Friday, February 17, 2012

Are there reliable principles for reading and interpreting Scripture?

Yes. Thankfully, Scripture is not a book reserved for elites, or an inner circle of “super-saints.” All of Scripture is the word of God for the people of God.

As you continue reading through Scripture in 2012, as you sit in worship and listen to preaching grounded in Scripture, here are 5 principles to keep in mind as you love God and keep his commandments.

1. Read the bible with an attitude of prayer
The human heart is a prolific idol factory. The human heart is easily deceived and is often given to evil (Jeremiah 17:9). The natural response to God’s truth as it is unveiled is to suppress the truth, deny the truth, excuse it, rationalize it away and sometimes obey it.

Do what David did: pray before, during and after reading and hearing Scripture:

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander
from your commandments! (Psalm 119:10)

Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:12)

Pray that the Holy Spirit would unclog your ears, remove scales from your eyes, and give you the spirit of humility and a teachable heart that is quick to obey.

2. Remember that the bible points to Jesus
Don’t read the bible as a book to validate your experience or support some narrow political point. Jesus often reminded his accusers, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40; Luke 24:25-27).
The writer in Hebrews makes this point: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
(Hebrews 1:1-2)

3. Let Scripture interpret Scripture (This is my favorite principle)
What do I mean here? If you believe that all of Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for the church’s life, and does not contradict itself, then the passages of Scripture that are less clear should be interpreted with reference to those that are more transparent in meaning.

I do this all the time. For example, on February 26 and March 4th I will be preaching through I Corinthians 5-6. Paul talks about avoiding sexual immorality or porne. What does he mean by this? In order to understand his words, I simply read what the rest of Scripture means by sexual immorality. It is a big word that involves any sexual practice that does not comport with God’s will for God’s people: Fornication, adultery, beastiality, pedophilia, lust, rape, homosexuality, incest, pornography, prostitution, etc.The same thing could be done with just about any subject or teaching. Study all that the bible says about the subject so as to have the “mind of God on that subject.” This avoids slipping over the edge into basing one’s life and experience on one or two ideas of Scripture.

4. Think deep and long about Scripture
This means you can’t be in a hurry when reading. A superficial reading of Scripture will produce a superficial way of life. This is why I decided back in 2008 to begin this blog as a way to think about and write about what God’s word says to me. I also keep a journal of prayers that grow out of my reading of Scripture. I have found that this method helps Scripture stick to the walls of my mind.

5. Resolve to read AND obey Scripture
This is the litmus test. What good is it to read through the entire bible; have the ability to quote verse after verse so as to dazzle your friends, but do not obey it? It profits nothing.

Scripture is not like the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times--read the editorials, the sports page, the Home and Garden section, scan the headlines-- then recycle the paper. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments.”

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. Psalm 119:9

And then James nails it: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
(James 1:22-25)

Lord, help all who read these weak thoughts of mine, be led to read your powerful words and in so doing are changed. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen!