Updated: Nov 11, 2020
A few months back, I was listening to a podcast of a pastor I very much respect. He was teaching on The Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32. When he got to the part when the younger brother was living in a “far country” and earned a living feeding pigs, all of a sudden that became the story. Here was the “new angle.”
“To have anything to do with pigs was an anathema to a Jew. God prohibited the eating of pork.” And then he went on for the next 10 minutes about Jewish dietary laws in Leviticus.
I could almost imagine Jesus listening to this pastor’s sermon and screaming out, “Forget the pigs! I should have said cows. It doesn’t matter. You’re missing the real point of the story – the grace and patience of God for his children who rebel.”
Similarly, just this week I listened to another great pastor teaching on Moses striking the rock and water coming out, in Numbers 20. Remember, the Israelites were bellyaching again because there was no water, so God told Moses to speak to the rock, but he hit the rock instead, with the same result, out gushed the water!
But then this pastor went seriously off script, when he said “the rock is a metaphor for Jesus (The Rock), when Jesus said in John 7:38. ‘Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the scriptures declare ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”
Frankly, I can’t imagine that when God was telling Moses how he was going to provide water, that he had a little side teaching about Jesus being The Rock, in mind.
Why would pastors do that? Because many of the stories of the Bible are so familiar that I think pastors feel like they need to find a new angle, a new approach to understanding, that will keep listeners engaged. I appreciate hearing new ideas in teaching, but pastors should resist “adding to scripture” by over-emphasizing a point that God may not even want taught. They would do well to remember this warning from scripture.
“See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.” Deuteronomy 12:32
What God is warning against is both “putting words in his mouth,” and ignoring the whole counsel of God in scripture. Don’t become jaded or skeptical of every sermon, but do pray for discernment. Remember these two ideas; the most obvious interpretation is probably the most correct. And God’s words trump mans!
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