“Efficacy”, perhaps isn’t a word we hear or use that often, but it means the ability to produce a desired or intended result. For example, we might ask, “Does the Word of God actually have the power to sustain faith at home during this time?” The quick answer is, “Yes,” but, if you want to know why, keep reading. I chose to write this short article on the efficacy of God’s Word because, at this moment in time, Christians all around the world are by choice, compulsion, or advisement refraining from gathering together around that Word in their Christian congregations. If they aren’t gathering around the Word, this also means many have been made to forgo the Sacrament of the Altar due to the varying circumstances surrounding the virus. I cannot put into words how much this has upset people; especially the many people who receive the Sacrament weekly, or maybe more than once a week. To many people’s shock, they have gone from receiving the sacrament regularly to abruptly stopping. It is not that way in every place, but almost overnight all that was, changed. Congregations have suspended services, closed their doors altogether, and, where they could hold service (fewer than 10 people), few gathered in attendance.
My brothers in the Ministry of our Lord share in fervent prayer that God brings an end to this pandemic. We wholly desire to join together as we did in the House of the Lord, at the altar of our God, in Word and Sacrament. Pastors do not like this time any more than you do. This is a time of suffering. Under the cross of suffering, God meets us to bring us into humility and repentance, so that we further trust in Him and seek His forgiveness. We are learning not to take for granted the precious time we have together to hear His Word preached and the call to receive the body and blood of the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11: 23-26). At the same time, He is also teaching us how He has worked to prepare us for times of pestilence, as He has always prepared His Church on earth for times of suffering. He has not left us empty-handed, nor forsaken us; rather, He has placed in our hands His Holy Word to enlighten our hearts to the truth, bless us with the Light of life, and to sustain us in the faith.
The Bible is unlike any other book you have on your shelf or next to your bed. Martin Luther, when writing about our approach to Holy Scripture, said, “You must deal with Scripture in such a way that you think just as God himself has spoken.” This means that each and every time you open your Bible; you are encountering the Words which God has inspired, spoken, and preserved for His whole church on earth for all time. He binds His Church to these words since everything which is necessary for your salvation is written in ink. All this is to say with Luther, “Holy Scripture did not grow upon the Earth,” it is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s sometimes hard to believe, or even comprehend, that God has spoken to us in such plain words and that these plain words have the creative power to work in us, who by nature are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2). These words of God work saving faith, sanctification, regeneration, and forgiveness. These words of God do not merely teach you the path to salvation, but they actually convert, regenerate, and renew the heart. As the Apostle Peter writes, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…” (1 Peter 1:23).
The Bible is not simply a collection of human writings, but it is in a class all of its own, as God’s Holy Book. What is contained in those pages is the power of God unto Salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane while praying His high priestly prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth, Your word is truth.” and “I do not ask for these only [the disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” (John 17: 17, 20). We are those who have followed the Word of God spoken to us through the Holy Prophets, Apostles, and Evangelists. Now, hidden under suffering, Christians all around the world are growing in their appreciation of the Word. God is producing the good fruits which come from being rooted in this Word. “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). When the Word goes forth from God and it is heard, contemplative, and used it will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish what He proposes. If you remain in God’s Word during this time at home, the Holy Spirit will awaken in you new understanding, love, devoutness, pure thoughts, a pure heart, and a desire to return to the assembly of believers gathered around the Lord at His altar.
Sadly, some will refuse God’s Word in this time; after all, God has not made it irresistible. Brothers and sisters in Christ can be led astray by evil desires, so that they once again embrace their old Adam, which resists God’s word plain and simple. Thank God, that others will be converted, and join with the company of believers who daily drown the Old Adam by God’s Word, so that the new man arises (remember we live in our Baptism). We cannot afford to make light of the situation that we find ourselves in today. Those who treat this time as an opportunity to escape that ritualistic “every Sunday Church” without consequence will inevitably grow cold and the hardness of their hearts will increase. Truly, there is a consequence to removing God’s Word from our lives which goes unseen by our mortal eyes until it is too late. The spiritual death which we escape by grace, through faith in Christ, is once again the portion of the one who chooses to leave the care of God’s Word. This is all because the Holy Spirit works through means of the Word to create and sustain faith. There is no promise that He works without the instrument of His Word, but He has attached Himself to the proclamation of the Word for our assurances. Unless we believe fully that God, the Holy Spirit, is inseparably united to the Word of God, we will not hold fast to this precious treasure at our fingertips as the only source and standard of faith.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Those are Jesus’ words from John 6:63. Our flesh would quickly let the Word slip through our fingers, but Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to draw us to the Word. Grace, life, forgiveness, and salvation come to us through the working of the Spirit in the Word. Truth is, it doesn’t always feel like the Holy Spirit is working through this Word; but we must not judge His working by our feelings, nor judge the power of the Word to convert even the most ardent of opponents. Rather, we must trust that He is at work whenever God’s Word is presented and heard. This we do as we have this promise of God that the Word, preached and heard, is an act and office of the Holy Spirit by which He is certainly working in our hearts.
As a pastor in the Office of the Public Ministry, I am thankful for this Office and Work of the Spirit. No servant of Christ, who is called and ordained, should claim that he is sufficient of himself to convert hearts unto God. No, as Saint Paul wrote, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). During this pandemic, pastors are praying all the more that the Holy Spirit continues His divine work through the Word to sustain the faith of their congregations and the Church at large. They pray confidently, as you should, knowing that it is the pleasure of God to keep His children believing. As Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
That brings me to the end, where I am blessed to profess that this work of the Holy Spirit through the blessed Word relieves us from the fear of death and gives us the power to triumph over this great and final foe. Through the great power of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ blessed death for us who are subject to death, and by His glorious resurrection from the dead, we are gifted with hope in this world. For Christ has drawn us into His Kingdom of Grace now and promises us a blessed end and an eternal place in His Kingdom of Glory. In this time of fear, rest yourself in the hands of the Spirit by taking up the Word in your own home. Keep your eyes forward to the time when you will again join with all the company of believers, whether here or in heaven, it does not matter. Remember always this blessed memory of how the Lord sustained you all these days amidst suffering by His Word and Spirit, so that you may tell of His wondrous Works to the next generation.