Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Balancing Scripture and Relationship

I saw this meme, a little picture, on Facebook this past week. It read, “Knowing the Bible is one thing. Knowing the Author is another.”
Now I know what it means and I completely agree with it. The point of the meme is to say, that you can know everything about the Bible and study it all the time and still not be in a saving relationship with God. In fact there are many atheists and agnostics that are in this category; there are even those who profess to follow Jesus in this category. 
But I also believe the statement, “Not knowing the Bible, makes it hard to know the Author,” is just as true. And this past winter I have been confronted on a several of occasions with this reality. Several weeks back I shared a story about a woman who came into our teen Sunday school class and didn’t like what I was teaching. In that class, which was the same material I was teaching the adults on Wednesday nights, we were talking about how to defend our faith, and when I challenged her to do as the Apostle Peter says in his first letter, “…Always be prepared to give an answer…(3:15)” She couldn’t give any reason from Scripture for her belief in God.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago to another conversation I shared with you that came about because of somethings I said in our Jesus as Sanctifier sermon. It was a great conversation and I do believe the man that I was talking with desires to follow Jesus, but when the man would mention Scripture, he would tended misquote and thereby misunderstand the Scriptures he used. But it was one statement he made about the Scriptures that really stood out to me. He said that the Scriptures were, “People’s experience with God, and we need to make our own experiences with him.” This idea can turn the Scriptures from the objective Word of God, to a subjective buffet of a book where we can pick and choose who God is based on our own experiences, rather than on who God says he is.
Finally this week. On Wednesday I walked into a prayer meeting and was told that a local non-evangelical pastor said, “Evangelicalism was more of threat than Muslims.” Well, I never believe anything I hear, so I did my own investigation. What was said to me wasn’t exactly true. The pastor was responding to, again, a Facebook post that another pastor had posted. That Facebook post talked about an act of congress that forbade muslims from holding office. This was that pastor’s actual response was, “Sorry I totally disagree, I’m more concerned with the agenda of Evangelicalism.” I responded to this by asking what did he mean. And I received the response, “I find that the more conservative and evangelical people who profess to be Christian are more inclined to preach to OT and not the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was inclusive basically without exception.” Of course I asked for a follow up, and the follow up was, “I don’t hear much preaching and teaching of Jesus love and forgiveness in the N T, but rather God’s wrath and judgement in the OT…”

Now, in each one of these experiences there is a common thread, a disregard for the Scriptures. When we emphasize too much the study of Scripture over our relationship with God we can fall into a self-righteous, legalistic religion like that of the Pharisees; who knew a lot about God, but didn’t know him personally. But on the other side, if we downplay the need to study and know the Scriptures, then we fall into a self-righteous subjective religion like the Sadducees, who knew nothing of the Scriptures, but acted as if they knew God.
Only when we balance the need to study the Scriptures, “correctly handling the word of truth”, as Paul states in his second letter to Timothy (2:15), with seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus as Jesus himself emphasizes in places like John 15; then and only then are we able to move into a place where we are rightly following as Jesus leads.

Now it can be very easy for us to look at people like the examples I shared and say, well they aren’t right. But here’s the thing, we can easily fall into this as well. We do this by emphasizing one of our experiences over what the Scriptures says. We do this by allowing our personal feelings on a subject to lead us to not believe or disregard passages of Scripture. We do this when we hold strict to a passage of Scripture that wasn’t intended to be held strictly. It’s easy for any of us to fall into this, so today we’re going to look at three ways to avoid Falling out of balance in both how we deal with the Scriptures, and how we relate to God in our relationship with him.

Let’s start out with the first way we avoid falling out of balance between Scripture and Relationship. First, we need to live with the fact that it isn’t one or the other. In this case, we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have both a deep understanding of the Scripture, being true to it, and a dynamic experiential relationship with God.
Let’s look at what the Scriptures say. 
Jeremiah 6:16-20 says, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, “We will not walk in it.” 17 I appointed watchmen over you and said, “Listen to the sound of the trumpet!” But you said, “We will not listen.” 18 Therefore hear, you nations; you who are witnesses, observe what will happen to them. 19 Hear, you earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. 20 What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.’”
In the time of Jeremiah, God was calling out to Israel who stood at a crossroads. They were heading to a place of destruction, with the nation of Babylon ready to destroy them and take them into captivity. They had gone their own way so long, and that way was going to lead to exile. But God says there is a way to remedy this, return to the ancient paths, the way that is good. And what is this way? Listening to God’s word and not rejecting his law. It is this very rejection of God’s word that has caused them to go their own way and now will lead them into a seventy year exile. But someone might say, we are Christians we are not under the law. This talk of words and law speaks more about the Scriptures and the relationship that is found there, rather than in the keeping of the Mosaic Law. Listen to verse 20 again, “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” God is saying he desires the people to return to the word and relationship he had called them into. The simple acts of the law are not in fact what God is seeking, but rather a people who seek him in his word.
Let’s flip over to what Jesus says in the Gospel of John, chapter 7, starting in verse 37. At a great feast Jesus says this to the Jews, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Jesus points us into the Scriptures. So that we, by searching them and understanding them, may understand that Jesus is the Living God of what is called the Old Testament, and that he is truly the Messiah spoken about in those pages. When we believe the Scripture about Jesus, we can then experience the rivers of living water.
So we are called into both a deep understanding of the Scripture, and a deep relationship with God. It’s not one or the other.

The second way we can balance Scripture and Relationship, and here I’m going to say something extremely bold, is by getting rid of this idea of Old and New Testament.
Now I know we use this distinction with the idea, of separating both the end of the God’s work in Israel specifically as a nation, with that of the Jesus and the Church. We separate with the idea of the Old Mosaic Law/Covenant and Grace/New Covenant. And it can be a good way to help us make distinctions. But the reality is, it’s all Scripture. Let’s look at what the New Testament writers say on this subject.
Moving in chronological order, let’s start with Jesus’ words in John 5:45-47. This is a situation where Jesus is interacting with some Jews that say they believe in Moses, but not in Jesus. So Jesus says to them, “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
The very words of what is called he Old Testament speaks to the validity of Jesus’ own ministry, death, and resurrection. 
Then moving forward in time, we come to Acts 17:10-12, where we’re given a situation where Paul and Silas go to a place called Berea. And when they shared the Gospel with the people it says, “10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
The Gospel was presented, and was confirmed by the Old Testament, which led many people to accepting it.
So we’ve confirmed the Old Testament of being Scripture, but in one of my conversations I was told, well, you can’t really believe Paul, because he was a Pharisee. Now first off, Paul was the most prolific New Testament writer, and his emphasis on grace and faith over works in the book of Romans is what led to the Protestant Reformation. So the argument, he was a Pharisee, and so therefore a works based guy is just plain wrong. But what say the first apostles about Paul’s writings? Well Peter, who in the Gospels represents the whole of the apostles, wrote this in his second letter, “15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (3:15-16).”
Did you catch that? “Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures…” Peter is equating the letters of Paul to Scriptures of old.
So we need to move past this idea of Old and New Testaments as if one is for the Jews and the other for the Christians. We as Christians need to say, this Bible is one Scripture. This this one reason why when referring to the Bible, I try to use the terminology of either Bible, or Scripture. Because I want it to be understood that both the Old and New Testaments are one. In fact the New Testament is the realization of the Old Testament, not a separate entity.
By seeing the Bible as one whole Scripture, and not two separate parts, we can better see the flow of relationship that God has always intended for us.

Finally, the third way we can balance Scripture and Relationship is to realize that God has given us the Scriptures to transform our thinking to his. 
Listen to what Luke writes of what Jesus does with his disciples after his resurrection. This comes from the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, starting in verse 44,
“44 He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’”
The disciples needed their understanding transformed. They needed their thinking about who Jesus was expanded. They needed to move past their desire for Jesus to be a conquering king, and realize that he must first be preached as the suffering servant. This was done, by Jesus showing them in the Scriptures that they had, all about the Messiah’s work. 
But it doesn’t stop there, Paul in his second letter to Timothy writes this in the third chapter, “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (14-17).”
Paul encourages Timothy to continue to explore the Scriptures, because in them he will become wise, and from them he will be able teach, rebuke, correct and train others. 
This is why I have a saying in my own life of, “we are to change to Scripture, we are not to change Scripture to us.” And when we go to the Scriptures with a willingness to be transformed, to start thinking as God would have us, then we will begin to experience him in the way he intended us to.
We can so easily go one way or other with God. Going so far into knowing the Scriptures that we miss the Author, or by going so far into our subjective experiential relationship that we miss his plain Word.

When dealing with false prophets, God gave this in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 13, “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you (1-6).”

The idea here is that an experience, no matter how real it seems, if it contradicts the Word of God already given, then it is false. God wants us to be in his word, and hold fast to him.
Likewise, Jesus chastised people who searched the Scriptures yet could not experience God. Jesus says this in John 5, “39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Let us not fall into either the camp of just knowing the Scriptures, or the camp of  just relying on experience. Instead, let us richly mine the Scriptures with a desire to know God and be transformed as he sees fit, leaving our desire and thoughts at the door, and trading them for his desire and his thoughts.
In this way we wont’ fall into the trap of manipulating the Scriptures to fit either our legalistic self-righteousness, nor fall into changing the Scriptures into whatever fits our fancy.

My challenge for you this week is to take these three areas of balancing Scripture and Relationship: having it both ways of being true to God’s Word and developing an experiential relationship, viewing the Scriptures as one Scripture not two separate entities, and having it transform our minds by letting go of our own understanding and learning God’s. 
Taking each of these and asking God, to show you your imbalance in them, to give you a deeper understanding of the Scriptures, and a deeper relationship with him. 

If we are active in making sure we are balanced in our understanding of Scripture and in our Relationship with God, then we are will be correctly handling the Word of God, and abiding in him. Amen.

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