We often see and hear laments from preachers and church leaders that people don’t know the Bible like they used to know it. This should provoke a bit of investigation to find out if it is indeed the case and why this is so.
There are, as I see it, any number of possible reasons for this. It is not for a lack of quantity of instruction. The average church member is subjected to enough teaching to qualify them for a Ph.D – or several advanced degrees over a lifetime. Much of the problem has to do with the quality of teaching that is done.
So many of the so-called Bible classes are nothing more than creed-rehearsal. It takes more than an endless repetition of the things we have “always believed” to constitute Bible study. We should be like the Bereans who checked out what Paul preached to them by “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
What scriptures did they examine? First, notice who these people were. They were Jews. Then notice where they were. Paul had gone into their synagogue and taught them the gospel. They searched their scriptures – the books of law, the psalms, the prophets, etc. It was these scriptures that confirmed the things they were hearing or told them that the message Paul was preaching was, indeed, so. It was the Old Testament scriptures that Christians had for years while the writings we call the New Testament were being written and collected.
There are so many things we need to learn today that are found in the Old Testament scriptures. As we have been arguing in this series of articles, we cannot know what God really expects of us today without knowing what He expected of people from the beginning of Bible history and throughout time.
Why did He put man on the earth? Was it so that man could just have a good time? Live the good life? Is this all that was lost when Adam and Eve transgressed? Is our intended destination just such an existence in a far-away, ethereal heaven? Will we just float around on clouds, plucking a harp, eating delicious foods? Will we just be “up there” singing for all eternity?
Is all the teaching done to be just to assure people of escaping the present doomed creation to live this dream? Is this all the apostles taught people in the first century when they taught them from their Bible? If this is all people learn from the teaching they receive in churches it is no wonder there is little Bible knowledge. This is not what the Bible is all about. This is not what the Bereans had learned from their scriptures.
We have been looking at what is taught in the Old Testament about God’s purpose for man. The nations of man had missed the point of God’s dealings with man. There was personal sin, of course, but they had rebelled and in their rebellion had gone far away from God and His rule or kingdom. They had built kingdoms and empires at the expense of their fellow man and through the exploitation of the earth.
In response to the rebellion and destruction of the earth by man, God called certain people to do His w0rk. He called Abraham to begin a new nation, built not upon the same rapacious, ruinous lifestyles and national policies as characterized the nations. Think of Egypt which was rising to its pinnacle of prominence at the same time. God’s method was not to overcome the evil of Egypt through the might of an army, but through the goodness and suffering of His servant-people. For their faithfulness to Him, He promised the land of Canaan which was a type of the garden of Eden man had been driven from long before.
Through many trials the Israelites eventually entered into that promised land. But theirs was not to be the ideal “rest” in the idyllic land they had anticipated. Because of unbelief many were overthrown in the wilderness before they ever got to the promised land. After they arrived they were plagued by recurring regression into idolatry. God sent them prophets to rebuke them and bring them back to faithfulness to Himself.
In delivering God’s message to the very people who had received the promised land, the prophets described their sins. They had confused religion with righteousness. They were offering sacrifices and incense, observing Sabbath days and seasons and all the while praying to God. Yet God says he was weary of all this religiosity and would not hear their prayers. Read the whole first chapter of Isaiah.
These who were God’s people whom He had called to be His special representatives to the world had become the kind of people whom he had destroyed in past civilizations with perhaps the added offense of a hollow ritualism ostensibly directed to their God. Isaiah said to them that “…your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15) and that He would not listen to them. He calls upon them to…
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
It was in all these ways that they were to represent God. It wasn’t just for their own good that they were required to be different from the world. It was so that the world could see what God was like by looking at His people.
“For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:45).
Personal holiness is good, but holiness for the sake of showing God’s goodness and holiness to the world is the greatest calling to which one can be called. It requires the fulfilling of the divine mandate issued at the time of creation.
So, how does this play out in a practical sense? Let’s think about God’s charge to His people through the prophet Isaiah as seen above. God’s people were to put away evil but holiness involves more than just not doing evil.
They were to learn to do good, to seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless and to plead the widow’s cause. These are only a few things, but the implications of the total is this short list are broad, encompassing many different things required of God’s people. They are summed up under one even shorter statement; “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).
These things cover more than just doing good toward others ones self. Since Jesus quoted this verse as the second greatest commandment, this applies to us as God’s people today. What was required of God’s people under the law is required of His people today. (See James 1:27).
They involve the active defense of the rights of others as well as supplying the needs of those who are in need. This would involve such matters as the prosecution of people who abuse and take advantage of the weak and defenseless such as orphans and widows. This may require the calling of such matters to the attention of the authorities and demanding that justice be done and the law upheld. It may require the enlistment of the aid of other people or groups of people.
It would also include such matters as protection of the environment and the wise and responsible use of the earth’s resources. Why? Because the poor of the earth suffer the most from the destruction of the environment. Because the forests have been cut down, water becomes scarce and polluted and children suffer intestinal diseases from the impure water. In third world countries today, women walk for miles to find firewood to cook their food because the forests have been cut down.
Can Christians be involved in efforts to see that people are treated fairly and not exploited by rich and powerful people today? If not, why not? Can Christians work for a better, cleaner environment? If not, why not? Doing things such as these is caring for the earth and showing love toward one’s neighbor. They are all tied together.
In fact, should not Christians lead in efforts such as these. If it is God’s will that we serve Him by serving His creation and our fellow man, are we not in disobedience to Him if we do not busy ourselves in such works as these?
To be continued…
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.