Being Abused Does not Give us the Right to be Mean

Eph 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Abusers are evil. Abuse is evil. Wicked. It is cruel and those who exercise it are going to be objects of God’s wrath. Abuse harms its victims greatly in many kinds of painful ways. Abuse is the spirit of murder. It is of the devil.

But coming to realize that we have been treated wickedly, betrayed, slandered, (and just go on here and list all the terrible things abusers do)…does not give us the right to be the center of everyone else’s thoughts. It does not give us the right to lash out at anyone anytime they say something or do something that happens to jolt us or kick off one of those mental replays of some evil that happened to us. That is to say, we do not have the right to walk around like a fuse that can be lit by some statement or action or event and then the expolosion goes off to blast those around us.

I am convinced that a lot of so-called therapy that abuse victims seek help from is what could be labeled “me, myself, and I” philosophy. “You’ve been a victim,” this line of thinking goes, “and now it’s time for you to stand up for yourself anytime someone says something or does something that lights your fuse.” Well, guess what? If you embrace this kind of mentality, you are not following Christ. It will not heal you. It will leave you in the ditch and mire and perpetual “chip-on-the-shoulder” victimhood.

We can be honest with ourselves. We can be honest with others when it is appropriate, and when our words will not be abusive themselves. We do need to learn how to set boundaries and the kind of people who don’t respect boundaries need to be firmly admonished. But if we choose to keep everyone around us walking on eggshells and making them worriy that anything they say can and will be used against them by us in a blast of anger and accusation, then we are sinning. Understand?

I am not talking about abusers who are wicked and who abuse. I am talking about other people we have contact with who might say something in ignorance or they might even say or do something that is not even directly related with or connected to your abuse – but it stings because of your past sufferings. If you lash out and attack and accuse and blame everytime something like this happens, then you are embracing the “me, myself, and I” mentality that threatens to punish anyone who says or does something you don’t like or that triggers you.

And guess what? If that is the path we take, our relationships are going to crash one after another. We will not exercise the love that Christ calls us to live by, and we will regularly hurt and sin against others. And that is the very same thing our abusers did to us.

Beware of People who Insist they Understand Every Word in the Bible

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:15-18)

When we are doing battle with evil, we must be certain to have a firm footing.  The stability of faith in God’s promises and revealed truth is vital, else we will lose our balance and be shaken. Peter warns and encourages us here in this regard. He acknowledges, even though he is an apostle, that some of the things his brother Paul writes are hard to understand. Think about that. An apostle acknowledges that some Scriptures can be difficult for even him to grasp. This is the mark of a true servant of Christ. The wisdom and humility to admit things like this.

False teachers on the other hand, puffed up by their pride and evil intent, claim to have all the answers and to be able to comprehend every depth of God’s Word with ease. They make no room for other opinions or interpretations. They never simply admit, “that is a tough verse to understand. I’m not positive what it means.” In their thinking, they have advanced far beyond Peter in the knowledge of the mysteries of God!

Now, notice something here carefully which I think will be a good encouragement to you. Peter says that “ignorant and unstable” men twist the Scriptures. They do this to their own destruction. They will pay for their evil one Day when Christ calls them to final account. They are false shepherds, false sheep, and their end will be destruction. That’s pretty final. And more, Peter tells us that it is the difficult, hard-to-understand texts of God’s Word that these kind particularly love to “carry us away” into their own errors, such errors being characterized as lawlessness. Their teachings, supposedly based upon these Scripture twistings which they so love to do, are actually against God’s law, the very antithesis of Christ’s truth which sets us free. So our part is to walk carefully, evaluate every teaching thoroughly, lest we be lured onto Broadway and put into the bondage of these wicked ones.

Now, our experience with the evil of abuse bears this out, does it not? What more difficult passages of Scripture are there than some of those on marriage, divorce, and remarriage? We should not be surprised, therefore, that these are some of the Scriptures that today’s unstable, lawless teachers run to, twist and pervert, and use them to draw us away from the grace and knowledge of the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Think of how many “Christian” leaders, pastors, authors, and theologians (generally of the celebrity genre) confidently declare with God’s own supposed authority, that their interpretation of every detail of these passages is the plain and obvious truth and anyone who holds to a different take on a verse is without doubt wrong and in some cases under God’s curse! No divorce for any reason at all! Anyone not obeying what I say is God’s Word will be ex-communicated from this church, if not consigned to hell for all eternity. That is no exaggeration, right? We hear if from these kind.

Now, I can hear these types protesting.  “Why then, you are opening the door for all kinds of errors if you say that we cannot be certain of the precise meaning of every passage of Scripture. You are allowing for anyone to make any interpretation of Scripture they want and opening the floodgates for wickedness to come in.” No. What we are saying is that we must be wise and reject the perversions of especially difficult passages of Scripture which are laid upon us by ignorant and unstable people who make a habit of twisting Scripture so that their teaches oppose the truth and character of God and promote lawlessness. In fact, it is these false teachers who, often through their confident interpretations and applications of Scripture, who are the ones promoting lawlessness. They are the ones opening the floodgates for evil.

True godliness is characterized by humility. A humility that evidences itself especially when those verses that Peter says are hard to understand, are handled. Our God is incomprehensible. He has not revealed in equal clarity everything about Himself. In fact, what do you suppose we will be doing in the New Heavens and New Earth for eternity? We will be growing in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Think of that.

How infinite is the nature and glory of God? Infinite! That means He will forever and ever be showing us new facets of His being. Truths about Him that we have not even imagined. Do not let arrogant, Scripture-twisting people draw you into their error and shake the stability we enjoy in God’s clear and revealed truths.

The Method of Interpreting Scripture in the Conservative Evangelical Church Needs a Reboot

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Mat 23:23-24)

All the years I was in graduate school and then seminary, I was taught how to interpret the Bible. We took courses like Bible Study Methods, New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew. We had classes in preaching in which we learned methods of outlining a passage of Scripture and then turning that outline into a “homiletical” one that would be the framework of the sermon, using more contemporary and memorable outline headings. That jump from exegetical outline to homiletical outline was, as I look back on it, a pretty dangerous one that often resulted in the real meaning of a passage being framed in some catchy phrase to make it “relevant.”

I have been preaching God’s Word in Christ’s church now for over three decades, and over these years I have seen my method of sermon preparation change. I didn’t sit down and decide one day to do it. It has just happened. In earlier years “exegesis” was my main focus. A close, careful examination of the passage I would preach on including careful word studies to determine their true meanings. These were the things of lexicons, Greek grammars and syntax, BDB (the classic Hebrew lexicon), and then intricate computer programs that searched all these tools at once and made the books I carefully collected over the years obsolete. I still use these tools some, but…

Things have changed.

Why? Because in dealing with evil in the church, in seeing firsthand the grievous experiences of abuse victims at the hands of their churches, I have been forced to face the fact that somehow our method of handling God’s Word has frequently gone sadly wrong. For all of our studies and training, we have misapplied and misconstrued the, shall I say it…spirit of the Word. And I suggest that this is precisely what Jesus confronted the Pharisees with. In the gnat-straining process of our Bible study methods, we have missed the biggies: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Mat 23:1-4)

Do you see it? They apparently read the text of Scripture accurately as they read from the scrolls, but when it came to the application of the Scripture, they got it wrong. Why? Because they were arrogant, and that arrogance and their seeking of self-glory led them to entirely miss justice, mercy, and faithfulness which was to guide the interpretation and application of the Scripture, and instead applied the Scripture in a way that put a crushing weight on the poor souls of the people. By the way, and I hope that everyone catches the full import of what I am about to say: “In all my years of seminary, not one single professor, not one single class, not one single book I read EVER admonished us to be certain that our handling of Scripture affirmed God’s justice, mercy, and faithfulness. And yet these are the VERY things that Jesus identified as the BIGGIES”!! Chew on that for a bit.

Pastors, church members, elders, seminary professors, Christian authors, stop it! We have been doing the very same things ourselves. How? Well, come back to the abuse victim who comes to us for help. Tell me, are we regularly giving them the justice, mercy, and faithfulness that characterizes the very essence of the Lord Himself? I maintain that the answer is a resounding, “No!” What they are regularly receiving is heavy burdens, hard to bear, laid upon their shoulders. Burdens that the very people tying them on the poor souls would never lay upon themselves if they were in such a position of suffering.Go ahead. Study Greek. Learn Hebrew. Carefully consider sound Bible study methods. BUT after doing all that, remember. If your method and your conclusions in handling God’s own Word are not consistent with the character of God as shown to us in the Person and works of the Lord Jesus Christ, then it matters not a mite how much intricate gnat straining you did in your study. Your conclusions are wrong. If you tell an abuse victim that she is forbidden by God to divorce her abuser, if you tell her God requires her to continue in that suffering, if you forbid her from remarrying if she does divorce the wicked husband, then your handling of Scripture is crooked. You are not “cutting it straight” as Paul exhorted Timothy to do:

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2Tim 2:14-15)

I suspect there will be many, on that Day, who will have much need to be ashamed because they did not rightly handle the word of truth and those oppressed sheep who suffered as a result will be there as witnesses.