Category Archives: Bible Study

How to Read the Bible (2)

There’s something else I want to add on my thoughts about how to read the Bible. When it comes to reading the Bible, what is the role of the Holy Spirit?

Give us understanding

Paul tells Timothy in one particular passage:

2 Timothy 2:7 “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

Previous to this verse Paul tells Timothy to put men in charge who will faithfully teach the message of Jesus Christ. Paul then exhorts Timothy by appealing to three different analogies. Then Paul says, “think over what I say.”

This is interesting because Paul purposefully gives Timothy some stuff that isn’t immediately understandable. Each is disconnected and not easily ascertained as to what Paul is saying. Paul knows this, and writes to think it over.

That’s where I want to pause. As Christians who ought to be reading our Bible, we must read, and read daily. Sometimes our reading will be poor and quick, other times it will be long and satisfying. Regardless, the Bible needs to be read, and if we can read it long, then we must strive for that. Why? Because Paul says to Timothy to pause, stare, reflect, think over what he had just said.

When we read the Bible, we must use our minds, not merely our hearts. We shouldn’t stop on a passage because it seems to apply to our lives right now. We shouldn’t read until something is applicable to you. We should read, and then pause, and reflect, and ponder, and think hard over what we just read.

Which is why I said devotional reading shouldn’t be the only type of reading we do. We ought to be wrestling with a book of the Bible, thinking about what is being said, who is saying it, to whom it is being said, and figuring out the mere facts of the Bible. The stuff that’s there in the text. Why it was written that way, and why it was said like that, and why certain words were and weren’t used, and what the whole passage or book is about.

We must be deep thinkers.

But why? Well, because Paul says, “for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

If we want to grow in understanding, we need to think. Reading can be thinking, and reading can also be done in such a way that we obtain nothing. We must be thinking along side of reading. We must be asking questions. Why? Because God will give us understanding.

It is the Holy Spirit who will teach us what the Bible says, but only if we think about the passage. We cannot pretend to think we have the Bible right just because we prayed about it and something seemed to fit. We shouldn’t mock God, like a genie. We must revere God, and we must treat His word respectfully. Which means, as I said before, understanding that these words mean something more than what I want them to me. These words mean something that the author intended them to mean and I need to figure out what he intended to communicate.

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit, then, when it comes to us reading the Bible, is to give us understanding as we think through what was said/written.

May we understand what we read. May we not abuse the text by believing the text to mean whatever we want it to mean.


How to read the Bible

If we as Christians need to read the word of God daily, then we also need to know how to read the Bible. You’d think that we’d know how to but the sad reality is that as Christians we often don’t.

The reason for this isn’t because the Bible is some magical book that needs a magical way of reading it. The reason is because in our ignorance, arrogance, sin, and believing what the world has told us, we read the Bible in how we want to read it.

To read the Bible is simple, but we have over-complicated it. To read the Bible is easy, but we make it into something other than it should be.

So how can we begin to learn to read the Bible?

First Steps

The first step in reading the Bible is know what the Bible is and isn’t.

The Bible is a book written by multiple authors in multiple periods of time in multiple places. This should be obvious but it isn’t. I believe the Bible to be the word of God, but I also know the Bible, as the word of God, was written by over 60 authors, spanning a few thousand years, in different cultures.

To know this means we don’t read this book like you do every other book. Most books you may read today are probably written by people in your country, within the past fifty years.  Since these books you read are closer to you in time and culture you have less work to do in trying to understand what the author was saying. When it comes to the Bible we are separated by a few thousand years, thousands of miles, and thousands of cultural changes.

Each of these factors becomes an obstacle in understanding the Bible. However, this doesn’t mean you need to be a scholar who reads all sorts of historical information about the time period to understand what is going on in the text of Scripture. While I argue it would be a good thing to do and one every Christians ought to do, it’s not necessary to spend hundreds of hours to study the culture and context Moses was in so you can understand the command “Do not steal.”

So what am I saying? What I’m saying is being aware of these facts will help you come up with questions that will help you in reading the Bible. Knowing this will get you to pause and reflect and ask questions like, “Who was the original audience of this book?” “What were they like?” “How would they understand these things?”

When you begin asking those questions, you will begin to see much more of the Bible open up to you. You will notice things you hadn’t before. And much more of the Bible will begin to make sense. Why? Because you will be asking the right questions and you will remove the veil that your current context brings to see more of the glory of God’s word.

What it isn’t

So now that you know what the Bible is in it’s most basic and tangible form: multiple books written by multiple authors over the course of multiple centuries and cultures, all orchestrated and designed by God to communicate what he desires of his people to know about him and about how they ought to live; let’s look at what the Bible isn’t.

I’m not going to give a full explanation of each of these, but they should be rather obvious:

  1. The Bible is not your personal handbook to living life
  2. The Bible is not the “road map of life”
  3. The Bible is not a how to book
  4. The Bible is not a horoscope, Ouija board, or any sort of magical book that gives you direct answers to what you should do right now like buy this car or marry that person.
  5. The Bible is not a book that we should flippantly read: Understanding it leads to life, misunderstanding means death.

 

 


Ephesians 1:1-10 and Adoption

Last time we focused on the predestining work and action of God. We did a brief overview of verses 3-5 and understanding that this is the work of God and that we cannot boast. I want to now look at a whole passage together.

Ephesians 1:1-10

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (ESV)

To summarize the passage, Paul is telling the saints that they have been given tremendous blessings. Those blessings include: 1) being chosen in Christ, 2) predestined for adoption, 3) redemption, 4) forgiveness of trespasses, and 5) teaching us the mystery of his will.

I have already written previously about being chosen in Christ, and I touched upon predestination, both of which are foundational to us being Christians. Without God choosing us or predestining us we would not be Christians. Which is why we set our hope firmly in Christ because it is the plan of God for us to do so.

What does it mean for us to be adopted? I think we can simply say that we become adopted because we once weren’t in the family of God, and God brings us in by taking us in. Being adopted means we are children of God. Children in the sense of being one with the Father, not children in the sense that every human being is in a sense a child of God, since all mankind has the image of God upon them. As children, we have access and direct connection with the Father.

There are some people who accept and believe this truth but never meditate upon it richly enough. We live in an age where it is easy to become quickly distracted. We cannot hold two thoughts together for more than thirty seconds before our minds are on another topic. We have lost the depth of many doctrines because we have give up meditating upon such wonderful truths. We enjoy sound bites and quick phrases that get directly into the matter so we can think it and move on. This shouldn’t be so with children of God. Children desire to be with their parents. They depend upon their parents. They seek love, attention, and affection from their parents. My son always wants to play with me, and I am often convicted when I’m on my phone and my son comes, grabs my phone, and pushes it out of my hand, and then leads me to where he is playing.

God is never distracted. It is us who gets distracted. We forget our place in the world, in God’s family, in history, and in Christ. We do not need to meditate hours upon God for even God does not command this, but we need to meditate long enough upon God’s word for us to savor the sweet taste of the wisdom of God.

As Christians, we are adopted by the greatest Father anyone could have. He is a Father who is so generous that He is even kind to the enemies of His children. And He is kind to them so that His glory may resound, and that we may become like Christ, in loving our enemies, though not being friends with them. Our elder brother, Jesus Christ, demonstrates how we ought to live within our family. Jesus said that we would have wells within us that will never run dry. Often we feel dry or like we have nothing left to give, but Christ tells us this is not true. He tells us to keep pouring, even when it seems empty, because more will come out.

To have a Father we can pray to anytime, who will quickly forgive us, who gives to those who ask according to His will, and who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. If you feel alone, know that there is a family in Christ. If you feel ashamed or weak, know that Christ has given you a new identity and He is our strength. If you feel guilty, then repent and turn to Christ. Remain in your adoption.

The family of God is a beautiful family.


Ephesians 1:4-6

Ephesians 1:4-6

[4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (ESV)

As we were looking at in our previous Ephesians post we saw that God chose a people before He created anything. And those people he chose were going to be holy and blameless before him.

Then, at the end of verse 4, we have the beginning sentence in verse five, which is “In love.” This indicates to us with what attitude God acted. And the action in this verse is “predestine us for adoption.” This relates back to our previous post on Ephesians.

The word predestined means to decide beforehand. As we have seen, God doesn’t wind up a clock and let it loose. God acts within time and space and history. He stoops down to our level. So God’s predestining isn’t merely things playing out how they will play out. He doesn’t plan by setting some hypothetical world in order and watching it hypothetically play out. God doesn’t see you believing and trusting in Christ and obeying Christ, and then he says “oh, I’ll choose that one.” No. That goes against this whole passage. God isn’t choosing people who chose him. That would mean that God doesn’t save by grace but save because of works. That’s the opposite of adoption. That’s the opposite of being chosen to be holy and blameless. It’s a holy and blameless act to choose to follow Christ. How can we choose to follow Christ, and thus God chooses us because we choose to follow Christ? That’s contrary to this passage. This passage is saying, God chose you, and thus bestows His love and His blessings upon you, which makes you holy and blameless, which includes the holy act of choosing to be in Christ.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, then forgive me for not being able to make it clear. Let me try and be more simple: God chooses us (Christians, saints) before we ever choose him. God chooses us (Christians, saints) before he creates us. He knows that Christians will choose Him because He has ordained and set up what they are going to do. And apart of that choosing work is deciding beforehand that he would adopt us through Christ.

So now we see God determining beforehand that he would adopt people to himself, who we know to be His people. This was done through Jesus Christ. Remember, this is all a part of the blessings of “us;” who are Paul and the saints who are either at Ephesus or reading this circular letter.

So God determines beforehand that we, his people, would be adopted to himself as sons through Jesus Christ. We become his people because he determined it before hand and then does the actions of adopting. This was all done “according to the purpose of his will.” I don’t know if you’re picking something up, but Paul is using some strong words to put forward a point. There can be no doubt that God’s predestining was his will, not ours. It was according to His purpose, not ours.

Let’s not pretend that our choosing God was something we did because we are something. This passage is clear. God chose us according to his purpose. And not just His purpose, but the purpose of His will. There is nothing here that can let us believe that we have any power or ability to do something we cannot. We cannot determine God’s purposes or plans, He does that. God didn’t ask us if we wanted to be created. God didn’t ask us if we wanted to live in this world, in this family, on this continent. God didn’t ask us our opinions. God determined it all and is in control of it all.

I want to talk about the adoption and the other parts of this verse and understand the blessing that is here, but I want to make sure something is understood by this and the previous verse: that God has done it. He chose you. He picked you. He determined and decided before you existed. He bestowed His love and His blessings upon you apart from who you are.

Does that give you any room for boasting? None. What does knowing this do? Free us from trying to become something we’re not, and frees us from defining ourselves or letting others define us. This all defines us. God defines us. He tells us what we are.

If you don’t know this God, then bow, repent and believe in this God. He is a God who is living, active and abiding among his people. He has done all the work. He has given and is giving all the blessings. May we simply bask in the beauty of God’s love, His work, and in His Son. May we simply love and enjoy Him, being transformed, becoming holy and blameless before Him.


Ephesians 1:4

Ephesians 1:3-4

[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (ESV)

As we saw last post on Ephesians 1:3, the Father has blessed us in Christ with every single spiritual blessing that the heavenly places has to offer. Now, in verses 4-14, Paul expands upon what those blessings are.

The first blessing we come to is in verse 4. It reads, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Some translations render it “just as,” and a other render it “according as.” What’s being communicated, it seems, is this is both the first of those blessings and the ground of those blessings. God choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world is one of those blessings as well as the beginning of those blessings.

Now this is a huge one. It is hotly debated in our day by different denominations and traditions. But the text of scripture is clear: God chose “us” (those saints who are in Christ) in Christ before the foundation of the world. Before God created the world. Before God laid the foundation of the world. Before history began. Before time came into existence. Before we did anything good or bad: God chose us in Christ.

There can be little room for doubt. If you think you chose God, well think again. God chose you first before you even existed. He had a plan to bestow his love upon you. He decided that you would be his child, in Christ, before you were even a child. Do you see the tightly packed theology in there? That means the Father picked a people he would save by the death of his son Jesus Christ, and they would be placed in Christ, and he would love them and keep them and make them his own. God is the great actor. God is the great doer. God is the amazing sovereign one who acts perfectly according to his will and does not fail at any of his purposes.

If you are a Christian, then know he has chosen you. You didn’t choose him. There is nothing in this text about God choosing you because he saw that you’d choose him. That goes exactly against this text because it says, “before the foundation of the world.” If the foundation has to be laid before the world exists, and if God had a plan, and he was going to act in time, and send Christ, and choose a people; If the world is contingent upon the power and work of God, and God is a personal God who acts in his creation, then we cannot pretend God winds up some clock and lets it loose. God isn’t winding up a clock when he acts in his creation. The clock maker might wind up a clock and let it go, but God isn’t winding up a clock that will move on its own. History and time both move forward because of God’s actions. He changes history in moments. He changes the world. The Bible is clear that God acts in time.

All that to say, God’s choosing us is a positive action. It’s not a passive action. He truly chooses, in His wisdom, who he is going to save. He doesn’t passively search out in some hypothetical universe who will choose him and then choose them. That goes so contrary to this text that it’s ridiculous. Why? Because God is blessing his people with every spiritual blessing. Because his people being chosen before the world exists is one of those blessings. Because the rest of scripture demonstrates that nothing happens outside the control of God.

So, we have been chosen. And we were chosen not because of ourselves but because of the work of Christ on the cross and us being placed in Christ before the foundation of the world. That is what “chose us in him” means. Meaning that God already had planned for Christ to die before the fall. History was going to happen in such a way as to bring about the death of Christ. This was God’s plan A. And he was doing it so he could place the people he chose in Christ. All of this being done so “that we should be holy and blameless before him.” This was part of the reason why we were chosen. So that we should become holy and blameless. This is God’s goal in saving us. His glory of receiving a perfect people. The bride of Christ being perfect.

It’s an amazing thing to be in Christ, for we are becoming perfect by his work, we were chosen by him before we existed, and we are his. What amazing love.

This causes no room for boasting. Who can boast when God acts? Who can boast in believing when God chose you to be in Christ before the foundation of the world?

You must ask yourselves: Does God choose before we believe? Or do we believe and then God chooses?

This text is pretty clear. God chose before we believed.


On how not to be a Pastor

1 Samuel 8:1-3

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. (ESV)

It seems that Samuel would follow Eli’s lead. Eli, back in chapter 2-3, is prophesied against because of his sons who did not know the Lord nor follow Eli’s example. And God blames Eli for this in chapter three. He blames Eli for not restraining their sin.

In many ways we ought to learn from this example. All of us. But more so we must see how pastors should not be. 1 Timothy 3 makes it clear an elders household ought to be in order, the children being submissive. Both Eli and Samuel are examples of not managing your household well, and both are examples of men who, though greatly used by God, have failed their families and ultimately fail their people. Why is this? Because both Eli and Samuel’s children end up doing things that cause many others trouble, and instead of caring for their children and their people, they do nothing, and this breeds all sorts of problems.

In fact, in 1 Samuel 8, you’ll read that the people cite to Samuel that because his children do not follow his ways they desire to have a king. As though that’s going to solve the problem. But truly, though these men were godly men, their lack of being men in restraining their children, disciplining them, and rooting out the evil from among their people, allowed for sin to rise up not only in their families but also within their nation.

Pastors are held to a higher standard. They must be above reproach. However, that doesn’t mean only pastors ought to be that way. No, as children of God we all must carry out God’s will. Thus, 1 Timothy 3 demonstrates God’s will for all families. 1 Samuel is a good case scenario for how ministers and lay persons alike ought to restrain their children. God’s word is profitable for all, not just ministers. And we need more pastors and lay persons who will obey God.

Ministry shouldn’t be the main focus of a pastor, it should be godliness in himself, in his home, and in his congregation. I give pastors no excuse. If their children are disobedient, then truly that pastor has also been disobedient somewhere down the line.


Ephesians 1:3

Ephesians 1:3

[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (ESV)

As we work through Ephesians, I want us to keep in mind what I said about the first two verses: 1) I believe Paul is addressing Christians in many different churches and not just the church in Ephesus (see this post for reasons for that) and 2) we need to think hard.

With that said lets get into Ephesians 1:3.

After giving a greeting or introduction Paul then jumps into some pretty dense theology. He packs it in and so we’re going to take some time to pull it out. But first things first, let’s talk about the overall drive of the next twelve verses. Paul, in verses 3-14, is going to point out what we have because of Christ. He uses the phrases “we have obtained,” “we have,” and “in Christ,” “through Christ,” which relate to the theme of what Christ has given to us as well as what Christ has done for us. So these next verses are all centered around the work of Christ in the life of a believer.

So, when Paul says, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he is beginning with a praise unto the Father. And it’s interesting to see that it says “God and Father,” meaning Jesus does have a God, and that God is our God. However, just because Jesus has a God doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t God. I don’t want to get into trinitarian theology right here, but I want to point out that if someone tries to use this verse to say that Jesus can’t be God if Jesus has a God, you can safely say that they don’t understand the trinity nor this text. This text makes it plain that it’s all the work of Jesus that has made everything we are possible. Jesus is spoken of in such exalted and high language that it glorifies him. And if the Bible glorifies someone when the Bible says that God doesn’t share His glory with another, then you have to wonder how can God’s word do that without being contradictory.

Anyways, the passage continues “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Paul is telling us something huge, something so glorious that it ought to cause every Christian pause. Paul just told us that God, the Father, has blessed us IN Christ (I want to make sure everyone understands it’s in Christ). Our blessings are received because we are in Christ. It is because of Christ, it is because we are inside Christ that we have received these blessings. I don’t know how many ways I can say this to make it stagger us, but we have obtained something by the work of another. Christ has worked, labored, and we have done nothing and yet we have received something as Christians. The next phrase answers a question of “what has God blessed us in Christ?” The answer is amazing: with EVERY spiritual blessing.

As a Christian, you have been given, in Christ, every spiritual blessing. Every one of them. All of the blessings that are spiritual. But if they’re spiritual that means, as Paul says, they are in the heavenly places. God has blessed us in Christ with every single spiritual blessing that the heavenly places has to offer.

Christian, are you feeling any joy reading this? Is it causing you to rejoice? If it’s not then you need to ask God for forgiveness for not loving Him and His work as you ought to. God, speaking through Paul, is informing you, as a Christian, that He has given you, in Christ, every spiritual blessing that the heavenly places has to offer. Are you a new Christian? He has given you every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Are you a Christian who hasn’t truly loved God with everything? Then repent and believe in Christ, love Him above everything, and believe that he has given you every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Are you a Christian who has been walking in faithfulness for a long time, and have forgotten part of what God has given you? Be reminded that God has blessed you in Christ with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Believe it. Know it. Savor it. It’ll change you as Christ has already begun the work in you.

Now the question is: Okay, so I have been given every spiritual blessing. Great. What are those blessings? Glad you asked. Let’s dive into the next verse and all the following verses to find out.