John 13:17 “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
The entire Upper Room Discourse, from the beginning of this chapter through Jesus’ pastoral prayer in chapter 17, is incredibly rich in every way. It is worthy of a lifetime of meditation and preaching. However, we are all too prone to deceive ourselves, just as James said. (James 1:22) Here, after the first little bit of the whole Discourse, Jesus gives a word of caution that applies to everything He taught. Just knowing truth isn’t enough; it has to be applied. Knowing truth is important, but by itself it isn’t enough; we have to act on it. I will never forget something I heard from my Systematic Theology professor, Dr. John Kiwiet. He was a young man in Holland when the Nazis invaded, and he was quickly conscripted for a labor camp. He managed to escape, and spent the rest of the war dodging German bullets and American bombs. He told us that one time during that period he saw a church officer literally knock women and children down in his haste to get into a bomb shelter, and John Kiwiet realized that if our theology doesn’t affect the way we live, it is meaningless. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying here. God’s truth isn’t a talisman to carry around, a “good luck charm” to protect us simply by being there. Rather, “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) We act like it’s dead, to be put in a museum, but treated like that, it’s essentially worthless. It’s when we take it into our hearts to apply it that we are blessed.
This is a major truth that I have experienced from both sides. Growing up steeped in the Bible, I’ve known a lot about it for as long as I can remember. I read through the Bible (RSV) the first time before I was 10. However, I didn’t have a coach to help me apply what I knew in my head. My parents were very busy as missionaries, and they assumed that since I “knew” all this stuff, I was handling it correctly. Not so. I became a textbook illustration of a famous statement by Paul: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1) Spiritual pride was a huge snare for me. God brought me up short about that when I was 24, and I repented in tears. However, that didn’t mean I was instantly transformed into a “doer of the Word.” As someone with Teacher gifting, I have a strong tendency to feel, on an emotional level, that simply knowing stuff is enough, so all I need to do as a preacher is transmit information. Again, not so. I am trying to be a coach now for those around me, walking out God’s Word with them, rather than lecturing them about it. Lecturing is much easier for me! However, I’ve got to remember that the ultimate accolade that I desire is “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21 and 23) not, “well said.” I’m gifted with words and I delight in them, but I’ve got to live them out for them to have meaning.
Father, thank You for this powerful Word. Help me indeed live it out! Thank You also for answering my prayer about what to speak on next month when I will be at the church I pastored years ago before coming to Omura. May I be Your agent in all things, both in word and in deed, (Colossians 3:17) for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!