Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I’m always bothered by angry Christians. Now, I’m not saying that Christians should never get angry. Jesus got angry too, so for sure we know that getting angry isn’t a sin. Rather than preaching against anger itself, Paul tells us, “’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” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Again, getting angry isn’t a sin; however, how we respond to anger is extremely important. Let’s take a look at what the Holy Spirit taught me on how we should and shouldn’t respond when we’re angry with the way society is going.
We live in an increasingly sinful world. Movies, TV shows, and games are filled with increasingly graphic content. Books really aren’t that much better, as they also contain quite a bit of offensive content as well as often pushing atheistic ideology. Governments are becoming increasingly humanistic in order to appeal to non-Christians. People these days are encouraged to define themselves by their gender or their desires (sexual preferences) rather than who they are in Christ. Popular music largely stands against the church. The internet is rife with unspiritual things (loud atheists, porn, gore, etc). None of this should be surprising though. After all, the Bible tells us, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires’” (Jude 1:17-18). As time progresses, things will get worse. If you read Revelation, things get so bad that eventually, even as the varied plagues and curses that come upon the world are plain as day and follow the Biblical pattern, people will still refuse to acknowledge God as Lord and will instead curse him to their own harm. This earth is doomed to be entrenched in sin. So what’s a Christian to do?
Our automatic response to the evils of the world is to fight back; and we have found a myriad of ways to do that, including:
Method: Protesting at abortion clinics, concerts, video game offices, etc.
Perceived Goal: To destroy business. I mean, this is the only logical conclusion, because a sign saying “You’re going to hell” will win zero souls for Christ.
Method: Protesting at homosexual events.
Perceived Goal: (?) Seriously, I have no idea what the goal is. We already know that the Bible doesn’t endorse homosexual activity and they probably do too but clearly they don’t care.
Method: Scare shacks at fairs (anti-abortion stands).
Perceived Goal: Help people understand that life starts earlier than many realize.
Method: Public book/video/CD burnings.
Perceived Goal: Dispose of material deemed evil. This one actually has some Scriptural presence, because Acts 19:19 records such an event during a revival, “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.”
Method: Praying against people.
Perceived Goal: At best it is to bring people to a point of brokenness in which they will accept Jesus. At worst it is to bring destruction on others.
So what does the Bible have to say about all of this? Let’s check out what Jesus did when he faced spiritual opposition. History records,
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-53).
Because Christ Jesus was a Jew, heading for the Jewish capitol, preaching a Jewish theology, the people of Samaria were extremely unwelcoming to him. James and John, good, God-fearing men, were upset by this and did what any good, God-fearing, men would do- they decided to open up a can of brimstone on the Samaritans. We read in Luke 9:54, “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” As we noted before, the automatic response is to fight. Jesus however wouldn’t have any of this as we see in his response, “But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village” (Luke 9:55-56). According to my NIV Bible, this is the conservative version. Some manuscripts read Jesus’ response like this:
But Jesus turned and rebuked them. And he said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went to another village (Luke 9:55-56 [extended version]).
No matter which version you think is the real deal, the fact is that our Lord and Savior Jesus is totally not cool with us opening up a can of anything harmful on our enemies, spiritual or otherwise. Rather, Jesus seeks to save the lost.
“Ok, hold on here. That’s only one passage. What about all that stuff from the Bible in which people bring the wrath of God on folks?” Alright, let’s take a look at some of those situations. The first situation is the one that James and John were actually referencing. You see, a prophet of God actually did call down fire on some dudes and he totally killed them. History records,
Then he sent to Elijah a captain with his company of fifty men. The captain went up to Elijah, who was sitting on top of a hill, and said to him, “Man of God, the king says, ‘Come down!’”
Elijah answered the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men (2 Kings 1:9-10).
Ok, so what’s going on here? How come it’s ok for Elijah to kill 51 people (actually 102 because he does it twice) and James and John can’t kill anyone? This occurred because the Lord was protecting Elijah. The king wasn’t particularly faithful and likely would have killed Elijah (as he had already prophesized against the king). So when these guys came up, without a fear of God, the Lord made it clear that he protects his children. Later, when a third captain, one who respected the situation (probably because there were a hundred charred corpses at the foot of the hill) came up, things went differently. The Bible records,
So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah. “Man of God,” he begged, “please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!”
The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So Elijah got up and went down with him to the king (2 Kings 1:13-15).
Take note that the angel told Elijah not to be afraid of the last set of guards, this implies that he had right to fear those who had come before. So the Lord was protecting Elijah by killing those other 102 dudes. Alright, well what about the plagues of Egypt? It sure seems like Moses is using his holiness to harm the Egyptians when you read Exodus 8:1-4;
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials.’”
Yeah, Moses got to have frogs bother the inhabitants of Egypt. It’d be pretty great to do that now to some of these pagan companies, right? No! If you read a little further, you’ll find out that Moses is totally not cool with plaguing the country that his oppressing his people. Moses and his brother were only acting on God’s command. Check out how the enacting of the plague is written,
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”
So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land (Exodus 8:5-6).
God told Moses, who then told Aaron. They were acting in obedience to the Lord’s commands, not their own wills. Moreover, just as quick as they were to follows God’s orders to the letters, they were just as quick to pray for the Lord to stop plaguing Egypt:
After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the Lord about the frogs he had brought on Pharaoh. And the Lord did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields (Exodus 8:12-13).
It wasn’t Moses who wanted to hurt Egypt, but the Lord, Moses actually kept praying for the Egyptian’s wellbeing- because he was awesome like that. Alright, alright, what about that time Peter killed two people because they lied? In Acts 5 there’s a couple who sold some land and brought the money to the church- well, not all the money (but they claimed it was all the money). The Holy Spirit let Peter know and he confronted Ananias (the husband) that lying about money to God is totally not cool- and then “When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:5). Likewise, when his wife came in and also lied, she befell a similar fate:
Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband (Acts 5:9-10).
But, if you’re paying attention, it wasn’t actually Peter’s will that they die. For Ananias, he just called him out on being a liar and then he died. For his wife Peter just prophesized to her and she dropped dead. Both of these people were believers already and Peter didn’t actually do anything aside from say what God told him to (sort of like Moses, only even less active). Ok, alright; then what about that time when Elisha killed a bunch of kids? 2 Kings 2:23-24 records:
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
Eh…Well, to be sure, Elisha wasn’t acting the way Jesus recommends. Our Lord says, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). However, this story does illustrate something very important: as followers of Christ, we wield great power and we need to be responsible with it (rather than using it to hurt others).
Ponder this: what is the ultimate goal of a Christian? Luckily, we don’t have to look very far, because Jesus straight up told us our mission. It is written, “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). We’ve been given what’s called the “Great Commission.” Christ’s followers are to go out and bring everyone to Christ- everyone. It’s not our place to judge who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. “God hates ____” is none of our business. Check out what James wrote,
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you- who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).
There is only one judge, and that’s Jesus. Only Jesus will judge people, our job is to save them (as we were saved from our lives of sin as well). And so when you get angry, don’t take revenge for someone’s evil, that’s God’s work. Rather, Paul tells us,
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If you enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18-21).
With words like this, in the New Testament no less, I have no idea where well-meaning believers get the idea that being a dick to others is okay. Let’s see how our responses to sin match up with what the Bible tells us:
Method: Protests (all of them)
Result: Protests fail to bring people to Christ. All they manage to do is generate negative feelings. If we use Christ as a weapon against people, then we bring the Lord into disrepute (as one can see through the varied postings of atheists across the internet).
Conclusion: Christians need to stop protesting things.
Method: Scare Shacks.
Result: Scare shacks turn a religious issue into a biological one. By nature, an evolutionist should have little concern over the loss of life. After all, it is survival of the fittest, isn’t it?
Conclusion: Rather than attack abortion, such stands should preach the glory of Christ- for with one’s one life saved one becomes more concerned about the sacredness of life.
Method: Public Burnings.
Result: Actually, as we already mentioned, this one has some acknowledgement in the Bible. However, if done as a form of protest, they’re more likely to make people angry than anything [See: Protests].
Conclusion: If however, the city leaders are all freshly coming to Christ (or renewing their pledge to God), and this is a natural response (getting rid of the filth in their own lives), then this is totally fine. In any other situation though, such activities should be confined to private residences or church property.
Method: Praying Against Others.
Result: Not cool because…
Conclusion: …Jesus says we should pray for them. Matthew 5:43-45 states,
You have heard that it was said, ”Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 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.
Paul adds, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14) and “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:17). We should be praying for those who do not walk with Christ, just as Moses prayed for the Egyptians.
Well if we can’t use any of the above methods, then how are we supposed to enact positive change in our community? The Bible has a few answers to that. Peter starts us off by writing,
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
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. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:12-17).
We are called to live clean lives, and through that God will help us to bear fruit. In this way we offend nobody, and those who are offended by our beliefs have nothing to say, because we’re not doing anything wrong. Think of Daniel, he stuck to his beliefs, but within the bounds of his government, and nobody could say anything bad about him. By being blameless we bring glory to Christ and help others to come to salvation through him. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Paul builds on this when he writes,
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us (Titus 2:6-8).
We are to live carefully and speak carefully; not with hateful or demeaning words. That way, as we impress our lives onto others, they have nothing to say, because we’re living and acting in a way that is pleasing both to God and to man. And here’s where it becomes important: if we live good lives in Christ, we’ll bear fruit through the Holy Spirit, and people will want to know why things work so well for us. So we read,
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16).
I know from experience that when you live rightly, people will ask how you do it and that’s your chance to open a conversation. Even people who up until that point had been very anti-Christ will listen, if not just to satisfy their curiosity. My friends, don’t take revenge on the world for its evils, but pray for it, and shine as a child of God. That is how Christians take vengeance, and that’s how we save the world.