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 of exhortation 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 – in the imagery from the parable of the sower, we will bear thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. The word of God will utterly transform us.
Yet how often do we respond to the word of exhortation wrongly – not with faith but with unbelief? Rather than “bearing with the word of exhortation,” we harden our hearts and refuse to listen. So how can we know we are hardening our hearts? Consider the other soils that Jesus describes in the parable of the sower.
Some soil was so hard that the seed did not even penetrate the ground but was taken away by the birds, Satan snatched the word before it even took root. Does this picture describe you? When you hear God declaring His will for human relationships or challenging your own prejudices, do you close your ears and silence your conscience? “How dare Christ claim to be the only way to God? How dare Paul say that wives must submit to their husbands?” So you reject God’s law in favor of your opinions. Or, perhaps more subtly, do you start critiquing the minister? “I can’t believe he is speaking this way – as though he is immune from sin.” You see, so long as you point the finger away from your own sin and refuse to bear with God’s word to you, you are hardening your heart. And so some, rather than bearing with the word, reject it, maintaining their own opinions and remaining in unbelief.
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, when trials and hardships come, faith dies. Our initial joy and enthusiasm is replaced with disinterest as the novelty of the faith fades. We listen to the evening news and see the Christian faith ridiculed. We mention our opposition to homosexuality and face angry stares. We speak to our neighbor about Christ and receive the cold shoulder. So we begin to wonder if believing the Scriptures is worth it. Its message begins to sound so old-fashioned, so out of step, so boring. And so rather than bear with the word of exhortation, we become ashamed of it.
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 everyday realities of life. So listening to the Word of God becomes tedious and hum-drum; we begin to question why we’re involved in worship anyway. “I’d much rather explore my sexuality; I’d much rather amass as much money as I can; I’d much rather be out on the beach or watching a movie.” And so, rather than bear with the Word of exhortation, we can scarcely even bear it – sitting inattentively, just waiting for the preacher to get done so we can devote ourselves to what’s really important.
The Word of exhortation comes to you this morning: how are you responding? Have you hardened your heart? Do you reject the word? Are you ashamed? Are you inattentive? Then wake up, give heed and confess your sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, kneel with me as we confess our sins together.