July 15, 2012

That's Just Your Interpretation - July 15, 2012

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Service Intro: Sometimes Satan doesn't speak his own lies. Sometimes they come to us clothed in more familiar voices. Perhaps you've heard the lie that we'll study today. It goes like this, "That's just YOUR interpretation."

Sermon Intro: Sometimes Satan doesn't speak his own lies. Sometimes they come to us clothed in more familiar voices. The voices of friends, co-workers, or even family. That's what happened to Jesus in today's Gospel reading.

Jesus had just told His followers that soon they would go with Him to the city of Jerusalem. There He would suffer at the hands of the religious authorities. There He would die. And on the third day He would be raised from the dead.

After Jesus told them these things, Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall NEVER happen to you."

Jesus turned to Peter and said,
"...Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matthew 16:23 ESV).
How nice it would have been for Jesus to believe what Peter said. That He wouldn't have to suffer and die to take away the sins of the world. But Jesus recognized the sound of Satan's lies when He heard them.

And we need to recognize them too. Especially when those lies are cloaked in the reasonable sounding words of people we know and love.

Maybe you've been in a religious discussion before, with a friend, with a Christian whom you love and respect. And perhaps in this discussion you've heard the lie of Satan that we're going to focus on today, "That's just your interpretation".

Our sermon reading comes from...

2 Peter 1:20-21 (NASB)

20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,
21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

The phrase, "That's just your interpretation", gets used for a lot of different reasons.

What I was going to college I worked at the Menards distribution center. I stood on a line packaging up pallets of stuff to be delivered to various home improvement stores across the country. One day the line was slow, and I got into a conversation with one of my supervisors. We were talking about marriage and living together as a couple when you're not actually married. When I told him that the Bible says it's wrong, he responded by saying, "That's just your interpretation". The implication was clear. I could have my own interpretation, but he didn't have to have the same interpretation of Bible. He could believe it said something different if he wanted to.

For once I had the right Bible passage in mind. I told him about our sermon reading, and how it says that NOTHING in the Bible is open to private interpretation. In the Bible God says what He means, and means what He says.

That made my supervisor pretty upset.

"That's just your interpretation" is such a handy phrase to use when you're feeling guilty. A good tool to use when dodging accountability. "Oh, that's just what you think. That's not how I see it. Your interpretation doesn't have to be mine. I can keep living my way, and that's just fine."

Other times, TJYI is used simply as an escape hatch to avoiding the spiritual exercise of real Bible study."Sure, pastor, what you say sounds like it's what the Bible teaches (especially those passages you just read out the Bible). But I'm sure the pastors from MY church could show me other passages that support our view."

Still other times, TJYI is used as a stiff-arm to guard personal beliefs from close examination and re-evaluation. "I don't really want to think about this right now, so I'm just going to say, 'That's just your interpretation' and cut the conversation short."

Sadly, in our time it appears that many Christians hold to the false idea that multiple, contradicting interpretations of God's Word can be considered equally valid.

This treats the Bible like it isn't that important, and like it's not really all that clear. This attitude treats the Bible like it's an abstract painting. You know, one where the artist really doesn't want to tell you what he intended it to represent. Instead, he just wants everyone to look at it and interpret in their own way. To their own personal enjoyment and enlightenment.

That's fine if you're an artist and if it's your work being viewed. But God didn't inspire the Bible WORD BY WORD so that we can all just say it means whatever we want. God never intended His Holy Word to be open to individual interpretation. That's why the apostle Peter says...
"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, " (2 Peter 1:20 NASB).
God seeks to communicate to the human race through His Word. He seeks to say specific things about specific situations. He seeks to tell us the truth in a world full of lies.

There are horrible consequences if we don't understand what God is trying to tell us in the Bible. That's why He uses clear and straight forward words.

In the Bible God says that He created everything in the beginning. It was all perfect. God was not evil, so His creation had no evil in it either. Then a spirit being named Satan opposed God and became evil. He Satan tempted mankind into rebelling against God. This brought death and suffering into the world. But God promised to set things right for the human race by removing the punishment for their sins. God the Son would become human, would suffer the penalty for sin in mankind's place. He would die, and then rise again. All who hear this message and trust in God's promised Savior for their own forgiveness, are cleansed. They are released from the destiny of hell. They are forgiven. They are made children of God through faith in the Son of God and will one day enter God's presence to be with God forever because of the Son's sacrifice in their place.

These are straight forward concepts and ideas. The human race incurred a debt they couldn't pay off. So God paid the debt for us. Jesus is that payment. Through faith in Him we stand forgiven. Pretty simple.

This is the MOST IMPORTANT message the Bible communicates. But, this isn't the ONLY thing the Bible teaches. So, some people say, "Sure, I believe Jesus is my Savior. Obviously the Bible teaches that. But all the rest of the teachings of the Bible are open to private interpretation".


It's bizarre what people try to say in order to get around listening to what God says in the Bible (myself included). But words have meaning! You can't just assign whatever meaning you want to them.

In high school we had a joke that the stop signs with white around the edge were optional. That's what we said at the mall when we kinda rolled through those parking lot stop signs, "Ha ha, the ones with the white edges are optional." But the courts of our country don't see it this way. The laws of the United States of America are not a matter of your own interpretation. "Stop" means stop.

It's not like there's no way to figure out what the Bible means. It's not written in code. Sometimes one English translation or another may seem like it, but really it's not.

When it comes to the Bible, we have to remember that the different books of the Bible were WRITTEN AT DIFFERENT TIMES in history. They were written in Greek and Hebrew, language that people understood BACK THEN. They were written in countries that were CULTURALLY DIFFERENT than ours. Of course there's going to be a time gap to bridge! Of course there's going to be a language gap to bridge! Of course there is going to be a culture gap to bridge! But if an English translation does a good job then we have God's Word translated into our own language. Into a language we can understand. Sure, studying about Biblical culture will help us to gain a richer understanding of what the Bible says, but we can still understand what the Bible says from just reading an up to date, faithful translation of the Bible.

Real Bible interpretation is about understanding the words used in the Bible. What they mean. How you can tell when they're figurative or not. It's about understanding grammar and how sentences work. It's about going back to the original Hebrew and Greek when you need too. Real interpretation is about allowing the Bible to explain itself, instead of approaching the Bible with our own beliefs and then holding onto passages that can be used to support our own private beliefs and discarding those passages that can't.

You know, the same general rules that apply when interpreting the Bible apply when interpreting other writings. To understand an article in a Newspaper, you have to understand what the individual words mean. Then you have to understand how sentences work to transmit information. Then you have to consider the whole article and any other articles you've read by that same person. Then you'll probably have a pretty good idea of what is being said in a one particular article.

Let the words, the grammar and the rest of the person's work speak! If I told an evolutionist that Darwin's book, "The Origin of Species" was really an extended parable expressing Darwin's belief that one God created all life in six 24 hour days that person would scream, "That's not fair! You can't just read your own beliefs into someone else's work!" But that's exactly what humans do to God when they insist that the Bible can mean whatever they want it to mean.

By the way, that's what my seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Devries told me. She said that I surely must know that the Bible could be used to support whatever belief one had. Back then I said, "Sure." I realized that everyone CAN have their own opinions, and the Bible is a big book, so you can usually find something that SOUNDS like it supports your opinion, especially if you take it out of context. But you know... that's not really USING the Bible, that's ABUSING the Bible. Misquoting isn't fair and true interpreting. So, I guess today I'd say that no, you really CAN'T use the Bible to support whatever you believe, because when you let God's Word say what it says, God has very specific things to say. Things that are His own, not ours. We have no right to put our own thoughts in God's mouth.

That's what our sermon text says. Look at it again. It says...
"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God"(2 Peter 1:20-21 NASB).
Since God wrote it, man has no right to explain it. Only God can explain what He wrote properly, and God does that by using the rest of the Bible.

Now, there are some times when Christians can have differing interpretations about God's Word and it's actually okay. Let me explain. These exceptions are called "open questions". Where God's Word doesn't actually tell us the specifics about something, it's an open question. We have to let it be. We can't say, "I think it might mean this..." and then demand that this is what the Word of God says, because we dare not put words in God's mouth.

But you know, most of the time when people say, "That's just your interpretation" they're not talking about open questions. They're talking about obvious teachings of Scripture.

And here's where we see how dangerous Satan's lie really is. We know there are some things that the Bible doesn't tack down with passages. Those are open questions. We know there are other things that the Bible definitely speaks about. Those are the clear teachings of the Bible. What Satan does is this: he tries to puts the "open question" tag on things that God has spoken DIRECTLY about.

And why does Satan do this?

Because Satan knows, once you tag one thing "open" which really isn't according to God, then it's easier to tag the next thing "open". And eventually the message about sin and grace is swallowed up in open questions.

Did God really create everything in six days? Well, that's just your interpretation. Then what about the seventh day when Adam and Eve sinned? Was that real? If not, why is God's universe full of evil?

Does God really intend to keep people who love each other apart, like homosexual couples? Well, that's just your interpretation. Well then what about the passages that say that God's gift of sex is only pure within marriage, between a man and a woman?

Is there really only ONE Savior of the world? Well, that's just your interpretation. Then why does the Bible say...
"...Jesus is
“ ‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:11-12 NIV).
When Satan uses people to say "That's just your interpretation" often what he really wants us to hear is, "That's an open question".

But most of the time, it's not an open question. We must be on guard against Satan's lie. If we don't hold tightly to God's truth, then we will either swallowing someone else's agenda, or our own. And only God's agenda is safe. For He is our good Creator, our loving Savior and the God who promises to lead us by His Word. For in that Word it says,
"Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105 NIV).
And from Second Timothy, chapter 3...
"14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed..." (2 Timothy 3:14-16 NIV).
Prayer: Father in heaven, we praise you for giving us the Bible. Through broken and sinful human beings you have caused your thoughts to be written down perfectly for our learning. Through your Holy Word we learn about sin and hell, and how you have rescued us from them. Through your Holy Spirit you unlock the meaning of the Scriptures with the Scriptures. Bless us Lord that we will always have wise people able to translate the Greek and Hebrew into our current language. And give us the desire to dive in and really know your Word. Help us hold onto your teachings in our hearts and minds. Don't let them be forgotten. Forgive us when we disrespect your Word and it's proclamation. Forgive us and renew us through your Son, Jesus Christ, and by your Holy Spirit and your Word, hold us in the faith until we reach your side in heaven. Amen.

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