The Case of the Bible-Babbling Blunderer OR Speaking the Truth in Love
Speaking the truth in love, let us grow into Him, the head—Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)
I was about to give the offertory prayer when a recently new attendee, Frank, a gentleman in his mid-thirties, stood up and in an instant I observed his troubled countenance. He had been informed only a few hours before that his brother had been killed in an automobile accident. You could sense the shock throughout the audience. He, of course, sought prayer for his sister-in-law, now suddenly a new widow and single mother of three youngsters all under age nine.
This kind of interrupting event does occur from time to time and calls for special care and intercession for those affected. I asked the congregation to join with me in prayer for the family of his brother and those who would be involved in follow-up ministry in the days ahead. We then proceeded with the service.
Following the conclusion of the service, I stood at the back door greeting people as they departed when suddenly the heart-broken young brother ran up to me totally distraught. “Pastor, please help me—hold me back! I feel like I want to grab that Mr. Jackson and beat him against the wall!”
Needless to say, I was alarmed at Frank’s outburst. It was an unusual request, to say the least. “Frank, what caused this extreme reaction to our Mr. Jackson?” I asked.
“You know how that man is,” he said, “always above everyone else with his super-spiritual, uncaring attitude.” (I understood Frank a bit better now—I had personally labeled Jackson the “Bible-Babbling Bungler.”) Frank continued, “Jackson came up to me right after the benediction. He didn’t greet me at all. I’m not sure if he even looked into my eyes. He just blurted out in his frigid, mechanical way, ‘Well, you know, all things work together for good,’ turned, and walked away!”
Now, the truth is, as we all know, that as we trust our sovereign God, we also do so, sadly, in such tragic times. We then wait, patiently or impatiently, for time and God’s Spirit to heal that hurtful loss. . .with all its ramifications. Finally, we may come to acknowledge the reality of Paul’s compassionate wisdom when, through his own suffering, God gave him an understanding of Himself to write the eighth chapter of Romans and verse 28, the verse Mr. Jackson had literally “thrown” at this grieving brother.
But that’s not the whole story. There’s some history that created such an emotional trauma. Mr. Jackson had a reputation for being totally rude and heartless. Even his wife and children had experienced embarrassment as a result of his pious, “spiritual ways.”
For example, when you spoke to him on the phone, there was never a “hello.” Instead, he would mechanically recite some Bible verse that “God had given him” that morning, then without a pause, ask for your verse of the day. The not-so-subtle inference being, “Notice how much more spiritual I am than others. . .like you.” For some reason, a picture of the Pharisee praying to himself in the temple, thanking God he was so much better than that miserable tax-collecting sinner, comes to mind.
My own personal observation of Mr. Jackson’s church and worship habits as a congregational “auditor” of my preaching had been made clear to me by his own words: “I always read Scripture during your messages because I have so much more knowledge than any and all my teachers.”
Many years ago I was offended when I first heard the word “bibliolatry.” I wondered how “worshipping” the inspired and inerrant Scriptures of the Holy Bible could ever be considered idolatry? Aren’t we encouraged to read, memorize, understand, use, and share it with others? But this attitude of Mr. Jackson sounded both extreme and idolatrous.
I believe his “worship of the Bible” was, in reality, worship of his own knowledge about the Bible. In other words, it was all about me. . .Mr. Jackson himself. All sin eventually comes back to self.
Jesus condemned the super religious of His day for thinking they “knew it al,” but were at the same time “practical atheists.” By manipulating the Scriptures to their own advantage, even abusing and harming innocent people and their own parents, they “hid behind” their misapplication of the spirit of the Word, even as they worshipped it.
An incident in the life of the newly inaugurated King Hezekiah, recorded in 2 Kings 18:4, relates one of his first acts as the new king in Jerusalem. The people had been worshipping all manner of idols. One of them was the brass serpent Moses had set up to save the Israelites bitten by snakes because of their ingratitude over God’s provision for daily food. When the victims of the snakebites looked upon the brass serpent, they were spared death. For years after that, the brass serpent was carried as a memorial of God’s grace. Eventually, however, the memorial itself had become one of the idols venerated by the people, thereby defrauding God of His glory. So Hezekiah broke it into pieces, calling it nehushtan, “nothing but a thing of brass.”
Please note the difference here. The Bible is, I believe, the written Word of God. The problem is not with the Bible itself or its teachings. The problem is with and in the hermeneutics of its readers. In the study of principles for interpreting the Bible, manipulation of the words in order to validate one’s self-serving, egotistic, poor intentions or motivation is to be prohibited. Judgmental isolationists, more concerned with their prejudices being right than with the fruit of the Spirit being seen, revealed, and understood by their actions, will ultimately bring about heresy and divisiveness.
Let me point out just two illustrations of this misuse of Scripture or poor hermeneutics.
1. The Jews were questioning the authority of Jesus. He reminded their religious leaders that they “searched the Scriptures, because in them they ‘thought’ they would have eternal life,” but their bibliolatry prohibited them from understanding or receiving either the message itself, the messenger, or the love of God in them (John 5:39-42). 2. Jesus condemned the phony bibliolatry of the Pharisees and the religious hierarchy who said they kept the fifth commandment to honor their parents, but claim exemption from any responsibility based on the corban dedication of their personal assets to the temple. He says,
“You bunch of hypocrites! Isaiah described you very well when he said, ‘These people speak very prettily about the Lord, but they have no love for Him at all. Their worship is a farce! They claim that God commands the people to obey their petty rules.’
“How right Isaiah was! You ignore God’s specific orders and substitute your own traditions. You are simply rejecting God’s laws and trampling them under your feet for the sake of tradition. For example, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother.’ Anyone who speaks against his father or mother must die. . .but you say it’s perfectly all right for a man to disregard his needy parents, telling them, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you, for I have given to God what I could have given to you.’
“And so you break the law of God in order to protect your man-made tradition! And, there are many, many other examples” (Mark 7:6-13).
“Be diligent. . .to correctly teach the word of truth: (2 Timothy 2:15, HCSB).