Preferring the Word
This article is in a series on how Scripture instructs us to receive God's Word. It's best to start here, explaining the Westminster Shorter Catechism question 90 - “How should the Word be read and heard that it may become effectual to salvation?” Each subsequent article examines a part of the answer. “That the Word may become effectual to salvation we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.”
The things we love don't have to be forced on us. We receive them joyfully and even chase after them. I eat vegetables because I have to. I don't go out of my way to make it happen. But I will find any excuse to eat a Papa John's pepperoni, pineapple, and onion pizza (yes, pineapple). We pursue what we love. That's the bottom line.
And when the Westminster Catechism seeks to answer the question of how we should approach the Word of God in order to receive it in a way that actually benefits us, one of the answers it gives is that we should receive the Word with love. What does it mean to hear or read something with love? Perhaps it would help to consider the opposite.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul is warning of the sad end of those who reject the gospel of God. He says “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” It's not just the hearing that saves us, it's accepting what we hear and welcoming it, responding to it, acting on it. Those who hear the truth and do not love it will instead reject it. Not because of how they feel, but because of what they choose.
Perhaps part of the confusion is that when we hear the word “love” we think of strong feelings. In Biblical usage, the word 'love' is sometimes used to indicate strong preference. In Malachi 1:2-3 God says he loved Jacob and hated Esau, but not because God had strong feelings against Esau. Rather, God favored Jacob and blessed him greatly compared to how he blessed Esau. Or when Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters but must love one and hate the other (Matthew 6:24), or that to follow him we must hate our family (Luke 14:26). Jesus is not speaking of strong feelings for and against these things. He is speaking of strong preference – choosing one over the other.
Now back to our question – how do we receive the Word of God with love? In John 3:19-20 we read, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” When confronted with God's Word (the light), our choices reflect whether or not we love the light. Do we respond to it, move towards it, seek it out? Or do we avoid it, tolerate it, hide from it?
We may not always desire God's Word. We are not always like the Psalmist who says, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day... How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:97, 103). But even if we are not feeling the feelings of love, we can express the preference that love shows. We can be like the Psalmist in Psalm 19:9-10 who says, “the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.” Though we don't feel the desire, we can recognize the worth. Like when I would prefer a nice pizza but know that my health needs and my love for my family might mean I need to recognize the beauty and goodness of a salad for lunch (can you tell I'm writing this at lunch time?).
So receive the Word of God with love. To do this, choose God's Word and trust it, treat it as the wise and life-giving Word that it is. Choose it over other forms of wisdom. Welcome its correction in your life. Decide that if you do not yet see the beauty in it, the problem might be with your understanding and not with the Word itself.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)
What would it look like to bring this attitude to our hearing and reading of the God's Word?