Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I’ve heard quite a few times the story of a young woman coming to Christ and then trying to join a church. Immediately she is bombarded by older women who seem to be judging every aspect of how she lives and almost seem to be rejecting her just out of how she looks rather than where her heart is. This sort of thing ends up getting the hashtag of “my bad church experience” and then a plethora of women (believers and not) and men (usually non-believers) come to offer their condolences as well as curses for the judgmental older church members. The thing is though, although those church ladies may have terrible tact, as far as the Bible is concerned they are in the right. Paul wrote to Titus,
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God (Titus 2:3-5).
Older women are specifically told in the Bible to teach younger women. Interestingly enough, when Paul is instructing Titus on this, he doesn’t give the same instructions for men; rather he separates older men from younger men very clearly by putting the women in the middle. This tells me that older men are supposed to teach more through example while young men are directly ministered to through the elders or pastors. However, women are supposed to take care of women. This can be a bit jarring at first, but if you’ve got a flock of church ladies descending on you when you try to join a church it’s a sign that they care.
There’s a very strong “you can’t tell me how to live” vibe that most people feel these days. However, this is where we find that Christianity is extremely counter-cultured. According to the Bible yes, I can tell you how to live (pending I’ve got my own life under control). Now, it is true, if I’m walking in blindness I have no business trying to “help” you with Christian living. Luke 6:39 recalls, “He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” And furthermore, the Lord tells believers,
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
From these verses we can see that although a person dealing with the same issues as you might be able to empathize better, they’re not the best people to get advice from. Think of it, if a guy who’s still drinking tries to tell you how to quit, it’s probably not the best source for advice. Similarly, if you go to your friends (who are likely in the same age group and experience level as you) for advice, you’re probably not making a wise decision. Consider Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. After inheriting the kingdom, he was approached by the people to lighten the load a little (as Solomon worked them hard with massive building programs to the point where the citizens were almost slaves). Rehoboam didn’t know what to do, so he asked his dad’s advisors. Scripture records in 1 Kings 12:7, “They replied, ‘If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.’” Now, if I was Rehoboam, I wouldn’t like this advice. It makes the king look weak, and opens him up to being totally controlled by the people’s whims. I suspect Rehoboam agreed with me, because the passage continues,
But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”
The young men who had grown up with him replied, “Tell these people who have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’- tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions’” (1 Kings 12:8-11).
Rehoboam’s friends suggested that rather than submit to the people, he show his power to them in order to keep them in line. This would fall along the lines of, “You go girl (er…dude), you do your thing and don’t let them get to you!” His friends were supportive to his needs and empathized with his situation (as they too were struggling to find their place in the kingdom). The rest of the kingdom saw things differently though,
When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:
“What share do we have in David,
What part in Jesse’s son?
To your tents, O Israel!
Look after your own house, O David!”
So the Israelites went home (1 Kings 12:16).
And so, because Rehoboam put his friend’s advice above that than the wisdom of his elders, Israel became two kingdoms, with only two of the twelve houses remaining loyal to Rehoboam. Talk about a royal screw-up (pun totally intended). Through this we see that although your friends can be supportive (and certainly make a great support system) when you’re going through difficult times; it is wise to heed the advice of those more experienced than you.
“You can’t tell me how to live!” Oh boy, if you’re a new Christian, then you’re gonna have to drop that frame of mind right at the door. The days of the Law might be over, but in his very first sermon Jesus made clear that God still has a strong opinion on how he wants you to live. Generally, when an evangelist or someone on the street is preaching the Gospel, they don’t highlight this part. This is because it’s important to save souls and nobody likes being told what to do. Generally, the hope is that after coming to Christ a person will have their hearts changed by the Holy Spirit so that the Word can then mold them into better people. However, if you’ve gotten the idea that God doesn’t want his fingers in your life, then you are sadly mistaken. Matthew 5-7 are basically Jesus saying that just following the Law isn’t good enough and you should strive for an even more strictly lead life. This is why the Puritans were so…pure.
Getting back to the title of the article then; not only does God have an opinion on how you live, but he also cares about how you dress. The Law states, “And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it” (Exodus 20:26). Keep in mind that at the time, everyone was wearing something between a one-piece to an Egyptian style mini-skirt, even the guys. Depending on the length of said one-piece, dress, or skirt it is pretty easy to be exposed while walking up stairs. I live in a metropolitan area and I am shocked daily at how short women can make their clothes. Even with legs crossed I can see about half of their butt when they sit down and the stairs are essentially a pg-13 peep show. The verse from the Law comes from how the Temple was to be constructed, but the idea of it is that a person should avoid showing their “nakedness.” When you give yourself to Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, you’re giving yourself to him fully and letting him make the decisions. That’s that whole “Lord” part. As Christians, we’re expected to live a certain way. Mini-skirts and casual sex were all popular in Jesus’ time too (I mean, that’s what ancient Rome and ancient Greece were known for) but it’s because Christians didn’t adhere to the world’s ways but adopted more simple, more conservative lifestyles that they set themselves apart from the rest of the people around them and made such a strong impact on the western world that can still be felt today.
“Where does he/she get off telling me what to do?” I’ve heard this a lot from frustrated people who didn’t appreciate advice given to them. There’s some truth to this, as a person, I or anyone else has very little place telling you how to live your life. However, God has an absolute claim to that right (especially after you’ve surrendered your life to Christ). Think of your life and remember the source. David writes,
For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
Were written in your book
Before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).
God made you. Not only did he make you, but he planned out your life. Now we readily admit that Jesus lived a perfect life on this earth and that through his wisdom our Father in heaven is perfect in all he does. Therefore, when God gives advice for your life through his Law or the teachings of Jesus or the apostles, it stands to logic that there’s a reason to the rhyme when applied to the overall plan for your life. Therefore, since the Word of God is in agreement with them; when those nasty church ladies let you have it about how you dress or act (no matter how rudely they may do it), rather than complain to your friends or your social network it might be a good idea to take a look at your wardrobe or lifestyle and consider making changes. Old ladies at church may not show it well, but they’ve been absorbing the Word through the Holy Spirit, frequent church attendance, and likely reading the Bible far longer than you. They’re compelled by Christ to tell you how to live because that’s how the Lord has worked in their lives as well. Rather than get upset, listen to their advice, and when you become the old church lady, remember to give the same advice with a kinder tone when you’re called to say something. After all, the Bible tells us,
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).
If they didn’t care, they’d let you do what you want- so consider being accused of dressing too provocatively as an olive branch, welcoming you to the church in their own way. Paul goes on to tell us that we shouldn’t get upset when given Godly advice from others,
If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load (Galatians 6:3-5).
Paul tells us that we shouldn’t compare ourselves with others. Yeah, the world doesn’t care about how they live- but you, Christian, are not of the world, you’re of God. So suck it up, pray, and when someone gives you advice or Godly criticism, think about it rather than getting all prided up. Rather than hashtag “my bad church experience,” listen to the Word of God, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). Even if another person is rude in their delivery, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20). Don’t worry; God will sort out their bedside manner in his time.
Up until now this article has been pretty female-specific. However, the lesson is the same for guys too. In fact, as a Christian dude, I have some advice for those looking to live Godly lives in the Lord: put your shirt on and pull up your pants. Also, socks and sandals look terrible as do Crocs- that’s not coming from a Biblical standpoint, but I mean really, we’re the children of God; we should be more presentable than that. I have no idea what to say about beach wear since in any other situation it would be akin to walking around in our underwear. So honestly, that’s something I’ll have to pray on- though I suspect that the Lord is probably not too keen on g-strings, c-strings, or anything else string-based. Hmm, I’m suddenly feeling the conviction to buy one of those turn of the century cover-all swimsuits. Have a good day, praise the Lord and enjoy your walk with Christ. Oh, but ladies, for goodness sakes; 90% of you will be in a situation that requires sitting down, going up stairs, or being on an upper floor with only a glass wall next to the edge: dress accordingly. We’re called to avoid immorality, not endorse it.
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
-The Apostles (in Acts 15:28-29)