Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Christians are supposed to have the best fellowship with each other and the greatest kindness towards others. After all, before he died, Jesus told his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Aside from all of the other commands that Christians are expected to uphold; the Lord placed on them the Law of kindness and love. And if we look at how the first church was run, we’ll find that it was abounding in fellowship. In fact, the church grew through fellowship. Scripture tells us,
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising god and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).
Because of the warmth and friendliness of the early church, the Lord was able to quickly grow it in size. As far as scripture is concerned, love toward one another is a determining factor of Christianity. 1 John 2:9-10 states, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” So according to John, we’re supposed to be able to tell who is a Christian and who isn’t just by how they act towards others.
So then why do we find Christians fighting amongst themselves so frequently? Why are some believers so cold towards each other? These are questions I think that most new believers ask when running into such troubles. The Holy Spirit showed me Paul dealt with this issue even in his day. How did he deal with fighting Christians? Let’s check out what Paul writes,
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book life (Philippians 4:2-3).
Paul wrote not only to the two women who were fighting, but he also wrote to their peers to help remind Euodia and Syntyche that everyone has one common goal: that the gospel be spread to the world. Therefore, since they are united in the fight for Christ, they should lay aside their differences and focus on what’s more important. And what fight does Paul call all Christians to? Love. We read,
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (Philippians 2:1-2).
As the Body of Christ, we should strive to help those outside the faith experience the love of Christ and live with Christ’s love in us as we deal with our brethren. How do we then capture the love of Christ in order to spread it with others? Paul explains,
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 3-4).
He then goes on to write,
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life- in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing (Philippians 2:14-16).
No selfish ambition, no complaining, looking after others? Paul expects a lot from us. Well, wait, hold on a second. Where does Paul get off telling us how to live? Who gave him all the answers?
Really, Paul is trying to encourage us to follow the example of Christ. For Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” As Christians we’re called to follow Jesus’ example in our daily lives. And although Paul can give instruction on how to act, he knows that to really understand the heart a believer needs it’s best to look to the source. Paul writes,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God
Something to be grasped,
But made himself nothing,
Taking the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death-
Even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8).
Jesus was God, in human form. He was there at the creation, many theologians think that he appeared to Abraham and Joshua, and his sacrifice was the only sacrifice large enough to cover the world’s sins. But did our Savior didn’t lord his Lordship over us, rather he took on role as a servant both to God (on whom he was on equal footing) and also to us on earth. Now if the Son was equal to the Father and yet became a servant during his life on earth, we should too follow the same example. All people are equal; therefore those of us of the faith should have the servant’s spirit towards others. For if Jesus didn’t even consider equality with God (whom he was equal to) something to be grasped, so we should see ourselves in such a light when comparing ourselves to others. Jesus taught on this very topic. We read,
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his live as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
The followers of Christ have been commanded to put others first. This is what makes believers special. The rest of the world gets excited about position and power, but we’re called to toss all that to the side and to look toward Christ. In some churches being an elder is an honor position, but really, if a person is elevated in the church, it should be so that they can serve more. I think in an age where many churches are preaching the blessings from God non-stop (and I’m not condemning, I do it in my writing too) we lose sight of our actual position in this world. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church,
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as men (1 Corinthians 4:9).
As Christians we’re called to lose here on this earth if need be. A lot of us get this idea that if we’re with Jesus, then every light will turn green, but I think all of us (me included) need to check our thinking. Really, a Christian should expect hardship and inconvenience in order that someone else may profit. Because after all, a non-believer only has this life to enjoy and then an eternity of suffering whereas we only have this life to suffer and then an eternity of bliss. Paul continues,
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
I think as Christians we often have a selective memory when it comes to scripture like this. Don’t think of yourselves too highly, my friends, but understand that our place is waiting for us in heaven, so we shouldn’t be grabbing for space here.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul makes a few other notes that we should not forget about. He writes,
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel (Philippians 2:19-22).
Paul was sending Timothy to the people of Philipi because he was a good example about how to live. Because of his selflessness, Timothy had earned a special place in Paul’s heart and gets probably more shout-outs in the epistles than anyone else. Since he was selfless in his actions, Paul glorified Timothy to others. So too will the Lord glorify those who put others ahead of themselves. You need not seek greatness, but rather follow Jesus’ formula: to be great become like a slave. So Christian, don’t fight, don’t complain, and don’t lose sight of your place in the kingdom. Paul tells us in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If you’ve got a bone to pick, do it nicely. Those angry signs outside of abortion clinics, homosexual rallies, and video game companies do nothing good for the name of Jesus. Your time is better spent praying and learning to glorify Christ through your communication rather than damn heathens. And when someone tries to pick a fight with you on your faith, don’t take the bait. Friendly discussion is fine, but we must watch ourselves, for the Word of God tells us,
Don’t’ have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful (2 Timothy 2:23-24).
Believers are called to be peacemakers, both inside the church and outside the church. Don’t fight, our time here is too short to waste it arguing and kicking and biting. Rather, we should meditate on the words of David,
How good and pleasant it is
When brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
Running down on the beard,
Running down on Aaron’s beard,
Down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
Were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
Even life forevermore (Psalms 133: 1-3).