entirety of all history (as well as the future) when he points out that not only were all things created by God, but all things are borne or upheld.  The Apostle Paul speaks similarly when he states that all things “hold together” in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:17).  So it is the “word of his power” that not only creates, but sustains throughout redemptive history.

Thus, we are back at the initial question, what is this “word of his power”?  The term that is used here is the word rJhvma (hrama), which is a synonym for the more familiar term lo/goß (logos).  Both terms refer to words or communications that are either spoken or written and both can refer to generic “things” or “stuff.”  The only distinct difference in usage between these two terms is that lo/goß (logos) can be personified, standing alone as “The Word,” to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ.  With this in mind, we can do some searches to see how the language of “word” and “power” (du/namiß—dunamis, from which we get “dynamic” and “dynamite”) are used together in scripture.

With this in mind, Paul’s letters to the Corinthian churches are particularly helpful in understanding this language:

“For the word of the cross to those who are perishing is foolishness;

but to the one who is being saved, it is the power of God.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18 )

There are two things that we should note from this verse, though a lifetime could be spent reflecting on its meaning and ramifications for life and ministry.  First, in the context of the passage, the language of “the word of the cross” is referring to the Gospel as it is preached.  It is the promise that those who would flee sin and the things of this world, repent of their sins, and cling to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, believing in their hearts and confessing with their lips, will be saved from eternal condemnation.  It is the word that brings the only hope to mankind—that Jesus, who was perfect and without guilt, chose to come down to this earth, take on flesh to walk with men and to be tempted as we have been tempted, and yet lived without sin, went so far as to substitute himself for me, paying the penalty for my sin so that I might not have to face God’s wrath.  Believer, let that great promise sink in and let your soul sing with praise!  For Christ has come with grace and in grace you are forgiven!  This is the word of the cross—this is the Gospel—that there is redemption to be found in the person of Jesus Christ!  Indeed, as there is power in the blood, there is power in this message! 

Secondly, also, please note the transition in verbs (participles in the Greek).  In the first clause, “perishing” is presented in the middle tense and in the second clause, “being saved” is in the passive tense.  While this may seem like a fairly minor nuance, note the implications that are brought about by this language.  We are reminded, first, that our salvation is an action of God and we are passive recipients.  We are “being saved,” not saving ourselves.  We add nothing of our own merit to God’s salvific work.  In turn, the language is different when it speaking of those “who are perishing.”  The middle tense, in Greek, reflects the idea of people participating themselves in the action that is happening to them.  In other words, by their unbelief, the people who belong to this world are destroying themselves as well as being condemned in judgment by God.  This is the language that Paul developed further in Romans 1:18-32, and indeed, is reinforced by the language that is used in this verse.

Though much more could be drawn out of this verse, it provides us with a foothold on the idea that the word of Christ’s power is connected to the Gospel.  Paul echoes this further when he writes:

“and my word and my proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom,

but in proof of Spirit and power.”

(1 Corinthians 2:4)

Once again, Paul is reminding us that his word and proclamation (the Gospel) were not given in terms of eloquent rhetoric, but were delivered accompanied by proof.  And what was that proof of the Gospel?  The Spirit came (people were born-again) and power was demonstrated (Paul’s words were accompanied by signs and miracles that confirmed his message).  In other words, the proof of the message of the Gospel was not so much the logical consistency of it as the Greeks would have judged wisdom, but instead, the proof of the message was found in changed lives and miracles being worked.  Yet, also we ought to be careful not to limit the term du/namiß (dunamis—“power”) to miraculous works, for the term carries with it the idea of ability and force.  In other words, we should also understand that the “power” of which Paul speaks is in the ability of the Gospel to break down broken hearts, convict men of their sins, and bring them to repentance—something that is seen when the gospel is proclaimed even today.  The Gospel changes those who hear it—it brings some to repentance and hardens others, but none will ever remain the same after sitting under its power!

“But the Kingdom of God is not in word but is in power!”

(1 Corinthians 4:20)

One more note found in connection with Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and this is in connection with the idea of Kingdom.  In short, the Kingdom of God refers to the entirety of God’s redemptive plan in bringing his people to himself through the ages.  Hence, it is a kingdom that is coming (Matthew 6:10; Luke 13:29), but it is also here (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15).  That is why Paul can assert that while believers live in this world, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  With this in mind, Paul affirms that the Kingdom is not found merely in word, but in power as well.  There is a power and might in the gospel that draws believers into the kingdom and speaks redemption and judgment to the nations.

The final passage that it is important for us to look at is found in 2 Corinthians 5:1-6:13.  Paul is speaking of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how Christ came and died to set them free from sin.  Paul speaks of how every man will have to eventually stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10) and that Paul and the Apostles have been commissioned to sound that warning so that men and women may be reconciled to God through Christ’s completed sacrifice and as Christ bore our sins, so we too may bear his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).  Paul then calls the people to respond in faith (2 Corinthians 6:1-2) and reminds them that the ministry that Paul had in Corinth was an honorable one (remembering that false apostles were seeking to discredit Paul, which is part of the reason he is writing).  Paul goes on to describe the character of the ministry that he had in Corinth and writes these words:

“in words of truth, and in the power of God;

through the weapons of righteousness, in the right hand and in the left hand;”

(2 Corinthians 6:7)

One must really read verses 3-10 for the full context, but Paul is describing the work he has done in Corinth, and he describes the Gospel he preached as in “words of truth” and as “the power of God.”  This, of course, picks up on the language of 1 Corinthians 1:18, and is a reminder that this power of God is the Gospel.  As a side note, take care to notice the language of the second clause of this verse.  Paul is employing gladiatorial language, portraying righteousness (in connection to the Gospel) as the weapons of battle.  Gladiators often fought with double weapons, typically an offensive weapon in the right hand and a defensive weapon in the left (remembering that even a shield or a net can be considered a weapon).  Oftentimes we think of the military language of the Bible that portrays the church, through the Gospel, tearing down the gates of Hell in a systematic and organized way.  And, indeed, this is the role of the organized church through the ages—hence we are called to put on our “Gospel Armor” (Ephesians 6:10-20).  Yet, Paul describes his early work in Corinth in different language—that of being a gladiator, attacked from every side, and typically fighting alone or in a small group.  Indeed, how often that is the case with those on the mission field and how true an illustration this is of Paul’s ministry to Corinth.

So, with these things in mind, we can rephrase our question.  If the “word of his power” is in reference to the Gospel as well as to creation, then we must ask, how the Gospel helps bear or uphold all things.  The answer is really very simple.  When Adam and Eve fell, they earned God’s wrath and judgment.  Yet, God offered them grace and promised them a coming redeemer (Genesis 3:15).  This redeemer, of course, is Christ and this promise made to Adam and Eve was the first proclamation of the gospel.  Without God’s promise to send his son as redeemer, without the promise of the Gospel, the world would have ended in judgment then and there at the garden.  Instead, we have history.  Indeed, that history has been marred by sin and the effects of sin in this world, yet that history has been steeped in the grace of God as God has, generation after generation, brought men and women into a relationship with himself through faith in Jesus Christ.  The very fact that we have history is a direct result of the Gospel that was given and the work of which was completed by Jesus on the cross.  So long as there are more of the elect who have not yet been brought to faith and so long as there are yet elect who will yet die for their faith, this world will continue along its designated path and history will move along—upheld by the Gospel.  When the Gospel is no longer necessary, the world will cease to be.

Oh, loved ones, do you not see the importance of this great gift that God has given us?  Will you not revel in its promise?  The gospel is the word of God’s power and the gospel is the warp and the woof that holds the fabric of existence together.  It will not fail you as it has not failed God throughout history.  Trust in it, proclaim it, rejoice in it, and give God thanks for it.  And teach your children to do the same.

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds


In a believer’s ear!


It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,


And drives away his fear.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,


O Prophet, Priest and King,


My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,


Accept the praise I bring.

-John Newton

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