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In the 18th and 19th centuries there was an explosion in the field of engineering: names like James Watt, Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel became famous for their work on bridges and locomotives. It was at this period that understanding of metals became more refined, with people understanding more about the strength of metals both in tensile and compressive loads and predicting how much material was needed to do a job without it failing and without using too much material. Eventually, engineers came to understand that unexpected failures occurred due to metal fatigue, when small cracks led to more catastrophic failures as metals were bent and stressed.
Knowledge is a vitally important part of our lives, but knowledge is not the be-all and end-all of a life of faith. In Hos 4:1-6, we read how God’s people were destroyed from lack of knowledge, how they rejected knowledge. Nonetheless, we can be always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (see 2 Tim 3:6-7). For most of us, knowing about the Industrial Revolution and thisknowledge about metal fatigue doesn’t have much impact on our daily lives. What we need is life-changing knowledge, and a knowledge of the truth has the potential to do this.
The aim of preaching is to educate, illuminate, remind and to give understanding and instruction (see Neh 8:9); God’s word is preached ultimately so that our lives are changed. We need to understand that listening is not a spectator sport. We need to take what is preached and check it out against God’s word (see Acts 17:11-12); we need to learn to differentiate between fact and opinion. Ultimately, Heb 4:2 reminds us that the message the Israelites heard was of no value to them because they did not mix what they heard with faith. Just as cement is no use to the builder unless it’s mixed with water, so our listening to God’s word doesn’t do us any good unless we mix it with faith and obedience (James 1:22). It’s not enough to let the word go in one ear and straight out of the other! We need instead to act on what we hear; we need to put into practice what we have learned. (Phil 4:9)
How do we retain God’s word? This might mean taking notes from a sermon or reading the church blog afterwards or listening again to the sermon via the church website. It might mean learning God’s word off by heart so that we can hide His word in our hearts. Paul told Timothy to keep what he had heard as the pattern of sound teaching and guard this (2 Tim 1:13-14). ‘To keep’ in this context means to hold in the sense of wearing. It’s no good holding a life jacket; if it’s going to do any good, we have to wear it! In the same way, we need to ‘wear’ God’s truth, knowing that the Holy Spirit helps us to guard truth.
We have a great responsibility when we listen to God’s word. God doesn’t waste words and we need to examine, retain and believe what we hear from Him, because as we hold it, it will hold us.