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.

Links & Quotes

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“The way to thwart the devil is to strengthen the very thing he is trying most to destroy—your faith.” —John Piper

“O blessed hurricane that drives the soul to God and God alone! … And now you have nothing but your God to trust to, what are you going to do? To fret? To whine? O, I pray you, do not thus dishonor your Lord and Master! Now, play the man, play the man of God. Show the world that your God is worth ten thousand worlds to you. Show rich men how rich you are in your poverty when the Lord God is your helper. Show the strong man how strong you are in your weakness when underneath you are the everlasting arms. Now man, now is your time to glorify God.” —Charles Spurgeon

“When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people, it is partly the same and partly different [from asking God to forgive us]. It is the same because, here also, forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, ‘But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.’ Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.” ―C.S. Lewis, in Weight Of Glory

“Forgiveness is not foolishness. Forgiveness, at its core, is choosing to see your offender with different eyes. By the way, how can we grace-recipients do anything less? Dare we ask God for grace when we refuse to give it?” —Max Lucado

“Money is the currency of human resources. So the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasures, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer. So the love of money [1 Timothy 6:10] is virtually the same as faith in money—belief (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.” —John Piper

“When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where He is, there shall I be also.’” ―Martin Luther

Really proud to see how my fellowship, The Assemblies of God, is helping those with mental diseases.

What emotions pop up when someone says to you, “Can we talk about this?” Seth Godin has some helpful thoughts on this.

Links & Quotes

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“Faith does not shirk the fight; she longs for it, because she foresees the victory.” —Charles Spurgeon

“Faith honors Him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers Him truthful and trustworthy.” ―Martin Luther

“A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.” ―C.S. Lewis

“You didn’t sign up for this crash course in single parenting or caring for a disabled spouse, did you? No, God enrolled you. Why? So you can teach others what He has taught you. Rather than say, ‘God, why?’ ask, ‘God, what?’ What can I learn from this experience? Your mess can become His message!” —Max Lucado

I have often said that low expectations can sink someone’s future. Seth Godin agrees. Check out his post The Tragedy Of Small Expectations.

[VIDEO] Pentatonix is a very talented a cappella group! Check out this mash-up of Michael Jackson hits—

Links & Quotes

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“Let us thirst to know Him of Whom even His enemies said, ‘Never man spake like this Man,’ and His unrighteous judge said, ‘I find no fault in Him.’ Above all, let us long to know Christ in His Person. This year endeavor to make a better acquaintance with the Crucified One. … This year seek to penetrate into His very heart, and to search those deep far-reaching caverns of His unknown love, that love which can never find a rival, and can never know a parallel.” —Charles Spurgeon

“Beware of insulting God by being a pious prude instead of a pure person.” —Oswald Chambers

“To pray well is the better half of study.” ―Martin Luther

“Of all marvelous things, perhaps there is nothing that angels behold with such supreme astonishment as a proud man.” —Charles Caleb Colton

[Video] John Maxwell on humility—

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Some good reading from today…

This is tough reading, but very vital: How the normalization of pornography fuels the rape culture.

“What a gracious thing for us that Jesus Christ never thinks about what we have been! He always thinks about what we are going to be.” —A.W. Tozer

“So seldom does God find a Christian whose only goal in life is to know and to do His will—as Jesus did—and who never says, ‘God, where are You?’ but instead prays, ‘God, where am I in this matter of obedience and dependence?’” —David Wilkerson

“Remember Luther, Knox, Calvin, Wycliffe, Bradford, Latimer, and many others! Under God these men owed their liberty of speech and liberty of conscience to the fact that the world thrust them out from all hope of its favor, and so loosed their bonds.” —Charles Spurgeon

“Lay not fast hold upon the things of earth. He who is but a lodger in an inn must not live as though he were at home.” —Charles Spurgeon

Desiring God has released an updated version of The Pilgrim’s Progress with some cool features. If you download the ebook version, it’s free!

Martin Luther On Prayer

Martin LutherSome powerful quotes from Martin Luther on prayer—

“Behold, Lord, and empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust You altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in You.”

“Almighty God, grant us grace to hear Jesus Christ, the Heavenly Bread, preached throughout the world and truly to understand Him. May all evil, heretical and human doctrines be cut off, while Your Word as the Living Bread be distributed.”

“Lord God, You have placed me in Your church. You know how unsuitable I am. Were not for Your guidance I would long since have brought everything to destruction. I wish to give my heart and mouth to Your service. I desire to teach your people, and long to be taught Your work. Use me as Your work man, dear Lord. Do not for sake me; for if I am alone I show bring all to naught.”

“I have to hurry all day to get time to pray.”

12 Additional Quotes From “Transforming Grace”

Transforming GraceI already shared a few quotes from Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges (you can read them by clicking here). Bridges also extensively quoted other authors in this amazing book, so I wanted to share a few of those quotes as well.

“Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit…. Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit…. Grace is treating a person without the slightest reference to desert whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and supper and purpose of God.” —Dr. C. Samuel Storms

“The most shining deeds and valuable qualities that can be found among men, though highly useful and truly excellent, when set in their proper places, and referred to suitable ends, are, as to the grand article of justification treated as nonentities…. For divine grace disdains to be assisted in the performance of that work which peculiarly belongs to itself, by the poor, imperfect performances of men. Attempts to complete what grace begins, betray our pride and offend the Lord; but cannot promote our spiritual interest. Let the reader, therefore, carefully remember, that grace is either absolutely free, or it is not at all: and, that he who professes to look for salvation by grace, either believes in his heart to be saved entirely by it, or he acts inconsistently in affairs of the greatest importance.” —Abraham Booth

“Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our celebration. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people—for beggars. We don’t want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there.” —R.C. Sproul 

“A lawdriver insists with threats and penalties; a preacher of grace lures and incites with divine goodness and compassion shown to us; for he wants no unwilling works and reluctant services, he wants joyful and delightful services of God.” —Martin Luther, commenting on Romans 12:1

“The great mistake made by most of the Lord’s people is in hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone.” —Arthur W. Pink

“In the person of Christ God beholds a holiness which abides His closest scrutiny, yea, which rejoices and satisfies His heart; and whatever Christ is before God, He is for His people.” —Arthur W. Pink

“Only what God has commanded in His Word should be regarded as binding; in all else there may be liberty of actions.” —John Owen

“Let us never surrender our judgments or our consciences to be at the disposal and opinions of others, and to be subjected to the sentences and determinations of men. … It is my exhortation therefore to all Christians to maintain their Christian freedom by constant watchfulness. You must not be tempted or threatened out of it; you must not be bribed or frightened from it; you must not let either force or fraud rob you of it. … We must not give up ourselves to the opinion of other men, though they be never so learned, never so holy, merely because it is their opinion. The apostle directs us to try all things and to hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). It often happens that a high esteem of others in respect of their learning and piety makes men take up all upon trust from such, and to submit their judgments to their opinions, and their consciences to their precepts. This should not be so.” —Samuel Bolton (1645)

“So God supplies perfectly measured grace to meet the needs of the godly. For daily needs there is daily grace; for sudden needs, sudden grace; for overwhelming needs, overwhelming grace. God’s grace is given wonderfully, but not wastefully; freely, but not foolishly; bountifully, but not blindly.” —John Blanchard

“For men have no taste for God’s power till they are convinced of their need of it and they immediately forget its value unless they are continually reminded by awareness of their own weakness.” —John Calvin

“Yet the duties God requires of us are not in proportion to the strength we possess in ourselves. Rather, they are proportional to the resources available to us in Christ. We do not have the ability in ourselves to accomplish the least of God’s tasks. This is a law of grace. When we recognize it is impossible for us to perform a duty in our own strength, we will discover the secret of its accomplishment. But alas, this is a secret we often fail to discover.” —John Owen

“Christian humility does not consist in denying what there is of good in us; but in an abiding sense of ill-desert, and in the consciousness that what we have of good is due to the grace of God.” —Charles Hodge

You can read my full review of Transforming Grace by clicking here.

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