Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
As I watch the news, I find myself repeatedly disappointed. God’s name is constantly being dragged through the mud by non-believers; and adding fuel to their fire are well-meaning-but-totally-misled Christians. Specifically I am thinking of Christ followers whose “good works” are actually thinly veiled acts of hatred. I saw one woman who felt as though it was pleasing to God to deny others their rights just because of their lifestyle choices – and worse, many supported her. Once church has actually made a name for itself based off of its hatred of others. At one point people were saying that said church made the Ku Klux Klan look accepting by comparison. I repeat: a church made the KKK look tolerant. Something is wrong.
Ok, so let’s get back to basics. What is the core teaching in the Bible for believers? Luckily, someone already asked Jesus that very question. Let’s see what happened:
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:35-38).
And how do we love God? Jesus continues, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:39-40). That’s it. That’s what Christians are called to do. And when the world asks how we love; we tell them that we love with the love of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and guided by the Word of God. And what does that Word say? According to Jesus in the Bible, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have 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). And according to the church leaders of the Bible, “And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another” (2 John 1:5). I’m sensing a pattern. Now, what is the ultimate goal of a Christian? According to Jesus we read,
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 28:19-20).
As followers of Christ, it should be our number one goal to lead others to Jesus; and shunning people isn’t going to accomplish that goal. According to Scripture, salvation is as follows:
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
If God, in his love, made it so easy for us to cross over from death to life, then why do we try to throw our fellow humans into the fire before they’ve even died? No my friends, this isn’t how it should be. We should love, and that love will lead others to Christ – their salvation – and that salvation will change their lives from the inside out.
I could end the article right now, but I feel, through the Spirit, that other topics should be covered. We, as saved Christians, are to avoid hypocrisy. The Gospel records, “’Be careful,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’” (Matthew 16:6). The Pharisees were a part of the religious ruling class of Jesus’ time. They followed a strict list of Laws and commands and encouraged others to do so as well. However, Christ saw through their outward appearance and penetrated their hearts, which were far from the Lord. As such, the Pharisees were a major topic of discussion during Jesus’ time on earth. Matthew 23:1-4 records one such teaching,
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
The Lord was very frustrated by their self-righteousness in the face of God. Jesus once gave a very stirring lesson on how we as humans should see righteousness. We read,
To some who were confident of 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” (Luke 18:9-14).
Was the Pharisee better than the tax collector? From a deeds standpoint: absolutely. However, the Pharisee wasn’t afraid of God and felt that his deeds were enough to please the Lord. They weren’t. When he encountered such people, Jesus was quoted as preaching,
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).
This is not the sort of grade you want to be getting from the Son of God. And quite honestly, Christian, other’s lives are none of your business; for it is written, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). I don’t know how this strikes you, but that verse scares the crap out of me because I’ve lived a life of judging others. And when you couple that with Romans 2:22-23, you get a very powerful statement on how the Lord sees hypocrisy:
You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?
As Christians, we bathe in Christ’s love. You who enjoy God’s love, do you preach hatred? Then “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24).
The Word of God isn’t supposed to be a weapon used against people. This is one of my favorite illustrations in the Bible relating to swords. So before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples to buy swords: “He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one’” (Luke 22:36). Jesus was about to have his big stand-off with the soldiers who were coming to take him away; so naturally his disciples assumed the swords were for that. So what happened when one of them actually used said sword? History records,
With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:51-52).
So the Lord made a big deal about the importance of having a sword (“Sell your coat to get one if you need to!”) but then as soon as someone got cut, he freaked out and said not to use it lest you die by the sword as well. What are we supposed to take from this? The Word of God is a sword. It says so in Ephesians 6:17 “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And Hebrews 4:12 also uses a similar illustration,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
For us, God’s Word is found in his Bible. That is the Christian’s sword. But if we’re not supposed to use it to stab others, then who are we supposed to use the sword against? Paul defines our enemy in Ephesians 6:12,
For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Our enemy is a spiritual one, the devil and all the darkness that comes with him. God doesn’t hate people who sin, he hates the sin that is inflicted upon them and through them- there is a very definite difference. And we should stand united (with our non-believing brothers) against our final enemy. According to Paul, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). I think that’s an enemy we can all agree to hate on. Luckily, death and Satan get theirs; for it has already been written of their end. Scripture gloriously reports, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death” (Revelation 20:14). With such lofty villains as evil and death, why would a Christian even waste time poking their sword at someone with a different belief system?
These days (when this is being written), there’s a lot of talk about Islamic extremists. The thing is though; many Christians are doing the same thing the extremists do. We’re very quick to quote Scripture like Leviticus 18:22 (“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, that is detestable”) to people who are different than us. But what I don’t hear being quoted as much is Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” Or did you forget the nature of your own salvation? Was it earned through your righteousness? Of course not, because Jesus already did the heavy lifting before you were even born. Scripture records, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And I don’t hear of many Christians at all who really take James 2:10 to heart, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” The Lord has to give an “A” for effort simply on the basis that it is impossible for us to keep clean- that’s why the tax collector was justified before God. We come into this world in sin and we sin until the Lord comes to us with his love (and if we’re honest, we sin after that too). Before we can even fathom righteousness, God says to us,
“Come now, let us reason together,”
Says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red as crimson,
They shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
If that is the Lord’s response to our sin, then who are we to respond any differently when worldly people act as worldly people do. Instead though, we bring the Bible into disrepute with Laws that were meant for believers being inflicted on those with no stake in God. Think about that. That is what ISIS (if they’re still around when you’re reading this) does with its captives and we call them terrible. Why is it terrible? Because we know that most of their acts are acts of hatred thinly veiled by religion. Are we so much better than that when we push our Bible’s commands onto someone who doesn’t believe in God?
The sort of Christianity described above is a real abomination. We are commanded to love; hatred is a sin. Check out what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).
Because of churches and Christians who ignore Scripture like this we find a situation like that in Hosea 8:11, “Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars of sinning.” Let’s try this from a different angle; in Malachi 1:6-8 we read,
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’
“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. 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, we no longer offer sacrifices to God (in fact, Christians were never called to that). But a modern variant would be to look at what deeds we do in the Lord’s name. In that comparison, defiled food would be equivalent to doing evil, hate-filled, “good works.” When we use our religion as a mask for intolerance we are committing a grave sin. To find the Lord’s response to bad sacrifices, you need only look a couple verses further,
“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 1:10).
Churches that promote the hatred of people outside the church are such a disgraceful thing in the eyes of God that he’d rather all churches close than for those ones to say open. Remember, the Temple was the only house of God, so that’d be like every church shutting their doors. Churches are supposed to be lighthouses of hope; but if they become a symbol of exclusion and hate, they should be eliminated altogether until we can handle such things properly again.
Christians are not supposed to be exclusive –in fact, quite the opposite is true. Paul even made sure that the church understood this fact by writing,
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
There you go: according to the Bible, if you are filled with hate when you see the world it is not the world’s problem, it’s yours. Perhaps you’d do better by seeking complete isolation. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5:12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” Sin inside the church is one thing, but the world doesn’t answer to our standards. In fact, Paul had a great passion for the lost, especially those of his home nation (Pharisees included). He wrote,
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises (Romans 9:3-4).
Paul would rather face an eternity in hell if it meant his brethren in the world would go to heaven; how about you?
James defines what it means to be a follower of Christ; or, in his terminology, “religious” like this:
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:26-27).
Keep yourself clean; of course, because you’re in the church. But don’t go around speaking evil of others who have no reason to submit to the Lord. And by extension of that (and as an aside), remember who powers your government,
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2).
You don’t have to like your authority, but you do need to support it. I’m sure Daniel wasn’t thrilled to be under several pagan kings, but with his service he was able to point them in the right direction. We’ve been given great liberty by God. Do not think that your liberty, given by the Lord, gives you the right to deny the rights and liberties of others; that’s not what our abundant God is about. You’re better than that, Christian, because the Lord designed you to be better than that.
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on question him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:2-11).