2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (NKJV)
(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
Believers of all walks, all maturity levels and all persuasions are often faced with Bible verses that, on the surface, are very hard to accept or grasp. Our first reaction upon reading it may be, “what? It can’t possibly mean that!”.
Don’t worry, you’re in good company. For thousands of years people have been wondering how could a man live over 900 years? Did the sun really stand still for a day? How can Jesus be 100% God and 100% man? Then there are easier ones that are “hard” for other reasons because they go against what we are used to: lifting holy hands? Modest dress? Designated leadership roles? Submissiveness in marriage?
That verse can’t possibly mean what it says!
When we cross a verse that hits us like that, here are some things to keep in mind:
Rule No. 1
Rule number one in Bible interpretation is: take the text literally unless the text DEMANDS a symbolic (something that represents something else) or allegorical (fictional characters and events that describe some subject by suggestive resemblances) interpretation. Take the book of Revelation for example; many segments of Christianity write off the entire book as symbolic. Why? Because it is hard to imagine a 3rd of the earth burned up, the oceans turning to blood, and flying demon-locusts zipping around stinging people with their scorpion tales. This devotional is not the time or place for me to state my position on that, but I leave you with the question: why MUST that be symbolic? IF God were to literally pour out His wrath on the earth, could not those physical things easily come true if God wished?
Remember, if the literal interpretation makes sense, don’t look for another interpretation. We don’t need anymore “novel” interpretations of Scripture, or modern day “word of knowledge” interpretations that deliver us some new and unheard of “spin” on Scripture. Today, we rest on the shoulders of hundreds of years of great and Godly men compiling layer upon layer of study and research of God’s Word. There is much for us as individuals to LEARN, but I propose, nothing NEW to DISCOVER that has not already been written, preached, taught, commented on or debated (other than the possible unfolding of prophetic events that bring light to Scripture).
The Bible Interprets Itself
The best place to find an interpretation of Scripture, is in the Scripture itself. Now on the surface, that may sound like circular logic, but remember, we are talking about the divinely inspired, supernaturally originated Word of God: 66 books written over 1500 years by 40 different men from all walks of life and yet, it presents a totally harmonious, error-free, miraculously consistent message from the Creator of the Universe.
The Bible is the interpreter of the Bible. When you run across a hard verse, find out what the rest of Scripture has to say about the topic, the concept, or the words in the verse.
Kill the Tradition Filter
“We’ve always done it that way.” So what! Doing something wrong or poorly for 50 years doesn’t make it get better with “seniority” or longevity..
Now, lest I be accused of being wishy-washy, I’m talking about being “tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine”. We should be committed and firm in our beliefs, but always open to the fact that our traditions may be quenching, restraining or distorting what God would have us do, believe or pursue.
Mark 7:13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (NKJV)
It is completely possible to negate the effect of the Word of God in your life or congregation by stubborn adherence to tradition. Learn to evaluate: is this the plain Word of God, or just the “way we’ve always done it”? If it is the clear and plain and straightforward Word of God, then stand firm and unmovable. If it is tradition, then loosen up, let go and allow God to work in His own vibrant, new and refreshing way.
You Have to Use Your Head
This is the idea that if YOUR common sense disagrees with God’s Word, then your common sense makes you the EXCEPTION.
There are NO exceptions to God’s Word no matter what excuses you may have.
Our common sense can talk us out of just about anything God commands: “don’t give so much, you can’t afford it”; “don’t help that person, they are reaping what they’ve sown”; “don’t witness to that person, it’s obvious they aren’t interested in God”; “I know God says don’t worry, but this situation is different”.
The list could go on and on; basically you can take any command or instruction God has given, and any one of us can think up “exceptions” to it. Wrong! There are none. And the sooner we figure out the we are NOT the exception to God’s rule, the quicker we can get on with becoming more mature and disciplined in the Lord.
That Was A Cultural Thing
We know what God says, but we decide it doesn’t apply to us. It’s was a cultural thing; something for “those” times; it was meant only for those specific readers. YES, there are times when this applies, but we must be very careful when coming to this conclusion. We can pretty much rid ourselves of everything we are supposed to do by rationalizing “that is not meant for today” (modest dress codes, giving, leadership requirements, submissiveness in marriage are favorite targets for this).
Here’s a quick example (for which we lack time and space to develop fully): we are instructed to “greet one another with a holy kiss”(2Cor 13.12). A little background study shows that this was a custom of the time, as it still is in many countries today. There is not alot of arguable spiritual symbology or signficance to the gesture itself. So this could be considered to be a “cultural thing”.
We are also commanded to “lift up holy hands” to the Lord (1Tim 2.8). On the surface, this might be an easy target for “cultural dismissal”, but upon further reflection there are many things to consider. Lifting up, holding up or otherwise presenting your hands to the Lord has powerful symbology:
- I surrender to You
- I come with nothing of my own to You
- I am ready to receive from You
- I am open and vulnerable to You
- I come unarmed and unburdened to You
- I reach out to You for help
- I reach out to You for comfort and safety
- I present my life to You
- I submit to You
Based on that, it becomes a little harder to dismiss “lifting hands” as simply a custom of the Bible times that “doesn’t apply today”. My point is not to argue this particular issue, but to get you to stop and think before dismissing something in the Bible as “for them” but “not for us”.
You Shouldn’t Do Something That Will Offend
Well, then just quit doing anything because in our hypersensitive, politically correct world, you can’t even say “God” without offending someone (unless of course you are cursing, then you stand a good chance of no one caring). Regardless of the social climate, let’s get one thing straight:
Jesus is offensive.
He claims to be the ONLY truth. He claims to be the only way to heaven, with all other paths leading to hell. He wants to be your master. He wants your obedience, submission and loyalty. Jesus goes against man’s design for self-admiration, self-satisfaction, self-aggrandizement and self-service. In short, Jesus wants you to give up SELF and put Him on the throne of your life.
And if you don’t, you’ll go to hell. Sorry, I wish there was a “nicer” way to say it, but that is the offensive truth.
The Gospel of Christ offends. The holiness of God offends. The Truth offends. (don’t get me wrong; we don’t go around TRYING to offend… the simple proclamation of God’s Word will take care of that for us). So we should not avoid, ignore or explain away any part of the Bible that might offend those who hear it.
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When you run across a “hard” verse or concept in Scripture, don’t avoid it, explain it away or casually dismiss it. Read it, embrace it, ask God for wisdom to understand and courage to obey.
Every Scripture in the Bible is there for a reason. Nothing is there by accident. If it is a “hard” verse, then God meant for it to be! So enjoy the thrill of deeper study and tackle them with anticipation of blessing.
Lord, Help us to embrace Your Word and turn to You in faith and obedience when we encounter a difficult passage. We pray for discernment, understanding and strength to obey.. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Contemplation: What difficult verses do you struggle with? Submission? Giving? Worship? Creation? Do you ignore them or explain them away? How do you respond when others ask you those verses? Are you ready to give an answer?
Application: The Bible is written exactly the way God wanted it to be. The “hard” verses are there for a reason. God will bless us for having faith and trust even when faced with difficult concepts, commands or facts.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?