Why We Need to Stop “Using” The Bible


In my last post “Filled with Scripture and Ignorance” we discussed how it is not only possible to be filled with Bible verses and ignorance at the same time, but discussed the fact that it is quite common. If you have not read that post first, please go back to that one then come back here. We discussed in that post how Jesus spoke to the Jews in John 5 concerning the fact that they searched the scriptures… But they missed the fact that the scriptures were talking about Him.

This is a real and present danger that Christians face today, where we can search the scriptures, and still miss the point. What a terrifying thought! I know that I have been guilty of it in the past, and I would bet that many of you have been as well. Since we know that it is a problem… what do we do about it?


In future articles we will be discussing some principles for good Bible study to help keep us on the right track. But first, I wanted to spend a little more time dealing with why this topic matters so much.


What is meant by the title of this article? Stop using the Bible?!? Let me assure you that I am not, nor would I ever, encourage someone not to read, study, or apply the Bible. What I am suggesting is that we change our mindset, and we stop “using” the Bible. Stop the endless search for “proof texts” to prove that our “positions” are correct and others are wrong. (Side Note: Let’s stop “taking positions” in the first place. Let us strive to always be true to the text regardless of what that means for “our position”. We aren’t defenders of positions, we are proclaimers of the Gospel.)

Throughout my ministry I have been asked many questions concerning faith. Some of those questions can be quite revealing. Questions such as:

“What is a verse that proves Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins?”

“What scripture do I need to show my friend who believes that Hell isn’t real?”

How can I prove that God is real?”

“Which passage of scripture can I use to prove why the _________ church is wrong in their beliefs?”

These questions, and many like them have been asked repeatedly. I appreciate so much the love that many have for their friends and for God. Their desire to follow God, and teach others about His will is admirable, and we need more people like them in the church. However, there is a fundamental problem with all of these questions… They begin with the conclusion in mind.

When you begin “searching scripture” knowing exactly the answer that you are looking for, you are likely to find a verse that affirms your belief. Without fail, this leads to abuse of the text. I want to submit that we reframe the way we approach the Bible in study. We no longer “use” the Bible. Rather, we open our heart to it.

What does it mean to open your heart to the Bible? First and foremost, it means that you are willing to admit that you may be wrong in what you believe regarding a particular subject. Ask yourself honestly, “Might I be wrong about______?” If you conclude that there is no way you could be wrong, close your Bible. Individuals who “use” the Bible destroy their credibility in the eyes of all who hear them. Humble your mind, open your heart, and study.

There are many compelling reasons to reframe our approach and move far, FAR away from “using the Bible”, But for our purposes here, I want to deal with one reason.

“Using” the Bible, keeps us from seeing what God wants us to see

Often times in our effort to prove a point or to make a stand, we can strip passages from their true meaning, which is always far greater than the point we are attempting to make. More than 10 years ago, I attended a men’s conference that had a powerful theme, “Standing in the Gap”. The point of the conference was simple. There is a leadership void within the church today and God is looking for men to step up, to be leaders, to fill the gap. Don’t be like the people we read about in Ezekiel, because no one would step up and fill that gap!

It was a great weekend. There were some inspiring lessons that helped stir my heart and challenged me to be a better man. I have often wondered if the men who based their conference on Ezekiel 22:30 knew what the passage was and was NOT saying.


Ezekiel 22:30 ESV

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.


This text was “used” to talk about God searching for someone to stand up and build, to stand in the gap (breach) of the wall, but no one would. No one would do what needed to be done. Today, we have many things that need to be done, God is looking for men to stand in that gap. It’s a good sentiment, certainly there are many things that need to be done, and few who are willing to do it. However, that isn’t what is taking place in Ezekiel. Let’s explore it briefly.

In J.R.R. Tolkein’s series, “The Lord of The Rings” he depicts a battle scene at a strong fortress known as “Helm’s deep”. The good guys knew that they were severely outnumbered. So they retreated to this strong hold. They set their archers up on the wall of Helm’s Deep and hoped for the best. Once the enemy was able to breach the wall, it seemed all hope was lost and the casualties began to pile up. Once they could no longer keep the evil outside, but it came inside the result was lot’s of pain and death. In the context of this passage in Ezekiel we know that the walls of Israel had been breached by sin.

Ezekiel was written a few years after Babylon began its seige on Israel. It’s around the time period of Daniel 1. Israel has already taken some major hits, and is about to fall completely. Ezekiel was in one of the first groups to be led away from Israel, and so the setting of Ezekiel is a dark one. We read earlier in chapter 22 of some of the many sins that Israel had allowed to go unchecked. Sins such as: The shedding of blood, disobedience to parents, extortion, various sexual sins etc. They were in a mess Then came the most grievous of all their sin, they had forgotten God (Ezekiel 22:12).

God was angry, He was brokenhearted. He couldn’t stand to see His children turn their back on Him and give their hearts to the world. He sought for one who could turn the tide.

Let’s examine the language of this text again.


Ezekiel 22:30 ESV

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.


What was God searching for? Someone who would “build up the wall” someone who would “stand in the breach”… But notice what was significant about this posture the one who would stand in the breach would be standing Before God and for the land. Keep in mind that the destruction that was happening to Israel was happening because of their sin. God gave Israel over into the hands of their enemies. God sought for one who could stand “before Him” on behalf of, or “for” the land. In other words, who could stand between God (The oppressor) and Israel? The answer? No one.

This text is not an indictment against Israel saying that there were no good men left. In fact, at the time of this statement, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jeremiah were all living. God was not saying that there were “no good men” God was saying, there was no one who could do what needed to be done in order to save them from destruction. What was it that needed to be done? Standing between God and the people. Someone that could take God’s wrath and spare the people. Someone who could be “in the middle”. Sound like anyone we know of? Jesus, the Christ. You see, what Israel lacked then, we do not lack now!

Now, If we strip this text down to teach that we need “real men who will stand in the gap” we are placing emphasis on ourselves, and our ability to stand in this gap. However, the text is clear… Even God’s chosen spokesmen could not do what needed to be done. For you and I, thousands of years removed from that story we can look back on that passage and rejoice in Jesus because we have someone who has stood in that gap for us, doing what we could not.

When we “use” the Bible, we often miss the true beauty of what God has revealed. Let us resolve to stop “using” the Bible, and approach this precious collection of books that God has given to us with an open heart and a humble mind.

in Him,

Troy

Filled With Scripture & Ignorance

 


Filled with scripture and ignorance? That seems oxymoronic, does it not? After all, we know that the sum of God’s word is truth. We know that the scriptures have been “breathed out” by God. We believe that the words of God are as a lamp unto our feet. How could someone be filled with scripture and ignorance? It is more common than we might think. 

Consider with me a couple of examples. One from the Bible, and one from my own life. 

When we turn our New Testaments to the Gospel of John, and we read the 5th chapter the world that we are stepping into is very different from our own. It is a world that would look quite strange to us. We see the pagan influence on the culture as we read about a pool, that supposedly had mystical/miraculous healing powers. So many of the sick, paralyzed, and afflicted people would gather around and wait for their chance to be healed. Then, Jesus entered the picture and for one man, everything changed. Jesus healed a man who hadn’t been able to walk for 38 years! Possibly, all of his life. What a sight that must have been! Can you picture the joy on this man’s face? Can you hear his shouts of triumph? Can you picture the nonstop tears of joy flowing from his face? 

However, this story wasn’t all “sunshine and rainbows”. Many Jews began causing some heartache for this man as well as for Jesus. Why? Because the healing took place on the Sabbath. Not only did Jesus heal on the Sabbath, but He even had the audacity to claim that God was His father! Jesus began a lengthy explanation to His accusers concerning His inability to do anything without the Father, He speaks about coming Judgement, He speaks about resurrection, He speaks precious words of life. Then, He makes a statement that should give all believers pause —


John 5:39 ESV

39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,


Notice what Jesus just said? He is addressing people who search the scriptures. He is addressing people who believe that in the scriptures, they will find life. These people, who searched the scriptures and had a high view of the scriptures… missed the whole point. They missed the Son! They missed the savior. They missed Jesus. 

These people were no doubt sincere in their searching of the scriptures, and they obviously had a high view of the text, but yet… They still “missed it”. 

Now it is my turn. 14 years ago I walked into my office for the very first time. I couldn’t believe it. I was now a “minister” I had the title and everything. I sat behind my desk and began to think about what I would preach this coming Sunday. I could think of no better topic with which to “kickoff my ministry” than to preach about the “Word of God”. I wanted to make sure that I held up the scriptures high. I wanted to make sure that I spoke about the inspiration of the scripture, so I went to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I wanted to make sure I let the people know that the Bible and only the Bible could serve as a lamp unto their feet. So, I went to Psalms 119:105 For the final point that I wanted to drive home, I went no other place than–


Hebrews 4:12 ESV

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.


Why? Because I wanted to assure the congregation that the Bible is living and active. It has an ability to cut to the heart. It has the ability to sort out our thoughts and intentions if we will allow it to. We need to cling to the Bible for these reasons. I was proud of that sermon. So proud in fact, that I believe I preached it a few more times in various locations. 

There is a tricky thing to keep in mind when studying the scriptures. Context. It changes everything, and yes… Context can sure ruin a good sermon. There was a problem with my preaching that sermon. I ignored context. As a result I made some applications that the original authors were not actually making. I’ll leave it to you to study those texts and arrive at how they should rightly be applied. The point is, I wanted to make some “points” and I went to certain verses to prove my points. The points I was trying to make weren’t bad, but they were not always the same points that the original author intended to make.

There are many more obvious passages that I have quoted in my preaching through the earlier years without realizing the context, or the proper meaning, for instance, did you know that Phil 4:13 is not a pep talk before a football game? Of course you know that, but sadly, there was a time that I didn’t think twice about quoting the passage in that context. 

Back to the point. When I was baptized into Christ I was given a “ready reference” that had lists of verses to go to to discuss any subject, generally aimed at “proving a point”. In some ways, this was helpful to me as I began to grow in Christ. It was helpful for me to see “why” we believed certain things that we believed. It wasn’t a bad tool to have. However, when we begin our study of a given topic with the conclusion in mind, we are often blind to what is in front of our eyes. 


It can be tempting for preachers to litter their sermons with 100 scripture references (I know, I’ve done it) in order to “prove” a point or worse, in order to “sound better”. It can be tempting as listeners ( I know, I’ve done it) to hear sermons like that and think, “Man! That guy knows his Bible!” and walk away more impressed with the messenger than we are the message. 


My challenge for myself and for you is a simple one. Do your best every time you approach the Bible, to take off your blinders. Empty your mind of “conclusions” until the study has been done. Do not ever, in preaching or personal study set out to “prove” a point. Set out to see, know, understand, and follow God. We all have biases. We all have a few scriptures that are ready to be quoted from memory that may not mean what we think they mean. Let’s learn from the Jews in John 5. Let’s not be content with searching the scriptures but missing the point. Even if that means that the context of a passage is going to ruin my next sermon… it probably wasn’t a good sermon in the first place. 🙂 Let’s press on to greater study, and love for the text. 

in Him,

Troy