Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
It is a strange thing, but people who are under someone else tend to behave better than those who consider themselves free. This is not always the case, of course. But generally speaking, if somebody is being monitored by someone else, they will generally act with more restraint than others. One can presume this comes from the fact that a person will be held accountable for what they do. This system actually helps us to develop better habits and keeps our minds focused on more important things. However, constantly we strive to be “free.” Nobody likes being under someone else, nobody likes being watched, and nobody likes having to control what they do. It is interesting though how the Bible treats this and how it applies in our own lives. Many, after coming to Christ, find themselves accountable pretty much only to God- and end up in worse trouble than they were when they cared about what people thought first.
Before getting too deep into the subject, I wanted to touch on the story of the Centurion. During his travels, Jesus met a fairly high-ranking member of the Roman army. This man had heard that Jesus could heal the sick. So we read,
When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant (Luke 7:1-3).
Now, this officer was used to the strict training and style of the Roman army. So he had men above him and men below him. Those who were high above him wouldn’t have communicated to him directly, but rather through someone else in the chain of command (hence why it is referred to as a chain). Likewise, the centurion would likely have only dealt with those directly under him. If indeed this Jesus fellow was the Son of God, it would put him far above the centurion’s rank- and he realized this. Notice that the centurion didn’t even meet Jesus but instead sent Jewish representatives to the Lord. Not only known to be the Son of God, Jesus was also considered to be the coming Messiah, who would be King over Jerusalem. Therefore, the Roman had no place to ask Jesus for anything. When Jesus was asked by a Canaanite woman for help the Bible records, “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). The centurion understood his place. So the Jewish elders convinced Jesus to help the man and we read in Luke 7:6-8,
So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself and a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion actually explained his reasoning, he is under people and people are under him. As a Gentile, he shouldn’t be able to approach the King of the Jews, so he sent Jewish leaders to the Lord, and never expected to even see him. Some might think the request was selfish, but not the Lord,
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well (Luke 7:9-10).
Why did the centurion believe that Jesus could heal without even seeing the servant? Because the centurion also understood Jesus’ chain of command, and realized that while on earth, Jesus was under the Father in heaven, the Creator of everything. Without it even being written yet, the centurion already understood that “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). And so the centurion understood the chain of command. His servant was sick, so he asked the Jews, who asked Jesus, who would ask God- who can do anything with just a word- who would then heal his servant.
Now that was the position of a non-Christian, and even today, if you pray to the Lord for someone who is outside of Christ, it is very likely that they’ll get what you ask for. But what is the chain of command like for a saved person in Christ? The Bible tells us in Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We are told by the Scriptures that we can go straight to Jesus and God for any help we need. In fact, Jesus says, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14). This is why our prayers usually end with “in Jesus’ name.” As Christians we have an unbelievable freedom in front of the Lord. For through the blood of his Son, we have been cleansed and may freely approach the unapproachable Creator.
The Gospel helps us to understand a major danger in our position in Christ, though. For through most of his ministry, Jesus was not against Israel’s oppressor, Rome, but he was against Israel’s leadership, the law-abiding Pharisees. As a Christian (and one gifted with a skill in teaching no less), the more times I read the Gospels the more I find myself on the side of the Pharisees when Jesus is condemning their actions. As a new believer, I was like one of the tax collectors, begging for mercy in the presence of the undeniable Lord. But after some years and many times through the Bible, studying the Law, getting “Sin-O-Vision” from the Holy Spirit, and praying every day multiple times I find myself feeling pretty confident in my place with God. The thing is though, I’m still filled with evil thoughts, feelings, emotions, and I still do not have complete control. I act more holy around others, but truth be told, I’m constantly fighting against my old desires, I still have bitterness and resentment cropping up in my heart, and I’m almost as much a creature of my emotions as I was before. And so just when I think I’ve got this whole Christian thing down, Jesus comes in the Gospels and calls me a white-washed wall. Paul writes in Romans 7:24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” I hear you, brother.
Strangely, some parts of my sin have actually gotten worse since coming to Christ, especially in terms of arrogance. I am free in Christ. No longer burdened by man, I am above all of that. Paul knows that those who are free naturally will try to indulge in said freedom. He writes, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). This is probably one of the most important commands that we’re given as Christians. From my experience, I’ve see that Christians often use their freedom (and knowledge of other’s being Christians) to be terrible people. They become hypocritical, cruel, cold, uncaring, and greedy- all in all, bad examples of Christ.
This is played out practically toward the end of every book of the Gospels. We are introduced to Pontius Pilate, the governor and the religious rulers. Now, Pilate is under Roman rule, he has to follow Roman law or be punished by it. He fears Caesar, and is under no god other than his king. The religious ruling class (supposedly) fear only God, and are under Him (though they also understand that Rome rules Israel currently). The Pharisees, priests, and teachers of the Law are all free under the forgiveness of the Lord, and yet, as the trial of Jesus and his eventual crucifixion takes place, who comes off looking better? Keep in mind as we read, Pilate is only under Roman law, the Pharisees are under Rome and under the Law of God. We read in John 19:4, “Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.’” However, the response from the chief priests was that of the law in John 19:7, “The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’” To their credit, the law does state that blasphemy is a capital offence. However, it should be noted that Pilate is suggesting the people be merciful to Jesus; which scripture does prefer as the Lord says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Now as people under God’s love and mercy, mercy should come easy, but throughout the Gospels none is to be found except through Jesus and his followers (and apparently the non-religious Pilate). But the real shocker comes in John 19:12-15,
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
And in heaven, God said, “…Excuse me?” Pilate acted under Roman rule, he tried to be merciful but when his job was threatened by the people who would protest to Caesar, Pilate had no choice but to bring Jesus out. Pilate never forsook the authority of Caesar, and as soon as the title was thrown out, he immediately cowered in front of it. But look at the priests, in the face of opposition, they forsook their Lord and manipulated a Gentile who had a kinder head on his shoulders than they. This was not the people; this was the priests, the people of God. In practice though, it was the non-believing Gentile who was closer to God. Pilate was not under the Law of God, it was the priests. But as Paul writes about the Law of the Lord in Romans 2:13-15,
For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
When those outside of Christ act within his will, they make us look bad. And amazingly, those people, nonbelievers, are under man’s authority, not God’s. Yet, they KNOW how to act, and we who are with Jesus seem to lose track of how to treat others as we become filled with self-righteousness.
Let me make a confession to you (as if I haven’t done so enough). A few days ago (I make note of this as the outline for this post was written probably a month ago) before my daily Bible reading, I prayed that the Lord would really speak to my heart, even if it was something I didn’t want to hear. Here is what the Holy Spirit lit up,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:25-28).
And you thought Leviticus was hardcore, right? Brothers and sisters, we need to watch ourselves. The devil is so sneaky, while we’re polishing the outside, he creeps inside and all that insidious stuff that had been hidden under mounds of Christendom after being saved seeps back in. The greed, the immorality, the rage, all of the sins still buried within our fleshly bodies creeps back when we’re not paying attention. So watch yourself closely. As Christians we quickly forget that we will be called to account and that God is always watching. Sure, the Lord will forgive us right away if we ask, but do we really want to live in a way that displeases Him who is above us? We have been freed from the restraints that hold people down, but Peter recommends,
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God (1 Peter 2:13-16).
There is a chain of command, and as Christians God should be at the top of ours. Who is at the top of your chain, is it the Lord, or is it you? Under whose authority are you?
I’ve gotten lost in myself,
I follow what I want,
And I’ve forgotten that you’ve always been there.
-Well, that’s not true,
When I needed you, I called out to you.
And no matter what, you’ve always helped me.
I on the other hand have not always been there.
Lord help me to remember you always,
And to keep myself clean on the inside,
So that my outside will shine with your glory,
And those who see me will come to you.
Thank you for your mercy,
In Jesus name I pray,