These notes from Paul Tothill are an extended version of his message preached at Gateway Church on 26/8/18.
You can also listen to the message on the Gateway podcast (available on Apple Podcasts or any other device).
Every day as believers we are confronted with a choice of living from the Word of God as life or living from the culture of the world around us; from what we have learnt in the world to what we are learning in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Transformation requires the word of God as spirit and truth to dwell in our hearts. Reading and preaching the word play a significant part of helping us live from the transforming power of the eternal truths of Jesus.
When God spoke through His Son in the beginning both the spiritual and natural worlds responded. The power of His words shaped both the seen and unseen worlds. This is the power and authority of God’s eternal words both in the spiritual and natural realms. The writer of Hebrews confirms this as does Paul the Apostle in his letters to the church. In fact, Hebrews tells us Jesus holds the universe together and expands it by the mighty power of his spoken word. (Passion)
As the Gospel of John declares “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him. Without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
Today born-again believers, as a people filled with the Holy Spirit, are that Christ-light into the darkness. When we abide in the words of Jesus, meaning when we make them our dwelling place, as a place we live from in our heart, the words carry light and life of Jesus and His Kingdom into the world.
Jesus did not live from the world around Him. He knew it was darkness- it was disorder. It was governed by lesser spiritual powers under the reign of the Prince of the Air whose works He had come destroy. He knew how to live from the Words of the Father as Spirit and life within Him and revealed to Him by the Spirit into every life situation.
The key for life that Jesus offers us is living completely surrendered, yielded or consecrated to the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to receive and understand the word of God as spirit and truth.
And it makes sense that as people of faith we would want to dwell habitually in God’s eternal truths. However, there remains a struggle for truth from the very beginning. And this is why we need sound teaching and not to forsake the sound preaching of the word of God in our meetings.
For many believers, we have not been taught either how to listen to the text surrendered to the Holy Spirit when we read the Scriptures or how to listen to a sermon in a similar way that allows the power of the word of God and the Spirit to do their work in our hearts and to renew our minds.
That sounds remarkable I know. It has been simply assumed. But what we fail to realise is that the Kingdom realm of God released by the power of the Spirit is present both by the eternal words we speak and the action of the spirit moving in us and through us. Paul called this the “demonstration” of God’s power.
When Paul the apostle wrote his pastoral letter to Timothy, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he warned of a time when some in the church would no longer hold to the values of sound teaching. He wrote: The Holy Spirit has explicitly revealed: At the end of the age, many will depart from the true faith one after another, devoting themselves to spirits of deception and following demon inspired revelations and theories. 1 Timothy 4:1.
Paul also wrote to Timothy in his second letter that he needed to be aware “that in the final days the culture of society will become extremely fierce and difficult for some people of God. In declaring what society will look like Paul goes on to say, “they may pretend to have a respect for God but in reality, they want nothing to do with God’s power.”
DEVOURING AND APPLYING THE WORD OF GOD
As Paul was nearing his time of completing his good fight of faith, his race, his charge to Timothy was for him to be diligent in devouring the Word of God, be faithful in prayer and in teaching believers. What wonderful encouragement that in every generation these words remain powerful to our faith in Jesus Christ. I have followed this counsel with great passion.
The Scriptures are to be devoured as Paul exhorts Timothy. Sadly, few do. Many believers, even some leaders, feel they do not have time to read the Scriptures, and when they read it they are not sure how to understand it or they put interpretations on the text that reflect the culture of the day, not the illuminated truth the Holy Spirit is revealing.
Let me tell you of my approach that commenced when the Holy Spirit put His fire in my heart many years ago that flowed from a time when the reverential awe of God overwhelmed me. This became a key to understanding. The most profound key for me is the Scriptures need to be approached with humility and reverence with a genuine submission to Jesus lest we become just like the world and the warning Paul gave to Timothy.
Recognising what I don’t know, rather than what I do know, I have committed myself to being a life learner. So, I explore and ask the Holy Spirit to show me the things I don’t yet understand. Not for the sake of knowledge itself. But for the sake of living my life of faith more like Jesus. I want to move from mere knowledge to life in the Spirit. I want to move from knowing principles to knowing and experiencing the power of the person of God. I know I have a long way to go, but the journey is exciting and at times challenging in my need for patience being prepared to live between revelation and mystery. God’s ways are not my ways and His thoughts are higher than mine. I have to commit all my ways to Him not just some of my ways to Him.
I want to abide in the words of life so that I may have freedom and abundant life in this broken post-modern world. Too often when I have forsaken the peace and rest of God and the joy of God in the Spirit I have found myself outside of God’s eternal truths and the teaching of Jesus.
In my experience of spiritual development, the Holy Spirit will often bring me to a place of offence, or an experience that my present understanding cannot grasp, only for me to discover the answer in Scripture at some other time- sometimes years later. The Spirit and the written word of God have always worked together in understanding a spiritual experience. Scripture becomes the determining touchstone and the revelation of Jesus and the Kingdom with respect to all my spiritual experiences and even discerning the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. I remind myself that God is revealed through the Scriptures and not contained within them. So often the experience will cause both revelation and illumination of the Scriptures in a new way.
Often my spiritual experience will go beyond my present understanding, just like Peter’s experience when Jesus wanted to wash his feet in John 13. I have learnt God is not subject to my understanding and as I have said, His ways are not my ways. Peter’s present experience of Jesus acting like a lowly servant and washing his feet exceeded his present understanding and the worldly view of leadership. Peter had to go away in mystery to later gain understanding. And this is our reality as those who live by faith in Jesus. We will move between mystery and understanding. And as much as we would love everything neatly spelled out for us, that is not how the Spirit or the Father always does things.
We need to know the Word of God not in our head, but in our heart so that we are able to live by it and be empowered by it. And I will show you today every time you give yourself to the word of God in the context of receiving the word of God in your heart the Spirit is working in your heart at a deeper level than your mind is taking in of the words spoken.
I want to take you now to some of the Scriptures that help me develop the authority and power of God’s word in my life. I want to take you to what Jesus had to say about the word of God being Spirit and then ultimately to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians so that you will understand that the Word of God, the eternal words of the Father and His wisdom are Spirit and therefore must be received spiritually. This requires a new way of listening and learning.
In both preaching and listening, the Spirit of truth is moving powerfully with the eternal words of life to reveal Jesus and His truth to your heart. It requires us to listen with our hearts not just our heads. As I said earlier, we often miss what the Spirit of God is doing because we separate hearing and listening to the spoken word of God as spirit from demonstrations of God’s manifest power.
That is largely because of the way we practice church activity by separating the worship from the sermon, and therefore respond to the administrations of the Spirit. You can be healed and experience the power of the Spirit as much through the spoken word under the anointing as receiving an impartation or prayer under the anointing. You can be healed hearing a sermon. You can be delivered and set free by hearing a sermon. The Gospels reveal this everywhere in the ministry of Jesus. He both declared and demonstrated the spiritual power and authority of the Kingdom realm that was at hand.
AUTHORITY AND POWER IN GOD’S WORD AS TRUTH
Jesus perfectly revealed God’s word as eternal truth and life not only to the teachers and leaders of Israel, but to his apostles and disciples and anyone who would believe in Him. Jesus could say to Philip and the disciples “if you have seen me you have seen the Father”. He therefore becomes the perfect revelation and manifestation of God’s truth on earth, not just as to what he taught but also what he lived. He did that as perfect man empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus therefore is perfect theology and practice of Christian life.
The Holy Spirit reminds us of the teaching and life of Jesus. And He will always reveal the eternal truths Jesus taught, and will guide us into all truth. The word of God is the touchstone of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit brings us into God’s faith rest. Faith rest means resting in God’s eternal words as eternal truth and life. Really believing that it is powerful and our first thought- spiritual reality in a natural and spiritual world. We trust in its power to do the very thing God says it can and will do.
THE POWER OF GOD’S WORD AS TRUTH AND REALITY
The word of God becomes life when we receive it into our hearts by faith and allow its power and authority to work in our life. In other words, when we apply it to our life by faith. Hearing the word of God is one thing. Receiving it is quite another. The church is used to hearing the word but has not been taught to listen to and receive the word in a spiritual sense so that we can cause it to become part of us and live by it. This is of utmost importance and may explain our present lack of experience.
Jesus said something we should never forget. In John 8:31-32 Jesus said, “if you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” To hold to the teaching of Jesus we must receive it into our hearts and let is become part of us.
It has been said that the “Cause of Christ is advanced only as truth is recognised, affirmed and lived out with wisdom and integrity. Truth must be brought to the world as well as to the church. Doctrine, or teaching, that falls short of the truth (God’s truth revealed in Jesus Christ and the person of the Holy Spirit) not only impedes believers from walking in the full freedom of the gospel of grace and truth but also hinders unbelievers from coming to salvation through the work of Jesus Christ.” 
So, the very first point we need to draw out, is that sound doctrine or teaching must be consistent with what Jesus taught. It must be God’s truth as God’s wisdom revealed in and through Jesus Christ. This is very important. Jesus made it clear that the words He spoke came from His Heavenly Father. In other words, Jesus not only spoke eternal truths that came directly from God, He demonstrated the power of those truths through the working of the Spirit revealing the Kingdom realm that those truths spoke of.
Whenever we come together in the name of Jesus we create a spiritual atmosphere for the Spiritual Kingdom to be established and Jesus to manifest himself as love and truth. We can create an atmosphere of faith or unbelief. We can be engaged or disengaged. How we position our hearts becomes very important to whether we hear or listen to the word of God. The word of God when received by faith creates a spiritual atmosphere of the Kingdom realm of God in our midst and in our hearts. The manifestation of the Kingdom follows its announcement.
When we receive the Word of God in our hearts by faith and by the work of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, giving them high value, reflecting upon them, trusting in them and acting upon them or standing on them as our foundation for life, they are powerful and able to establish us, deliver us from all deception and falsehood that we have historically lived in, and bring us into the realities of God’s rest and grace. God’s words towards us and through us have the power to transform lives and break open situations.
This is why the preaching of the word and the teaching of the word is so important in this day and age. The spoken words of God under the anointing as Spirit and truth are bringing forward the Kingdom realm of heaven. Hence the writer of Hebrews could say, that the word of God is living an active. Let me put that in context.
As we enter into God’s faith-rest life we cease from our own works, just as God celebrates his finished works and rests in them. So, then we must give our all and be eager to experience this faith-rest life, so that no one falls short by following the same pattern of doubt and unbelief.
For then we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy and it pierces more sharply than a two-edged sword. It will penetrate the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet! It interprets and reveals true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts. There is not one person who can hide their thoughts from God, for nothing that we do remains a secret and nothing created is concealed, but everything is exposed and defenceless before his eyes to whom we must render and account. Hebrews 4:10-13
This confirms what Jesus said; “The Holy Spirit is the one who gives life, that which is of the natural realm is of no help. The words I speak to you are Spirit and life. But there are still some of you who won’t believe."
Both the words of Jesus and the working of the Spirit are essential to revealing and establishing the future Kingdom realm into our present-day situations. When we live by the word as spirit and life the Kingdom is being established in us and through us.
WHAT PAUL TAUGHT THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH
This foundation of the word of God is taught by Paul to the Corinthians. This becomes an important key for how a sermon is to be preached and how we listen to a sermon or teaching God’s word as sound doctrine.
My brothers and sisters, when I first came to proclaim to you the secrets of God. I refused to come as an expert, trying to impress you with my eloquent speech and lofty wisdom.
Verse 4. The message I preached and how I preached it was not an attempt to sway you with persuasive arguments but to prove to you the almighty power of God’s Holy Spirit. For God intended that your faith not be established on man’s wisdom but by trusting in his mighty power. (or “but in demonstration of Spirit and of power”). 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Jesus and His Kingdom realm are revealed through the preaching of the word. Often we think it is just manifestations of the Spirit when it is both. When the word is preached under the anointing of God with the heart of the Father the words move towards our hearts like a double-edged sword, if we are willing to allow the word to be received. Beyond that, the spoken word is dismantling illegal spiritual authorities, defining and aligning spiritual things and setting people free from spiritual and emotional bondage and deception as we listen to the words and receive them in our hearts. As a new creation believer, we all have a heart to receive and respond to the Holy Spirit. However sometimes we create veils over our hearts that prevent us from listening and understanding.
LIFTING THE VEIL OVER THE HEART
Sometimes when we read the word or listen to the word of God being taught our first inclination is to approach it intellectually, and relate it to from what we presently understand in a natural sense. Sometimes we desire knowledge more than we desire life. We try to understand new things with an old pattern of thinking. We try to understand spiritual things that are beyond our natural ability and then reduce those truths to our natural understanding. Often we try to approach a message or reading the word on our own terms without humility and reverence and surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit. When we do it tends to create a veil over our heart to resist the work of the Spirit of Truth and the power of the anointing that the words are carried along by. That is why we sometimes become confused or lack understanding.
Next, the teaching of the Kingdom brings out of the storehouse treasures both old and new, things we know and things we do not yet know. That is the very nature of learning. So, to listen to a sermon or in devouring the Scriptures we need to come with an open heart that is humble and genuinely wanting to listen, not just hear, both with our heart and our mind so the Spirit of God can powerfully do His work.
We cannot always understand the word or the teaching in a natural way from what we presently understand. The best example of that is described in John 6 when Jesus was explaining that He is the bread of life. It had a deep spiritual meaning that we now practice regularly with understanding but at that time was beyond the audience’s ability to presently understand. Jesus told the crowd to “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Hence the response of outrage. Peter’s response is telling for our purposes. He did not understand naturally or conceptually what Jesus meant. In the natural sense for Jesus to say “eat my flesh and drink my blood” it was offensive in the extreme. Many people left Jesus. They left because they did not understand. Sometimes as I said earlier, offence is the means by which God gets us to listen not just hear what is being said. He wants us to engage in something deeper.
Something was happening inside of Peter. So, when Jesus asked Peter if he wanted to go, in response to Jesus he said, But Lord where would we go? No one but you gives us the revelation of eternal life. We are fully convinced that you are the anointed one, the son of the Living God and we believe in you. The words carried a spiritual truth and power well beyond Peter’s understanding that he could not deny but did not yet understand.
This has happened to me in a different way and more than once. In 2007 when things really changed for me, the Holy Spirit smashed my religious understanding of how God would move through the Holy Spirit as a genuine encounter. That whole week my previous understanding and the neat boxes I have put the Spirit, the Kingdom and even myself into in my mind were smashed so that God could show me the new things that Jesus was teaching and showing me through the work of the Holy Spirit. Two veils covered my heart that I did not realise were there. The first was religiosity, or a religious spirit and the second was pride. Both pointed to the subconscious reality I wanted things on my own limited terms. Both were inconsistent with the Holy Spirit.
Frankly it started with me being offended at what was going on because what was happening did not fit my box of understanding. And I thought God most certainly would not do or say anything I did not understand. I was trying to force the bigness of God into the smallness of my pattern of natural intellectual thinking. The Holy Spirit told me that was being religious, a Pharisee in fact, then my approach to responding to the Holy Spirit was flat our selfish pride. I wanted God’s teaching of truth to fit me, what I understood and how I saw the world. I wanted understanding to be convenient to me. God’s truth cannot be received in that way. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. He dismantles, offends and displaces our thoughts so we can come into His thoughts. To take us out of our mind and into the mind of Christ.
That is why we sometimes resist the work of the Holy Spirit in us when we are hearing but not listening to someone or reading the Scriptures. God has to break us out of the limitation of our present understanding to come into a new, greater and empowered understanding that sets us free. So often we read the Bible and hear a sermon on our terms wanting to learn new things. We are veiled because we have not surrendered ourselves to the Holy Spirit to teach us. That same veil sat over the hearts of the crowd and the disciples when Jesus called them dull of hearing.
The key here is humility and reverence for God and his word that he speaks to us through His son into our heart by the Holy Spirit. We cannot approach listening to the words of the Spirit on our own terms. They are to be heard and received with an open and learning, humble and even inquiring heart. They are actually spiritual and spirit. And this is the point that Paul makes in correcting the intellectualism and emerging Gnostic tendencies of the Corinthians, where in the Greco- Roman world intellectualism, philosophy and man’s wisdom were highly prized. But as Paul teaches man’s wisdom is not a patch on God’s wisdom revealed through His living word.
Let’s continue with Chapter 2 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to gain some more understanding before we turn to some life application principles. Commencing at verse 6.
However, there is a wisdom that we continually speak of when we are among the spiritually mature. It’s wisdom that didn’t originate in this present age, nor did it come from the rulers of this age who are in the process of being de-throned. Instead we continually speak of this wonderful wisdom that comes from God, hidden before now in a mystery. It is his secret plan, destined before the ages to bring us into glory.
Then let’s pick up at verse 10.
But God now unveils these profound realties to us by the Spirit. Yes, he has revealed to us his inmost heart and deepest mysteries through the Holy Spirit, who constantly explores all things. After all, who can really see into a person’s heart and know his hidden impulses except for that person’s spirit? So, it is with God. His thoughts and secrets are only fully understood by his Spirit, the Spirit of God.
Now let’s listen very carefully to what Paul is teaching us. He is saying that every born-again believer who has the promised Holy Spirit working in their heart as the Spirit of truth, as the Spirit of revelation and wisdom that has the power to reveal and illuminate the word of God to give us faith and understanding and the ability to understand new things, the mysteries of the Kingdom realm and the power of the Gospel as reality and life. Through the reading and the preaching of the word of God if we are listening, not just hearing, Paul is declaring in effect God wants to speak to our heart from the things of His heart revealed through the Son and the Spirit into our heart. Let’s continue. We will see what I have been building towards:
For we did not receive the spirit of this world system but the Spirit of God, so that we might come to understand and experience all that grace has lavished upon us. And we articulate these realities with the words imparted to us by the Spirit and not with words taught by human wisdom. We join together Spirit-revealed truths with Spirit revealed words. Someone living on an entirely human level rejects the revelations of God’s Spirit, for they make no sense to him. He can’t understand the revelations of the Spirit because they are only discovered by the illumination of the Spirit. Those who live in the Spirit are able to carefully evaluate all things and they are subject of no one but God. For who has ever intimately known the mind of the Lord YHWH well enough to become his counsellor? Christ has, and we possess Christ’s perceptions (or we have the mind of Christ).
SUMMARY AND LIFE APPLICATION
First, how we read the bible and how we hear a sermon matters. We read and hear with an open or humble heart that is completely yielded to Jesus and to the person of the Holy Spirit so we may listen to what the Spirit of truth is shining his light on or revealing to us. We are not trying to hear intellectually from a worldly point of view on our own terms. We are listening to both the words that are being read and spoken in the natural but we are actually open to what the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit is doing and revealing or illuminating in our heart. That is the effect of what Paul is teaching. The key is a humble heart that wants to listen and learn.
Secondly, we must posture our self with both reverence and humility before God when we read or listen to the word of God. This posture leaves us in a position to both receive the anointing, authority and power of the words being spoken that the Holy Spirit moving and working through into our hearts. Hence honour is fundamental to listening, receiving, understanding and growing. If we don’t honour and highly value God’s word as sound-doctrine and life to us we will disengage and not receive its benefits. Our hearts can be veiled. In other words, we will hear with veiled hearts and not come into understanding. We will be hearing but not listening. If we don’t honour the messenger or the herald or teacher, i.e. the anointing that God has given to them to teach or proclaim his words, we will also veil our hearts. This is what happened to Jesus and it what is meant by a prophet without honour.
Jesus said that honour is the foundation to the Kingdom and the power of the Holy Spirit flowing in our midst. We need to not just hear the word being preached, but in reverent submission to Christ, we should be opening our hearts to receive and listen to the word being preached. The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. In this way, the Holy Spirit is given maximum opportunity to teach us with the key thing he wants us to go away with. Indeed, in an environment of honour the Holy Spirit moves easily to reveal and manifest the Kingdom realm.
Thirdly, with a learning heart we will be confronted with both what we know and what we do not yet know, illumination, revelation and mystery. Jesus was not afraid to leave his audience with an investigation. He spoke in parables as stories to convey a truth that the hearer had to listen for and identify. He did not always spell things out neatly. In other words, contrary to modern preaching Jesus always left the listener with an invitation to press past what they did not presently know and what the Spirit was illuminating and come to him. Good preaching, like Jesus demonstrated, will actually guide you clearly, teaching eternal truths but also leave you with things to press into to discover to take home the one or two points that the Holy Spirit is showing you. God’s deep truths and mysteries are hidden from a casual audience. This is where the listener needs to do some work beyond the initial hearing for those words to become life.
Finally, the word of God has to become part of you. That is the whole point. Jesus is the living word. The word of God as Spirit and truth will do its work in us and towards us as we take it deep into our heart and intentionally live from it. We are not just looking for life principles as helpful as they are. We are not obeying God so we do not sin. We want to live in abundant life, knowing and experiencing the teaching of the Kingdom realm and our salvation.
Jesus said we are to abide in or live habitually from his words. They are not just a vision for our life. They are the words that guide our very steps as King David reflected upon that are a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path. Friends, the word of God is powerful and it is life that when applied to our life brings us into genuine freedom. Applying Sound doctrine is fundamental for us to live free, empowered and powerful in Christ in this hour of intellectual and emerging social chaos.
Want to get the latest from Paul Tothill delivered to your inbox? Submit your details here, and Paul will send you a regular digest of thoughts, news and content.
 Pierce and Groothuis, Discovering Biblical Equality, page 13.