Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
There is power in numbers, great power. Solomon noted in Ecclesiastes 4:12,
Though one may be overpowered,
Two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
According to that verse, a group of three is already quite strong. But what about even greater numbers? The Holy Spirit took me back in time (figuratively speaking) to show me a great truth that often goes overlooked due to the nature it was introduced.
It had only been a few generations since the flood that wiped out the whole earth leaving only one family and a very small percentage of animals. As they were all related, everyone understood each other. Therefore it comes as no surprise as we read, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech” (Genesis 11:1). The “whole world” was a relatively small area and the people were all descendants of Noah; even several generations down, the people hadn’t spread out and for the most part everyone was on the same page and they all lived in the same area. Because of this heightened communication, there were great advances in technology. History records one of their advances: “They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used bricks instead of stone, and tar for mortar” (Genesis 11:3). Along with the technology advances came big ideas. We read,
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole world (Genesis 11:4).
Instead of spreading out, the people looked to the sky, and decided to build up. They were prepared to reach all the way up to heaven; which sounds stupid when we think of it today. However, God was shocked: “The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them’” (Genesis 11:6).
The story of the Tower of Babel teaches us that if people work together, almost anything is possible. However, if you know the story, then you already know that God actually opposed these people building and frustrated all of their plans. If you don’t know the story, well, here’s the end: (God continues)
“Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel –because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:7-9).
Honestly, this story doesn’t really make God look good. The people were growing and everything was doing well, then God said, “Hey, let’s mess them up.” And then he proceeded to set humanity back to the Stone Age and create misunderstandings between groups of people as he added new languages to the mix. Why would he do that? There are actually several reasons. One is that God had specifically told the people to spread out. After the flood of Noah’s day we read, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). However, the people didn’t want to spread out and started building a massive city specifically so they wouldn’t have to. Secondly, and more importantly is that the Lord realized humanity’s heart was in the wrong place. Rather than using their growing technology to glorify the Lord, they wanted to glorify themselves. The goal of their buildings were to reach the heavens- likely specifically heaven itself. But that’s not how it works: heaven is for those sanctified through Christ’s atonement and faith in God thereof, not on what we do or build. Paul reminds us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of god –not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Since the quickly advancing post-flood world didn’t get it, God reset the board and sent everyone to the ends of the earth to get people looking to him again.
However, the fact still stands that if people work together a lot can get done. This is a call to Christians. If we work together, nothing can be impossible for us; God has empowered humanity with this kind of strength, and, as saved people working to glorify the Lord, we need not worry about another Tower of Babel scenario. Don’t believe me? What did Jesus tell his disciples when he sent them out? History records, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Although our works cannot save us, once someone has been declared clean by Christ’s sacrifice, works are highly encouraged. Paul tells saved Christians,
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).
Only Christ can save you, but after you’re saved the Lord wants you to do all the good you can in his name and power. In fact, James actually says that if you aren’t helping people, you’re probably sinning: “Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17).
But before you close your computer and run outside to help people; hold up. After Jesus rose from the dead, he spoke to his disciples and told them not to go out and help people, actually he told them to stay put: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In fact, Jesus was pretty strong on this point because it apparently came up in conversation more than once after his resurrection:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).
Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit before going out and helping people and saving the world.
…Why? First of all, the Holy Spirit has more power than we can muster on our own. Jesus taught in Mark 16:17-18,
And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
All of these acts require some sort of divine accompaniment. Later in Acts (specifically Acts 19:13-16) some people tried to drive out demons without the power of the Holy Spirit behind them and they were left naked and beaten. It’s because of people pretending to speak in tongues that nobody buys that stuff anymore, whereas when it actually happened with the help of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, tons of people came to Christ. And we’ve seen the results of unholy cults drinking poison. All of these things require the hand of God to assist us in our good works, which means the Holy Spirit is needed. Jesus even noted that after sending the Spirit that believers would become supernaturally endowed,
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12).
You want to do greater things than Jesus? Well don’t expect that to happen until you’ve got Christ in you and the Holy Spirit with you. The second reason we need the Holy Spirit first is that the Spirit guides the heart. Jesus taught, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is to come” (John 16:13). If we try to act without the Spirit behind us, well-meaning as we may be, we’ll be just sort of stumbling around in the dark. The third reason is that the Holy Spirit keeps us in check. Paul taught, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). With the Holy Spirit filling our sails and guiding our path, we can’t get too far off track because he guilds our hearts to do what is right. All of these lead to our final reason to wait for the Spirit: The Holy Spirit promises success. The Bible says,
The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become wearing in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:8-10).
If we act according to the Holy Spirit, then the Lord will empower us, guide us, and grant us success in all we do.
Now picture that on a larger scale. Imagine a group of Spirit-filled believers trying to save the world. …That’s what the early church was. First, by everyone acting together through the Spirit, all of the believers were helped and helped others:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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 favors of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
As the Spirit-filled believers met and shared with one another and outsiders, they not only spread the Word of God, but they were a self-sustaining group that had enough to give freely to anyone. It’s actually written, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32). Notice how the Spirit unites their hearts. United in thought and deed, the early church glorified God in all they did: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade” (Acts 5:12). And in doing so, more people were saved from their sins and granted access to heaven, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Pretty cool, right?
If they could do it some 2000 years ago, why can’t we? We can! Groups of like-minded Christians can do anything if they follow the Spirit of the Lord. Get a group of Christian doctors and researchers praying; they might be able to save a whole country or cure some awful disease! Get a group of Christians with hand skills praying for guidance from the Lord; they could build or rebuild whole cities for the poor or those in need! Get a group of Christian business people praying; they could feed the whole world! Even in your community just get a group praying and seeking a mission from the Holy Spirit; you could change your whole local area or even more! Jesus said,
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them (Matthew 18:19-20).
Do you believe this? If you do, go out, grab some believer friends, get praying and change the world! If we’re all speaking and acting through the Spirit, then nothing we do together will be impossible! Even God said that, way back at the beginning. Let’s rock out in Jesus name!