by Doy Moyer
When the problem of neglected widows came up in Acts 6, the apostles told the church to choose seven men of special quality to take care of it so that they would be able to “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). What does it mean to be devoted to the word?
When I was younger, I had this image in my mind that being devoted to the word simply meant to study it deeply. They would devote themselves to knowing the word through deep study because “this is what preachers are supposed to do.” While deep study and reflection would be part of the equation, it is not the totality of what being devoted to the word looks like. They weren’t saying, “you guys handle the serving of tables while we sit over here to read and study.” They weren’t “office preachers” in the modern sense.
What, then, did their devotion to the word look like? A good parallel in thought can be found in Acts 18. When Paul was in Corinth, Timothy and Silas came from Macedonia while “Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5 ESV). How was Paul “occupied with the word”? He was testifying that the Christ was Jesus. The Christian Standard Bible says, “Paul devoted himself to preaching the word and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.”
In Scripture, devotion is, like faith, more than a mental exercise. It involves dedication to putting into practice the principles involved in the teachings. If we are devoted to prayer, then we will be praying. If we are devoted to the Lord, we will be obeying. If we are devoted to one another, we will be meeting the needs and concerns of one another. Likewise, if we are devoted to the word, we will be teaching God’s word in what we say and how we act. We will be dedicated to spreading the message of God.
To be devoted to the word, then, is more than study. It is more than learning. It is more than knowing. It is a living demonstration that the word of God works in our lives and that we want others to share in the blessings provided by the teachings of the Lord.
A good illustration of this type of devotion can also be found with the godly widow of I Timothy 5. This is a woman with a solid reputation for good works; indeed she has “devoted herself to every good work” (I Timothy 9-10). While this does not directly tell us about her knowledge of the word, the context of the epistle speaks to the connection of sound doctrine with good works. “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (I Timothy 4:6). Sound teaching leads to sound action.
Notice, too, the connection Paul makes between the acceptance of the word and the actions that follow: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea” (I Thessalonians 2:13-14). Accepting the word of God for what it is in truth means that it is at work in us. We will act. We will follow the teachings. And we will want others to join us. This is the essence of evangelism.
Paul, again, wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (I Timothy 2:15). Older translations like the KJV say, “study” to show yourself approved. The sense of this, though, is not about book learning as much as it is being diligent and doing your best to demonstrate that you are dedicated to the Lord. This does, however, start with knowing and understanding the “word of truth.”
Be devoted to the word. What does that mean? It means not only knowing what it says and digging deeper into its treasure-house of teachings, but it includes being dedicated to living it out and teaching others. When the apostles devoted themselves to the word and prayer, they were committing themselves to the continual practice of praying and to the efforts of reaching out to a lost world with the message of the gospel. They would not have been content with just learning; they knew that God wanted the word spread to as many as would receive it. Are we devoted to the same?