Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
“Sir,” the woman said, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:19-24).
By Jesus’ times, the religious atmosphere of Samaria had changed. No longer was it a symbol of “do it yourself” religion, it had become an unwelcomed mirror of the Jerusalem church. Jesus recognized this property and through his conversation with the woman at the well he was able to use her to reflect problems in the Jerusalem worship as well as the modern-day church. A word that is getting a fair bit of use these days is “Churchanity,” it is a pejorative term that highlights a growing problem: the church has lost its meaning and becoming a meaning unto itself. People come to church for other reasons than Christ, corruption is coming into the Lord’s house, people worship by going through the motions, and perhaps the most destruction feature is that there are heavy divisions in the church. Christianity has lost its way. Maybe you’ve lost the taste of the Lord because of the problems in the church. Well, shake off every pretense you have towards church and religion and get your heart opened up for the Word, as David says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalms 34:8). The Lord is good, and your refuge is in him, not some building. Listen to God’s Word, for it is written in Psalms 119:103, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Let the Lord bring you back (or maybe for the first time) into his presence by his Word, that it may speak to your spirit, and you in turn will understand his Spirit, unbridled by the confines of a church building.
An increasing (though not unfamiliar) problem in the church today is people’s motives for coming. Some people want healing, some people want networking, and other people come to hear the choir. None of these desires of church are wrong. However, when they become the main reason for attending church they can become a distraction from the primary focus of the church: the Lord Jesus. It can be dangerous for someone to attend church for wrong reasons. Because simply attending church will not save anyone, nor will good deeds or just acting like a Christian. Jesus himself states that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Going to church for selfish reasons without acknowledging the Lord’s son may very well lead a person into an uncertain afterlife.
The first way that people misuse the church is a problem that extends back even to Jesus’ ministry: healing. Is it wrong to pray to the Lord for healing? Absolutely not! However, we must not lose focus on why we pray, go to church, and try to keep our lives clean; which is to grow in our relationship with God. Many people lose sight of this and start getting the “If I pray more, God will bless me” mentality. Not only is this concept not supported in scripture, but it is extraordinarily arrogant. A person with such a mindset quickly can begin to compare themselves with others. Jesus spoke out against this exact mind in Luke 18:9-14,
To some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men- robbers, evildoers, adulterers- or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
As far as the Law and prayer are concerned, the Pharisee is far ahead of the tax collector. The Pharisees were the religious ruling class and they followed the law with their actions to the letter. Jesus makes sure to emphasize just how holy this Pharisee acts in order to explain to us the heart of God. The Pharisee is thankful about how religious he is, thinking that his works will make him right with God, but this is treated as great arrogance. The tax collector on the other hand is reaching out to the Lord because he knows that he can do nothing apart from his Heavenly Father. This tax collector, Jesus says, is more righteous; even though he is not a prayer king or leading a very godly life. Jesus won’t heal you for coming to church; Jesus heals because he doesn’t like seeing people in pain. We can find this mind in Matthew 14:14, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crow, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Notice that Jesus is not moved by anything but compassion. It doesn’t say these people were righteous; just that they needed the Lord’s help. Does this mean that going to church doesn’t help in healing? Of course not; the people in the passage had to come to Jesus first. For in Hebrews 11:6 it is stated, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Coming to Jesus is an assumed step in achieving the miraculous.
But we must understand that Jesus didn’t come just to heal. He did heal people, but it wasn’t why he was sent to earth. Jesus didn’t want people to be confused and just seem him as a medicine man. Luke 5:13-14 makes note of one of his many incidents of healing; this time after a leper asked Jesus if he is willing to make him clean,
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
We can see that Jesus didn’t want the man to talk about the healing, but instead he focused on what the Law commanded the man to do. Even during his time, Jesus had a great following of people who were trying to keep Jesus with them knowing that he could heal them; “But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). While he was alive, Jesus’ purpose was not to only heal, but to bring people to God through the Word. Healing does come from being in a relationship with Jesus, but should never come first. Healing should also not be a judgment of a person’s righteousness; for many people are not healed and even the most righteous among us die eventually. God’s plan is God’s plan and we can’t read into what we see with our eyes too much.
Many people come to church not to praise the Lord, but to network. This is a troublesome issue as one’s church is a place of fellowship. The early church was even founded on fellowshipping. The Book of Acts records,
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).
As we can see, fellowship occurs naturally within a church, and it is good. It can be of great help for a believer that needs a support system, as a group of believers are essentially an automatic group of friends (obviously this is not always the case, but ideally true believers should be able to meet without any quarrels). This automatic fellowship also attracts people to church, which in turn builds up more believers. The Lord loves followers of Christ communing together. There is, however, a dark side to all this. As mentioned already, the fellowship among believers is very attractive and can lure in unruly people who care nothing about God. Jesus explained about this in a parable about seeds. Matthew 13:24-26 records,
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.”
The church is the same way; God plants a church for believers (good seed). However, where there is light, darkness often follows and the devil sends in his agents into churches. All over the church is infiltrated with unbelievers hoping to cash in on the social benefits of being part of a congregation. These people do no good for the church, and their lack of belief can poison the minds of those who have come to seek the Lord. In the story, the workers were confused, as many people certainly are as to why a nonbeliever would attend church. But the farmer (who represents God) knows exactly what is going on. The farmer starts as we continue the story,
“An enemy did this,” he replied.
The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them” (Matthew 13:28-29).
Nonbelievers who come to church network; and although they have been led to the church for unholy reasons, they have been able to make strong ties to the congregation members. The Lord sees this problem, so he advises believers not to go on any sort of a “witch hunt” for those that oppose God; as it is very likely that while those people are forced out of the church, they’ll take good people with them- or even worse, the congregation (being human and not perfect) may drive out the wrong people. Instead, the Lord (through the farmer in the parable) gives a very strong warning to the fake Christians, “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:30). Going to church just for networking purposes or to cash in on fellowshipping carries a very strong punishment. If this is why you go to church, please save yourself and seek mercy from the Lord. For attending church without the light of the Lord only leads to damnation, whereas there is great blessing associated with the fellowship of believers. For we read in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” By giving your life to Christ, you can enjoy the fellowship of the church and receive all of the other blessings associated with Christ, including eternal security in Him.
There is a strange, though common issue in many churches: some people just like the music. Indeed, the music at church, being holy in nature, should be appealing. Some folks attend a church and may even go as far as joining the choir just to enjoy the heavenly music that comes with it. The fact that such people find hymns and gospel songs beautiful speaks that their hearts are accepting of spiritual things, though not yet open to Jesus himself. Our Lord cries out to these people who are so close to salvation in Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” While being bathed in the music of church, in an environment rich with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is so close. A person in this state likely needs only a little push and encouragement before entering also into a fellowship with Christ. What brings in churchgoers like these? Well, worship music in church is a holy act with a holy purpose. While making preparations for the future temple, King David re-assigned the Levites, who at the time were in charge of setting up, tearing down, and carrying the Tent of Meeting, the Ark of the Covenant, and the other holy items. Now that the Israelites were no longer a nomadic people and had settled in Jerusalem, there was no need for packing and unpacking the Lord’s tent. So David gave the Levites new positions in service to the Lord. After counting the available Levites, David announced their positions:
David said, “Of these, twenty-four thousand are to supervise the work of the temple of the Lord and six thousand are to be officials and judges. Four thousand are to be gatekeepers and four thousand are to praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose (1 Chronicles 23:4-5).
So before the Lord’s House had even been built, there had already been worship teams and choirs ready to praise the Lord. By assigning Levites (the clergy of the time) to the task, David shows us how much of a holy work praise is. Singing and praising the Lord is more than just people making music in a church building, because even the angels sing praises! The Bible gives us a glimpse of life in heaven,
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
To receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
And honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb,
Be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped (Revelation 5:11-14).
Worship of the Lord is carried out in heaven as well! So praising the Lord in church with music not only honors God, but gives church goers a little piece of heaven at the same time –No wonder it is so attractive to people even outside the faith. However, we must not forget the purpose of the music at church. The choir is not singing for the congregation, but for the Lord himself. Scripture reminds us why we sing as we go to church,
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
And extol him with music and song (Psalms 95:1-2).
And again in the next psalm,
Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
Proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
His marvelous deeds among all peoples (Psalm 96:1-3).
The focus of singing and making music is to praise the Lord. A person singing along in church needs to remember this, otherwise the singing is hollow. Consider where your songs are going, they are going to the Most High God in heaven. Those who are enjoying the music of the church but have no connection to Christ are missing out. So how do you fully enjoy the richness of the hymns and gospel music at your church? Open the door of your heart and let Jesus in,
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:19-20).
By doing so, you will experience the full grace of God and taste the Holy Spirit as it moves across your lips in true worship and song.
The church today is losing its power, not its authoritative power (though, generally speaking, that is waning as well); it is losing its spiritual power. Churches are closing, faith is lacking; and, unable to fight the onslaught of arguments from a progressively atheist world, Christians are falling away. Why is this? A large part of it comes from second generation and onward Christians; people born into Christendom and raised in the church. They may love and trust God (or perhaps the idea of God), or at the very least know how to be “churchy,” but lack any real understanding of God’s wonders and power; and, ultimately, what being a Christian really means. The Bible talks about a situation like this in 2 Kings 14:1-3,
In the second year of Jehoash son of Jehoaz king of Israel, Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother name was Jehoaddin; she was from Jerusalem. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash.
According to the passage, Amaziah was doing the right things, but something wasn’t right even though he had grown up in the Temple (which had been fixed up by his father). He had seen how a believer acted, and he trusted in God and was counted as a good king because of it. But something was missing. Amaziah loved the Lord, but not like David. What was missing? Paul explains David and what God says about him; “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do’” (Acts 13:22). The difference between Amaziah and David was in the heart. Even though Amaziah had seen how to act- and even understood how to be saved, his focus was self-centered. He didn’t understand that by surrendering his life to God, he was supposed to put God first. The church today has this very same problem and is becoming self-centered, not reaching out to those in need because church members are unwilling to do what God asks. Church becomes a Sunday-only activity, and God’s presence isn’t desired outside the confines of the church walls. Due to this, the church’s focus becomes that of keeping members rather than of serving the will of God. Jesus gave a great example of how the church should act on his final night with his disciples,
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:3-5).
He then explained to his followers, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15). Jesus tells us that the church, the whole congregation- big churches and small churches, should serve. Many lose sight of what being a Christian really is and in doing so the church is unable to bring help to those who need it. Instead, the church becomes a selfish and exclusive club that embitters the world outside of God. Church is not made for people to come together and play church, it is the living and active body of Christ, of which every believer is a part of. God is not just for Sundays. If you really take time and commune with God through prayer and listen for what he says, then you can develop a real relationship with the Lord and he’ll take you places you never thought possible. If a church is full of members seeking after God’s heart, like David, that is a powerful church. But if a congregation just plays church on Sunday, their church will become ineffective and ultimately die.
With people living so self-centeredly, we often forget God’s place in our lives. Christians often see God as something like a genie. By praying, they suppose to conjure him up and receive what they asked for. Then, disappointed by not receiving an answer, they fall away. Our Lord though is not a genie. To make sure we understand the Lord’s place in our lives, Jesus made sure that he is properly labeled. As Revelation 19:16 says of him, “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” There is no mistaking it, right there in all capital letters (that’s how it is written in my Bible anyway), Jesus is King over all and needs to be treated as such. Just because the Lord allows us into his presence that does not make him our servant, no, it is quite the opposite. As our King, we need to follow his commands, not lazily, but whole heartedly. Many people just go to church, pray with the pastor, and offer a few dollars in the offering; thinking that God will be satisfied with their actions. But these heartless Christian acts upset God greatly. He speaks of careless sacrifices in the book of Malachi. At that time, people were only bringing God the animals that were useless and undesirable. It would be comparable to going to church only when it is convenient or giving a few loose dollars to the offering while holding back the full tithe. Of this God says,
“When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.
“Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?” –says the Lord Almighty.
“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands” (Malachi 1:8-10).
God would rather the church shut down than for Christians to be passive and lazy in their faith. God is your King! Serve him like one and you will be in his favor. Being in the King’s favor is a wonderful place to be. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Will a king not take good care of a faithful servant? Do what the Lord asks and put him first in your life, for he is the ruler of all and can bend the whole universe in your direction if he so chooses.
If we look to 2 Chronicles 13:9-10, we can find another problem in the church being illustrated; King Abijah is speaking out against the Northern Kingdom’s Jeroboam,
But didn’t you drive out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and make priests of your own as the peoples of other lands do? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may become a priest of what are not gods.
As for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him. The priests who serve the Lord are sons of Aaron, and the Levites assist them.
Now, this passage deals mostly with priests. However, take note not of the specific situation, but what is happening to the church in the Northern Kingdom. Not only are the proper religious authorities not being respected, but people are being allowed to buy their way into some kind of priesthood. These days, there are a surprisingly large amount of faithless pastors and there is an even larger pool of faithless church leaders. How does this happen? It is a continuation of what we discussed earlier with networking Christians. As more of these people come into the church, seeking more connections (or perhaps power), they enter into leadership positions with the church without considering that any leadership position- be it an elder, a minister, or even a church council member- is a faith-based job. Furthermore, every position in a church is designated for a certain member by God, for we all have been given specific gifts by God to fulfill our roles. Paul explains in Romans 12:4-5,
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
God has given us all gifts and talents, even if one seems more desirable than others, a person should remember that all Christians are part of the Body of Christ. Paul writes,
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
God has pre-assigned us our roles in the church- often not forever, but fluidly- so a person should not try to put themselves where they do not belong. Say you want to be a pastor, but you have a gift of administration, then you can probably help the church more by working a role more suited to your talents. Say you want to be on the church council, but you are not very good at decision-making; perhaps it might be better to try something else. Don’t think of the church world as having a corporate ladder- it doesn’t; or a proper church shouldn’t anyway. The Bible says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, everyone one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18). A person has been called to his or her place by God, and when tested, will thrive in that position. The problem comes in when some people feel that they should be in a perceived “higher” position in the church; an usher wants to be on the church council, a greeter wants to be a minister, and so on. That’s not to say that the Lord does not change people’s places in the church, as he certainly does, but we must ask the Lord if the desire to change position is his will or ours. Questions about who belongs where are not a new problem in the church. When the exiles returned to Israel after captivity in Babylon, there were issues as to who were and were not priests. The book of Ezra chronicles this problem as well as its solution,
The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Karub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel:
The descendants of
Delaiah, Tobiah and Nekoda (652)
And from among the priests:
The descendants of
Hobiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai (a man who had married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name).
These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there was a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim (Ezra 2:59-63).
Some people wanted to be priests, many of whom were probably well-meaning. However, they couldn’t prove their linage to do so, but the Israelite leadership didn’t say yes or no. Instead, it was decided that the matter would be resolved via the Urim and Thummim when available. What are the Urim and Thummim? They are part of the breast piece of the High Priest. Speaking about how Joshua was to make decisions in his future, the Lord explained,
He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in (Numbers 27:21).
So to solve the issue of wannabe priests, the governor decreed that it was an issue for the high priest. Today there is no other high priest than the Lord Jesus. So before taking on a new role at church, one must pray about it, and also consult the pastor- who also should pray about it. If you and your pastor ask the Lord, he will answer you; for Jesus himself said in Matthew 7:8, “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” It is extremely important to enquire of the Lord before seeking a position in church, especially a leadership position. Why? Because they are positions of prayer. When something goes wrong with the church or even the congregation as a whole it is up to the pastors, elders, and leaders to be the prayer champions for the people. The general laity needs to pray as well, but God has designated leaders for this job first. We can see this in the Book of Joel; who was operating at a time when the economy was similar to what it is now: not so good. And in Joel, who does responsibility fall to first? The church leaders; Joel writes,
The vine is dried up
And the fig tree is withered;
The pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree-
All the trees of the field- are dried up.
Surely the joy of mankind
Is withered away.
Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn;
Wail, you who minister before the altar.
Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
You who minister before my God;
For the grain offerings and drink offerings
Are withheld from the house of your God.
Declare a holy fast;
Call a sacred assembly.
Summon the elders
And all who live in the land
To the house of the Lord your God,
And cry out to the Lord (Joel 1:12-14).
Notice who God calls to attention first: the church leaders- whereas the other church members come later on. Church leaders must remember that they are to lead by example and by prayer. In these difficult days, we must choose our leaders carefully, and not run after these roles thinking that they carry more respect; for the Lord calls the leaders to account more and their responsibility is immense. A true church leader is appointed by God and is likely a person who is willing to give all they have to the Lord. If the church leaders are people who act respectable, then the church will be respected. If, however, the leaders pushed their way into their positions without God, then the overall opinion of the church establishment will continue to decline, and fewer souls will be saved.
One of the biggest issues of the Christian church is that of division. This is not a new problem, but it is a terribly destructive one. Paul tried to eliminate this problem by attacking it head-on in his letters. He writes,
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Obviously, perfect unity is likely an unreachable ideal in our imperfect world; but the point is clear: Christians are to be united. Why is Paul even writing on the topic? Well, he had heard that the state of the church in Corinth was the same as in Christendom today,
My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)
Nothing has changed today, now Christians identify with Papal authority, or Luther, or Calvin, or one of the other many, many divisions in the church. What makes it all the worse is that the divisions in today’s church are stupid. This is strong language, but in the light of Christ’s glory it is true. Paul was usually facing bigger issues than our division; he was fighting fake gospels and fake apostles. We know this because he writes in Galatians 1:6-9),
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Paul was fighting false teachers who were trying to change the Gospel, the church needs to realize that we are today too; Buddhism, Islam, and even atheism are all now acknowledging Christ, but dropping him from his title of Lord and Savior. Without Jesus as Lord, we are eternally condemned; therefore the church needs to put an end to in-fighting and do what we’ve been called to do, preach the Gospel. If other denominations were preaching a different Gospel, it might bring validity to the divisions. However, in any Christian Bible, not only the Gospels, but the New Testament as a whole is the same (fully canonical books anyway). Sure, there are Old Testament differences, and apocryphal books are accepted by some groups, but the fully canonized books of the New Testament, including the Gospel we are sent to preach, are the same. For this reason, church division is stupid.
This brings us to our opening passage. Both the people of Samaria and Israel had been preaching that God could only be properly worshiped in one place. Christians today often are torn between opposing divisions; even the divisions fight amongst themselves. This problem was going on in Jesus’ times too. Even the Jerusalem God-worshipers were split between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Paul used the divide to his advantage amongst the religious ruling class. History records in Acts 23:6-9,
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
As you can see, the divisions we stand behind are a weakness to be exploited rather than some sort of defense against other’s teachings. Jesus saw all these divisions and assured the woman at the well that soon Jews and Samaritans would be united under one spirit. Jesus of course was talking about his impending death and the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead the Church. …Well what happened? Aren’t we all worshipping the same Savior? Aren’t we essentially using the same Bible (the New Testament anyway)? How then can we be ok with one huge split in the body of Christ and numerous cracks on both sides of that divide? Jesus noted in his teachings, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). In light of this, the church should seek discussion and growth and greater unity. Even with differing doctrines, we should see our “others” as brothers-in-arms because that’s what they are. We’re all fighting the same fight.
Something all of God’s people need to remember is that brotherhood is holy. That statement is not a buzz comment, a sound bite, or a catchphrase- it is a Biblical truth. Although Psalm 133 is short, the Holy Spirit has packed it so tight with imagery that it can only lead to one conclusion: brotherhood is holy. In the psalm, David writes,
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).
The primary image presented is that brotherhood is like oil being poured on the head. This is the sacred anointing that marks a priest or a king in the Bible (an elevation in rank from the normal citizen); so brotherhood, when utilized, raises everyone up. Not only that, but considering the Psalm uses Aaron in the imagery, we can know that this is not any oil, but the sacred oil of anointing. The oil of anointing actually has a special recipe from God. We can find it in Exodus 30:22-25,
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane, 500 shekels of cassia- all according to the sanctuary shekel- and a hin of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.
The sacred oil of anointing can only be used in a holy setting, as per God’s rules:
Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men’s bodies and do not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and whoever puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from his people (Exodus 30:31-33).
From these passages we learn that brotherhood among believers cannot be anything but holy. One of the secondary images in this Psalm is the dew of Hermon falling on Zion. That is to say the dew of one place going somewhere else. It is only through a miracle that these two places can be united. Likewise, brotherhood among believers is an act of God. So if it is clear that brotherhood is Holy, why is it that so many well-meaning Christians around the world refuse to get along?
Jesus himself says that worship is with Spirit. As Christians we should follow Christ and his apostles’ examples. Unfortunately, Christendom on the whole often looks less like the early church and more like the Pharisees that Jesus spoke out against. He said to them,
You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“’These people honor me with their lips,
But their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
Their teachings are but rules taught by men’” (Matthew 15:7-9).
Now I am being a bit heavy-handed since I think it is safe to assume that most Christians (divided or otherwise) do mean well and are likely trying to protect what they see as sound doctrine. However, the outside sees it as a lack of organization (I know as I used to be on the outside, and the divisions were distracting and dissuading). Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:26-27, “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” We’re not to give the devil even the slightest chance to detract from the Gospel, and our insistence on being intellectually superior to our own brethren in faith gives him a fairly good footing to rip the church to shreds in the minds of non-believers.
I hope that a time comes soon in which people will not base their worship on this church or that church, but believers will again worship in Spirit and keep the dialogue always open for differing opinions on doctrine. That way we can focus on what Jesus called us to do, bring more people to the saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; for that is what we have been called to do:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
I very much hope that you don’t interpret the heavy-handed nature of this message as bitterness or anything negative. We’re all in this together, and we are together with Christ who is in us if we allow him into our hearts. Let’s pray,
Playing church is pretty easy.
But when I play, my heart is not with you.
When I fight, my heart is not with you.
Forgive me Lord for not following you,
And for not seeking your council.
Be my king and my God, O Lord;
And be with me always.
In your name, Lord Jesus, I pray,