The theme running throughout the White Horse Inn broadcasts and Modern Reformation issues this year has been “Recovering Scripture.” Such a recovery is needed in many areas of our doctrine of Scripture as has been pointed out many times this year already. However, under-girding all of these discussions is a desire to have Scripture properly interpreted. There are many directions one could go in a discussion about “hermeneutics” (the interpretation of Scripture), but the most basic is that a passage needs to be read in context. To isolate (a.k.a. rip, tear, wrench) a particular text from its context may mean that the interpretation that one arrives at can be severely flawed and damage can be done to the clear meaning of Scripture not to mention the application that is drawn for the hearers/readers of such an interpretation.
One of the easiest contexts to look at is the immediate context–what does the rest of the chapter, section, or book say that can give insight into a particular passage? Now this may seem obvious to many of you, but yet it isn’t always done in the church today.
I subscribe to a daily devotional from a very popular pastor today. The body of the e-mail contains a Scripture passage (rarely does this ever span more than one verse), the devotional itself (containing a brief explanation of the passage and then application), and finally a prayer (I rarely can stomach getting this far). Every morning I cringe at what I am about to read. Most often the text is totally misinterpreted in a “word of faith/name-it-claim-it” direction which is to be expected from this pastor, but there are times when this pastor has so blatantly missed the immediate context of the passage he is looking at that it needs to be called out.
Do All That is in Your Heart
“Then Nathan said to David, Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you” (I Chronicles 17:2).
Today’s Word from ____
What is in your heart today? What are the dreams and desires deep on the inside of you? Maybe you want to start a business, or ministry, or go back to school. Whatever is in your heart, ask the Lord to confirm it to you. God leads us by desires, but we have to first submit our desires to Him. Sometimes we have to allow Him to change our desires, but know that He is always out for your good. It says in the book of Psalms that God gives us the desires of our heart. That means He places desires within us then brings them to pass so that we can live a fulfilled life here on earth. I believe David did this very thing. He was known as a man after God’s own heart. He submitted His heart to the Lord, and then Nathan came along and said, “Yes. Do what is in your heart. God is with you.” Whatever is in your heart today, submit it to the Lord. Trust that He is out for your good and working behind the scenes on your behalf. As you put your faith and trust in Him, He will guide you in the life of victory He has in store for you! (emphasis added)
If you aren’t familiar with 1 Chronicles 17, here are the first four verses:
1 Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, “Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” 2 And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” 3 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, 4 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.’ (1 Chronicles 17:1-4 ESV).
So David wanted to build a house for the Lord, and he mentioned it to Nathan. Nathan said go ahead and do it (as this “devotional” pointed out). However, Nathan was wrong!! Even though he was a prophet of the Lord, he merely assumed that this would please the Lord. God came to Nathan that night and told him that the desires of David’s heart WERE NOT God’s desires and that in this matter God WAS NOT with David as this pastor requires to make his message sound in accord with Scripture. Later in 1 Chronicles chapter 17, Nathan tells David all the words of the Lord (v 15) which leads to a beautiful prayer of David recognizing that God is going to build a house for David not David building a house for the Lord (vv 16-27). Taken out of its immediate (the next two verses are pretty immediate!) context this passage can be used–no, twisted–to justify doing whatever our hearts desire because it must be from the Lord.
I hope it is clear from the example above that seeing the immediate context helps prevent us from making a determination about a particular text that is clearly not what the text has to say to us, let alone the original audience. However, not looking at the immediate context actually give more work to the interpreter. There are places in Scripture where one text is expressly explained by another text. This can be seen most clearly in some of the parables of Christ given in the Gospels. (Note: the WHI will be doing a six-part series on the parables from October 10-31.) All of the Synoptic Gospels include Jesus’ own explanation of the “Parable of the Sower” (see Matt 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15) which is a great benefit to us as a guide to how the parables themselves are to be interpreted.
When you are looking at the parables one of the things that an interpreter needs to do is determine what the characters and the items in the parable represent. Doing this task has led many to wrongly interpret the parables, but at times these people do way more work than they have to.
Here is our second example of missing the context:
When Weeds Spring Up
“Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away’” (Matthew 13:24, NIV).
Today’s Word from _____
Jesus is telling a parable in Matthew 13 about a man who went out to his field and planted wheat in the ground. He sowed good seed. This represents that he was doing the right thing, honoring God with his life, and being good to others. But while he slept, an enemy came in and planted weeds. The man didn’t know what had happened. He was expecting to have a great harvest; after all, he did all the right things. But the weeds sprang up among his wheat.
Sometimes, things happen in life. Weeds spring up that we didn’t have anything to do with. The key is to keep the right attitude and keep focusing on the goodness of God. When these unexpected challenges happen, we can say, “It’s just another weed. I didn’t sow it. I don’t have to reap it.” Then we can keep the door open for God to move on our behalf.
Today, don’t let the weeds take root. Don’t let discouragement creep in. Instead, lift up your eyes of faith to what your father God can do for you. Keep believing, keep praying, and keep hoping because your harvest is on the way! (emphasis added)
The passage cited comes from the “Parable of the Weeds” in Matthew 13:24-30. This interpreter did the hard work and came up with his own identifications in the parable. We are the man, what we plant are our “good deeds,” and the weeds are “unexpected challenges.” Once I read this I opened my Bible and turned to Matthew 13. My eyes skimmed over the headings and I found “The Parable of the Weeds Explained” just five verses later!! Again the immediate context was missed. Let’s see a more authoritative interpretation of this parable:
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:36-43).
Wow!! Instead of a “parable” focusing totally on man and what we are doing, Christ says this parable is about himself, the kingdom of God, and the close of the age. What a total contrast from what the devotional said this parable is about! The “application” we are to draw from this parable is completely different as well.
Devotional – “Today, don’t let the weeds take root. Don’t let discouragement creep in. Instead, lift up your eyes of faith to what your father God can do for you. Keep believing, keep praying, and keep hoping because your harvest is on the way!”
Christ – “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
One talks about a harvest of personal blessing today, whereas the other tells about a harvest that will come at the end of time with eternal significance. If you happen to feel blessed now, then you don’t need the interpretation of the devotional. However, Christ’s interpretation of this parable needs to be heard by all men and women everywhere and in every time because “law-breakers” are liable to the fire of God’s wrath. But the good news is that in Christ God’s people have been planted as children of the kingdom, are counted righteous, and will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
So what are we to do? God’s Word is the final authority and everything that is preached “in the name of the Lord” needs to conform to Scripture. This is one of the roles that elders are to have in the church-to maintain the purity of the preached Word. However, laypeople too can do this. Listen to what Acts 17:11 says, “Now these Jews [from Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
You might be thinking that what I have presented here is a worst case scenario picking out two specific devotionals. I really do hope and pray that this is the case; however, my wife heard a sermon while visiting a large Evangelical mega-church where the pastor stopped his Scripture reading one verse short. By doing so all he preached on was man’s duty (law) instead of what God has done through Christ (the Gospel).
James 3:1 gives some very humbling (and scary) words concerning teachers of God’s people, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The pastor who wrote this devotional and who millions of people hear every week will be held accountable for these blatantly false interpretations of Scripture and he will be judged with a greater strictness. Paul tells the young minister Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). This is the goal of anybody who steps into a pulpit (I guess now days it “steps behind a pulpit” if there is one in the first place): we are not to be ashamed because we rightly handled the word of truth. The same cannot be said for the examples given here.