Do Not Read Your Apathy into the Text

When famous authors give public readings of their own work, they often draw quite a crowd, because people are interested in hearing a book or a poem read the way that it was intended by the original author.

Do you ever wish that we could experience a public reading of scripture by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, or Peter? Or better yet, by Jesus Himself? What if Jesus came to our congregation and delivered His Sermon on the Mount for us in person?

I wonder if we sometimes fail to understand the true power of a text not by reading into it an incorrect meaning, but an incorrect tone; specifically, an apathetic or overly academic tone. We know we must be on guard against “twisting” or “distorting” the scriptures to convey an idea that they do not intend, as Peter warns in the third chapter of his first letter. But is it also possible to do injustice to a passage not by twisting it into a false doctrine, but simply by dictating a true doctrine in an empty and lifeless way?

We do not know exactly what Jesus sounded like when He preached about repentance and the Kingdom that was at hand. And we do not know exactly how Peter or Paul might have delivered a sermon or publicly read one of their letters. But we do have a few clues in scripture.

Jesus taught with authority, unlike the scribes: “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7:28-29).”

Peter encourages speakers to convey authority in their own speech also, because they are declaring the very words of God: “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God. (1 Peter 4:11).”

The early Christians prayed that they would be able to speak the word with confidence and boldness: “‘And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence’… And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:21-23).”

Paul described his own preaching style as one of fear and trembling: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).”

Have you ever heard a preacher who spoke with great authority, not because of his own wisdom but because of the power of the word of God? Have you heard preaching filled with great confidence and even boldness? How about with fear, or literally with trembling? We are certainly blessed when we can hear preaching from men whose great faith fills their preaching with these qualities.

Such were the men who wrote scripture, and most of all the great man Jesus Christ of whom they wrote.

May we remember when we read scripture that it contains not only truth, but also power, and may we not only avoid reading false doctrines into the text, but also a false apathy, laziness, or boredom that is not original to the text.

Advertisements

Do Not Mistake Mental Ability for Spiritual Maturity

Ever since I was little, I have had a very easy time memorizing things. During Sunday school, this meant that I always knew the right answer, and was often the one to raise my hand and share it. And in Sunday school, knowing the right answer can seem an awful lot like being a spiritual elite.

I was also always able to read on a grade level that was above my actual age. As a result, I enjoyed reading from the Bible during Bible classes. I often volunteered to do so, while other children, who struggled with reading and often needed to take long pauses to sound out words did not volunteer very often to read for the class. And as we all know, volunteering to read in class is a mark of spiritual maturity, right? At least, it felt that way.

I also had a general knack for public speaking. I was hardly nervous even the first time that I appeared before a large group to deliver a devotional. I am strong at thinking on my feet, and could speak articulately with minimal notes. And as we all know, a young man who excels as speaking is spiritually mature, right? And public prayer is public speaking, too, so of course I was always ready to volunteer for that, as well.

I got a perfect score at Bible bowl. After that, I was the standard that others were encouraged to emulate. “He has such a love for God’s Word!”

I made good grades at a Christian university, too. Excelling at a “Christian college” is spiritual, right?

But these accomplishments, as much as they have to do with memorization, reading ability, articulating thoughts verbally, etc., have virtually nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Reciting facts from a book, or dictating a book aloud, are mental skills, not spiritual ones. Repeating sound doctrine is important. But LIVING sound doctrine is what really counts, and I have never been an expert at that.

I share all of this for a couple of reasons.

One reason is that I wonder how many young people who are average or below average in their ability to read aloud, or memorize facts, or speak publically, have been wrongly made to feel spiritually inferior. What a shame, to turn someone off to the church for reasons like those.

But another reason is because all of that praise about how much I loved God’s word, and how well I spoke and how I was such a leader in the youth group, etc.; it kind of sunk in. And because of that, I kind of did feel like I was spiritually mature. And that blinded me from my own spiritual brokenness. But we must all realize our own brokenness before we can appreciate Chris’s sacrifice for us, and before we can understand the narrow way that He now calls us to follow.

Whether you feel like you are “smart” or “dumb” by worldly intellectual standards, do you know God? Do you talk to Him? Do you listen to Him? Do you obey Him? Do you trust Him when things get tough? Will you follow Him anywhere? Will you step out of your comfort zone? Will you confess your sins to your brothers and sisters? Are you spreading the gospel? Do you even believe the gospel? Are you a doer of the word, rather than a reciter of it? Are you doing what is in the best interest of your family, of your church, and of the lost, or are you serving yourself first and foremost?

These are the questions I am convinced we need to be asking. Not how well we perform on academic exercises.

I will leave you with a final teaching from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 21:

“‘But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” And he answered, “I will not”; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, “I will, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.'”