BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! (PART 3)

 

Dear Friends,

I’ve been writing a series on how scripture can be misinterpreted by neglecting or omitting the context around it. As I have mentioned before, we can’t selectively lift one part of a passage out and impose our own meaning upon it. To never consider any passage in light of the theme of the immediate text, chapter, and book from which we read it is not only poor hermeneutics, but often perpetuates confusion and a false understanding of God and human relationships.

Here’s one that tends to bring up a lot of controversy:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior (Eph. 5:22-23).

Before we get to the part that I think is often left out, and before there is a small uproar from the word “submissive”, let’s clarify what is meant by that word. It is inferred from the preceding verse whereby the Apostle Paul tells all believers to be subject to one another: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). The entire passage of Ephesians 5:22-33 is about mutual respect and submission, first as the body of Christ as a whole, and then to marriage and family relationships.

Having mentioned that, let’s point to the part that is often overlooked: The description of a godly husband, as noted in Ephesians 5:25-27, later in the same chapter.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5: 25-27).

This passage describes a type of man who is the polar opposite of controlling or domineering. In fact, he is a picture of sacrificial love, and models himself after no one less than Christ Himself. He’s the type of man that does not provoke his wife to anger by flaunting or abusing his leadership. In fact, he shows a sacrificial, dedicated love for her and her well-being.

So here’s the thing: What woman would not want to respect a man that loves her? In the same way, what man would not want to love a woman that respects him? If we take the full chapter in context, we can see how they come together to not only fit into the broader picture of how Christians should treat each other, but also give a complete picture of the roles of men and women in a Christ-centered marriage relationship.

When we understand that the context of this passage does not in any way imply positions of “inferiority” or “superiority” within a marriage, but rather a blueprint of design and function, we can see the intent of the writing. When we look at the Bible as a whole, we can see that Christ honored women. For example, it was evident in the way he treated the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-42, and chose a woman (Mary Magdalene) to be one of the first to witness the resurrection. (John 20:11-18). These are just two examples of many, and this all within a culture that placed women of little to no value, until Christ, that is.

***

What do you think can happen to our society when a passage on women being submissive to their husbands is taken out of context?

How do you think that the blueprint of leadership and mutual love and respect looks like in a Christ-centered marriage?

 

 

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! (PART 2)

 

Dear Friends,

We can often mislead ourselves and others not just by twisting scripture, but simply failing to cite a passage in its entirety. In this short series, I want to focus on some of the most frequently omitted passages.  This week, it’s Romans 8:28:

“For we know that all things work together for the good to them that love the Lord and are called according to His purposes”.

This is perhaps one of the most wonderful promises to the Christian. It reflects our security in God’s control over whatever happens in our lives, and gives us hope that there is a purpose to both the good and difficult times in our lives.

I often hear this scripture quoted as a reminder that each experience will weave together for our ultimate benefit, often to the oversight of the second part of that verse: that it is  “to them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose”.

To be honest, it was sobering to me when I began to ponder the meaning  of that phrase. It’s clearly a conditional promise made only to the believer, that is, those who trust in Christ alone for their salvation and living for his glory. While this seems harsh to say, it simply follows that this would exclude those that are not believers. It is logical that and evident that not everyone on Earth loves the God of the Bible, nor called by Him (Romans 8:29-30).

By no means am I saying that non-believers cannot, or do not glean good out of bad circumstances. It actually happens all the time. This is God’s common grace and yet another reason to praise Him. What I am pointing out, however, is that the promise of Romans 8:28 is not to be thrown around without noting the entire passage and its specific message to the believer. It is not meant to be distilled into a generic  “everything happens for a reason” catch-phrase.

You see, for the Christian, God’s purpose in us is to mold us more and more into His image…it is an eternal purpose that transcends any earthly circumstance. I anchor my hope in knowing that the sorrow and anguish of life is not ever wasted from this perspective.

To those who call ourselves believers, I admonish you to consider the scriptures we read in its entirety, and challenge each of us to examine our lives to see if we are truly in the faith.

To the reader who may not be a believer, I ask only one thing: Answer the call to repentance today and confess Christ as Lord and Savior. Don’t waste this life or the next.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Bible with stuff cut out

Dear Friends,

I’ve noticed something about how we often quote scripture that I find peculiar. Sometimes, by way of habit or neglect, we cite one part of a passage while omitting the other.

For instance, take Psalm 37:4:

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart”.

It’s a wonderful passage, a very comforting, short-and-sweet promise that we love to quote. I get a little concerned, though, when it is quoted even shorter than it is actually written.

I think we often like to hear the part about being given the desires of our hearts, while we skip (or gloss over) the obvious fact that there’s a clause right before it, which is “Delight yourself in the Lord….

If understood correctly, this passage is stating a conditional promise. IF we delight in the Lord first, THEN He will give us the desires of our hearts. Given the context of the passage in Psalms, we cannot dictate what we think God is obligated to give us.

What does it mean to “delight in the Lord” and why is having the desires of our hearts conditional to it?

To delight in the Lord means that our joy will be in Him, in knowing Him, talking to Him, and reading His word. I can see at least two reasons why our ultimate desire and contentment is conditional to delighting in Him:

1) Protection from our own foolish hearts. Even as God’s own, we have a mortal tendency to wrestle with our own desires that may be outside of God’s will. If our focus is on Him, we have no room to stray.

2) Even more than that, when we delight in the Lord, (and here’s the sweet irony) our desires will align to His desires for us. When we delight in Him, our heart’s desire will be fulfilled, because our delight will be in Him before anything else. We sometimes think that the purpose of religion is for God to help us, when the truth is that it is always to please God.

In writing this post, I’ve asked myself to examine my prayers, and I realize how easily limited my focus can be in light of the greater perspective of delighting in Him on a daily basis.

 “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you”. (Deut.4:2)

***

Are you on the right track right now, following the full counsel of God’s word, or finding yourself lost without a portion of His instruction?

LEARNING TO FOCUS ON CHRIST

Dear Friends,

We’ve now come to the last in our series on Hebrews 12:1-3, a wonderful passage about running the race of faith. The first point this passage makes is an encouraging reminder of the many saints who’s lives bear witness of the victory ahead. Yet, as noble and godly as the saints were, they are not meant to be our ultimate source of strength and motivation. The next line in our study clearly states who is:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

This passage affirms that we “fix our eyes” on Jesus as the One who gives us the faith and strength we need to also finish strong. I ask you today what I ask myself many times —

Where is your focus lately? I’ve thought of some areas where our focus may tend to stray:

  • On our calling
  • On our works (living by the law, legalism)
  • On others running ahead of us (jealousy, envy)
  • On others running behind us (pride)
  • On our own feet in dismay, not looking where we are going
  • At the scenery of the world
  • At our own ambition

To set our spiritual eyes on Christ is to occupy the heart and mind with Him. The more we do so, the more we stay on the right path and the less distracted we become. This passage doesn’t indicate that Christ is looking towards anyone, only “the joy that was set before Him.” What does it tell us about this joy, that it would be enough to withstand the shame and pain of the cross?  A reading of Christ’s own words shows us His intense focus on this joy, even though it was spoken at the darkest hour before His crucifixion:

“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5)

There is no one greater for us to set our eyes upon. He is the “Author and Perfecter” of faith. He is the one who blazed the trail.

And He has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

His sitting down indicates the completion of His atoning work. We follow in His footsteps to bow before the throne, a singular goal in eager expectation of our full redemption.

We know that we cannot endure without our spiritual eyes on Christ, so we would do well to mediate on His example.

Last, I leave you with nothing less than encouragement in this race before us. I can’t speculate on what you may be going through right now, but I’m here to tell you that no matter what you are dealing with, you still have the presence of God to heed your cry. (Heb. 13:5). Keep going, my friend! This life is not all there is.

May we stand before Him and say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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THE RACE BEFORE US

No race is legitimate if shortcuts are taken. Our post today is not just about running the race of faith, but running it well. I refer again to our study text in this series, Hebrews 12:1-3, with this week’s phrase in bold:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Like a marathon runner, we run a designated, specific race. In every race, there’s a complete path to follow. In the greatest of all races, our guidance and leading comes from the things that are revealed in Scripture. It is our “rule” book. The Word of God sets the standard and gives us the guidance to stay on track.

What are the rules and who gives us the strength to follow them?

Consider Psalm 119:32

“I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding”.

Consider also the sort and sweet words of Psalm 119:105:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.

The race is already mapped out; it’s already set before us. That is, taking the passage as a whole, we expect to be tested in our faith and challenged to persevere. We see what the heroes of the faith have gone through, and we are equipped to do the same because we have the same instructions and the same source of strength.

Can you thank God for a time when His word was a very evident guide?

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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RUN WITH ENDURANCE

The average Olympian trains four hours a day, for at least 320 days a year, for six years before succeeding. In the four years before an Olympics, Greg Louganis probably practiced each of his dives 3,000 times. Kim Zmeskal has probably done every flip in her routine at least 20,000 times.*

Talk about dedication! They continued on, whether they felt like it or not. What do you think kept them going?

Hebrews 12:1-3 uses the analogy of physical discipline to answer this question on a spiritual level. That is, it addresses our need for spiritual endurance, as indicated by the phrase in bold:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What we read about endurance points to Christ. We are told to run with endurance…fixing our eyes on Jesus. What do you suppose keeps a child of God determined to finish this earthly race in victory? It is hope, isn’t it? It is knowing that we run the same race as Christ, who claimed the ultimate victory for us.

I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of opportunity for my endurance to be tested, many which are built-in within our fallen world.

What does the Bible say we shall endure in this life? Here are just a few mentions:

We endure temptations:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Even in temptation, we have assurance and encouragement for two things: that it won’t be more than we can bear, and that God will provide a way of escape.

We endure trials:

“Consider it all joy, brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3)

The more trials we face, the stronger our faith becomes, if we as Christians allow this testing to do its work in our lives.

We endure persecutions:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10-NKJV).

It’s a given. This life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Herein we find the training ground to bear up under all the temptations, trials, and persecutions.

***

Have you ever had to endure a long and painful time in your life? As a believer, were there any spiritual take-aways?

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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*Illustration taken from sermoncentral.com, accessed Dec. 23, 2014

 

THE SIN WHICH SO EASILY ENTANGLES


There’s a story about a grasshopper that befriended a spider. “What’s the harm?”, he thought, while ignoring the risk. So he lingered close to the web, letting his guard down as he began to engage in conversation. With time, he found himself drawn further into the web. He tried to lift his feeler, then a limb, but couldn’t fly away. In a flash, the spider wrapped him up in the layers of his trap, and the grasshopper went from life and freedom–to being the spider’s meal!*

No one sets out to be entangled in a trap, but sometimes, like the grasshopper, the sin in our lives entangle us and render us spiritually immobile.

Thus, to continue our look at Hebrews 12:1-3, I’ve bolded our third study passage:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As mentioned in my last post, when the writer of Hebrews wrote this letter, he was addressing the struggle with legalism among the Jews. He describes this preoccupation as a sin that they were entangled in. They were continually being bound by the ceremonial laws that they believed they needed to gain salvation. They thought that maintaining this legalism would enhance them spiritually, when in fact they were being trapped and deceived.

They were not the first. Think of how Satan drew Eve into his own web with cunning words and lies. (Genesis 3:1-6). Think also of the great power sin has over our own hearts and minds, if we aren’t careful.

Are there any thoughts or actions that continue to trip you up?

How then, are we to “lay aside” these entangling sins? As a runner set on a course, we are to clear our path from the traps and snares that would bind our feet and cripple our race. We do so by recognizing the warning signs—that first enticement that sets the process in motion. Seems Eve should have done the same thing before the serpent (Satan) encompassed her!

According to our text, there is urgency to this, in that sin so easily entangles. It would be much easier to lay them aside sooner rather than later, wouldn’t it? How can any serious runner get two feet in front of him when his arms and legs are tied up?

***

Can you think of a time when you have recognized a particularly entangling circumstance in your life? What were the warning signs?

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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*Illustration taken from sermoncentral.com, accessed Dec. 23, 2014