And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.
Whenever the Word of God is preached and applied, we have the opportunity to respond to it rightly or wrongly. If we respond rightly, then we will, in the words of our text, “bear with the word of exhortation.” When the word comes our way we will receive it, consider it, and respond to it in a way that testifies to the world – “This is the word of God. This is the word of my master. He has commanded and I am obeying. Why? Because this is life itself.” As we respond to the word of exhortation in this way we will bear abundant fruit – thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. The word of God will utterly transform us.
Yet often we do not respond to the word of exhortation rightly but wrongly. Rather than “bearing with” the word of exhortation, we can hardly bear it at all! We harden our hearts and refuse to listen. Paul warns us earlier in Hebrews, “Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts….” So what are some ways that we can identify that we are being hard of heart and are refusing to listen to God?
Consider the soils that Jesus identifies in the parable of the Sower. Some soil was so hard that the seed did not even penetrate the ground but was instead taken away by the birds. Does this picture describe you? When you find your sins being poked and prodded, do you soften under the pounding of God’s word? Or do you instead close your ears? Do you rail against the commands of God? Or perhaps more subtly, do you start critiquing the speaker instead? “I can’t believe he is speaking this way – as though he is immune from sin himself.” “He thinks I didn’t notice the way he spoke to his son before worship.” As long as we point the finger away from our own sins and refuse to bow the knee before our heavenly Father, we are hardening our hearts. And so some, rather than bearing with the word, repudiate it and replace it with their own opinions.
But some soil is not quite so hardened; some soil is very fruitful, for a time. The plant springs up quickly giving quite a show of health and vibrancy – but when the sun arises it quickly withers and returns to dust. The initial joy and enthusiasm is replaced with disinterest as the novelty of the faith fades. Listening to the Word of God becomes hum-drum. And so, rather than bear with the Word of exhortation, we find ourselves disinterested – just waiting to get out of church and head to the beach.
Still other soil produces fruit and yet as the seed grows it becomes choked and entangled by weeds; the cares and concerns of the world choke it out. This soil recognizes that the Word is important theoretically but it’s just not relevant. It has very little to contribute to the every day realities of life. Indeed, Sunday morning worship and Lord’s Day rest are actually hindrances to the realities of living and supporting a family. “How am I going to fix that problem at work anyhow? Perhaps I can get Fred to cover Mary’s spot and then I’ll be able to get all that work done.” Soon we are inattentive to the preaching of the Word – for, after all, we reason, there are many things of much greater importance than the Word. And so, rather than bearing with the Word of exhortation, we become inattentive, consumed with our own cares and worries.
The Word of exhortation comes to you this morning: how are you responding? Have you hardened your heart? Have you repudiated the word? Are you disinterested? Are you inattentive? Then give heed and let us kneel together and confess our sin to the Lord.