‘Ok kids, get out your scissors, Bible and glue. And let’s get ready to create a whole new reality.’
This is how I feel sometimes when I hear preachers do ‘expository preaching.’ The Bible in the hands of a smart man and/or a dynamic speaker can be twisted around to say pretty much whatever you want. One friend of mine tells a story of how he weaved together Scripture to come up with a theology that wearing sunglasses is sin. Of course, he wasn’t really serious. My friend just used this little trick to illustrate a very valid point. We must be careful how we rightly divide the Word of truth.
Let’s work through an example to see how the Scripture can be reconstructed to defend even ludicrous positions. Here’s one that I wish I had known as a kid. In Luke 11:37-38, a Pharisee invites Jesus to come have dinner with him. Jesus accepts the invitation and proceeds to sit down to eat. Listen to how the King James version of the Bible described the situation. “And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he (Jesus) had not first washed before dinner (v38).” Thinking with the mindset of a young boy, I could use that Scripture to try to justify to my mother why I don’t have to wash my hands before eating dinner. She could say, ‘March right in the bathroom and wash your hands before supper.’ To which I could reply, ‘Why? Jesus didn’t wash his hands before eating.’
In my young mind, the Scripture seems to fit my situation, but in trying to apply the Word to fit my own desires, I end up butchering the real meaning. The Pharisee was shocked to see Jesus dine without going through the ceremonial washing required by the Jewish traditions. Jesus did this to challenge their traditions. He wanted them to see that the inside of the cup (the heart) is more important than the outside. The Pharisees ignored the real heart issues, which is what really matters the most to God. This Scripture passage doesn’t really have anything to do with germs, health habits or obeying my mother.
Sometimes Bible teachers end up taking Scriptures out of context to support a very valid and Biblically sound point. Some might ask, ‘What’s the big deal as long as they overall get the theology right? What does the context really matter?’ It matters a great deal. If you take the attitude that you can manipulate the Word of God to match your feelings, then you dilute the authority of Scripture. You start to play the role of god. Scripture does not exist to support our world view. Scripture exists to reveal to us God’s world view. Anything else is just a toll road to idolatry, and you won’t like the price at the end of the journey.
Scripture must always be studied in context. Where does a passage fall in the entire storyline of the Bible? What are the historical and cultural issues surrounding the passage? Does the passage have more than one application as is common, especially in the Old Testament prophets? Now this shouldn’t scare you away and lead you to think that the Bible is only for serious scholars. Just as being too loose with Scripture can be a problem, being too legalistic can rob you of revelation inspired by the Holy Spirit. There are two extremes, and neither one is a good thing.
John 6:63 – “It is the spirit that quickeneth the flesh profiteth nothing:the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” We should not look at the Bible as a legalistic rule book loaded with impersonal doctrine and cold, hard truth void of life. The Word of God bears the mark, the image of God. And God is a spirit. His words exist on a spiritual plain beyond just the physical world. Sure the Bible is words on a page, but that’s not all there is to it. Apart from the Spirit, the Bible has no real power. Thus, there must be liberty to allow the Spirit to speak direct revelation and application to your life. The good news is that the revelation of the Holy Spirit will never be out of alignment with the real meaning of Scripture. God is not confused about His Word. But sometimes our flesh can get in the way. That’s why we should be students of the Word and hold one anther accountable for our doctrine and practices. The process starts with identyfing the negative habits of the past and moving forward into the New and Living Way.
The more we treasure the Word and its authority, the less likely we will be to manipulate it to serve our own agenda.