Rev. Bruinsma is Eastern Home Missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This Meditationis the text (abbreviated for publication) of the pre-synodical sermon preached by Rev. Bruinsma on June 12, 2006.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
We have in this passage a command of Christ to the church of all ages. It is a command that comes to the church as she becomes manifest in the church institute. It is true that this command was given to a particular congregation or church in Asia Minor, the church in Thyatira. But the exhortation we consider is not meant by Christ to be interpreted only within its immediate context. This is obvious from the reference in this command to “churches” in general. We are called to hear what the Spirit says to the “churches”—plural. This is why the same exhortation of our text is given to each of the seven churches Christ addresses in Revelation 2 and 3.
Besides, the command given in this passage is also one that Christ used repeatedly during His earthly ministry. I find in the Gospel accounts at least five different occasions when Jesus said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” We can therefore say that we have before us a command of Christ to the church institute today. It is a command that the churches of today must heed. It is a command that comes to the delegates to this year’s synod. You have been given ears to hear. In all your deliberations, “hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” That must be the guiding rule that governs synod. As you labor, you must be deeply aware of the need to listen to what the Spirit says. That is why we consider this well-known exhortation of God’s Word.
As I studied the agenda for this year, I noted that the matters coming before synod are of a routine nature. This can present a danger. One can easily forget about the spiritual nature of the labors, and work through them in a merely routine manner. It is easy, then, to forget that the work here at synod is a work of Christ and that it always touches upon the spiritual welfare of our denomination. There may be routine matters before this year’s synod, but these matters affect the preaching of the gospel in our own churches and on the mission fields. In all of those labors we must hear what the Spirit says to the churches. We must not fail to bow before the authority of God’s Word and to hear the Spirit of truth, who guides the church. Then your labors will be fruitful in our churches and God will continue to bless us—a blessing we must not take for granted.
A Divine Word
We can, of course, speak of the place and function of the Holy Spirit within the being of God, but that is not the intent of the instruction that Christ gives the church in the Word of God before us. The particular reference here in our text is to the Spirit of Christ. That is not a different Spirit than the Holy Spirit. It is one and the same Spirit, but the Spirit of Christ refers to the Holy Spirit sent out by Jesus Christ to dwell in His church. When Christ ascended into heaven and took His seat at God’s right hand, He received the power and authority to send out the Holy Spirit to work in His church. It is that Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit sent out by Christ, that speaks to the churches.
We must bear in mind that the work of the Spirit of Christ is twofold.
In the first place, Christ sends forth the Spirit to work in the hearts of individual saints. The moment the Spirit enters our hearts, we who were dead in sins and trespasses are made alive in Christ. Christ through His Spirit regenerates us, re-creates us, renews us. When the Spirit takes up His abode in our hearts He applies to us all the blessings of salvation that Christ earned for us on the cross and in His resurrection.
But that is only one function of the Holy Spirit. There is yet another way the Spirit works. He is sent forth by Christ to dwell in the church as a whole—organically. He does not, mind you, dwell simply in the church as the elect body of Christ gathered from the nations. But, in a real and concrete way, the Spirit is sent forth by Christ to dwell in the church institute in this world. He is sent to live in and to guide the church as she becomes manifest in the church institute. The Spirit speaks to the churches, as we learn in the Word of God before us.
The churches addressed by Christ in Revelation 2and 3 were individual congregations. They were churches that made up the instituted church of that day—churches found in various cities of Asia Minor. The Spirit lives and works in the church institute. No, not in every church institute! Only in those church institutes that hear and heed what the Spirit says to them! When the Word of God is proclaimed from the pulpit in all its truth, the Spirit is present and working in that church. When the Word of God is taught faithfully in the catechism room and in Bible societies, the Spirit is present and working in that church. When the church deliberates on the floors of its assemblies, using God’s Word as its guide, the Spirit is present and working in that church.
Christ made reference to this function of the Spirit in His discourse with His disciples in the upper room just prior to His death. We read inJohn 14:16, 17, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive….” Christ speaks of the Spirit in the same way later on in this discourse, in John 15:26, 27 and in John 16:13. The Spirit of our text, therefore, is the Spirit of truth sent by Christ to dwell in His church in order to guide that church into the way of truth.
What must we hear from that Spirit? The church in Thyatira was called to hear the instruction and admonitions of Christ that were sent in the letter to that church. The other churches in Asia Minor were likewise called to hear a particular Word. And the church of all ages is called to hear and obey the instruction and admonition of Christ to those churches.
But there is so much more that the Spirit teaches, because the word of the Spirit—what the Spirit says to the churches—is really contained in the entire Scriptures! The Scriptures are precisely what the Spirit says to the churches. Peter teaches us in II Peter 1:20, 21, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Spirit moved men to record what we have contained in the Scriptures. The Bible, then, is the word of the Spirit. It is what the Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity, says to the churches. The Word that He speaks to the churches is therefore a divine Word! It is this Word of God Himself that the churches are called to hear. The Scriptures become for us the objective rule for life and doctrine. A man who claims to be led by the Spirit, but who speaks a word apart from the careful exposition of the Scriptures, does not speak what the Spirit says to the churches. What is more, the Spirit does not speak one word through a church institute that does not use the Scriptures to make its decisions. May our delegates remember that, this year, as they sit on synod. Any decision that is made contrary to or in any way contradicts the Spirit’s Word is not what the Spirit says to our churches. The authority of synod and of our churches rests solely in what the Spirit says to the churches. And what the Spirit says is found in the objective record of the truth given us in Holy Writ.
It is this Word of God we are commanded to hear!
A Spiritual Ear
To hear what the Spirit says to the churches takes a spiritual ear, an ear that is spiritually capable of hearing. That is what Christ refers to when He says, “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” He that has a spiritual ear, an ear capable of hearing and heeding, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
It is clear, given the religious climate of today, that there are not many churches who have that kind of an ear. Many of those who deliberate on the floors of council meetings, church gatherings, general assemblies, synods, or what have you, have not been given by God spiritual ears to hear. It is not only in the wicked world of unbelief outside of the confines of the church institute that people do not have ears to hear. So much of the church world today has become dull of hearing! Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 13:14, 15 about the church of His day. Quoting Isaiah, He said, “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” The church of Christ’s day heard the words of the prophets, they heard the preaching of John the Baptist, they heard the word Christ taught—with their physical ears. But they did not take heed to what they heard. Their spiritual hearing was made dull by God Himself, and as a result these people did not hear what the Spirit said to the churches. In other words, there was no work of God’s grace in their hearts! They heard the word externally, with their ears, but their hearts were not renewed.
Paul tells Timothy what will take place in the last days (II Tim. 4:3, 4): “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap unto themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” The ears of so many in the church institutes of today itch! They want to hear something different, something new. They do not want to hear what Christ does for them, so much as what they must go out and do for Christ. They want to hear about an earthly kingdom and about a brotherhood of all men on earth. They allow for other religions and other ways into heaven. They want to hear how man can add to his salvation by means of his own works. People have itching ears that turn away from the truth and seek out lies about God, Christ, and the condition of man and his need for salvation.
Why? Why are their ears become so dull of hearing? Why do their ears itch? This is God’s judgment on church institutes who have refused to hear what the Spirit says to the churches! The Bible teaches us that God Himself gives to men, and therefore to church institutes, such ears that they cannot hear. In the last days God will send one who comes “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thess. 2:10-12). The prophecy of Isaiah is so true in our day: the ears of many in the church have become dull of hearing.
He that hath ears, let him hear!
Those who have ears to hear are those in whose hearts God has worked by that selfsame Spirit of Christ. Yes, the Spirit tells us what we need to hear objectively in the Word of God, but we will never truly hear with spiritual ears unless that same Spirit also works subjectively in our hearts. Christ, in our text, addresses believers who have come to know and embrace the benefits of salvation in Christ. They have been born again, regenerated by the Spirit, that they may have eyes to see the things of the kingdom of God. And, together with those spiritual eyes, they have been given ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
He that hath an ear, let him hear!
Delegates of synod, Christ is addressing you! You have those ears that have been given to hear. God has worked in your hearts by His grace. As a fellow-laborer in the church with you, I can say that with all confidence. I trust what will take place on the floor of this synod because I am confident that the Spirit has worked in your hearts the life of our risen Lord. The churches that you represent trust you in the work you do—not because of who you are in yourselves, but because of this one fact: you have ears to hear! By God’s grace you are able to hear what the Spirit says to the churches! Be encouraged in your work.
A Constant Reminder
But with this comes the reminder that Christ gives us in His Word: “he that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” The Spirit of truth must guide this synod in all its decisions.
You are going to examine two young men who will, if God wills, enter the ministry of the gospel. These young men must reveal in their answers that they know what the Spirit says to the churches and that they will heed what the Spirit says. This synod will also be examining and evaluating the mission work of our churches. It is a blessing to see the request for organization of two areas of mission labor. You must, now, determine whether these saints are ready to follow after what the Spirit says to the churches. God’s Word must guide you in that determination. There are, too, recommendations before synod that will affect the Theological School, contact with other churches, emeriti ministers, and more.
Routine? Maybe we can consider these matters to be such. But we may not forget that they are the work of the church of Christ. To make God-honoring decisions, you must listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
All of this may seem obvious enough to us. But when we consider how quickly so many churches of today have departed from the truth, we must be reminded of our calling. We cannot proceed in our own strength and begin to think we will not as a denomination fall into the same spiritual ruin. We may not be so proud as to think that this cannot happen to us. We need to be reminded, constantly reminded, to hear—to listen so very carefully to—what the Spirit says to the churches. That is our prayer for you in this week to come. May the Spirit guide you!
But there is one more reminder that must be given. This reminder does not come to the delegates of synod, but to the members of our churches. Sometimes, after decisions are made by our classes or synods, there are those who complain and criticize. They view suspiciously what has been decided, as if there is some hidden agenda on the part of those who have labored. For the life of me, I cannot understand that. How can a denomination of churches develop positively when everything is looked at negatively?
Our synod meets in this week to come. The delegates are led by the Spirit of truth. This is not to say that a synod cannot err and make a decision that is contrary to the Word of God. This does not mean that we who belong to the office of all believers may not protest decisions that we believe are contrary to the Word of God. But when the synod makes decisions that are in accordance with the Word of God, we must realize something as members of our churches, namely, that these decisions are what the Spirit says to the churches! That is why we consider them settled and binding upon our churches.
When the authority of God’s Word is honored in this week, the Spirit will speak to our churches. Instead of criticizing, we rejoice! What a blessing God has given us! Much of Christianity today has become a spiritual wasteland! Look what God has given us! Look at what he has entrusted into our care! That ought to humble us. But it ought also to give us great reason to rejoice. Delegates of synod: guard that truth well! Members of the church of Christ: rejoice! May Christ, the King of the church, guide synod by His Spirit into the truth! Amen.