Keep Reading Part 1

There’s an old story of a well-to-do Ambassador’s wife who was known for giving large stately dinner parties.  In fact her events were so grand that she employed a head chef, a full serving staff, and a valet service.  On the evening of her premier dinner party of the year the unexpected happened, her head chef quit giving no notice.  Out of desperation the woman called a local restaurant owner who agreed to loan out his executive chef to her for the night.  Upon arriving at the Ambassador’s luxurious home the chef immediately went to the walk-in fridge and the pantry to see what was available so he could compose a menu.  He went to the lady of the house and informed her that he had a dynamite dish that he could make for the evening but there was one catch.  The recipe required mushrooms and the only ones he could find in the house had been left unlabeled by the previous chef.  This left him wandering if the mushrooms were the kind safe for consumption or the kind that could make people very ill.

With no time to run to town and get new provisions from the store, the woman came up with a plan.  She told her new chef to make a small batch of the recipe and she would give it to her dog.  They would watch the canine for a couple of hours.  If he showed no signs of sickness then they would know the mushrooms were okay and that the dish could be served to the guests that night.  If the dog did fall ill then they would simply have to scrap the main dish and improvise as fast as they could.  The new chef agreed, made a sampling of his star dish with the mushrooms and fed it to the dog.  They observed him for the next two hours and he seemed nothing but happy and healthy.  Problem solved, or so they thought.  The dish with mushrooms would be made and served to the many dignitaries coming for the dinner party that night.

As the evening progressed everything seemed to be going quite swimmingly.  The guests were raving to the woman that this was the best dinner party she had ever given and the main course served by her new chef was receiving five star reviews.  Then, just before dessert was to be served, one of the valets came to the woman and asked for her immediate attention.  She was somewhat annoyed but agreed to pull away from the party for a minute to hear what he seemed to think so urgent.  When they reached a room away from the guests the valet proceeded to ask the lady what she wanted done with her dog.  She said, “what do you mean?”  The man then informed her that her dog was dead.  Without waiting to hear another word the woman hysterically ran back to the main banquet room and informed her guests that they may have just ingested poisonous mushrooms.  Within moments the same folks who had just been gushing about how wonderful the meal was were now complaining of stomach pain.  A call was made to 911 and medical staff were en route immediately.

 About this time the valet caught back up with the lady of the house.  He complained to her that she had left him so quickly that she had not answered his question about what she wanted done with her dog.  She angrily turned toward the man and shouted, “can’t you see that I’m busy here, the dog’s dead so bury the dog and leave me alone!”  The valet responded, “mam I’ll try to bury him but it’s kind of messy.”  She said, “what do you mean it’s kind of messy?”  He replied, “well, he got ran over by an 18 wheeler!”

Now, while I hope this story may have brought some humor to your day (laughter does good like a medicine; and in case you were wondering, no dogs were hurt in the retelling of this joke!), I share it as an illustration to lead to a great truth of biblical interpretation.  The woman misunderstood what the valet was trying to tell her and consequently misapplied the information he was attempting to convey.  What caused all the confusion for her and subsequently to others wasn’t that the valet was unclear or had bad motives or was unstable or deficient in some other way, it was the fact that the woman didn’t listen long enough to hear the whole story so she could accurately understand and then act upon what she was being told.  The same often happens in Bible reading.  People misunderstand what the Bible is saying, believe something the Bible hasn’t actually said, act wrongly upon what they think the Bible said, and then share inaccurately what they believed the Bible said, all because they didn’t keep reading what the Bible says!  Most doctrinal errors and bad teaching would be cleared up if we just took the time to read the whole chapter instead of pulling one verse out of context.  Even more error gets eliminated when we read the whole book that contains the verse and still more is cleared up when we read the whole of Scripture so we have a good foundation upon which to understand and interpret individual verses.  We will spend the remainder of this month’s newsletter looking at three verses that have often been misinterpreted and misapplied.  It all becomes clear when we just keep reading!

Psalm 50:10—God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.”…I love southern gospel music.  I think of it as the music of Heaven.  However, sometimes even the best of music styles can miss the mark.  There’s an old tune that says, “my Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and I believe I own at least one.”  Quoting from Psalm 50:10 the lyric tends to give the idea that God owns all of this world’s substance and that He’s going to give at least some of it to His children.  As off base as this interpretation may be, the prosperity preachers of our day have done Psalm 50:10 an even greater disservice.  Many reading this article have doubtless heard this verse cited in what I would loosely call a sermon to proclaim an idea something along the lines of “give to my ministry and the God who owns all the cattle of a thousand hills is going to bless you with getting rich!  After all, He blessed me with a jet plane!”

If you read all of Psalm 50 (especially the first 15 verses), you will discover that God is not really talking to His people about providing for their needs and He certainly isn’t trying to take up an offering.  The Israelites have fallen into a mindset of empty religious ritualism instead of a heartfelt relationship to God and commitment to His Word and His will.  They were thinking that as long as they went to church and gave in the offering then the Lord would be satisfied with them and would accept and bless them.  They fell prey to believing that somehow God needs them and is so blessed to have them marking off various items on the religious checklist.  The Lord corrects these false beliefs through the Psalmist by declaring that He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” and doesn’t need their offerings or anything they have for Him to exist.  If He were hungry (speaking as an analogy of course) He would never let them know.  God would meet His own needs!  This fact isn’t intended to keep the Lord’s people from giving the prescribed offerings in the Old Testament, but is meant to give them a reality check as to who’s in charge and who really is blessed to know who!  It is a call away from mere ritual and to meaningful relationship!

Matthew 7:1—“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”…It used to be that a person could merely put the reference of John 3:16 on a banner at a football game and nearly everyone in the country, even if they had no allegiance to Christ and His church, would have the words of that verse go through their mind because they had heard it quoted so many times in their lives.  Those days are long gone.  A recent survey asking U.S. citizens of their favorite Bible verse produced the following result.  The majority of people said they could not tell you where it came from in Scripture but that they knew somewhere in the Bible we were told that we weren’t supposed to judge.  Of course the verse they’re referencing comes to us from Matthew 7:1 and has indeed become the battle cry for lost sinners who don’t want to be condemned in their sinful behaviors and for professing believers who don’t want to take a stand on any contemporary controversial cultural issue or any doctrinal divide no matter how consequential.

Of course Matthew 7:1 is part of the Sermon on the Mount.  A big theme in that most famous message is that people should not be hypocritical, that our religion should not be centered solely around external appearances to be noticed by others so that we receive glory but on inward realities to be seen first and foremost by God that He might garner praise.  Matthew 7:1-6 does not teach us not to make any judgments, but rather not to be judgmental.  That is, we are to make judgments, not only about issues but also about people.  However, we are not to throw judgments towards others that aren’t biblical and that we don’t first apply to ourselves.  To use our Lord’s analogy here, we don’t try to get the speck out of our brother’s eye without first dealing with the log that’s in our own.

If Jesus were telling us not to judge anything or anyone the way the world interprets it, then what sense does it make for Him to say a mere 5 verses later not to throw what is holy to dogs or to cast our pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6)?  He’s talking about us discerning people here and likening some folks to canines and pigs!  That sounds to me like He’s calling us to make judgments!  If we’re not to make judgments then why have 10 Commandments telling us what’s right and wrong (Ex. 20:1-17);  why have a church discipline procedure where leaders can make the determination for someone to be excommunicated (Matt. 18:15-20); and why would people be commanded to repent at all if there was nothing that could be judged as sin (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 17:30)?  So we are certainly to make judgements.  Not for the purpose of somehow thinking of ourselves as being above others or for the purpose of rejoicing in the certain punishment of those who do not repent but rather for the reason of avoiding sin ourselves and calling all sinners to come to the same Savior and salvation which genuine believers have come to know.

Acts 16:31—“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”…This verse is often used to imply to people that if they are saved then they have a guarantee from God that everyone in their family will be saved.  (Years ago I even heard one television minister ask people to send him an offering of $16.31 to show that they had faith in this verse that their lost loved ones would come to a saving faith in Christ.)  If we read this verse alone we might come to this conclusion, but as we consider the context in terms of the entire related passage in Acts 16 and especially in terms of the whole of Scripture, we see that the belief that if you get saved then your family will surely be saved is indeed off the mark.

Acts 16 records Paul and Silas being put in a Philippian jail for the cause of the gospel of Christ.  Along about the midnight hour the two ministers, in spite of the trial of their imprisonment and the pain of the beating they had unjustly received, begin singing hymns of praise.  The other prisoners heard these praises and the power of God came on the scene, bringing an earthquake that opened the doors of all the cells and unfastened the chains of all those incarcerated.  The jailer in charge was awakened by the shaking of the ground.  He saw the doors opened and assumed that those in his charge had all escaped.  Back in Bible days any Roman officer allowing prisoners to escape was cruelly killed.  Rather than face this humiliation and execution the Philippian jailer straightway set out to kill himself.  The Apostle Paul cried out with a loud voice telling the jailer not to harm himself because all the prisoners were still present.  The Roman official raises the lights, sees that what Paul has told him is indeed true, and then falls down asking what he must do to be saved.  Paul and Silas respond by telling THE JAILER, “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  The jailer takes the two ministers to his home and they speak the word of the Lord to his household (his family, his servants, and his guests) and they all believed the gospel and were baptized.  The promise, perhaps better said word of prophesy, of Acts 16:31 was made to THE JAILER and it was fulfilled in short order, it was not meant to be a promise that everyone who becomes a Christian can bank on the fact that all of their relatives will definitely be saved (and certainly wasn’t meant to serve as a basis for asking people to send in an offering of $16.31!).

We’ve looked at the passage as a whole that contains Acts 16:31 but now let’s consider the teaching of Scripture at large.  If someone coming to faith means that their whole family will assuredly come to faith as well then: Why are we commanded to preach the gospel to every man (literally every creature) instead of just one from each family (Mark 16:15)?  How could Jesus call the descendants of Abraham, who is seen as the father of faith, children of the devil (John 8:44)?  Why would Jesus tell us that the gospel would be a matter that would make divisions in households setting fathers against sons and mothers against daughters, etc. (Luke 12:49-53)?

Now don’t get me wrong, does God care about the salvation of your family?  Yes, more than you and I do or could ever have the capacity to!  He sends His Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment that they may turn from sin and put faith in the Son of God Who was sent so that those who believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 16:8-11; John 3:16).  He sends us to pray and witness and calls preachers to deliver the true gospel (James 5:16; Acts 1:8; Rom. 10:9-17).  Indeed, the Lord’s love and actions for the lost to be saved shows that it is indeed His will that none should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).  That being said, God doesn’t have any grandchildren.  Each person must come to Christ individually by grace through faith and no one from their circle of family or friends can make that saving decision for them!