Enjoy Your Bible - Part 2
Enjoy Your Bible II
Don’t Be Gullible
Don’t just take someone’s word that the Bible teaches this or that, demand proof. Request a verse that actually teaches what they are claiming. Those who preach and teach the truth are never offended when people demand a verse to back up their claims (Acts 17:11).Remember, men can be wrong, and even the most agreeable, sweet, compassionate and spiritual-looking person can turn out to be a false teacher (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Jesus said, "Therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). The apostles taught, "examine everything carefully" (1 Thessalonians 5:21); "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
At the same time, don’t be arrogant either. Be honest enough to admit when someone has shown you the truth or answered your question. Sometimes people walk around justifying their unbelief or adherence to a false doctrine on the basis of, "Nobody has answered my questions to my satisfaction". But often such a person has been given many good answers to the same question. In addition, people need to realize that the obligation to find the answer rests primarily upon themselves! Noble-minded people don’t hide behind questions; rather, they try to find the answer in God’s word (Acts 17:11). How sad to end up lost because you were waiting for someone to answer your question, when all you had to do was read the Bible for yourself! God does reward the person who seeks (Matthew 7:7). I have found that often by the time a person has adopted the attitude, "Nobody has been able to answer my question", that they are more interested in an excuse not to believe than in the truth.
Truth Doesn’t Always Feel Good
Many people in our society have adopted the attitude that the truth must be whatever sounds good to them, and if something doesn’t sound or feel good, or if something doesn’t portray them in a positive light, then that must not be the truth. God reminds us that the truth is very convicting (John 16:8; Acts 2:37), and messages that flatter us (Romans 16:18), and appeal to our pride are often false doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3). In the Old Testament, wicked king Ahab hated a true prophet of God because, "for he never prophesies good concerning me but always evil" (2 Chronicles 18:7). As long as one persists in rebellion against God, the truth will always sound offensive. If you haven’t been living right, don’t be shocked that reading the Bible ceases to become a pleasant experience. Years ago I read an article written by James E. Cooper, which stated, "A negative reaction to truth is really a reflection on the hearer, rather than on the teacher of truth. Paul recognized this when he called what the apostles preached, a "sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him" (2 Corinthians 2:14).The same message that causes some to be saved is the stumbling block where others perish. A person’s attitude toward the truth is not really put to the test until he is faced with something contrary to his traditions and preconceived ideas". Hence, the complaint that the lesson was too "negative" is often a reflection of the motivation of the listener. People should be willing to pay a price for the truth(Proverbs 23:23), including listening to what one really needs to hear. "Positive" and "negative" preaching must be evaluated in terms of eternity. Preaching that leaves people comfortable in sin and error is actually very negative. We would rather have people feel good for eternity than for the moment.
The Proper Division of the Bible
Realizing that the First Covenant, including the Ten Commandment Law, ended at the cross of Christ, and that the New Covenant began, is essential in interpreting the Bible correctly (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14-17; Hebrews 9:15-18; 10:9). Thus, Jesus worshipped on the Sabbath Day because He lived under the First Covenant, and we worship on the first day of the week, because we live under the New Covenant (Acts 20:7). The thief on the cross was saved without baptism, because he lived and died prior to Jesus giving the command that salvation in the New Covenant will come after faith and baptism (Luke 22:43; Mark 16:16). In addition, we can’t go back into the Old Testament and bring forward Old Testament practices like instrumental music and attempt to incorporate them into the worship of the New Testament Church. In the first century the one thing that some wanted to borrow from the Old Testament Law and weave into the fabric of the gospel was circumcision. Thus Paul wrote to show the consequences of going back to the Law of Moses, even for just one thing (Galatians 5:1-4).
Notice the Context
The English word "context" is from two words, which mean, "to weave together". Hence, "context" means that which is "with the text". The context, which surrounds a passage, may be a paragraph, chapter, or the entire book. Context often keeps us from twisting and perverting passages to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). For example, some have argued that in Matthew 12:3-7 that Jesus is arguing that there are times when disobeying a command of God is permitted in order to achieve a good end. But such an interpretation would only be valid if His disciples had actually broken the Law of God, and He was trying to excuse them. The context reveals that Jesus isn’t trying to justify guilty men, for the disciples hadn’t broken any divine law on this occasion (12:1-2,7 "you would not have condemned the innocent"). The Roman Catholic Church often argues that Matthew 16:18 proves that the church was built on Peter and that he was the first pope. But the context reveals that the actual "rock" which the church is established upon, is the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, verse 16. Furthermore, had Peter been intended as the foundation of the church, Jesus would have used a personal pronoun such as "Upon you I will build My church", rather than the impersonal "Upon this rock I will build My church". In John 15:1-8 the story of the Vine and the Branches has been used by leaders in the denominational world in the attempt to prove that many churches are acceptable to God, and that the branches are different denominations. But the context reveals that the branches are individual believers, "If a man abide not in me" (15:6). Many in the denominational world have often used Ephesians 2:8-9 to teach the doctrine of salvation by faith only. But the context reveals that one is also saved by grace, and in verse 5, the language associated with baptism is used, "made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with Him" (See Colossians 2:12-13). Some have tried to argue that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to the non-Christian, but the context mentions "whoever" (19:9), and verse 9 is based on God’s universal law on marriage which was given at the beginning, before there was any Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian (19:4-6). Some have tried to argue that Romans chapter 14embraces situations where a brother or sister is in sin or teaching doctrinal error. Yet the entire chapter is clearly dealing with things, which are not sinful (14:14), are a good thing (14:16), and which are morally clean (14:20).
Remember Other Passages
The Bible is it’s own best commentary or interpreter. Study difficult passages in the light of plainly revealed truth. Sometimes it is easier to first determine what a passage is not teaching, and by ruling out the unscriptural alternatives, we are left with the truth. For example, "you are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14), doesn’t mean that Christians are free to disregard God’s rules (Matthew 7:21). One of the main mistakes that the denominations make is that they find all the passages that talk about "faith" and then conclude that one is saved at the moment they believe in Jesus. Passages that stress faith were never designed to exclude repentance or baptism as necessary for salvation, just as passages that only mention repentance (Luke 13:3; 2 Peter 3:9), or baptism (1 Peter 3:21), were never designed to say that faith is unnecessary. Remember, not all of God’s truth is taught in one passage. When studying a topic, one must learn to apply the diligence, which will collect all the passages on that topic. Some have tried to use 1 Corinthians 1:17 to prove that baptism is not necessary for salvation, but too many other passages say it is. In addition, in the context, the only way that you can wear the name of Christ (Christian) is if you have been baptized into Christ (1:13).
Pay Attention to Every Word
Jesus believed that every word in the Bible was there for a purpose (Matthew 5:17-18), and Jesus Himself and His apostles, when teaching, did rest very important doctrines on a single word in a verse, whether that word was in the past or present tense (Matthew 22:31-32), or whether it was singular or plural (Galatians 3:16). Seeing that God personally selected every word, each word must be respected (1 Corinthians 2:13).
- One of the biggest words in the Bible is "if". The entire sense of a passage can rest on such a word (2 Timothy 2:11-13). There are words, which express whether or not the individual has freewill or choice, like "Let" (Ephesians 4:28,29,31), or "do not" (Romans 6:12-13).
- In Hebrews 6:6 the word "since" (or while) is crucial to understanding what the passage is teaching. If you ignore that word, then you will end up teaching the false doctrine that once a person falls away, they can never come back to God. The word "except" in Matthew 19:9 is very important. If we ignore it, then we will teach the erroneous idea that the innocent party can’t putting away their adulterous spouse and remarry. The expression "among you" in 1 Peter 5:2 helps to define the limit and scope of the rule of an eldership. The very fact that we always find a congregation with a plurality of elders also helps us establish the fact that in order to have elders, we must have at least two (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1).
- The order of words in a passage is vital. Baptism is placed after faith, but prior to salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). In Matthew 19:9,in order to remarry without sin, the adultery on the part of one’s mate must happen prior to the divorce and not after it, or the subsequent remarriage.
- Defining words is very important. Baptism doesn’t mean "sprinkling" or "pouring"; rather the correct definition given by Greek lexicons is "immersion". Be impressed that the correct definition of a word can often be seen when a word is replaced by its definition in a passage. For example the correct definition of baptism in John 3:23 and Colossians 2:12.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017