The Word of God is powerful, especially in its task to help divide that within us which is carnal (the flesh) from that which is if Christ (the Spirit). [Heb 4.12]
Scriptures are so powerful that knowing them can make us wise unto salvation. [2Tim 3.15]
And the Sadducees, in their pitiful attempt to trap Jesus in a theological contradiction, deceived themselves and fell into error because they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. [Mt 22.29]
Now, both the Hebrews and the Timothy passages (having been written originally, 2,000 years ago in Greek) use the Greek word eido for "know" (as in "know the Scriptures".) This word, eido, means to have a clear, mental perception of something springing from deliberate attention and careful observation. [Strong's Greek dictionary.] To eido the Scriptures has tremendous power for spiritual wisdom and personal transformation.
Anyone reading this newsletter probably agrees with the "power" of "knowing Scripture".
But does this "power" come into the lives of people who misread Scripture?
Even asking the question leads us to its answer... If a person misreads Scripture, the "power" of the Word of God may be made ineffective. This is what happened to the Sadducees that Jesus criticized. They had read the Scriptures for all of their lives, some of them undoubtedly even memorizing the whole of the Old Testament. This was common in Jesus' day. But all their "study" of the Scriptures left them in spiritual deception. They had been deceived, because they had in fact misread the Word of God.
Just today I listened for a little bit on a broadcast on "Christian radio". [Here's an aside: Do you know what makes a radio broadcast "Christian"? Or what makes a book "Christian"? Simple -- they've gone up front after a salvation message and prayed to accept Christ as their Savior, and became "Christians". I'm being absurd for a reason. What makes a book or a radio broadcast "Christian" is if a Christian produces it. If whatever it is comes out of the Relationship between a person and Jesus Christ Who dwells within him or her -- it then can be called "Christian". The fact that Bible verses are quoted or Christian jargon is used doesn't make something "Christian". I've heard lots of things called "Christian" that certainly did NOT come from the Spirit of the Lord, no matter how much "Christianeese" was used in their production.]
But back to that broadcast I heard today on the radio. In it, a man with a wonderfully soothing and comforting voice told the story about how difficult it was for him and his wife when they first discovered that their little boy had multiple dystrophy. But they had comforted themselves in the Scripture that "we are to be thankful to God about everything, because it's God's will for us."
In so doing, he referred to 1Thes 4.18 which reads:
"In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." [KJV]
But he didn't read it -- he misread it.
When we misread Scripture (as did the Sadducees) isn't it possible we can fall into error?
This father (for whom we feel compassion along with his wife and especially his son) misread the verse as though it said this:
"Everything that happens is God's will in Christ for us -- thus we must thank Him for everything."
Let's take a moment and read the verse:
"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." [KJV]
The confusion rises from the use of the pronoun "this". When it says, "This is the will of God", readers have to unconsciously make a quick decision as to what the pronoun refers to (its "referent".) Does it refer to "everything" or to "give thanks"?
If we say "this" refers to "everything", we get the meaning the man shared on the radio - that we must "give thanks to God for everything." This teaching falls into the area of Divine Determination -- that if something has happened to us, God has done it and we must thank Him for doing it.
There's a fundamental problem here: The Scriptures say that Jesus came in order to destroy the works of the devil. It's awkward to say that the very things Jesus came to destroy (sickness, demonic possession, oppression, injustice and even death and sin itself) are the Works of God and we must thank Him for these. But in fact, this verse doesn't require us to come to this conclusion!
Instead, if we say "this" refers to "give thanks", it means that in the midst of "everything"-- in the midst of every experience in life no matter how difficult, we are to remain thankful to God.
Two possibilities. Which is better?
To help us decide, let's also look at the context of this verse, since (after all) verse 18 comes in the middle of some other verses that just might have an impact on our reading it carefully and accurately! Notice, that the command to "give thanks" is the third command of a series of three commands given here by Paul -- verses 16 through 22:
(1) Rejoice evermore.
(2) Pray without ceasing.
(3) In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Paul is commanding the Thessalonian saints to rejoice without limits, to pray without limits, and to thank God without limits. His point isn't to instruct them on Divine Determinism -- Paul's point is to encourage within these saints a continuing lifestyle reflecting their trust in God's Care over them.
Let's try this phrasing of verses 16-18:
Rejoice without limits, pray without limits, and thank God without limits (no matter what trouble or evil touches your life) because it's God's will for you to rejoice without limits, pray without limits, and thank God without limits.
This utterly removes any need to explain "why God is doing evil things to us". Which He isn't. (In a nutshell -- God has given to humankind the freedom to choose to live life how we wish, and the life chosen by the human race has produced horrific consequences.) God did not create these consequences, but by respecting our freedom to choose, He has allowed these consequences.
But His Love has moved Him to do more than just "allow" evil -- He has overcome evil with Good, in Christ Jesus.
Misreading this verse can lead a person to pray, "God, thank You for my son's muscular dystrophy..." -- which is an error showing that not only has this person not read the Scripture carefully (eidos) but he doesn't know the power of God very well either!
Reading this verse more carefully can lead you instead to continually rejoice and to pray, "God -- I thank You that despite my son's muscular dystrophy, You are greater..." leaving you to seek God's will concerning your son ("Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven...") and continually intercede for His will to be done.
For those of you KingdomScribes who are familiar with these newsletters we send out every so often, you've already guessed that the point of this newsletter isn't that the followers of Jesus Christ should "rejoice, pray and give thanks". No -- the point is that every follower of Jesus Christ should learn how to accurately read (and not misread) the Word of God for themselves, thus showing themselves approved by God as skillful craftsmen who will not be ashamed by mishandling the Word of Truth. [2Tim 2.15]
As so often before, we recommend our computer-based tutorial, Rightly Dividing the Word, as a unique tool in today's Church for teaching these simple skills of accurately reading the Bible. Those who have worked through this tutorial have sharpened their skills in reading the Scriptures -- reading it for themselves and able to come to their own conclusions, skillfully applying the Word in life-transforming ways.
And why is it worth the effort to learn these simple skills? Because, when you misread the Word, you do err, knowing neither the Scriptures not the power of God.
May you all be blessed richly in the Lord!
Emil & Shell Swift
P.S. As a reminder, for those who already have the tutorial, Rightly Handling the Word,, we have updated it and added to it a LessonTrack which leads you through the tutorial in 20 steps. Every step is hot-linked to the page of the tutorial it refers to so you will have no problem staying on track and will not "lose your place" in this computer-based tutorial. For those who already have purchased the RDTW, this revision and the new "LessonTrack" are free and (at your email request) will be sent to you online. em&m