The pastor says “Now, in the original Greek, this word means….” and church members roll their eyes. Oh brother, some are thinking.
Or, he might say, “In the original Hebrew, that word is…..and it means…..”
To the pastors among us, I ask: Is this necessary?
I find a great many church members are completely turned off by this little one-upsmanship of the preacher. It feels to many like he’s showing off, bragging that he knows some Greek.
I’m not one to say the preacher is showing off. After all, if he studied the language for a few years, clearly learning the Bible in its original forms is important to him, he is now capable of bringing in some of the finer insights from the Word.
But he must not overdo it by trying too hard or expecting too much.
I fear I’ve done this so many times in the past. Forgive me, members of the six churches I’ve served.
“In all things, love.” –I Corinthians 16:14
That’s one test of a believer and a mighty important one it is. Our Lord said it is the mark of a disciple. (John 13:34-35)
Look for the love. Otherwise, you know this one with whom you are discussing scriptures and doctrines is no follower of Jesus.
The cultist you’re talking religion to across the table or across the continent feels no need to love you since he/she has decided you are not a follower of Jesus since you disagree with their doctrine. I’ve sat at a table with a Jehovah’s Witness who was brutal and mean-spirited and who may as well have thought of me as a child-molester by the scoffing and belittling he was dishing out. (I was a younger pastor, and had not learned that there comes a time when it’s all right to say, “This meeting is over,” and walk out.)
But while love is the first mark of the believer, there’s another test for determining whether the person across the table is an honest seeker.
“To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1).
“Now, students, as I was saying….”
“Some of you in the congregation have heard me tell of the time….”
“We’re in a series on “Steps to Finding the Perfect Church.” Let’s begin by reviewing the first 153 principles which we covered last week….”
We all repeat ourselves, whether by intention or omission. We seniors get accused of repeating the same stories over and over. (I tell people I’m a pastor, and “Hey–it’s what we do!”)
The effective pastor-teacher not only may repeat himself, but must. Good teaching involves something called spaced repetition. After saying something essential, the teacher goes on to something else or tells a story, then returns and repeats it, often making an additional point.
“Hear and understand. Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matthew 15:11).
How’s that again, Lord?
It would be easy here to say the Lord Jesus did not understand microscopic things like bacteria, viruses, and germ warfare. Louis Pasteur was still eighteen centuries in the future.
Surely what we put into our mouths matters.
If Jesus were Who He claimed to be, and the One Scripture declares Him to have been, He knew the importance of cleanliness and purity.
It’s little things like this that trip up some modern readers. Reading the Bible, they get hung up on terms like “the four corners of the world,” “the sun rising,” and heaven being “up there somewhere”–all colloquialisms which we understand and use every day, but which cause problems for those looking for some reason to disbelieve the Holy Word.
But that’s not the entire story.
“Upon that law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“Abide in me and let my word abide in you.” — John 15:1-10 (spoken or implied throughout these verses)
“Eat this book.” (Ezekiel 3:1)
Get God’s Word inside you.
The best thing you can do to prepare to preach or teach a text is to live in it for many days prior to the moment. This means reading it again and again until you know what it’s saying. After that, read it again until you see even more.
Then, you think about it, reflect on it, meditate on it. You go to bed thinking about it, you mull it over while driving, and you talk to the Lord about it while praying.
Read it slowly. Read it aloud. Read from various translations and paraphrases.
“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?….And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?'” (Matthew 15:1-3)
“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Historians tell us the Pharisees started off well, as revivalists in a way, calling the nation back to faithfulness. Eventually, however, their insistence on righteousness settled down into a code of laws and rules. They went from being encouragers to harassers, from lovers of God to bullies and legalists.
The legalist is someone who says, “I know the Lord didn’t say this, but He would have if He’d thought of it!”
The legalist is smarter than God. He helps the Lord by completing His Word, by filling in the gaps where the Lord clearly forgot to say something, explain something, or require a thing.
“The Word was God…..The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14).
“No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27 and Luke 10:22.)
Try explaining God.
We’ll wait. Let us know when you’re ready.
Oh, when you’re done with that, tell us how Jesus is both fully man and fully God. And how God is One, but He’s also Father, Son, and Spirit.
If you decide to punt–and simply dismiss the entire discussion as man’s futile attempt to define an unknowable God–then the discussion ends there. God’s people who love the Word and believe it want to understand how it all fits together, what each piece is saying about our Lord, and thus to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
We never go wrong trying to understand God’s Word. And the best commentary on the Word of God is the rest of the Word of God.
“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
Here’s an interesting exercise for you. You might wish to try it with your Bible study group.
Write out the above verse and leave two blanks in it. It will read: “Unless you are _________ according to ____________, you cannot be saved.”
Then, see how many ways the group can fill those blanks based on the way people pile up obstacles to salvation.
UNLESS YOU ARE…
–baptized you cannot be saved
–using the KJV Bible, you cannot be saved.
–old enough and mature enough to understand everything, you cannot be saved
“See to it that no one misleads you….. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (24:4,11).
Our Lord knew His people. He knew that there was something about their makeup which would make them susceptible to being misled. By “being misled,” we mean being conned, scammed, hoodwinked, deceived, tricked, lied to, fooled, and abused.
In Old Testament days false prophets came through the land, preaching half-truths and whole lies and filling God’s people with false expectations and pagan ways. The New Testament church, just beginning to find its way and choose its methods, quickly became the target of these scammers and con-artists.
In Matthew 24, our Lord cautions His people to keep their guard up concerning prophecies about end times: His return, signs of the end, fulfilment of certain prophecies, apostasies, portents and omens.
When the dog bites, when the bee stings, I quickly remember a few of my favorite Proverbs…. (apologies to Luther Vandross who wrote “My Favorite Things”)
A blog is not a sermon, right? Not necessarily an essay, nor is it a theme written for a class. Theoretically, a blogger should be able to write about whatever he/she wishes. That being the case, I herewith submit this sampling from the riches of Proverbs which are among my favorites. Along with appropriate comments, of course.
I said to my Old Testament and Hebrew professor, “Solomon could not have written these. They champion monogamy and faithfulness to one’s wife, something he clearly knew nothing about.” Dr. George Harrison said, “When it says in the opening verse ‘the proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel,’ it could mean something as simple as that he collected these. It’s not necessarily saying he wrote them.”
Good. Maybe he did write some of them. After all, the Queen of the South was impressed by his wisdom (I Kings 10:7) and perhaps these are some of the reason.
Proverbs 3:5-6. Everyone’s favorite. My wife Bertha’s favorite. ” Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (some translations say: “He will make your paths smooth.” Or “straight.”)
That’s a promise. Not everything in Proverbs that looks like a promise should be considered one. But this is. And it’s been time-tested over the centuries.