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I went to the funeral today of a man whom I had not known long, but who was the kind of man you could know well in a short amount of time. That’s the way it is with relational people. They relate. You relate. And when there is love and joy and peace, it is good. I also returned a couple of days ago from seeing family whom I had not seen in a long time. That, also, was good. Very good. And I felt badly for all the time that had passed without relationship.

I have been looking at some biblical passages with new eyes lately. I am looking through the eyes of context, reading whole passages and not just a few isolated verses. It makes a difference. It is essential. I want to share with you a couple of insights.

Any of you who are Christian or who have spent any amount of time in church, especially on Communion Sundays, are familiar with the admonition to “judge the body rightly.” If you can’t, we are told, we should not partake, lest we risk sickness or death. (Have you ever seen that happen?) But let’s look at it again. I mean, right now. Turn to 1 Cor. 11:17-33. Yep. The whole thing.

The Apostle Paul starts off talking about division within the church, and how some folks are hogging all the food. They are not looking out for one another, and as a consequence, some go away hungry. He says in verse 22 that if you have homes of your own (stocked with food, is the implication), you should eat there before meeting together, so that those who do not have homes and food may find what they need in the gathering of fellow Christians. Then he reminds them of that first Communion, the Last Supper, where Jesus set the example of serving others first. So what is this “unworthy” bit in verse 27? Being selfish! The examination of self in vs. 28 is about whether you actually need this food or not. So by the time we get to vs. 29, that is what it is to “judge the body rightly.” If I do not regard others in the body, and consider their needs, I heap condemnation on myself. Seems like human relationships are important to the Lord, and He wants to meet our needs through others. Or should I say, He wants to meet others’ needs through us.

The other passage I want you to look at with me is James 4:2. “…You do not have because you do not ask.” Have you always thought of that in terms of prayer? Have you thought that if you just prayed you would have it? And when you didn’t have it still, did you go on to the next verse and figure that God didn’t answer your prayers because you were being selfish?

Back up a bit. What has been going on since chapter 2? Favoritism, partiality, lack of mercy, curses, jealousy, selfishness, arrogance, hypocrisy, quarreling, conflict, murder, envy… If you’re looking at the passage with me, I think you can see how I’ve come to the conclusion that the very next thought is about not having because you don’t ask one another. Rather than being envious of something someone else has, why not ask if they’ll share? And, according to verse 3, if you ask and still don’t get it, perhaps it’s because you were selfish in the asking. James goes on later in the chapter to address more human relationships, and the theme keeps recurring throughout the rest of the book. So why would he sandwich a verse about prayer in there, when the context seems to be about how to interact in a healthy way with others.

So I’ve come to think that perhaps the Bible is a bit simpler than we’ve thought. Perhaps writers then were as writers now, and their thoughts really do flow together. And I’ve come to believe that human relationships are very, very important to God.

 

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Twice this week I’ve heard two statements which resembled truth.  The first one was, “Fear is the beginning of wisdom.”  Sound true?  Sound like something you heard in the Bible?  Think again.  Solomon told his son, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”  Just a bit different.  Jesus Himself, the Prince of Peace, said not to fear.  Paul the Apostle said that “perfect love casts our fear.”  So it seems to me that the only one we are to fear is God, and to fear anything else leads to neither wisdom nor faith.

Then I heard that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.  Is that really what the Bible says?  Don’t we all feel like our load is too heavy at times?  Where do we get this?  It could be just Christian folklore, or it could be a misquote of this verse in 1 Corinthians:  “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  Is there a difference?  Is He talking about stress and difficulties or is He specifically referring to temptations?

Don’t get me wrong.  If our problems are not related to temptations, I don’t mean to imply that He abandons us.  Not at all.  He provides, He directs, He corrects, He comforts…  Sometimes He points us in a different direction and uses difficulties to fine -tune our situation.

I’m increasingly saddened by these misquotes.  I hear them way too often.  God is discounted because of misunderstandings.  Has that ever happened to you?  Have people believed lies about you and abandoned you?  Have they misunderstood something you said, or were you misrepresented by others, only to have them turn their backs on you?  Think about it.  God is maligned continually, and mostly be well-meaning people.  They don’t know they’re doing it.  I’ve done it.

This is a call to clarity.  This is a plea to check the facts.  Jesus often said to His disciples, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”  It happened even then.  Let’s believe what’s true and learn to trust what He really said.

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