Revelation and Scripture

 
 

Foolish Wisdom

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9–16; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Reading Jester.” Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons.

The world thinks Christians are fools. We see that more and more in the media. As I am writing this article, the city where I grew up is hosting a “Pride Festival” as part of a month that many institutions have devoted to celebration of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/etc. lifestyles. Those of us who believe the Bible, and think this is sin, are depicted as haters or ignorant, backwards, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals clinging to old-fashioned misguided morals. According to the world, we are the fools.

This is nothing new. The earliest Christians were considered fools. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 2:9–16 in a segment where he frequently contrasted wisdom and foolishness. The powers of the world thought they were wise and strong and that the Christians were foolish and weak. Yet, Paul writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Paul mentions that the natural man—someone who is not a Christian and therefore lacks the Holy Spirit within—cannot accept the things of God. Yet, many of us spend much of our time arguing moral and social issues with people who cannot understand spiritual truth. We try to explain why homosexuality is a sin to people who cannot understand that marriage is a divine institution mirroring Christ’s relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:32). (I know some Christians who are vocally anti-homosexuality but are not following God’s will regarding sex and marriage in their own lives.) We try to speak out against abortion to a society that cannot recognize the preborn baby as a distinct human life; a growing number of people question the value of any human lives. The natural man simply cannot understand spiritual truth and godly morality. It is like trying to explain quantum physics to a kindergarten student.

This is why Jesus sent us to preach His Gospel and make disciples instead of winning political and social debates (Matthew 28:18–20). People do not go to heaven by not being gay, not having an abortion, not taking drugs, not voting Democrat, etc. It is only through Christ that we receive eternal life. Let us introduce people to Christ, trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in their lives, and pray that they receive forgiveness and salvation by faith in Him. Then, we can begin to see God open their spiritual eyes and give them His wisdom and insight.

Also, Christians need to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our own minds. We need a worldview that is very opposite to that of our unsaved neighbors. Far too many Christians merely baptize secular and worldly values in misinterpreted biblical-sounding jargon and end up looking no different than the world. We justify greed and materialism and get the prosperity gospel. We try to sanctify humanistic pride into the positive thinking theology endorsed by many megachurches and televangelists. Many find the ways that their favorite political party may actually be close to Scripture on some issues, and then we twist Scripture to justify their errors elsewhere, thereby exalting politicians above God Himself. Are we different from the world, or have we found ways to blend in while preserving some of the external features of Christianity? (See here for some other articles about renewal of the mind.)

Paul ends the passage above by saying that “we have the mind of Christ.” As you read the entire book of 1 Corinthians, you will notice that his audience was not a crowd of super-spiritual Christians. In fact, they were usually acting like natural men instead of spiritual people. Much of 1 Corinthians contrasts natural vs. spiritual as well as wisdom vs. folly. Yet, no matter how carnal, worldly, and natural they were acting, Paul says that “WE have the mind of Christ.” Not only Paul, but his carnal Corinthian audience, had the mind of Christ. The Corinthians just did not realize it. They were not using it.

Perhaps modern American Christianity is no better. We have the mind of Christ, but we keep using the mind of the world. We have the Holy Spirit, but we rely on the wisdom and power of the mass media and pop psychology instead of the Spirit, Word, and Power of God Almighty.

Since we have the Spirit and mind of Christ, let us think like Jesus thinks. What would He fill His mind with? What would He read or watch on television? How would He think about a situation? Study His Word to find out.

Let us worship like Jesus worships. See how He worshiped His Father while He was on Earth, and do likewise.

Let us love others as Jesus loves. See how He responded to those who were in bondage to sin. See how He had mercy on those who did not deserve mercy.

Let us forgive as He has forgiven us. I find it really easy to judge those who struggle with sinful habits and addictions until I remember the many sins He has forgiven in my life.

We can embrace the wisdom of God’s Word or the wisdom of the world that has turned its back on God. One form of wisdom will seem like foolishness to the other. Which is really the wiser choice?

“When the crowns of gold all lay before His feet
Then the worthy Lamb of God is the treasure we will keep
Some may call me foolish—some may call me odd
But I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of men
Than a fool in the eyes of God.” (Petra, “Fool’s Gold,” from the album Back to the Street. Watch a video for this song on YouTube.)

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

The Spirit of Truth in the Life of the Believer

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

The Holy Spirit will speak to us as a reflection of His nature. He is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16–17; 16:13). This is who He is. His very essence is truth. God’s Word is true because the Spirit of Truth inspired it and illuminates it to us.

As the Spirit of Truth, He dwells within us and guides us as our helper or counselor. In John 14:26, Jesus calls Him the “parakletos,” a Greek word meaning “the one called alongside to help.” It has a broad meaning, which no single English word translates adequately. The ESV translates it as “helper.” Other translations say “counselor” or “advocate,” all of which seem to emphasize one part of the Holy Spirit’s work. He helps us. He counsels us, guides us, and gives us wisdom and insight. He serves as an advocate for us. Some will say He does this by defending us before God the Father, like an attorney defends a suspected criminal before the court. Perhaps, more importantly, He defends us against the lies of Satan. When the accuser of the brethren seeks to condemn us by reminding us of our sins, the Holy Spirit will remind us that there is no condemnation for us, since we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

The Holy Spirit also speaks to us out of His relationship to us and to the rest of the Trinity. He dwells within us, perfecting our relationship with Christ:

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

The Holy Spirit takes the things of God—the blessings available to us in Christ Jesus—and bestows them to us. He imparts the life of Christ to us by living within us. John 14:20 suggests that the Christian’s union with Christ is somehow connected with Christ’s union with the Father. While we may not be exactly like Jesus in this life, the Holy Spirit is imparting that life to us. As He lives within us, He gives us the wisdom of Jesus. We do not have to accept second-rate Christianity. We can receive the fullness of God’s blessings to us through the Holy Spirit.

God is always speaking, always revealing His love and life to us. His Word offers us great promises of life and hope. The Holy Spirit within us is holding these blessings out to us. As we read God’s Word, let us hear the voice of God empowering those words to bring spirit and life to our souls.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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The Spirit of Truth and Scripture Memorization

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse. Painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.

During the night before He was crucified, Jesus gave one of His longest recorded teachings, “The Upper Room Discourse,” which appears in John 14–17. It contained His final instructions before death for His disciples, and one of its key themes was the role of the Holy Spirit in the disciples’ lives. Jesus had taught His disciples for three years. After He was gone, His Holy Spirit would continue that work. He would teach the disciples “all things.” Some of that teaching would inspire some of them to write the New Testament. Since then, the Holy Spirit continues to teach us.

An important aspect of the Holy Spirit’s teaching is that He brings Christ’s words to our remembrance. Remembrance means that one recalls something they had already learned. We have to hear God’s Word before the Holy Spirit can bring it to our remembrance. This is why a committed Christian should read the Bible daily. Perhaps a verse of Scripture may seem unimportant while we are reading. Later, though, it may take on a life of its own as a problem arises and the Holy Spirit reminds us of that verse. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The Word of God does not lie dead in the pages of a book. It is not a lifeless set of thoughts and ideas. It is spirit and life. It imparts life to us as we need it. When problems and temptations arise, the Holy Spirit will bring the Scriptures that we have read, meditated upon, and heard to our remembrance. He will show them how they relate to our circumstances and how God wants us to respond.

One of the first verses I memorized after becoming a Christians was Proverbs 17:22:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Having suffered depression for much of my life, verses like this are lifelines. I will not claim that I am totally healed of depression, only that it is in remission. If I am not careful, I can slip back into self-destructive thought patterns. At times, I may be tempted to wallow in the mire of negativity. The Spirit, speaking through the Word, will remind me to pursue a joyful heart. Get outside! Go for a walk! Listen to worship music! If that does not work, find someone who has an encouraging personality to spend time with.

During a particularly difficult time in my life, I wrote 50 or more Bible verses on index cards to carry with me. Some spoke of the joy of the Lord; others spoke of God’s promises to His children; still others reminded me of who I am in Christ. I would pull the cards out and read one whenever I had a chance. Stopping for a red light became an opportunity to hear from the Holy Spirit. Eventually, those verses would come to my mind whenever I needed them.

Those of you who struggle with depression or other emotional illnesses may try the same approach. Go to author Neil T. Anderson’s website at https://ficm.org/free-downloads/. Scroll down to “Truth About Me.” Download the PDF file. Memorize and meditate upon the Bible verses that are listed. Let those words seep into your soul. Then, the Holy Spirit will bring those words to your remembrance as you need them. You may try a similar approach for whatever temptation or besetting sin causes you the most difficulty. There are similar resources available with Bible verses about other life-controlling problems. Meditate on the Word of God so the Spirit of God can bring it to your remembrance when you need it.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation, Revelation and Scripture, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

The Spirit of Truth and the Necessity of Scripture

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Christians can make several mistakes when trying to find out God’s will for their lives. One is to read the Bible and try to figure things out with their own logic and reason. The other mistake is to expect the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us without the Bible.

The Bible tells us that God determines the number of the stars and calls them by name. Here is just a tiny fraction of them. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, via Wikipedia.

The Holy Spirit is not constrained by the Bible. God is bigger than His Word. His greatness and glory exceeds anything we can imagine. Psalms 147:4 tells us that God determines the number of the stars and gives names to all of them. Scientists are still estimating the number of stars, know they have not discovered all of them, and have named only a small fraction of them. According to Wikipedia, “Of the roughly 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye, only a few hundred have been given proper names in the history of astronomy.” Some scientists believe the universe contains 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, many more than mankind has seen. Yet, God has given names to all of them. This is just a hint of the greatness of God, but many of us are tempted to think we can contain Him. God is greater than anything we can imagine, even with the help He gives us by revealing Himself in His Word.

Thus, there is an even greater danger when we try to seek God’s will without His Word, like some people do. They rely on their own wisdom. Perhaps they learn something from pop psychology or the latest public-opinion poll, baptize it in religious lingo, and say, “God told me to do this.” If it clearly contradicts God’s Word, God did not speak to you.

“God told me to move in with this woman I barely know so that we can see if we should get married.” (I do not think so.)

“God told me to leave my wife and trade her in for a younger woman. After all, God wants me to be happy!” (No, you want to be happy. God wants you to be holy, but that’s for another article.)

“God thinks it’s OK if I cheat on my tax returns or steal supplies from my job. After all, He wants me to prosper. Besides, everybody does it.” (What part of “Thou shalt not steal” do you not understand?)

(PS: I would like to claim that I was being creative with those three quotes, but that is not the case. I know people who have said things very similar to these. Most of them have claimed that they are deeply committed Bible-believing Christians.)

We cannot know God’s will without the Bible. We also cannot know it without the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives. The two go hand in hand. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, but He will use the Bible to impart wisdom to us, and He expects us to use the Bible to confirm whether He is the One Who is speaking to us.

Knowing God’s will requires both. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but we also need the Word of God. The Holy Spirit frequently speaks to us through the Word of God. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to truly understand the Word and will of God.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: III. How to Read and Meditate on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

How do we diligently apply ourselves to God’s Word? Here are four steps which will allow us to experience God’s blessing through the Bible in our lives.

First, we need to read God’s Word on a daily basis. When I first began to follow Christ, several people urged me to read the Gospel of John first. After reading the Gospel of John, I read the entire New Testament. Then, I went back and read the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. The entire process took about seven months.

The “read John first” advice is very popular in evangelical circles, but I do not think it is appropriate for everybody. People have different personality types, and each of the Gospels speaks more clearly to different personality types. I think many people would actually benefit more by reading Matthew or Luke first.

Perhaps you are not as ambitious a reader as I am. You may prefer to read about three chapters per day, thereby reading the entire Bible in one year. This will require about 15 minutes per day. If you want to try that approach, consider visiting oneyearbibleonline.com. This site provides a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs every day. On some occasions, the Proverbs reading is only one or two verses. This plan will have you reading the entire Bible once and the Book of Psalms twice every year. Print versions of The One Year Bible are available for purchase.

Another option is Our Daily Bread, a devotional guide available as a printed booklet or a website. It contains a through-the-year plan, with one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. It also includes a third short reading (perhaps part of a Psalm, one story, or a paragraph) with a brief devotional and thought for the day. The devotional reading is what Our Daily Bread is famous for. Many people subscribe to the daily devotion to supplement a more thorough Bible reading plan.

With either of these plans, you may start at any time; even if you start in the middle of several different books, you will catch on soon enough. God can speak to you even if you did not begin at page 1. Your mission is not to read the Bible like an ordinary book, but to meet God and His Son Jesus Christ through His Word.

Some churches and denominations recommend other reading plans. Like many people in my denomination, I follow the Daily Office readings in the Book of Common Prayer, which provides several Psalms for morning and evening prayer, with brief readings from the Old Testament, New Testament (Acts, letters, or Revelation), and Gospels. I usually supplement this with additional reading, including the devotion from Our Daily Bread. You can follow the Daily Office, which includes structured prayers with the readings, on the websites of Mission St. Clare or my denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

Next, take some time to understand what the passage means. If you are reading three chapters, you probably do not have time to analyze every verse. That is okay. Bible reading is a lifetime journey. What you do not understand or notice in a passage now may take on meaning when you read it again in a few years. You can consider your Bible reading a success if you can find one key idea or thought in each reading.

As you try to glean the Scripture’s meaning, follow some basic guidelines for interpretation. Seek to determine the natural meaning of the passage to its original hearers or readers. How would the crowd have understood Jesus’ parable? How would the Corinthians have understood Paul’s instructions in his letter? We need to understand what God meant in His Word before we try to determine what He is trying to say to us. Do not try to twist Scripture to mean what you want it to say. Try to determine what God is saying, even if it is uncomfortable or unpopular.

Invest in a few basic reference materials to help you better understand the Bible. A good study Bible will provide reference materials and explanatory notes to help you better interpret God’s Word. Another option is a paid subscription to biblegateway.com, which will provide access to commentaries and study materials.

As you read the Bible, take note of anything that grabs your attention. Meditate on that part throughout the day. It may be one sentence, or one phrase, or one word or idea that was repeated throughout your reading. One of the Hebrew words for “meditate” is related to the word for chew. Like a cow chews the cud, keep chewing on that word. Do not let it depart from your mouth. Ponder it throughout the day. Ask God to make its importance clearer to you. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to do about that word.

Sometimes, during a period of contemplative prayer, I will spend some time in silence simply meditating on Scripture like this. It may be just one word, but I will wait to hear what God wants to say to me.

All of this leads to the entire point of Bible study. Obey what God tells you to do. Is He revealing a sin which you need to repent from? Is He directing you to witness to somebody? Sometimes particular thoughts may pop into your head as you ponder the Scripture. The Bible may not literally say, “Stop watching that TV show,” or “You need to witness to {particular person’s name},” but these thoughts may come to mind as you ponder a verse. If it seems like a logical application of a Bible passage, it is probably the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to you as you meditate on His Word. As God speaks, say yes and do what He has called you to do.

Meditation and study demand balance. Many Christians overemphasize study. They try to dig into every nuance of a passage, trying to figure everything out. They study the Bible as if it is a science or history book and can miss the God Who appears in, with, and under every word. They seek intellectual knowledge, not true faith.

On the other hand, some may be tempted to meditate without study. Grabbing one verse out of context, demanding that it means what you want it to mean, is not biblical meditation. Biblical meditation begins with the objective truth of God’s Word and receives a subjective personal application from His Holy Spirit.

By hearing or reading the word of God, meditating on it, and seeking to obey it, we can succeed in doing God’s will, whether we pastor a church or serve burgers at a drive-through window.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: II. Rightly Handling God’s Word

In our last post, I mentioned some translation issues with 2 Timothy 2:15. Let us look at that entire passage:

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Paul was writing to Timothy primarily in his role as a young bishop and pastor. He was to be diligent, making his best efforts to prove himself as a master craftsman handling the word of truth. Half-hearted Bible juggling would not suffice, since others’ faith and souls were at stake.

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  

Elsewhere, the Bible speaks of itself as a weapon, the sword of the Spirit. Do we handle the Bible as carefully as we handle a weapon? Several years ago, I went several times to a gun range with a friend. He showed me that there is a proper way to handle a gun. There are several things you must do to handle a gun safely. You make certain you are not pointing it at another person (unless you are willing to shoot them). You have to hold each gun a certain way if you want your bullet to hit its intended target without injuring yourself. There is a proper way to load your gun, a proper way to hold it, a proper way to fire it, and a proper way to clean it and store it when you are done. Many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse a gun. A wise man will make every effort to diligently properly handle his weapon.

Likewise, many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse God’s Word. People’s faith or spiritual well-being can be harmed or damaged. Paul warned Timothy about a pair of teachers “who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” End-time prophecy pundits can often do much damage to the spread of the Gospel and the faith of their listeners. From time to time, a friend calls me, panicking because someone told him some new prophecy fad: “The government’s going to force everybody to implant a microchip under their skin! It’s the mark of the beast! Donald Trump’s the Antichrist! Pope Francis is the Antichrist!” And so on. Apparently, people tell him that they are experts because they study these things on the internet.

Not everything you read on the internet is true. The internet has given us some great opportunities. I can write this article on Sunday evening, post it online that night, and watch as people all over the world read it by the end of the week. Anybody with an internet connection can have a public platform. That is great, because it frees us to share our thoughts quickly and freely. However, it also gives that privilege to people who may not know what they are talking about. Not every person who claims to be a “Bible scholar” or “prophecy expert” deserves those titles. Any conspiracy theorist or fool can publish a crazy idea. Let us be diligent. Let us know God’s Word so that we can be discerning, especially when somebody says things like “God told me,” “The Bible says,” or “Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes!”

Would you trust a preacher who studies the Bible as well as this community maintains its roads?

More importantly, though, let us be diligent so that we can speak God’s truth carefully and accurately. If you teach a Bible study class, pastor a church, or write a blog, you need to spend time reading God’s Word. You need to learn it and know how to explain it properly to others. The Disciple’s Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 1988) says in a note on 2 Timothy 2:15 that ὀρθοτομοῦντα uses “the image of someone laying out a road.” People are going to walk on that road. It needs to reach its destination safely. It should be able to support its traffic. If you are preaching, teaching, or otherwise sharing God’s Word, others will rely on it to reach their spiritual destination. Be diligent to make certain you are properly guiding them.

The committed child of God should be diligent with God’s Word, just like we expect the people who build and maintain our roads and other infrastructure to be diligent with the tasks set before them. Our own souls demand it. Others’ souls may require it.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: I. Meditating on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com, under Creative Commons CC0 license.

As I was meditating on Joshua 1:8 this week, my wife emailed me a link to an article entitled “If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling Them to Study the Bible.” The author observed that the Bible rarely mentions studying Scripture. Instead, it tells us to “meditate on” or “delight in” God’s Word. Some readers may say, “Wait: Doesn’t 2 Timothy 2:15 tell us to ‘Study to shew thyself approved….’? Doesn’t that command us to study Scripture?” Probably not; that wording in the King James Version is not the most accurate. The Greek word translated “study” in that verse, σπούδασον, is translated “be diligent” or “do thy diligence” wherever else it appears in the King James Version. The KJV also misleadingly translates the word ὀρθοτομοῦντα as “rightly dividing” even though a more accurate translation is “to cut straight.” Just as a carpenter building a house has to cut straight while preparing wood, a man of God has to display proper mastery and expertise in handling God’s Word. Modern translations like the ESV are much more accurate:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We will look more closely at this passage in a forthcoming post. However, let us note for now that God wants us to meditate on His Word.

Joshua 1:8 and 2 Timothy 2:15 share several common features. One feature is that they are both instructions given to men of God in their roles as leaders of God’s people. 2 Timothy 2:15 particularly instructs the young pastor about his role as a teacher of God’s people. Joshua 1:8, on the other hand, guides Joshua in his work as a military commander. The Old Testament verse may be more relevant to most believers than Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Most of us will not be pastors or bishops. We will have to serve God in very secular careers.

Even in that “secular” career as a military ruler of God’s people, Joshua needed God’s guidance to succeed. While God gave His laws to Moses and would give other messages to later prophets, He usually gave Joshua military strategy, administrative guidance, and organizational insight. The same is true for us. God’s Word will tell us how to fulfill our roles as editors, teachers, doctors, restaurant workers, etc. Before you think your career is for some reason detached from God’s call upon your life, consider what God told Moses about a man named Bezalel:

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft’” (Exodus 31:1-5).

This is the first time the Bible speaks of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit. Think about that: a craftsman, not a prophet or priest, is the first person God speaks of as being filled with His Spirit. God wants us to know and do His will even when our careers seem mundane, routine, nonspiritual, or boring.

As Joshua would meditate on God’s Word, he would need to remember God’s promises, wisdom, and rules. God had promised to be with him. God had promised the land to the people of Israel. God’s laws provided wisdom about how Israel should treat other nations, both enemies and foreigners who wished to live peacefully in their land. He also gave them laws which, if violated, would have serious consequences (Joshua 7).

We need the same wisdom Joshua needed. We fact challenges, circumstances, and crises on a regular basis. God offers us the same wisdom. He offers great and precious promises to us. Let us meditate daily on God’s Word, so that we may be careful to do all that He commands and enjoy success and prosperity.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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God’s Word, Daily Devotions, and the Family

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

It is not enough to know that the Bible is the Word of God. God gave us His Word so that we could know Him, His will, and how to follow His directions for our lives.

The above passage begins with a verse known as the “shema,” from the Hebrew word for “listen” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Some people call it the “statement of faith” of Judaism, the key verse of their faith. A few websites that call it “the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book” or the most important prayer in Judaism. Jesus referred to the very next verse (Deuteronomy 6:5) as the greatest commandment:

“And one of the scribes … asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28–31).

Since both Jewish tradition and Jesus Himself consider these verses to be so important, we should take heed to the rest of this exhortation. How can a child of God follow the teachings of Jesus? By knowing God’s Word. To know and follow God’s will for our lives, we must store His Word in our hearts. We also must pass it on to future generations.

We need to read the Bible every day. We should read it alone. We should also teach it to our children.

To grow in your faith, you should read the Bible throughout the week. It is not enough to simply hear the Scripture readings in church on Sunday morning. We need daily reminders of all that He has done for us and all He wants us to know. Also, our children need to hear the Bible throughout the week. The Bible never mentions Sunday school, children’s church, or a children’s sermon, because God commanded parents to teach their children.

Read the Bible every day. Find a good Bible reading plan that will provide a passage for every day. I follow the Daily Office readings from the Book of Common Prayer. Many students of Scripture prefer to follow one of several “through the Bible in one year” plans. The devotional guide, Our Daily Bread, provides readings from the Old and New Testament every day to help you read the entire Bible within one year. It also provides a shorter reading with comments related to the passage.

Train your children in the Word of God whenever you can. Young children (up to seven years of age) learn most from stories. Read Bible stories and explain what they mean to them. As a child gets older, you can read other books of the Bible, such as the New Testament letters, with them and discuss the passage. Teenagers should be encouraged to read on their own, perhaps following a devotional guide or other reading plan.

Find teachable moments with your children. Deuteronomy 6:7 says that we should “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Discuss Bible passages that relate to things they learned in school or situations they or their friends are facing. Some families do a brief Bible study or prayer time while they eat dinner. See what works for your family.

Finally, it is helpful to keep visual reminders about God’s Word and Christian truths around you. My wife will sometimes write a Bible verse on an index card and tape it to the bathroom mirror. That makes it certain that we will see that verse every day. This is especially helpful when the verse speaks about an issue that is important to you at this time in your life. We also have crosses hanging on a few walls in our apartment, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice for us and His perpetual presence in our lives.

If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we will not reserve it for one day of the week. Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), not “I am with you one day per week” or “I am with you only when you go to church.” He wants to speak to us every day. He wants us to share His good news with everybody—especially our own families. Seek His Word daily.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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God’s Purpose in Scripture

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14–17; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

In recent posts, we looked at the authority of Scripture and its relationship with tradition. Now, let us look at God’s purpose in providing the Bible. What was His aim? What does He intend for us to learn from it?

St. Paul. Painting by Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Keep in mind that God’s Word leaves out many details. We may be curious and want extra facts. But, God is silent about some things. The late Roman Catholic broadcaster Mother Angelica once said that 91% of Jesus’ life is “hidden.” Think about it: Jesus is God’s ultimate self-revelation. Yet, the book that preserves His revelation presents only a small fraction of His life. We read a little about the first couple years of His life. Then, we read about one family trip to Jerusalem when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41–52). After that, God says nothing about Jesus’ life until He is about 30 years old. We read nothing about His carpentry career. We do not know what happened to His stepfather, Joseph; most Christians believe he died before Jesus’ ministry began, but we do not know when. God tells us what we need to know for salvation, not what we want to know to satisfy our curiosity.

Likewise, I recently had an online discussion with a seminary friend and his wife about Noah and Methuselah. Methuselah was the oldest man in the Old Testament, dying at the age of 969 years, and Noah was his grandson (Genesis 4:25–27). Genesis 4:25–32 and 7:11 show that he died in the same year as the flood. That raises a few questions: Did Methuselah die several months before the flood or just before the rains came? Did he drown in the flood? If so, why? Did Noah invite Methuselah on the ark, but he refused to come? Or, did God prohibit Noah from inviting Methuselah on the ark? We do not have the answers to these questions. God did not think Methuselah’s fate was important for us to know.

Many Bible stories, including the account of Noah’s ark, leave numerous details out. God focused on what we need to know. “Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat” by Simon de Myle (public domain, via Wikipedia Commons).

The story of Noah raises other questions, as my friend pointed out: How did only four men, with possibly some help from their wives, build such a huge ship long before the development of advanced shipbuilding technology? Did their neighbors help them? If so, how did they tell them, “No, you cannot come on our boat.” Once again, the Bible is silent.

We read with many questions that will never be answered this side of heaven. While the Holy Spirit did not provide all the details, He did reveal what we need to know for salvation. In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul wrote that the Scriptures make us “wise to salvation.” They show us what we need to know about everlasting life. The Word of God shows us that it is only through faith in Jesus that we are saved:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (Acts 4:11–12).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Human wisdom has limitations. We need special revelation from God. He gives it in His Word. It shows us why we need to believe in Jesus and what God wants us to know and believe about Him.

Paul concluded 2 Timothy 3 with the following statement about the inspiration of Scripture:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

As we saw in a previous post, these verses—particularly the phrase “breathed out”—provide the term “inspiration” of Scripture. They also list four functions of Scripture: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Interested readers can study these four terms in this blog’s most-frequently read article, published in 2012. To summarize the distinctions between them, we can observe that they are complementary. They address both belief and practice. Teaching instructs the reader about what he needs to know; correction addresses errors and false beliefs. Reproof points out when one is doing something wrong; training in righteousness shows someone how to do the will of God. The mature Christian must have the right beliefs and act based on those beliefs. When learning what is right, we have to unlearn the things we have thought or done that are wrong.

Let us keep God’s purposes in mind when we study the Bible. We do not read His Word only because it is a good story. We read it grow in our knowledge of Him. He will tell us what we need to know for salvation if we read with the proper mindset.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Scripture and Tradition

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Last week’s post began with the title, “The Authority of Scripture,” yet also touched strongly on the role of church tradition. This can be a complicated discussion. It is so complicated that I think many Christians simply avoid it by seeking simple answers. For many, that simple answer is to simply call oneself a “Bible-believing Christian” and reject tradition entirely. The other simple answer is to accept the teachings of one’s church without examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). I think a more moderate stance—accepting the truth of God’s Word, but looking to see how the Holy Spirit has spoken through it in previous eras—is a wiser choice. It may not be feasible to address all that this entails in a simple blog post, but I will do my best in the following paragraphs. (I realize I am treading some controversial waters here: please read this entire post and the previous one before jumping to conclusions.)

Martin Luther. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), via Wikipedia.

There are many conflicting beliefs about the proper interpretation of Scripture. Who do I trust? Do I follow Joel Osteen, Charles Stanley, or some other prominent modern preacher or best-selling Christian author? Do I accept the wisdom of a reputable contemporary theologian like J. I. Packer, or a respected Bible scholar or preacher from previous decades? What about the Reformers like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or later founders of Christian movements like John Wesley? In each of these cases, I am looking to the interpretation or opinion of somebody who lived over 1400 years after Jesus and His disciples. Some of these people had political or other ideological agendas mixed with their theology.

So, if I am going to allow a man of God to guide my interpretation of Scripture, is it better to look to one of these people, or to trust the opinion of Irenaeus or Polycarp? Who is this, you ask? Is Polycarp Greek for “a lot of fish” or is it actually a person’s name? Polycarp was an early Christian leader, ordained by none other than St. John, the apostle. He learned the Christian faith from John. He, in turn, taught Irenaeus. Thus, in the writings of these two men, we learn from people who were only one or two steps removed from Jesus Himself! Polycarp did not merely know the Gospel of John; he knew its author. He knew things St. John taught both in spoken and written Word!

Furthermore, the canon—the list of books accepted by the Church as the Word of God—is itself a product of tradition. Why do we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while ignoring the Gospel of Thomas? Jesus is quoted saying some great things in Thomas, but we ignore it. While many say, “Thomas was not really written by the disciple” (I agree with that statement), many scholars question whether the four Gospels we read were actually written by those authors (Matthew’s Gospel gives no direct clues who its author is). We simply accept by faith that those first four Gospels are the Word of God, and the Gospel according to Thomas and similar non-biblical “gospels&rdquo are the words of men. Likewise, we accept Revelation as the Word of God, but have never read the Shepherd of Hermas (although many early Christians preferred that book). Finally, Martin Luther wished he could take the letter of James out of the New Testament. However, the historic early church has spoken: We recognize these books as the Word of God. Other books may be great devotional literature or completely heretical. We accept the early church’s witness without really thinking about it.

Yes, errors have emerged at times in Church history. However, errors and heresies continue to pop up today. Many are merely repackaged versions of false teachings we think we have rejected (the similarities between medieval Catholicism’s sale of indulgences and the modern charismatic teaching about “seed-faith offerings to claim a blessing” are really two heads of the same monster). We can benefit by seeing how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout the ages, rather than jumping on new revelations or radical reinterpretations of the Bible. We have no authority to reshape the meaning of Scripture! Yes, we can reapply its principles to new situations; over the last 20 years or so, Christians have had to learn how to apply biblical principles to social media, blogging, and other aspects of the Internet, even though none of these are mentioned in Scripture. Modern Christians have to learn how to live biblical truth—written in societies usually governed by kings, emperors, and tyrants—in democratic and republican societies. However, the meaning of Scripture has not changed—what has changed is the culture in which we have to apply it.

Unfortunately, some Christians try to modify the Bible’s meaning to adapt it to a changed society. About 15 or 20 years ago, while teaching a Bible study at my church, I said that within a few years even so-called Bible-believing Christians would find themselves considering homosexual marriage “normal.” Most in the congregation doubted at that time, but look what has happened since then. It was legalized in Massachusetts; then in a few other states; and now, by Supreme Court ruling, it is legal in all 50 states. In response, some evangelical Christians have tried to redefine the meaning of biblical words about homosexuality, in an attempt to force the Bible into meaning what they want it to mean. Sorry, folks, you can convince yourself that your sophistry and rhetoric works, but God Himself is not moved: When Scripture lists “homosexuality” as a sin in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the Greek term is a compound word which literally means “a man who goes to bed with another man”; it simply does not and cannot mean “pedophile” or “child molester.”

Christians have become afraid to call sin by its biblical name, so many of us try to find ways to reinterpret Scripture to accept lifestyles that the Old Testament calls “abominations,” or to remove the Bible’s clear teaching about hell. I can only wonder how long it is until so-called Bible-believing churches accept transgenderism or polygamy. When we reject the wisdom of past decades of Spirit-led men of God and trust in our own understanding, anything goes. So, if a preacher is bringing a “new revelation” or “deeper truth” that was not taught in previous generations, be suspicious. Every time we ignore the Holy Spirit’s guidance of previous generations and assume He is correcting Himself, we are one step closer to apostasy.

Traditions have failed the Church in the past, but they still serve a valuable purpose. They give us a foundation upon which to interpret the hard questions of Scripture. They keep us connected with the universal Body of Christ throughout the ages. They keep a check on our pride and egotism, which may seek to distort Scripture to suit our own desires.

In my next post, we will take a look at how this relates to the purpose of Scripture and how God can use it to speak to us.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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