Can We Hinder the Word of God?
Now, like several areas of biblical truth, this something of a complicated answer, because the Bible speaks about this in at least two ways. Let me explain to you what I mean – this can be understood in two senses.
The Work of God’s Word Can Never Be Hindered (the first sense)
There are some passages that speak of the fact that God’s Word can’t be hindered, and that God’s Word will always accomplish God’s purpose. One of the most familiar verses to many people about this idea of the the fact that God’s Word will always accomplish its purpose is taken from Isaiah 55:10 + 11:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
You see here under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the prophet Isaiah used this beautiful analogy connected to the water cycle that waters the earth. In the water cycle, there is condensation from the clouds that comes down; it does the work that God intends on the earth and then it is carried back up by water vapor up to the clouds. This beautiful water cycle brings forth fruitfulness and vegetation on the earth supplies the entire world with food to eat. So we see that God says in the same way, “My word that goes forth from My mouth, shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please.” This is a very strong statement that would indicate that God’s word is going to do its work. This is an expression of the wonderful power of God.
Also, in Matthew 24:35, Jesus said this:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
What a remarkable thing for any man who walked this earth to say! This is one of the many reasons why we believe and we know the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, who walked this earth, was and is God. That is an astounding statement to make, that someone who had flesh and blood and walked this earth, was, in fact, God. In Jesus, His deity was expressed so many ways, but one of them was in this: “heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” In other words, God’s word is eternal. It’s fixed, it will accomplish everything that God has intended for it.
I could find many similar statements that express this idea. Here, I am giving you three examples, statements that seem to indicate to us that God’s Word will always accomplish its purpose. A third example is 2 Timothy 2:9, where Paul said “the Word of God is not chained.” The contrast to that of course was that Paul was in Roman imprisonment as he wrote the letter of 2 Timothy. Paul was in chains, but the Word of God was not and is not chained. So again, these are examples of passages of Scripture that speak to us of the one aspect, the aspect we know we understand: God’s word is mighty, it’s eternal. It’s powerful. It’s not chained, it will fulfill every purpose that God has for it.
What We Do or Don’t Do Can Hinder the Work of God’s Word (the second sense)
Now, on the other side, there are other passages that speak of the potential of human resistance against the work of God’s Word. These passages show that the activity or rebellion of human beings is hindering the work of God’s Word in some way. For example, in Mark 7:13 Jesus spoke to the religious leaders of his day and he said this:
And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition.
Again, that’s a startling statement. Jesus said to the religious leaders, that they were making the Word of God have no effect. There was some effect that God’s word could have had, but they were defeating that effect because of their reliance on these traditions that had been handed down. And then Jesus said “in many such things you do.”
Mark 7:13 is one example of where Jesus Himself spoke of making the Word of God have no effect. In 1 Corinthians 9:12, Paul (the same one who spoke about the Word of God not being chained) said this:
If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.
Again, the way Paul phrases this shows that there was at least the potential to hinder the gospel of Christ. Now, please understand this about the context of 1 Corinthians 9: Paul wrote about his right to be supported by those to whom he ministered. Paul spoke about how, in general, those who receive spiritual ministry have a right to be materially supported, at least in some way.
So here Paul said, “I have the right, Corinthians, to be supported by you.” But Paul insisted in verse 12: “Nevertheless, we have not used this right.” Paul said that he had the right to be supported by those to whom he ministered, but he would willingly set aside that right when it was better for the cause of Jesus Christ.
Now, that brings in a whole other excellent question about, namely “should pastors, ministers be paid?” Should they be supported materially? Well, Paul would say they have the right, but it’s not always advantageous to use that right. But notice the end phrasing: lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Apparently, in some way, the gospel of Jesus Christ could be hindered by Paul’s activity.
Also, look at this from 2 Thessalonians 3:1:
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you.
I love this little exhortation to prayer that Paul gave the Thessalonians. Paul simply said, “I want you to pray that the word of God would would run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you.“ It was as if Paul said, “God’s Word did a wonderful work among you, dear Thessalonians. Brothers and sisters, pray that it would continue to have that work among others.” Now, the implication there is if they did not pray, it would not have the same effectiveness.
I’ll give you one more quick example of this. In the parable of the soils the man went out to sow seed in the different types of soil. You’ll find it in Matthew 13. Mark 4, and in Luke 8.
As Jesus gave and explained the parable, it sure seems like this seed of the Word of God was hindered, as it fell on the stony ground, or as it was eaten by birds, or as it was choked by the cares of this world.
So all this is to say that there are some passages of Scripture that seem to tell us that there’s nothing that can hinder the work of the Word of God. There’s other passages of Scripture that seem to tell us that there’s a way in which the Word of God can be hindered, and sometimes is hindered.
We understand that there must be some sense in which both are true. Again, both are true in some sense. There is a sense in which God’s word cannot be hindered. And there is a sense in which it would seem that we can hinder the work of God’s Word.
God’s Word and our Responsibility
Now, how do we understand this? Again, let me just come back to the following idea.
The Bible is God’s word given from heaven – there is no doubt about that. But God’s Word is given to humanity on this earth. Most directly, we can say that God didn’t write the Bible for angels, but He wrote it for humanity. God’s Word is given from heaven, but for humanity. Sometimes the Word of God speaks from a heavenly perspective, telling us how God sees things. That isn’t strange, considering that the Bible is given to us from heaven.
But it is also true that sometimes the Bible speaks to us from an earthly perspective, telling us how things appear to us. This is because the Bible was written for humanity.
So, from God’s heavenly perspective, his plan is going to be worked out every step along the way, and nothing is going to hinder it. From an earthly perspective, it sure appears to us that we have a real choice whether or not we will work with God’s Word or against God’s Word. And God wants us to have the perspective that from our earthly viewpoint, what we say and do regarding the Word of God really matters. So, in an ultimate sense, the work of God’s Word will always be accomplished. Yet from our perspective, what we do or do not do with God’s Word matters truly makes a difference.
Brothers and sisters, we are never to take the eternal, unfolding, certain plan of God and His sovereign rule in a fatalistic sense that would imply for a moment that therefore it does not matter what we do or do not do.
We can hold both truths and we can learn and benefit from both truths. We take a great confidence and we draw great peace from the truth of God’s unstoppable Word and work. But then we also realize that how we receive the Word, how we pray for the work of God’s Word, and how we present God’s Word really matters.
For this reason, if I’m going to preach to a group of people, or if I’m going to preach to you, the last thing I should do is say, “Hey, it’s God’s Word. He’s going to accomplish whatever purpose he wants, who cares what kind of preparation I put into this? Who cares what kind of heart I put into this? God’s Word is going to do its work no matter what!”
We know that is a wicked frame of mind to adopt. How we receive the Word, how we pray for the work of God’s Word, and how we present God’s Word really matters. God is sovereign over all things He does as He pleases. However, the picture we have from the Bible is that it has pleased God to make a world where our choices our actions actually matter. You can have peace that in the big picture, God’s word can never be hindered. At the same time you must take responsibility, that in the life God has placed right before you, it matters – how you receive the Word, how you present God’s Word, and how you pray for the work of God’s Word.