Three Common Misuses Of The Bible:
1. The highest use of your Bible knowledge is winning a theological argument.
- Matthew 22:15-22.
- For many people, the ultimate use of their Bible knowledge is the ability to show others (both Christians and non-Christians) that “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
- We use the Bible as a weapon – not to win spiritual warfare, but to beat down others.
- Here in this story in Matthew 22 the Pharisees and Herodians lay a trap for Jesus to make sure that someone defeats Him in public theological arguing. Both groups have tried separately to beat Jesus in theological jousting, only to walk away defeated. So, they combine their efforts to ensure (they think) that they can win.
- The reason they think they’ll win is that the presence of both groups presents Jesus with a difficult situation.
- If Jesus says, “Don’t pay your taxes to Caesar,” then the Herodians will pounce. They believe that the Jewish people should be loyal to the Roman government. (They were considered compromisers by many other Jews.) Their name reflects the fact that they were in league with Herod. If Jesus says that Jews shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar, the Herodians will take that statement to the ruling authorities and paint Jesus as a dangerous man bent on insurrection. This would likely lead to His arrest.
- On the other hand, if Jesus says, “Pay your taxes to Caesar,” then the Pharisees will pounce. They believe that the Roman government is illegitimate and that the Jewish people are meant by God to rule themselves. If Jesus says that Jews should pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisees will shout that knowledge to the people who are sympathetic to their view and paint Jesus as a compromiser and stooge of the Roman government.
- As they planned this ahead of time, I’m sure they thought their plan presented Jesus with a “no-win” situation.
- The interesting thing to me here as far as what we’re talking about this morning is how these two groups who normally despised the other came together specifically to win this theological argument.
- They weren’t interested in learning or revealing the truth of God – they just wanted to figure out a way to win this theological argument.
- Today, an all-too-common pastime among Christians is to spend their time together fighting with each other over who is right.
- I remember talking to a man who worked at the plants in South Charleston who said every day at lunch the Christians from various denominations would inevitably stumble into some theological debate and spend the remainder of the hour explaining why the other person was wrong.
- While those believers seem to think that was an entertaining and productive use of their time, for the non-Christians there in that lunchroom, it makes Christianity into something they want no part of. It wasn’t a life-changing source of hope – it was a cumbersome series of propositions to be argued and defended.
- The Baptists explain why the Methodists are wrong to deny eternal security.
- The Pentecostals explain why the mainline is wrong to deny supernatural spiritual gifts.
- The Church of Christ explains why everyone else is wrong on everything.
- We rarely convince other Christians to change their minds, but in the process we convince non-Christians to change their minds about salvation.
- And we act like we’re doing God’s will in the process.
2. If you can’t win your argument, at least you can live smugly in knowing your airtight theological arguments are right.
- Matthew 22:23-33.
- Later that day, the Sadducees came to Jesus and presented one of their “proofs.” It was an argument showing that their belief that there is no resurrection was undeniably true. This was obviously an airtight case that they often repeated. To believe other than they did would turn heaven into a polygamous mess.
- Jesus, of course, had something else to say (and we’ll get into that in a while).
- What strikes me here is that this way of speaking is the way we often talk amongst ourselves (people within our theological tradition). We lay out our wonderfully constructed proofs of our theological take on certain issues and our fellow church members praise our undeniable explanations.
- It’s not genuine debate we’re after or an honest exchange of ideas that we want – we’re just looking for better arguments to prove what we already think. It allows us to rest smugly in our rightness.
3. You can maintain your smugness by never leaving the comfort of your favorite parts of the Bible.
- Matthew 22:41-43.
- Jesus here takes the initiative to lay out a question to the Pharisees.
- What’s going on here? Jesus gets them to acknowledge that the Messiah is the Son of David, yet David himself refers to the Messiah as Lord. They have no answer to explain this.
- The answer is that it only makes sense if the Messiah is more than a man – if He is God Incarnate. The damning thing about this is that’s exactly what Jesus has been trying to tell them, yet every time He makes a claim to Deity He is met with threats of stoning.
- The irony here is that the Pharisees claimed to be people of the Word. Jesus is quoting the Word to them and asking them to explain it to Him. He has been hinting at a way to explain it that makes perfect sense (His Deity). They have only silence.
- How can we as Christians maintain our smugness when there are so many parts of the Bible that we can’t explain? Simple – avoid those parts.
- Almost all believers tend to focus their attention and reading on the parts of the Bible that agree with their pre-existing beliefs. The rest we skim or ignore.
- “I’m going to dwell on this passage about the love of God. This part that talks about hell? Better just skim that and keep moving.”
- “I’m read a lot of the gospels, but I don’t need to read much Revelation.”
- When I was at Poca Baptist, I often did long evening service sermon series (often one series would go an entire year). I’d pick a book of the Bible and preach the whole thing verse-by-verse. One thing I noted as I did that is that I would frequently come across parts of the Bible that brought up issues or ideas that I would not normally address. They were perfectly legitimate and worthwhile issues and ideas, yet they fell outside my normal horizon of vision. I wasn’t intentionally trying to avoid those issues (well, ok, sometimes I was), but we all have things we’re more interested in or that fit more easily into our preconceived belief system.
- It’s important that we give the challenging parts of the Bible equal consideration, especially the parts that don’t easily fit our theology.
Pursuing Something Greater (And More Challenging) In The Word:
1. “Father, I want a truth that’s bigger than our denominational labels.”
- Matthew 22:15-22.
- Our theological argument is all about one side being right and the other being wrong. Who will emerge victorious?
- In fact, as we see from Jesus here, neither was right. Their plan to trap Jesus presumed that He would have to acknowledge that one side was right. The truth was that both were wrong in different ways.
- Today, in our theological arguing, it’s mostly an effort to prove which side can win. Which denomination has it right?
- The truth is that it’s almost certain that none of them have it all right. In fact, I would be willing to go so far as to say that it’s almost certain that none of them are even close.
- We argue about worship. Is holding to traditional hymns the right way to go? Should we race headlong into praise choruses? Much blood and ink has been spilled in America over the last 30 years with angry discussion on this issue. Church splits and broken relationships litter the trail. And both sides claim God’s mandate.
- But what if God is sitting in heaven shaking His head? “Guys,” He says, “it was never about the type of music – it was about giving Me your heart completely as you sing.”
- Hymns or praise songs? Both sides are wrong.
- In our me-centered culture, it’s revolutionary to recognize that worship is not to be evaluated on whether you were pleased with it but by whether God was pleased with it is revolutionary.
- Baptists rejoice in their bold efforts to win eternal security arguments. Yet in heaven God shakes His head and says, “You argue so much for a strong salvation, but you aren’t experiencing a tenth of all I have for you because you won’t abandon yourself to Me.”
- Pentecostals rejoice in their bold efforts to show that spiritual gifts are for today. Yet in heaven God shakes His head and says, “You argue so much for miraculous gifts, but you are so focused on ways I can bless you that you miss how I’m trying to grow you by breaking you.”
- What if we stand before God someday with the people that we’ve spent so much time arguing with and demand from Him: “Who was right, God?”
- And He, with a sad look, says, “You were both wrong.”
- Why do we hold onto denominational beliefs (that preconceived set of beliefs) so strongly? Well, that leads us to the second point. . .
2. “Father, I want to enter the mystery of a power that’s greater than me.”
- Matthew 22:23-33.
- After the Sadducees unveil their airtight argument, Jesus responds with these devastating words: “You don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God!” (v. 29).
- Let’s unpack those two:
a. You don’t know the Scriptures.
- Why would they miss a big idea like how the resurrection will be? What they had in the Bible didn’t answer all of their questions (there are things that are not addressed in the Word – like what’s mentioned in v. 30 about the resurrected not being given in marriage), so they pieced things together as well as they could. Soon, though, we take our best figuring and shift it over to calling it the unquestionable answer.
- There are certainly Scriptures in the Old Testament (the only Bible they had when Jesus was speaking these words) that could be made to echo the Sadducees’ argument, but only if you don’t consider other passages (like what Jesus mentions in vv. 31-32).
b. You don’t know the power of God.
- We tend to limit God and think of Him as a slightly stronger version of us. He’s not. His power is wholly unlike our’s.
- Nothing is too big for God to do. Even the resurrection of every person.
- Sadducees might argue, “How could you bring together every molecule from a thousand-year-dead person in order to have a bodily resurrection?” I can’t, but God can do what needs done, however it all works.
- Going back for a second to the idea of denominations. Why are they so prevalent? One big reason, I believe, is that it’s nice to have all the math already done for you. Someone else wrestled with the Bible and delivered you a nice, neat, clean set of answers.
- That means you don’t have to do all the thinking or digging or struggling. It’s so much easier.
- In contrast, to enter into the power of God is to enter into a mystery. It’s to walk with the unknown and to have to take each step of the path as it comes. It’s uncertain and makes us uneasy. We’d rather have someone else chew it and give it to us regurgitated.
- This is why it’s a constant temptation to move toward legalism. Instead of having to walk with God and see where He leads, I just follow these ten simple rules.
- Entering the mystery is scary than just repeating our pat answers.
3. “Father, I want squarely face my smallness.”
- Matthew 22:41-43.
- Taking all this in as a whole, I have to say that I am amazed at the vast lack of humility that most of us show when it comes to interpreting Scripture.
- There is no chance – no chance! – that I am going to stand before God someday and He will say, “Jim, in the history of humanity, you are the one person who interpreted everything in the Bible right! You were the one who got it all!”
- Yet we are so arrogant and unteachable too often when it comes to our Biblical beliefs.
- This is not to say that we should be completely wishy-washy and have no “conviction about our convictions” – it’s just to say that especially as we get over into secondary and peripheral Biblical issues a large dose of humility would be a good thing.
- I am not a Bible scholar with all the answers. I am a fellow struggler, trying to discern God’s will for me and the world.
- As Jesus leaves them hanging without an answer in v. 46, I’m not convinced that there’s any way that they could have figured out the answer to His question on their own. It’s a mind-boggling idea that the Messiah would be God Incarnate.
- How could you figure that out? Well, I’m not sure that anyone could have figured it out, but Jesus was telling His disciples the answer and even they couldn’t receive it. Jesus made public claims for His Deity and was threatened with stoning, not worship.
- I think the point here is not that they should have been able to figure out the answer, but that they acted like they had all the answers. Jesus effectively shuts them up (v. 46). They did not come to Jesus with a desire to learn, but with a desire to prove Him wrong. He had to be wrong because He disagreed with them and they obviously couldn’t be wrong.
- We need to squarely face our smallness. I am not God. I do not have the mind of God. I am not the smartest person who has ever lived. I am not the holiest person who has ever lived. I am one person on a big blue ball spinning in a vast darkness. I come to God not full of myself, but full of need. I am small; You are great. Help me understand what You have for me.
Where’s A Focus Point In All This? Make sure the main thing stays the main thing.
- Matthew 22:34-40.
- Nothing in the Bible is in there by accident, nor is the location of anything in the Bible accidental.
- Right here in the midst of these three stories that painfully illustrate how to misuse the Bible we find a simple story of the greatest commandments.
- Jesus is asked what the greatest commandments are and He responds, “Love God, love your neighbor.”
- There are times when in our pursuit of Bible knowledge that we can let secondary things have our primary focus. Our primary focus needs to be love. Not truth, not knowledge, not justice, not eternity. All of those are important, but not our ultimate focus.
- It’s interesting to me how many “Bible scholars” in our churches have little love. They’re often angry people, quick to fight.
- It’s interesting to me how many “Bible scholars” in our churches have no time for people. Those around them are a nuisance that detracts from study time.
- It’s interesting to me how many “Bible scholars” in our churches don’t have particularly strong prayer times. They’re not that drawn to have private time with God.
- While many other things have a part in our walk of faith, the core of who we are and what we do needs to be our love for God and love for others.
- Having that love is not the same thing as merely doing our duty or following rituals or maintaining appearances. Love isn’t just about our actions, but about our motivation for our actions.
- We do need to understand the rest of the Bible so that we don’t misdefine love, but love is the core.
- One reason we’re reluctant to do this is that it drives us into muck and mess. People’s lives are messy and loving them in the midst of their sin can be mucky sometimes. It’s so much neater and cleaner to sit in our well-lit, spotless living room and read the Bible, trying to add abstract theological truths to our mind.
- And loving God is little better. Of course, He has no sin, but we certainly do – and He’s always working to get rid of it. God is so much easier to deal with the abstract than as someone who is working in our lives.