Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I saw a seminar on preaching a few years ago, and the leader of it highlighted how difficult it can be for a pastor who wants to promote righteousness in his or her congregation considering that the thrust of the Gospel is salvation and forgiveness. You can’t really scare people into doing good since they’re already carrying their tickets to heaven. It’s hard to preach obedience because our flesh kicks back against authority. Even Paul realized the difficulty in trying to obey the Lord; therefore he wrote,
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing (Romans 7:14-19).
So, to combat the flesh and its desire to disobey, Paul developed a solution: “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Oh… Please don’t’ start self-abusing yourself. The Holy Spirit helped me understand that Paul used another method as well though; let’s explore that avenue.
Paul wrote, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Let’s not lie; heaven is preferable to our current life (no matter how rockin’ your life here may be). The current ruler of earth is our enemy- so says Ephesians 6:12:
For our 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.
And that enemy gets to dick around with us as he pleases. We know this because we can read about him messing with Job at his leisure,
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (Job 2:4-6).
So we’re stuck here with the devil and all those who believe his lies instead of the glory of Christ. What to do? Well, you could kill yourself. However, some think that it would mess with your salvation; others think it messes with your heavenly treasures –plus, it’s giving up. So here’s another perspective: Why don’t you spend the rest of your existence on earth giving the devil the biggest middle finger you can? In fact, make your life a constant work of rebellion against Satan.
Check out what Paul wrote in Galatians 6:8-11:
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 weary 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.
See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
Paul wrote to believers to live good and loving lives that please God. Then he finished by noting the large letters he used while writing. Some attribute this to Paul’s supposedly fading vision, which required him to write big. That could be the case, though it’d be probably the only throw-away line in the Bible if it was. However, in 1776, John Hancock wrote his name as big and gaudy as he could on the Declaration of Independence; not due to his own poor eyesight, but because he wanted to make sure the king of England (or anyone else) could read his personal “screw you” clearly (even across the ocean). So maybe Paul wasn’t commenting on his health, but he was writing about loving others in extra large letters as a solitary raised middle finger to the enemy.
Consider this: What was Jesus’ message primarily composed of? Love. Jesus gave us John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He also gave us, “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). Heck even salvation is an act of love: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What are the greatest commandments? Oh, they’re both love:
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. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Even Paul put a great emphasis on loving. He wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). And why is there this huge focus on love in the Bible? The focus is there because love is the way of the Lord. John explained,
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him (1 John 4:16).
Since God is love, the best way to stick it to the devil, then, is to love. As it is written, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
But there’s more! Check out 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Another way to tell the enemy to shove it is to live a fearless life. And although Paul talked about the fear of God, he meant a different kind of fear than living life scared of what will happen. No, instead Paul lapped up all the life he could and loved it. When he was in prison, awaiting a probable death sentence, he wrote,
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:11-12).
Yeah, Satan, stick that in your ear! Finding contentment in your life isn’t even a new concept. Solomon, at the peak of his wisdom wrote,
Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot (Ecclesiastes 5:18).
Do you want to live a life pleasing to the Lord? Then go in with the mindset of making life suck for the devil- who’s already mucking things up for everyone.
Three traits of humanity are that we’re imaginative, we’re rebellious, and we’re imaginative in our rebellion. If you live your life kicking back against the enemy and sticking it to Satan, the Holy Spirit will help guide you on the path of light; for it is written,
“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
After that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
And write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
And they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
What I’m trying to do is not encourage rebellion; you need no help with that. Rather it’s a shift in mindset. Instead of seeing yourself as trying to manage the yoke of being good for God, see your life as a series of opportunities and choices that can be made in rebellion to the devil- the guy who really wants to make you a slave. Since it’s easier for us to rebel than obey, switch around the word meanings. When you rebel against Satan and his sinful ways, you’ll automatically be obeying the Lord- or at least certainly be on the right path. So get your crotch-chops warmed up (no need if you don’t know what those are) and tell the dark lord of this world, the devil, that you’re not gonna take it anymore!
Rock on God!