Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
In recent years, some large (and not so large) protestant churches have been going through very difficult times. (Heck, although these notes are a several months old, just in recent weeks yet another church and its leader has come under major scrutiny.) Pastors’ personal lives are starting to become publicized and everything a particular church has done wrong is now being proclaimed on the news. Likewise, roughly ten years ago, the Catholic Church was hit hard by revelations relating to some of their clergy acting improperly. For members of these churches, the whole thing can seem like an attack on the larger body of Christ and something that we see as stable and steadfast is suddenly shaken to its core. Now, I’m only using the church as an example, many people in their daily lives find that one day they wake up and everything seems to be crumbling around them. Why does this happen? Or maybe the better question is, “Why does this happen to a believer?” And what are we supposed to do when it seems like our worlds are crashing, be it at church, at home, or in the workplace?
There’s a gospel passage that has always had me scratching my head. In Mark 9:49, Jesus makes a seemingly profound (though mysterious) statement: “Everyone will be salted with fire.” I know, it sounds deep, right? But this is actually really confusing since in the line above Jesus is talking about the terrible fires of hell and then in the next line he starts talking about good salt. Basically it reads like this, “In hell the fires never go out- everyone will be salted with fire- salt is good.” What, Jesus? Does this mean that everyone will go to hell? Does this mean that hell is a good thing? What are you getting at, Lord? One day, the Holy Spirit finally opened up this passage to me, and it seemed right to pass the message on to you as well. We have to remember that the gospels are full of Jesus’ quotes and are not always arranged in the way we’d like them. So while it makes for a good transition between a discussion of fire and salt, the above passage is meant to be read on its own, for its message is separate (this is why I’m trying not to quote the lines around it). When Jesus says that everyone will be salted with fire, what he means is that we’ll all face times of testing. Solomon put it this way, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3). When silver and gold are passed through the fire, all of the impurities are burned out and what is left is what is actually usable for the silver or gold. Likewise, we must face times of great difficulties in order to burn out everything that isn’t fitting with God’s plan for our lives.
Paul put it this way,
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundations other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
The Lord may sit back and let us conduct our lives in however we see fit for a time, but there will come a day when all things will be tested for what they are. Now this particular passage is likely in reference to the end of days, however, it is a principle that we can see in action around us. Therefore Paul tells us before it happens so we know, one day all things will be tested. In fact, Jesus warns us in Luke 12:2-3,
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
Through this, Jesus is telling us that if we think we’re being smart in our underhanded dealings, think again. For a day of testing will come, and those things done in the dark will be brought to light. Just think about how much public embarrassment the Catholic church faced when it was brought to the media that some of their ministers were mishandling their power; or even now how very large churches that have helped millions are currently facing public disgrace for misappropriating funds (as this seems to be the main focus of news agencies). Now, before you start feeling safe because you don’t think you’ve been doing anything wrong, stop. Remember, Jesus said that everyone will be salted by fire. He reminds us in Matthew 5:44-45,
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
The Lord is fair. Everyone is allowed a season things going well (this would be that “sun rising” part). Likewise though, everyone goes through hard times (the “rain”). Therefore, no matter how righteous or unrighteous you may be, the Lord will allow a time of great testing to come upon you one day, and what comes of it will test your mettle.
So be ready. For nobody knows when his time of testing will come, therefore it is important to live a life in obedience and submission to God. As Job’s friend, Zophar put it,
Yet if you devote your heart to him
And stretch out your hands to him,
If you put away the sin that is in your hand
And allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
Then you will lift up your face without shame;
You will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
Recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
And darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
You will look about you and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
And many will court your favor.
But the eyes of the wicked will fall,
And escape will elude them;
Their hope will become a dying gasp (Job 11:13-20).
By living a life filled with honesty, and with obedience to the Lord, you will be able to find hope even in the toughest of times; and when the times of trial are over, you’ll be able to quickly move on and prosper more until what you experienced seems only like a distant memory. Consider Job himself, he was a blameless man, and yet faced terrible hardship. However, he understood this principle and commented, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). So although his life was in absolute shambles, Job realized that he hadn’t done anything to bring it on himself, therefore, when all was said and done, he’d come off as a better man. And indeed he did! For now we read about Job as this great man who endured suffering and was rewarded for it- he’s a hero for everyone in pain now. However, the other side of the coin, as Zophar pointed out, is that those who do not live in submission to God will be wrecked. Take heed those of you who think you are too cool for Jesus or that you can keep sinning after salvation.
When the news came out about the improper behavior from a percentage of the Catholic clergy, a lot of people thought the church would be damaged beyond repair. And yet today they have been able to keep going and once again begin to grow. I’d say the Catholics did a whole lot better than how they have in the past when salted by the fire of trouble. Consider this, in previous times the Catholic Church usually ended up being split up and nearly destroyed. So maybe there’s something to be said about the majority of our brothers and sisters on the other side of the schism. Now it is Protestantism’s turn at the furnace, and I am confident that it will survive the flames with grace and once all the trouble is rooted out, perhaps see another great revival. Peter wrote to the church, while it was going through a miserable persecution,
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:12-17).
If you suffer, though right with God, do not give up, for God will raise you up when your time of trials are over. If however you suffer for wickedness and are apart for God, well, good luck- you’ll need it. So, my brother or sister, the end is always the same, trust in Jesus, live a life in step with God; and when trouble comes- and it will come- don’t panic, for it will be over soon, and when it has passed you will be raised up as your character and relationship with Christ have determined.