Wednesday, November 30, 2016

every word must rhyme

The Word for today:
2 Peter 2
mark this: 2 Peter 2:1-3 --
There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
and this: 2 Peter 1:20 --
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.
Each of us has a spiritual gift, and today's reading bears directly on mine. So permit me, if you will, to pronounce my personal manifesto.
I'm not a big deal in this world. But on the eternal plane I'm somebody to be reckoned with, because principalities and powers are shaken to their core when, at the command of Jesus, any one of us unsheathes the Sword of the Spirit in this desert.
That may sound like swagger to you, but saying it doesn't sound like swagger to me, because I know who I am and what I am capable of,
which is next to nothing. But I also know that insofar as I am true to my gift and calling, I am a force in the kingdom of God.
And thus far, by the grace of God, I've stayed true to that gift. I can't say, like Paul could, that I have finished the race (1). But I can say that I remain, at this hour, on course towards achieving this one thing:
to make it understood that every word in this one great poem we call the Bible rhymes with its every other word
That's why I don't often teach topical Bible courses, or courses on one book at a time. I teach whole-Bible courses, because the Bible, when taught whole, enforces an inherent discipline, forcing a teacher to make sure that nothing stands in contradiction to things taught before. The Bible, when considered as an indivisible entity, maintains a perfect balance that no single verse, or chapter, or book, or even testament, was ever designed to maintain.
For example, I have been approached to teach courses on Revelation, because everybody, it seems, wants to know about Revelation. But I've declined.
I've declined because the book of Revelation does not hold itself accountable. What that means is that I can (as many do) teach Revelation and, within its own context, make it say anything I want it to say. But if we teach whole-Bible courses (like the three-year Stand in the Rain course which you're now in the middle of) then what I teach in Revelation has to match up with what I taught in Zephaniah, Matthew, Jude and Obadiah;
they have to "rhyme" with each other. Unless and until they do, they invalidate one another.
Some teach almost specifically from the New Testament. That way, they don't have to account for--or field questions concerning--the God of the Old Testament. Thus they can (and do) teach any kind of Jesus they dream up. They teach a truncated Jesus, a skewed Jesus, a top-heavy Jesus, a bottom-heavy Jesus, a shriveled Jesus, an enervated Jesus, an emasculated Jesus. They'll introduce you to a Jesus of many curious colors, but the Jesus you won't meet is the real one, the Jesus who rhymes with every jot and tittle of God's every word, which He said he would:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
The principal that informs my particular gift is found right here in 2 Peter:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
People often take that to mean that no person can, individually, understand scripture. I don't think it means that at all, because there have been crucial moments in church history where the interpretation of one man, standing in the face of universal opposition, rescued an essential doctrine from oblivion. The classic example is Martin Luther, who almost single-handedly rescued the central tenet of soteriology--that justification is sola fide, by faith alone--which had been lost and buried in the medieval church.
"No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" means that no verse or book--no utterance of the prophets who spoke for God--can be interpreted without reference to every other verse and book in scripture.
It makes perfect sense that each verse must fit into the whole. It can (and often does) create nonsense when preachers and teachers force the whole to fit into a few pet verses. Such teaching is either ignorant of the rest of the Bible (which is usually the case); or is self-serving; or is, for some ulterior and pernicious motive, intentionally misleading.
Thanks for reading this far. This is of vital importance to me. In fact, 2 Peter 1:20 is my creed. I work long and hard at Bible exposition and as I do, I constantly hold my work up to the standard this verse pronounces.
There are about 40 human authors of scripture, who wrote over a span of about 1500 years. But they are, they must be, of just one voice--the single voice of the Holy Spirit who authored the whole:
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
Thus the voice we hear in Nahum must be the voice in Ephesians must be the voice in Judges must be the voice in Psalms must be the voice in 2 Peter. Jesus spoke about this in one of scripture's most wonder-filled figures of speech:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:2; John 10:5)
I leave you with one pithy truth that I try to make sure every student of mine understands. You can never be duped by the false teachers--the ones Peter so urgently warns us about in 2 Peter 2:1-3 (above)--if you cut out this little Q & A and store it in your wallet, or purse, or Bible, or heart, or head:
Q. What does (write any single Bible book or verse here) mean?
A. Anything you want it to mean.
Q. What does the whole Bible--all 66 books / all 31,173 verses--mean?
A. Jesus, and nothing else.
I hope to stay true to my calling. If I do not, I count on you to write me and tell me I've fallen out of rhyme with God's Word.
And if--with your help--I manage to maintain harmony with the one clear voice of scripture, it will not mean a great deal to the world. But the angels will applaud and maybe, just maybe, Jesus will commend.
And there is, whatever our gift, no higher purpose or calling than the pursuit of his commendation.
(1) 2 Timothy 4:7

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