Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a number of issues that I’ve had to address. It concerns me that many believers are not careful with their interpretation of passages of Scripture. In some cases they pull a verse out of context to miss-prove a point. In other cases, they grab random phrases and make grand assumptions of doctrinal proportions.

An example of the latter would be a blog I read by a wonderful young believer who after reading the first chapter of the book of John claimed that all of the living Word was contained in the written Word. To some this sounds very religious, to others it sounds questionable, and to the theologian it is heresy.

First of all we need to be reminded that theology is simply the study of God. Therefore every believer should be a theologian. After all it is God’s will for us to get to know Him and have a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, most believers have grossly neglected their study of God and His Word. They have left it to “professional” Christians to do the study to create and protect orthodox doctrine.

This lack of knowledge of our God and His Word is what allows well meaning believers to make pronouncements like the one in the aforementioned blog. The living Logos (Word) could never be contained in a page, a book, a library or every book in the universe. He is God the Son, the second person of the triune God; in communion with the other two persons of the Trinity. At the incarnation He became fully human in addition to being fully God. We do him not only a disservice but we minimize His Godhood and His death payment for our sin and ultimately His resurrection by diminishing Him into a book.

The same author, John, tells us at the end of his book, named from him, that if all the deeds that Jesus did and all of the things He said were written down that all of the books in the world could not contain all of the information.

As far as miss-proving a point, a church leader recently used Philippians 3 to assure his church that the mistakes (read sins) of the past should be ignored and that they should start over doing things right from now on! You can read the passage below he used to “prove” his point.

12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.
16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
Philippians 3:12-16 (NLT)

So is that what this passage means? Are we to forget the past, ignore the sins of the fathers and go on? Is that Biblical?

Well before I address these questions let me start with how we should interpret Scripture. I call this the “Time Method.” Interpretation must always begin with what the passage meant to the original recipients of the message from God. I call this the “one time.” Scripture will always mean what it meant to the people it addressed. This is why 2000 years later we must work hard to understand the people of the time, the political situation, economic condition, geographical location and religious reality that they faced. This allows us better understand the message as they did.

Next, we must extrapolate what the universal implications are from the message. I call this the “all time.” Both of these “times” are part of what theologians call exegeting the passage.

After understanding the universal truth it must be applied to our current situation. This means that we must also exegete our society to know how the Biblical message applies today. I call this “now time.”

Another step in exegeting a passage includes reading the specific passage in context. Many mistakes can simply be avoided if we keep a specific passage in context. Finally, God never contradicts himself. For example, God doesn’t say one thing in the Old Testament and another thing in the New Testament.

By doing what at times is difficult work we arrive at what God wants us to know and how to apply this to the situations of our lives.

Now back to the passage in Philippians. We need to figure out what the things of the past are that are referring to. A cursory reading of the preceding verses provides us the answer. Paul speaks of his pedigree and his tenacity in obeying Scripture as he then understood it. He also tells us that the things that he formerly valued, he now considers refuse (actually Paul is very graphic in the original language!). So the past that Paul is talking about is the good that he thought he had previously accomplished. One commentator put it this way “Paul is saying stop resting on your laurels.” We need to strive until the very end of the race. Endurance is the key to finishing the race strongly.

The next question we need to address is: How important is the past? Should we forget the past? Hope for a better future?

God tells us that when he forgives us that our sins are forgotten. So in a sense the past becomes unimportant in regards to our relationship with God. But the past can not be ignored. Nehemiah prayed for forgiveness for the sins of the past and asked that The Lord forgive and restore the nation. (Nehemiah 1:4-11) The wrongs of the past can not be ignored until we are obedient in repentance, restitution and restoration. (For a fuller look at this issue see my blog “The 3 ‘R’s’ of Christian Living”)

Additionally God himself commands us to remember the past. In the fourth chapter of Joshua God commanded the nation of Israel to take 12 stones out of the Jordan River and pile them up as a testimony of God’s faithfulness in bringing the nation into the Promise Land. The memorial was to stand as a reminder for future generations of the Goodness of God.

The above is a positive reason to remember the past but what about negative treasons to remember the past? God commands Moses in Deuteronomy 31:19-21 to teach the nation of Israel a song that is used to remind them of the punishments of forgetting the past and its lessons. Historians tell us to ignore the past is to condemn ourselves to repeat it again and again.

In conclusion, let me say that Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher if we allow him to edify us. We need to be Bereans in our approach to what our spiritual leaders teach us. Do the work of a theologian. Search the Scriptures to see if these things are true.

Good reading,

Pastor Val

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