A very significant part of any message is the content.
Communication theorists state that all messages break down to two basic parts: the content level and the relationship level.
The relationship level of a message is the part of the message that includes the powerful feeling dimension of the message. Examples of the relationship-level factors include how the message is delivered [the tone], other nonverbal factors like facial expression, closeness of the communicator and even factors like what your relationship is to the person sending the message. People who study how humans talk to each other will tell you that the relationship-level of a message is so significant that it can overpower the content of a message.
Let me give you an example of the power of this element. I once knew a man who had a deep baritone voice. Everything he said sounded authoritative. I knew this guy so well that I knew he lacked intelligence. In fact, he lacked intelligence in many areas of his life. But he spoke in a commanding manner and usually got his way. The relationship level of his message got results.
But what about content? I have written about the “weight of authority” of God’s voice and I have written about the “spirit” of God’s voice. Those factors may be akin to the relationship level of human communication but what about the content of God’s messages to us?
Literally, the content is the information that is being conveyed in the message.
Sadly, the content part is often overlooked as we react to the other factors.
But should it be overlooked?
Of course not.
Dr. Willard states “The content of a word that is truly from God will always conform to and be consistent with the truths about God’s nature and kingdom that are made clear in the Bible.” Dr. Willard cites Pastor Charles Stanley who is even more direct: “God’s voice will never tell us to engage in any activity or relationship that is inconsistent with the Holy Scriptures.”
What if you are angry and you hear a voice in your mind telling you to talk badly about another? That’s not God. What if you are really needing money and you are in a position to take some money from someone and not be detected? A small voice says “take it.” That’s not God’s voice. You are having marital troubles and you are very sad about your relationship with your spouse. You hear a voice that says leave your spouse. That’s not God.
I hope I have not upset you but I feel strongly about the content of God’s messages. We truly do not pay enough attention to the literal message that we think comes from God.
What happens to throw us off track is the interpretation of these messages? We think we want something and we convince ourselves that we just have to have it.
Put another way, this is called rationalization.
This can cause serious problems in a person’s life. What we want is not necessarily what God wants for us. Yet we want it anyhow because we are so self-centered. We twist and turn our desires around in so many directions that we convince ourselves that we just have to have it. Yes, we may even tell others that God has spoken a word to us.
What is the major factor that guides us in the content of a God message?
It is something that is consistent with the Christian worldview expressed in God’s word.
Ephesians 4:29-31 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
The Bible is full of verses telling us not to speak ill of others.
Exodus 20:15 “You shall not steal” Enough said. That’s pretty clear isn’t it? That voice urging us to take something is probably from Satan.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11 “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” God would not recommend that you leave your spouse. That is your desire, not His.
In closing, it is impossible to know the entire Bible and say that you cannot find some part that will support an ungodly desire that you have. That is called “proof-texting” which is not a realistic way to study the content of the Bible. Pulling a verse out of context to support your position is not good. That’s why Dr. Willard says we need to be such good students of God’s word that we can make good judgments about the “dimension” of the content of the Bible.
If one knows Scripture well enough that he or she can interpret messages from God based on the overall knowledge, in most cases that will be good enough.
When it comes to hearing from God, let us not focus so much on relationship factors that we make mistakes about God’s will for us.
Think about what God is telling us to do…the content of His message.