When I was a kid and in school, I was a hard kid to teach because I rarely took what people told me to be true, unless they could answer my questions. And I questioned everything! In college, I was a philosophy minor. I loved discussing and arguing ideas, to sort out conventional thinking from true wisdom (as I saw it).
Even today, as a follower of Jesus, it bothers me when I hear other Christians use as the answer to almost everything, “because the Word of God says so.” I immediately want to ask “where does the Bible say that? Are there any other verses that give a different interpretation? Are the verses we’re both reading taken in context, or just quoted to justify an idea you already believe to be true?”
I also go on high alert whenever I hear someone quote a pastor who has a reputation for being on the edge. It’s a great temptation for a young pastor, to try to find a new meaning – to a long-held teaching of scripture, and then write a book about it, as if that validates the teaching.
I’m wary of pat answers or new interpretations. You should be very wary of them as well. So, here are three great questions to ask as you study the Bible. 1. What is God’s intent in telling us this story, command or truth? Here’s where we can get off track the quickest. All of us, have assumptions about God, faith and the world, that tempt us to find proof for those assumptions. To be a courageous Christian means challenging even our own assumptions, in favor of what God is plainly telling us.
Here’s a good example of how this works; I spend a lot of time working with successful Christians. So I’ll ask, “What do you think Jesus means when he says, ‘You cannot serve both God and Money?’ Matthew 6:24b.” You can almost hear the gears grinding quickly into high speed to justify why that’s not exactly what God meant. Here’s the phrase to listen for: “What Jesus meant to say was…” Then off they go to explain away an inconvenient truth from God. And we all are guilty of similar deceitful interpretations.
People who’ve had an unbiblical divorce, or an affair, all seem to suddenly have new insights, “from scripture” they didn’t have a dozen years before, why they now have a clear conscience before God. To be a serious student of the Bible means you accept as true the most obvious interpretation, regardless of how it helps or hinders your personal situation or belief.
2. Do I believe what the Bible is telling me, enough to obey it reasonably consistently? There was a time that I’d read what the Bible said about loving your enemies, and I’d think, “Yeah, I believe that.” And I did at some level. But, I still had enemies who I didn’t love.
Finally, it dawned on me that to “believe in the Bible,” I had to do far more than agree with it. I had to be intentional about obeying it, or God could reasonably conclude that, for all practical purposes, I didn’t actually believe what he said in the Bible!
So, what teachings of the Bible have you read, but are not obeying, which you apparently don’t believe either?
3. What have the wisest and most godly Christians taught on this subject, and has their teaching stood the test of time? Every 20 years or so, there’s another new theological idea that tests conventional thinking on the Bible. In our generation, it is prosperity theology or the ideas of the emergent church. In the 60’s and 70’s it was liberation theology. And in a few decades, these ideas will prove false and others will replace them.
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3
So every time I hear a new interpretation of the some biblical idea, or I have one of my own, I check with some of the giants who’ve gone before me, or those who’s teaching is respected by the wisest pastors of our generation.
I have a set of commentaries that have been a great help to me when I’ve heard others make the Bible say something, I’m quite sure it doesn’t, or to check myself to keep from getting too far off on my own teaching ministry. Here are some of the commentaries I like and recommend for your library;
From a Dispensational perspective Bible Doctrine or the more complete, Systematic. Theology, by Wayne Grudem The Bible Knowledge Commentary, by Walvoord and Zuck
From a Reformed or Covenantal Perspective Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the whole Bible
Final thought: Treat the most enduring teachings about the Bible with respect, and adopt new ideas very cautiously.
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