Handling Tough Texts

How do you handle a hard passage in the Bible? Peter wrote this about Paul, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand….” But if we don’t take the time to wrestle with that passage, Peter says this is what happens next: “…which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

So here’s a 5-step plan I use when I am working through a challenging passage of Scripture.

  1. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and the same Holy Spirit lives in a Christian (1 John 2:20). Think about that: the same Holy Spirit that inspired an author to write the words of Scripture is the same Spirit that will illuminate them to you!

  1. Read the difficult passage in context

We will make our task much easier when we “zoom out” from the difficult text and read the whole passage surrounding the difficult verse/phrase. Perhaps we need to “zoom out” even farther to understand why the whole chapter or book was written.

  1. Identify the parts that are clear

Start off by identifying the parts that you do understand, and then see what light that shines on the tricky text.

  1. Cross reference with other Scriptures

Never, ever, ever draw a conclusion from just one passage of Scripture. Paul reminded his audience that he used the “whole counsel of God’s Word” (Acts 20:27) in forming his sermons. If the challenging passage contains an Old Testament passage, look it up; if it references an historical event, read that history. I also like to use biblegateway.com’s excellent search feature to find cross references.

  1. Draw conclusions on what appears to be the main point

Only after you have done step #1-4 should you attempt to draw some conclusions. You will set yourself up for error if you draw a conclusion first, and then try to find other texts in the Bible that agree with you.

The Apostle Peter writes something rather challenging in his first letter. In fact, Martin Luther said this about 1 Peter 3:18-22: “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” If you would like to see how I walk through the 5-step plan on this “obscure passage,” please check out the video below.

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Fear God, Honor The King

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:21).

The Bible has much to say to God-followers about how to interact with earthly governments:

  • Wise King Solomon told us to “fear the Lord and the king” and not go along with rebels against the government (Proverbs 24:21)
  • Daniel said several times that “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4 & 5)
  • The Apostle Paul declared he was no rebel to either the civil or religious governors: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar” (Acts 25:8)
  • Later on, Paul reminded the church that government officials are God’s servants, and that we need to give them the respect that is owed to them (see Romans 13:1-7)
  • Peter counseled Christians: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors … Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

But a man that exemplifies this balance between fearing God and honoring the king best is Mordecai. Mordecai was a Jew who served the Babylonian king faithfully—

  • He protected the king from would-be assassins
  • But disobeyed the king when the law of the land conflicted with God’s law
  • Then Mordecai helped the king get out of a bad law written by an evil man

A mark of a godly leader is one who knows the difference between fearing God and honoring earthly kings.

How can today’s leaders live out this principle? This is something that should lead us to prayerfully search the Scriptures, and then boldly live out what the Holy Spirit reveals to us.

This is Part 13 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts by clicking here.

How To Respond To Bad Pastors

God has ordained that His leaders oversee and administer His ministry. But problems arise in the church when humans change the “His” to “my.”

I read a statistic that 75% of people who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of a problem with their boss. In other words, 3-out-of-4 people didn’t quit their job, they quit their boss. In my personal experience this is equally as true in the church world—Most people don’t quit their church, they quit a bad pastor.

Sadly, those who do quit their church usually do so the wrong way. As a result they become either de-churched (they don’t attend anywhere), or cynical in the next church they do attend.

Who is a bad pastor?

  • One who is no longer effective because he is stuck in an old way of doing things
  • One who is theologically off
  • One who is unwilling to admit an error, ask forgiveness, and make amends
  • One who uses his position to build his kingdom instead of God’s kingdom

We have a great example of how to handle a bad spiritual leader in the story of David and Saul (see 1 Samuel 24). David had done nothing wrong, yet Saul was trying to kill him. At one point David’s men urged David to take matters into his own hands, and he almost did. He got close enough to Saul to cut off a corner of his robe, but quickly discovered that was too close. Immediately after doing so David was conscience-stricken!

Then look how David responded:

  • David rebuked his men as he reminded them that Saul was their “master” and “the Lord’s anointed.”
  • David “bowed down and prostrated himself” before Saul as he apologized.
  • David called him his “master,” “father,” and “the Lord’s anointed.”
  • David said he would leave the matter in God’s hands, allowing God to “judge between you and me.”
  • And twice David declared, “My hand will not touch you!”

This humble reply got Saul’s attention. Saul wept as he said, “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.” Saul then asked David to be kind to his descendants.

Then this conclusion—David gave Saul his oath, and then went away to a safe place.

The New Testament captures these same ideas for today’s Christians. We are told not to lightly entertain an accusation against spiritual leaders (1 Timothy 5:19), but to submit and obey to biblically-correct leaders (Hebrews 13:17).

The Bible gives us only two options for dealing with spiritual leaders…

SUBMIT & OBEY or WALK AWAY

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Responding in an unscriptural way to an unscriptural pastor’s way is just as wrong as what the pastor was doing wrong in the first place!

So give the bad pastor your oath that you will not lay a hand (or a word!) on them, and then remove yourself to a safe place. Submit and obey, or walk away and leave them in God’s capable hands.

What Does The Bible Say About Church Leaders?

God’s plan has always been for His leaders to organize and oversee His ministry.

The important thing for us to distinguish is “His.” It’s not a man or woman saying, “I will be a leader,” or even a God-appointed leader saying, “I am going to build up my ministry.”

The New Testament gives us a fourfold purpose for the Body of Christ:

  1. Mobilizing for evangelism
  2. Organizing for more meaningful ministry
  3. Making disciple-makers
  4. Caring for one another

We see God’s leaders involved in all of these aspects—

Mobilizing for evangelism—Peter pointed out the need for an apostle to be appointed to replace Judas, thus returning their ranks to the 12 apostles just as Jesus had originally said (Acts 1:15-22).

Organizing for more meaningful ministry—Everywhere Paul founded a church, he also appointed leaders to oversee and shepherd that church.

Making disciple-makers—Paul tells us that God appointed five offices of leaders in the church who had the specific task of preparing church members to do the ministry of building maturity in the church (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Caring for one another—The First Church set the pace for providing care for all who were in need, including organizing leaders to oversee specific care ministries (Acts 6:1-5).

What about a church congregation’s responsibility to their leaders? I see five areas:

  1. Hold them accountable to the Word (Acts 17:11). The Bible has to be THE standard to which leaders are held.
  2. Give them your confidence and submission after they have shown accountability to their biblical mandate (Hebrews 13:17).
  3. Pray for them (Ephesians 6:19).
  4. Pay them (1 Timothy 5:17).
  5. Be very careful about accusing them (1 Timothy 5:19).

A church and its leaders following this biblical pattern is a church that can effectively fulfill the Great Commission which Jesus gave us.

A Leader’s Grace And Power

None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke. (Acts 6:10)

Here’s a truth we can all stand on: The man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

A large group of people wanted to debate with Stephen about his belief in Jesus Christ. I’m sure that these debaters had some excellent points. But they couldn’t win the debate with Stephen because he had something they didn’t have: grace and power from God that was irrefutable!

Stephen’s words were backed up and verified by a lifestyle that was undeniable—

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke. (Acts 6:8-10)

“Knowing that we have God’s ability in us, should give us the confidence to lead well when others don’t approve of or appreciate our leadership.” —Liz Sarno

A mark of a godly leader is one who demonstrates God’s grace and power that is within him.

This is Part 8 in my series on godly leadership. To read my other posts, please click here.

Are There Ghosts?

As a part of our annual Q Series, this was a question that was turned in: Are there ghosts?

Check out the video below…

The Scriptures I reference in this answer:

For other Q&As from this series, check out discussions about the Bible here, and questions about the mark of the beast here, and a question about a Christian losing his/her salvation here.

Thursdays With Oswald—God Has A Plan For Your Life

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

God Has A Plan For Your Life

     “Before I formed thee…I knew thee…” [Jeremiah 1:5]. There are prenatal forces of God at work in a man’s life which he may be unconscious of for long enough; but at any moment there may break upon him the sudden consciousness of this incalculable, supernatural surprising power that has got hold of his life before he has got hold of it himself.  

     Another force at work is the prayers of other people. You are born into this world and will probably never know to whose prayers your life is the answer. … Our lives are the answers not only to the prayers of other people, but to the prayer the Holy Spirit is making for us, and to the prayer of Our Lord Himself. …  

     When once Paul realized God’s call and knew the meaning of his life, there was no competitor for his strength. Is there anything competing for our strength in our devotion to the call of God?

From So Send I You

Isn’t it amazing to think that not only has God had a plan for your life before you even arrived on earth, but that your life is an answer to prayer?!

The Apostle Paul lived the first part of his life oblivious to God’s call. But once he had his encounter with Jesus, his whole focus and passion changed (see Acts 9:15-16; Galatians 1:15-16).

What about you?

  • Have you realized that God has a plan for your life?
  • Are you living like you are an answer to prayer?
  • Is there anything competing for your attention that is keeping you from being “all in” for God?
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