Gleanings – The Word of God Tested

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by Dr. Gerald Chester

The Word of God Tested

On a Sunday evening in the fall of 1944, a young cadet in his senior year at the U.S. Naval Academy was reading the Bible before writing a letter to a family member. In those days, there were no mobile phones and long-distance calls were expensive. So, letters were the common means of communication. The cadet was committed to his Christian faith and felt that reading Scripture daily was his duty. This was a daily habit for him, but that night something surprising happened. He was tired and wanted to finish the Bible reading quickly so that he could write the letter and go to bed. While reading, he had a sensation that he had never experienced. He sensed that God was speaking personally to him through the verses of Scripture. Though he had faithfully read the Bible since his youth, he experienced a new sensation. Being raised a Baptist, he did not even believe that God would speak to him personally. As he wrestled with this overwhelming, undeniable sensation, he realized that God was speaking to him about his future. He would later share privately with his family and a few close friends that God made promises to him that night.

The naval cadet was the not the first person to viscerally experience communication from God. Many biblical figures were confronted with divine communication in unexpected ways, such as, Abraham in a vision (Genesis 15:1), Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), and Joseph through a dream (Matthew 1:20). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews confirmed that historically God spoke personally to people many times and in many ways. Note these words:

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:1–2 CSB)

Christianity is based on a self-revealing personal God who is the Creator of all truth and reality. He can and does communicate with humans at his sovereign pleasure.

God’s revelation to mankind is extended in three forms: special, general, and specific.

Special revelation is the revelation of God in Scripture. Scripture says of itself:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17 CSB)

General revelation is the revelation of God in creation. The psalmist wrote:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1 CSB)

Specific revelation[i] is the revelation of God given to a specific person in a specific situation at a specific time.

Special is universally canonical—timeless universal principles applicable for all. General revelation interpreted congruently with special revelation can provide canonical truth. Specific revelation is canonical only for the one to whom it is given in a specific situation at a specific time. For example, in Acts 18 the apostle Paul was given specific revelation through a night vision, probably a dream. Luke’s record of the revelation is as follows:

The Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9–10 CSB)

Commonly, when revelation is given to a person, the person is tested. The test is to believe God when circumstances may seem contrary to the revelation from God. For example, Joseph was given a prophetic dream about his future—a promise about his future (Genesis 37:5). Then he was tested through circumstances inconsistent with the prophetic word (Psalm 105:17–19).

So also, the apostle Paul was given the aforementioned prophetic dream recorded in Acts 18:9–10. His test came eighteen months later. Luke recorded the incident:

While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the tribunal. “This man,” they said, “is persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:12–13 CSB)

The next verse indicated that Paul was prepared to defend himself against an attack he had seemingly been promised by the Lord would not occur. But before Paul could say a word, the Roman magistrate (Gallio) spoke first and dismissed the case. God was true to his word—Paul was not touched though he was charged as a law breaker. He was charged with violating a civil law but, in the providence of God, the charges were dismissed. The Lord promised to protect Paul and was true to his word, though Paul may have experienced an alarming moment. This illustrates the importance of trusting God to be true to his word even when circumstances suggest otherwise.

Scripture does not reveal any of Paul’s emotions or thoughts about this situation. We do not know what his response was when he was attacked. Was he fearful and shocked? Did he question God? It was recorded that he was prepared to defend himself, but that God was true to his word given through specific revelation to Paul in that circumstance.

Faith is always believing that God will be true to his word no matter what the circumstances may be. Even when tested and vexed by events that may seem contrary to divine revelation, we must trust the Lord. When God tests our faith, we must always have faith that God’s purpose in the test is our good (Romans 8:28). Tests are intended to make us better and stronger in Christ.

The young navy cadet’s experience was similar to Paul’s. The special revelation he received that night in 1944 seemed to speak of the future—beyond the war. After graduation from the naval academy, he was tested during the war. He served on an aircraft carrier in World War II’s Pacific Theatre. Like Paul, there were moments when his life was threatened, and he must have wondered about the word he had received from the Lord. But God was faithful. The cadet survived the war and lived a full life aligned with the specific revelation that he received that fall night in 1944. After faithfully serving God’s purpose, he died in 2020 and entered the presence of the Lord. He most certainly heard what everyone should want to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”[ii]

These are the words that signify a life well-lived. May all Christ followers seek to live accordingly.