I love God’s Word. Love to read it, think about it, talk about it, and preach it. Oh, and yes, I love to “do” it. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” That’s John 13:17.
Even so, I wonder some things about God’s Word.
This might be a good time to pass along something given me a generation ago from a New Orleans lady who had a lapful of questions: “The Lord knows I’m only a wondering child, not a wandering one.” There is a huge difference.
One: I wonder if the Lord ever wants to put beside particular scriptures the Facebook line: “Just saying.”
I sometimes wonder when to take a teaching literally and when the statement in Scripture was intended to be less than a command, or even simply a side remark.
Sometimes the Apostle Paul will say, “I do not have a word from the Lord on this, however….” and give us his thoughts. (An instance is I Corinthians 7:25.) Christians are of two minds about this. Some say, “It’s as plain as it’s possible to get. What follows is not to be taken as a command. How much clearer could Paul make it than he did?” Others respond, “Yes, but we have all these epistles of Paul which we take as Scripture, whether it jives with anything the Lord Jesus actually said or not. So, if it came from Paul’s heart (and pen), it’s scripture.”
So hard to know. And good people will come down on opposite sides of that fence.
We would be in bad trouble without the Holy Spirit to help us with this. (We make a big enough mess even with His guidance!)
Two: I wonder whether some statements were intended just for the apostles but not for us.
For instance–and this is the one that made me turn my computer on this morning–take the promises the Lord gave His disciples as they headed out for their first mission, a trial run to practice preaching and see how things would go while He was still with them. Toward the end of His instructions, Jesus gives them these promises….
–“He who receives you receives me” (Matthew 10:40).
–“The one who listens to you listens to Me; the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
Tell me if that’s not some of the strongest stuff in the Bible as it pertains to those of us called into the ministry and sent into the world with the gospel. Imagine the authority He was giving the apostles. However people treat you, they’re treating the Savior! He takes it all personally!
The question is whether it was intended for us. And, are we misappropriating it if we say it was?
It requires no imagination to think of some preachers misusing this, requiring that people toe the mark, because after all, “Scripture says if you reject what I say, you are rejecting Jesus!” Shades of Jim Jones!
And yet, perhaps there is something to it when a faithful pastor who devotes his life to the Savior and to the flock stands Sunday after Sunday, year after year, teaching the word and calling people to righteousness. When some reject him because a) he’s old, b) he’s getting stale, c) we don’t like the plainness with which he speaks, or d) we want to be like the glamorous church across town, perhaps the Lord Jesus takes that personally and reacts as though they are rejecting Him.
If so, woe to that church.
And when a congregation honors their faithful shepherd through the years, through good times and bad, perhaps the Lord takes that personally also, that He feels honored and is pleased with those people. (I feel strongly that this is the case.) See Hebrews 6:10.
We remember how Elijah prayed on Mount Carmel, “Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel, and while you’re at it, that I am your servant!” (I Kings 18:36). Perhaps one is tied up with the other.
I wish I had the full-time answer to this. For now, I vote “yes.”
Three: I wonder just how strictly to enforce some strong commands in the Word, how tightly to draw those borders.
Some years ago, the deacons and I were discussing Scriptural qualifications for their office. I Timothy 3:8-13 is the only such listing in the Word, although most people believe Acts 6:1-7 refers to deacons (the word is never actually used there) and thus the guidelines there would apply also. But then we got into difficulty….
What about all those other things the Lord said concerning faithfulness? On the subject of marriage, divorce, and adultery, take his statement that “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery and causes her to do the same.” (Matthew 5:32)
Yikes. We may want to question it or find ways of honing the sharp edges off it, but there it is.
Based on that verse, some deacons wanted to tighten the requirements and forbid any man married to a divorced woman from becoming a deacon, even though the Timothy and Acts passages do not mention it.
Others countered with this. “What about in the same passage where Jesus says if you look on a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery in your heart?” (Matthew 5:28) One of them looked around the room at the other deacons and wondered out loud, “Is there anyone in this room who has not done that?”
He got no takers.
Anyone saying this is all cut and dried and would be simple “if we just loved Jesus” or “just believed the Word” is not going to find an audience here.
We interrupt for a moment….
((For good reason Scripture teaches certain principles of interpretation, three of which we mention here:))
–1) “No scripture is of private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).
That has two possible meanings, both of which I subscribe to: a) Do not take a verse out of the Bible, out of its context, and build a doctrine on it. Keep it with all the rest of the teachings of Scripture. b) Do not try to do this alone. Stay with the family of God, since others will have insights you may have missed. There is a corrective within the Body of Christ.
–2) “The Holy Spirit wrote it and He will guide in its interpretation.” (Also 2 Peter, one verse later)
How did we get our Bible? “…men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” And how are we to understand its teachings? By the same Spirit. (Scriptures include Luke 12:12, John 14:26, and I Corinthians 2:13.)
–3) “The letter of the law kills; the Spirit gives life” (I Corinthians 3:6).
The Spirit–the third member of the Trinity!–absolutely must guide in the application of Scriptural teachings. Otherwise, if we try this alone and on our own, we are going to turn the Bible into a strait jacket or into the worst set of locks and chains and heavy burdens imaginable. And–we cannot leave this subject without making the point–we’ve all seen this happen, haven’t we?
A church member who battled with a nicotine addiction told me of an early morning coffee with her sister-in-law who attended one of those churches that specializes in turning the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ into millstones for God’s children. At one point, the sister-in-law said, “Do you realize that one cigarette will send your soul to hell?”
Think of that. Imagine what kind of preaching that woman had been absorbing, what a perversion of the gospel she had been hearing.
My member responded, “Well, here is an amazing thing. I have sat here listening to you go on and on about how you hate your mother. But my one cigarette is going to send my soul to hell.”
This is what legalism does. It makes your sins so much worse than mine, and makes faithfulness a matter of keeping rules (decided by the speaker, of course).
Four: I wonder how the Lord is going to sort all this out.
I’m so glad He is the judge and not me. (see Romans 14:4)
That may be the most liberating thought I’ll have all day.