This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Devotional Drags and Snags: Part 3

The illustrative quotations in this series are intended to reflect common statements of frustration, confusion, or carelessness regarding daily devotions. Rather than questioning the intent of people who make these statements or denying that truth they may contain, I merely desire to clarify or redirect those thoughts.
Part 1: "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day" and "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today."
Part 2: "I read the Bible every day, but I don't remember what I read."

4) "Here's what this verse means to me."
I cringe inside when I hear these words. Granted, they can be simply imprecise wording by someone who wants to explain why a verse is special to him. Other times, unfortunately, people mean those words "to me" literally. With literature, the Constitution, and even common terminology, people have come to comprehend things based on the individual reader's interpretation rather than the original author's intent. Sadly, this same fallacious method has transferred to the Bible.

If an author hasn't first clearly identified his message, his words will be unorganized, empty, confusing, and even contradictory. Sometimes authors might be ambiguous intentionally, but generally writers have a clear message they want to communicate; otherwise, they wouldn't go to the trouble of writing. Of all the authors ever in the history of the world, this is certainly true of God. Never has anyone else had a message so important or a desire so fervent for people to understand His message.  God therefore chose His language carefully and deliberately so He could communicate that message effectively.

The Bible is not ambiguous or open to personal interpretation. When a Christian reads the Bible, therefore, he can't decide what he wants a passage to mean; instead, he must endeavor to find out what God intended it to mean. "No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Peter 1:20-21).

Repeatedly the Bible reveals about itself that the Holy Spirit directed men to record God's words. This important truth gives the Bible an unsurpassed level of credibility. It means that God accomplished His goal of accurately giving His message. This divinely-inspired accuracy and precision allows for no error or interpretation. With a man's writing, I might realize that he didn't say exactly what he intended to say; I might adjust my interpretation accordingly. God's words cannot be adjusted, adapted, or personally interpreted. He actually did say exactly what He meant to say.

Paul admonished Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15). Timothy was to preach God's Word straight and smooth, right down the line, without straying from God's intended message; every believer should strive for that same accuracy.

Each part of the Bible was written within a historical context. These historic events cannot be plopped into the middle of an individual's modern life. For example, one summer I traveled on a missions team to Mexico. In nearly every location we faced water shortages, and it never seemed to be my turn to do laundry. I happened to read Exodus 19:10: "The Lord also said to Moses, 'Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments.'" While perhaps humorous in my context, that was not an instruction for me personally.

Promises in the Bible were given to specific historical people. God told Abraham, "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son" (Genesis 18:9). This should not be construed by any modern couple to indicate that they will have a miracle baby. Some of God's promises are repeated and restated elsewhere in Scripture to broader groups of people. For example, Joshua 1:9 was spoken specifically to Joshua, but it is one of many times that God declared He is always with His children; this verse is therefore a good example of applicable truth to the modern day.

While error can come from imposing a historic context or promise onto a modern situation, other error comes from seizing upon a word or phrase regardless of context. In his final challenge to Israel, Moses stated, "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). I read an author who took those words "choose life" and interpreted them to mean living life to the fullest by moving on from grief, embracing family, and becoming involved again in activities. That isn't at all what God intended to say through Moses; He was presenting the option of following God or not.

Readers can easily err in understanding the Bible when they have some favorite topic. Rather than reading passages literally or with a mind seeking to receive the intended instruction of individual passages, they impose their favorite topic onto nearly every passage they read. This could be an already erroneous teaching, such as "I have liberty to do whatever I want, so don't judge me," or even something totally scriptural like soul winning.

Each Bible passage has an intended message, and each careful reader should find the same message when reading the same passage. God's specific truth can certainly apply to many people in many situations. For example, "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7) can encourage an overworked mom, a pressured breadwinner, a struggling missionary, or a lonely widow. The specifics of each situation are different, but God's truth is the same.

Instead of "what this passage means to me," a better statement might be "Here's how God's truth impacted me" or "Here's what I believe God means in this passage."

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