During my 24 years in UBF, I studied the Bible a lot. I developed an entire theology based on obedience. But I was always tripped up by some verses that never seemed to make sense. Several Bible verses just didn’t fit into my theology. As I look back, I see quite a few verses that were very difficult for me to understand.
Matthew 6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Jesus said “be careful”. But I could not reconcile this with the expectations others had of me as a fellowship leader. I had to do all my acts of righteousness before people, how else would they know? In fact, I documented my acts every week! How else would I escape rebuke for not doing enough deeds? Oh how I used to love the praise of men and women for my good deeds!
Plain teaching in light of grace: Do my good deeds in secret. Let other people get angry or stand on their head if they want. Let them send angry emails instead of praising me. That’s nothing compared to my Father’s reward in heaven! That’s nothing to bear compared to knowing Jesus my Lord!
James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
What?! Not many Christians should become teachers? I nearly thought this verse to be heresy. Everyone must teach the Bible, I thought. Everyone has a priestly duty and that duty is to teach others, I thought.
Plain teaching in light of grace: The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people. God never intended uniformity to replace unity. God intended to build up a spiritual house, made up of all kinds of people. The body of Christ is truly remarkable!
Romans 11:29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
I heard this verse a lot in the past. When I took this verse out of context, I understood “God’s gifts” to only mean “God’s blessings” (i.e. material possessions, human talents, ministry, etc.). God’s calling, I thought, meant only the calling to be a Bible teacher. So I became arrogant, thinking nothing I had could be taken away. I proudly thought I was a Bible teacher established by God for life.
Plain teaching in light of grace: Romans 11 demonstrates clearly that it is possible to be blessed by God, and then live as an enemy of Jesus. Instead of invoking pride in me, this verse should have pointed me to the grace of God, if I had studied Romans properly instead of taking this one verse out of context. While it is true that God will not revoke His promise of grace, this should in no way give me confidence that my ministry or family or position here on earth is irrevocable. God’s clear lesson to Job is that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:20-22) and that God Himself is our treasure (Job 38:1-41).
There are many, many more such verses. I’ll share as they come to mind. My main point is that the lens you see the Bible through makes a huge difference in the meaning you find. Here are some changes I’ve made to my approach to the Bible:
1. Always read entire chapters and books of the Bible.
2. Rarely quote one verse by itself.
3. Accept that grace is God’s last word and the key to understand all Scripture.
4. Use the Bible to interpret the Bible.
5. Read, read, read…understand something of Spurgeon, Augustine, Calvin, etc. and present day preachers such as Piper, Keller, Ludy, etc.
6. Use apparent contradictions in the Bible as an opportunity to learn.
7. Consider myself a Bible learner, not a Bible teacher.
8. Acknowledge that God’s ways are vastly higher than my ways.
9. Know that God will violate my human wisdom, but will never violate logic.
10. Understand that the Bible is a redemptive story with a redemptive purpose.