Most mornings, my wife and I read a couple's devotion together. Every once in a while, the snobby scholar-wannabe inside me reads the devotional thought for the day and screams, "How did you possibly read that into today's text?!?" However, on occasion, it provides an excellent point for conversation. Today was one of those days. As the due date for my comps exams looms over me (tomorrow, by the way), I am not currently in the habit of thinking about what God is doing, but what I am writing for these exams.
This morning, the text was Ephesians 5.25-26. The premise of the day's thought was that the husband and wife should mutually cleanse and build each other up through "words taken directly from Scripture." Washing through encouragement from biblical texts is an interesting thought, which I'll get to in a moment. In the little discussion question at the end, it asked us, "What scriptures can you use to encourage your spouse today?" My mind went to Joshua 1:9 (and pulled it out of context to apply it to my wife who is a middle-school teacher; I thought it humorously appropriate) and the Shema' passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Her thoughts drifted toward Paul's letters and his encouraging statements, though none specifically came to mind.
After I played by the rules of the authors of the devotional, I decided to play by a different set of rules and point out a few things. First, I wondered whether in Eph. 5:26 "word" constitutes what we call "The Bible." I more or less figure it doesn't. At the most, if "word" there refers to scriptures, it probably only means the Old Testament (at the time Ephesians was written, there was no such thing as a New Testament anyway). Let's imagine, for a moment, that "word" in that text does not refer to any particular scripture or set of scriptures. How else is "word" used? For John's Gospel, it is a philosophical term for Jesus. Jesus is the Logos that existed before God made all other things. But this passage in Ephesians doesn't use logos; it uses a different term.
Another frequent use of "word" is in the phrase "the word of the Lord" in the Old Testament. This designated either the Torah (first 5 books of the OT) or prophecy, when God would speak through a person to another person or to a group (often all of Israel). A "word of the Lord" is often how Jeremiah depicts God coming to bring words to his people (here are just a few examples).
In this sense, what if the "cleansing by washing with water through the word" is less about scripture than it is about prophecy? As I considered this, it occurred to me just how many times my wife has spoken to me "A word from the Lord," words which are not in scripture, but are nonetheless from God! How can we encourage each other by speaking directly into situations not encountered in our Bible? By speaking "a word from the Lord." Are we open to speaking the word of God outside the Word of God? We must be if God is to speak into the world now, into a time of iPhones and Facebook, of internet and airplanes. We must be open to speaking and hearing prophecy into the present age. What word from the Lord have you been given to speak to others?