I love the prophet Ezekiel, and there is a fascinating moment, early in his ministry, when he is given his commission by God. He is presented with a scroll, written on both sides with words of judgment and woe for Israel, and is commanded to eat it (in visionary form, we imagine). This is his response:
The Lord said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ezekiel 3:3)
How extraordinary! ‘Words of lament and mourning and woe’ (chapter 2 verse 9) taste sweet. How can this be? Bitter, maybe, but sweet?
Surely the explanation is that they are God’s words, and for God’s prophet even hard words are sweet words because of the one from whom they come. God is a God of amazing grace, and therefore even difficult words are words of love for those who are his.
I have experienced something like this twice during the past week. On Tuesday in our growth group we were considering the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter 5, and feeling very challenged and even rebuked. Especially when we touched on patience! It is a flavour of the fruit of the Spirit which some of us feel is particularly lacking in our own hearts. At one point I almost apologised for the study, and the response was, “No, this is really helpful.” Hard words were gracious words.
The second experience was today’s service in church. Jesus’ teaching about excuses for refusing his invitation to his kingdom was hard hitting. We were challenged that even loving our children or parents more than Jesus was not acceptable. Wow! Yet I heard so many comments afterwards about how uplifting and joyful the service was. Even God’s hard words are words of grace.
This is really helpful for us in two respects. First, it helps us to realise that sometimes we simply can’t explain (explain away?!) the hard teachings of Scripture to those who don’t yet know and love Jesus. Try explaining the wars of conquest in Joshua, for example. As the apostle Paul said of his message, while to us who are being saved it is the fragrance of life, to those who are perishing it is the stench of death. It is right to try to persuade and convince, but until the Spirit works in someone’s heart, he or she just won’t be convinced. Hard words are hard words.
It is also helpful for us who do believe, because it bears out what Paul (again!) says, namely that ALL Scripture is God-breathed and useful for encouraging and building us up. That’s why it is so good to read through the whole Bible, the difficult bits and the lovely bits, because when we believe, and we know from whose lips these words come, they are all words of grace and we will discover, as Ezekiel did, that they are all words of grace.
Praise God for his wonderful and life-giving words.
Your brother in Christ