Starting next week, I’m going to start a series I’m calling “Twisted Scripture.” It will address a verse or passage that is commonly used in contexts where it does not belong, or pulled out to mean something that it does not mean. As Christians who want to ensure that we “rightly divid[e] the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), we must consider issues as we come to a passage of Scripture:
To whom was this written?
What do the verses around this say?
What would the original audience have understood the message to be?
What principles apply to this today?
Where the Bible speaks to this issue in other places, what does It say?
The goal is to ensure we understand the literary, historical, and textual contexts of a passage, as we work to understand exactly what it means. Of course, there will be passages where good-willed people will differ on interpretations; generally speaking, though, it’s pretty easy to spot twisted Scripture.
Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?
Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.
Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.
This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!
(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.
These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)
How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.
Today, we are looking at an interesting passage; it reflects a cultural issue within the early church, but the principle is as relevant today as it was then.
17Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews, and much of the Old Testament law is built on circumcision. Jewish children were to be circumcised 8 days after birth, and converts to Judaism, mirroring Genesis 17:10, were circumcised as adults. With both Jews and gentiles being added to the church, circumcision had become quite the divisive issue. In the passage above, Paul writes that there is no need for the circumcised to try to alter that, nor is there a need for the uncircumcised to become circumcised. In Romans 2:29, he wrote that circumcision doesn’t even mean what either side thought that it did.
29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul also dealt with the issue of slaves. Slavery was much more common in that day than it is today, and was not viewed as the moral abhorrence that we have come to realize that it is. In some cases, entering into slavery was a way to pay off a debt. In other cases, it was a way for someone to attempt to better their lives, by living as a slave for a period of time. However, there were some slaves who, upon their period of slavery being fulfilled, chose to stay and work in their master’s house. These were called bondservants, and that title represented a lifetime choice.
Just as with circumcision, Paul emphasizes that one’s status regarding slavery has no effect on one’s ability to serve, and that coming to Christ does not require a change in status. In verses 19, 22, and 24, Paul zeroes in on where the focus should be. Circumcision and slave status are side issues, distractions from the “main thing.” Keeping God’s commandments is the focus, and slave status can be flipped either way in Christ. The summary, in verse 24, tells them (and us) that in whatever condition we were when we were called, we should remain there – but in God.
The person who tries to clean themselves up before coming to Jesus is like the gunshot victim performing surgery on themselves before going to the hospital.
He’s right - there is no reason for anyone to try to clean themselves up before coming to Christ. This runs against the way we normally think. We clean our houses before we have company - there are even people who clean before the housekeeper comes - because we do not want to expose our literal “dirty laundry” to others. However, Jesus already knows what we are, how we think, and what we have done; He knows all that, and still offers us His payment for sin, free of charge. All we must do is answer His call.
The set of people who God calls is as diverse as the set of people He created. There are Christian businessmen, MMA fighters, actors, retail workers, athletes, motorcycle customizers, landscapers, and on and on. God’s desire is not for every person, once saved, to go into full-time Christian service. He cares about all people, and by having His representatives in all these various fields, these people can tell their peers how their relationship with Christ has changed their lives. God doesn’t want to change your job; He wants to transform your life.
If you have never answered His call, today is the day! Take a look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, and begin your relationship with Him. If you are a Christian, consider where you are. Barring sin issues, you are where God wants you to be. He has chosen you because of your abilities and place in this world; use that for Him!
I was recently asked what kind of God tells His people to kill their intransigent children. I knew the answer, but it’s a long one, so I decided to move that over here, because it’s an interesting study on one of the more hard-to-believe rules that God set out for the Israelites. This command is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.
18"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear."
At first glance, this appears to be pretty drastic; and, as with many first impressions, this does not get much better. This passage provides a plan for parents to deal with sons who did not respond to their rearing or their discipline. They are required to “purge the evil” from their camps. However, this is not the preference, as we’ll see towards the end.
First up, let’s look at the plan. If parents had a son, and this son rebelled, and they tried to discipline him to correct his behavior, and he still didn’t respond to that correction, the parents were expected to make a tough call. If they felt that he would not respond to their correction, they were to go to the elders of their son’s city and inform them that their son was rebellious and impenitent. Then, the elders would listen and, if they agreed, they would go get the son, take him outside the city, and stone him to death. The son’s behavior was a violation of the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), and this penalty directly implemented the inverse of the blessing promised in the last half of that verse.
That was the plan, but equally important is what the plan was not. First, this is not something that parents do to a young child, out of the frustration of childish rebellion. Notice that these parents are to go to his city’s elders - the son in this scenario is not living with his parents, and may be living in an entirely different city. It is a last resort for parents who had done their dead-level best to rear their son in the way the Lord had commanded, but despite their best efforts, their son chose not to follow his upbringing.
Second, this outcome was to be prevented if at all possible. Twice in Proverbs, Solomon exhorts parents to do what it takes to make sure their direction to their children sticks.
18Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.
Third, this outcome was not intended to be used very often. According to the end of verse 21, the reason given for this is that “all Israel shall hear, and fear.” Just as many of our laws are written so as to deter the behavior they punish, that is the case with this law. God did not want to see large mounds of dead sons outside every city; He wanted people to see that He was serious about His commandments. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps people doing the right thing is the knowledge of the consequences of their actions.
The plan is a tough one, but the goal is even tougher - “purge the evil from your midst” (v. 21). This is not the first time we see this in Deuteronomy; in fact, there are 7 instances of that phrase. What 6 other things are considered evil that needs to be purged?
In each of these cases, the offense can be traced back either to a direct offense against God Himself, His appointed legal or parental authorities, or those who attempted to unjustly affect or subjugate the life of another. The son would have run afoul of both God and his parents. God was serious about not keeping bad influences around that would pull His people astray. This sentiment was echoed at least twice by Paul in the New Testament.
33Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler - not even to eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
While a purge was commanded, the preference is much different. We’ve already seen that the Bible told parents to do whatever they could to make sure that this outcome never occurred. God’s desire was not to have a bunch of dead kids and sad parents; His desire was to have a people who were following Him, free from corrupting influences of those who were not interested in following Him or doing what He commanded.
This punishment was harsh, no doubt. This harshness illustrates God’s lack of tolerance for sin. However, this should also make us even more grateful for the grace that He provided through His Son. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, if we accept His payment for our sins, we are no longer under the law. Although a large part of the Mosaic law is no longer actively enforced, it has never been struck down (according to Jesus Himself).
17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
How can our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? There is no way we can do that in our own strength; in fact, that was the key problem with the scribes and Pharisees. They were so focused on the letter of the law that they had completely missed its spirit. (They also had some pride issues.) The only way to live up to verse 20 above is to truly know Jesus, and accept His payment for your sins.
Parents are still to do their best to rear their children, and even Israel no longer enforces this law. This is now quite literally up to God; He is now the one who decides when a son has had enough time to repent. The recorded law exists to give us an insight into His view of sin, how serious He considers it to be, and as a reminder to us of the amazing grace that is available to us today, free for the asking.
“Tan!” “I like it on the hook by the door!” “I’m going to Kalamazoo for 32 days!” These are some tame samples of some of the nonsensical things you might have seen on Facebook over the past few years, all coming back to breast cancer awareness. Other diseases have their specific “awareness” advocates as well.
I mused on someone else’s status that I wish I needed a game to make me aware of cancer. In the past few years, I have known people who have had to fight breast, liver, kidney, prostate, lung, and bladder cancer; some have won, some did not, and others are still fighting. There are two big reasons that I’m so aware of cancer at this point. The first is that some of these have hit close to home, striking friends and co-workers. The second is through praying for those who have these terrible diseases. While I don’t recommend the first, the second is where we’ll focus today. Let’s start in Philippians.
6…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Here, Paul sets us up with a negative and a positive instruction. The negative instruction, “do not be anxious about anything,” is a necessary reminder. When we humans are dealing with troubling times among friends and family, we tend to worry for them, on their behalf; when we deal with troubling times in the world at large, our anxiety tends to be more focused on ourselves. Neither of these are acceptable, and Paul continues by giving a solution that works in both cases - tell God about it. However, this is not a heavenly-directed spleen-venting session. Paul uses “prayer and supplication” to describe how we are to take everything to God. Prayer is a reverent request, not a vent and not a demand; supplication carries the idea of a fervent, urgent request. We are to reverently, but fervently, bring our requests to God.
However, there’s another piece - “with thanksgiving.” Even in the most dire of circumstances, there are things for which we can be thankful. We can be thankful that we have the ability to pray. We can be thankful for our knowledge of the people for whom we are praying, and for the benefits we have seen in our lives from them. We can be thankful for things that God has done in the past, and the opportunity to see what He will do this time. Being thankful has two benefits. First, it lets God know that we remember His blessings. Second, it helps us; it’s very difficult to be worried or angry over something for which we are giving thanks.
This brings us to one of the most curious things about prayer that I’ve learned over the past few years. Yes, prayer is important, and can lead to big changes in circumstances. But, more than changing God’s mind, prayer changes the one who prays. God, though prayer, can reveal His will, and give peace when His will is not the result we are expecting. I think that the best example of this type of prayer was Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane. (emphasis mine)
39And going a little farther He fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
My suggestion, given the above, is two-fold. First, if you are not aware of anyone with cancer, or whatever disease has your attention, remedy that; find someone (at least one, but more if the Lord leads) and start praying for them, and see if you don’t see the difference. Then, instead of playing games that can be zany at best, and offensive at worst, post the details of the people for whom you are praying. You’ll raise awareness, and you’ll be encouraging others to pray as well. That sounds like win-win to me.
My wife and I are currently reading the book Family Driven Faith by Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr. Some friends of ours are fans of Dr. Baucham, and the book has, so far, been outstanding. (We’ve made it to chapter 4.)
In doing research on Dr. Baucham and his ministry, I learned that he is the current pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and I also found the church’s sermon feed on SermonAudio.com. I’ve been listening for the past several weeks, as he and Elder Stephen Bratton have been preaching a series on Romans. (That alone is cool to me; I’ve never seen two people share a series before.) When they arrived to Romans 13:1-7, they started a 4-sermon mini-series within their larger Romans series. Let’s look at these seven verses.
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
One of the things that blew me away is that, reading this, realizing that this was written about the Roman empire under Nero. Wow.
Other highlights from this series:
Christians should not be so quick to skip past the “submit” part.
If we choose to defy authority because we believe they are asking us to do something contrary to God, we must be willing to deal with the consequences of defying authority.
Government should not be used to push theology.
All laws are moral laws; the only question is whose morality will be enforced.
We must support our government, and we must be involved.
There is much, much more in these sermons, and nearly 4 hours of listening. I’d recommend loading these up on your mobile music player and walking while listening; shape up physically while you shape up spiritually. With the elections coming up next year, I would categorize this as required listening; we as Christians must know what is expected of us, and must make decisions based on our ultimate citizenship.
A note - Dr. Baucham, in his three sermons in this series, made some pretty bold statements, but he backs them up; don’t hear him say something and cut off the message.