Another Call not to Add to God’s Word

Proverbs 30:5-6

5 Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
God’s words are all true, every one of them. All Scripture is perfect and perfectly inspired by God. As believers, our lives hang on that truth. If God’s word is untrue, there is simply no source of authority upon which we can rely. Since God has spoken, inspiring a perfect word, we can know him and know what he requires.

In the proverb above, we also see the wise reminder that we must not add to that holy and perfect word of God. If we do, God will prove us to be liars.

Where does it happen that mankind attempts to add to the word of God? Some add to God’s word by declaring that god has said to them things he did not say. Be very careful when you claim that God has told you something. It is much wiser for a Christian to express that he or she feels like something is the Lord’s will or that he or she, after much prayer, has a strong desire to do this or that. But when a person says that God has told them something, he or she is walking on dangerous ground. If that thing that you claim that the Lord has told you proves to be untrue, are you not entering the realm of the false prophet?

But it is not merely the false claim of divine communication that is adding to the word of God today. Many add to the word of God because they are submitting to the culture around us and extrapolating principles from secular thinking to read back into God’s word. The person who adds to Scripture a secular standard of justice is, in a sense, adding to the word of God. The person who reads into Scripture modern sexual ethics is adding to the word of God. The one who reads into Scripture modern views of gender that differ from the clearly given Scripture is adding to the word of God. And the word of God tells us that, in all these, the person who reads such things in such ways will be proven a liar by God himself.

May we treasure the word of God. May we remember that there is no value that we can add to the word of God. We are far better off honoring God by simply reading, understanding, and faithfully explaining the word of God. God wants you to know his word, understand his word, apply his word, and live by his word.

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Context is King

In biblical interpretation, no rule rises above the simple necessity of interpreting a verse in its context. All Scripture is breathed out by God. All Scripture, every individual word and verse, is perfect and perfectly inspired by God. We call that the doctrine of plenary, verbal inspiration. All Scripture is sufficient to bring about in us all that the Lord intends for us concerning life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).

As we deal with this perfect and holy text, one major mistake that we make is in thinking that we can handle an individual verse as an individual thing. This is not the case. Verses of Scripture are not individual pearls that can be separated from the strand and admired as single jewels. Instead, the flow of verses together, the building of arguments and proclamations are vital to our rightly handling the Bible.

Take the verse often quoted in prosperity theology, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Out of context, that appears to be a verse in which a man or woman can claim aptitude for any profession and strength for magnificent accomplishment in Christ. Thus, a Christian baseball player hits a homerun every time because of Jesus (Don’t ask what happens if the pitcher is a believer too.).

But let’s take a peek at context. Paul was in prison in Rome and writing to the Philippians. The Philippians had found out about Paul’s time of trial, and they had sent help his way. They were concerned for his wellbeing, and they seem to have sent a gift or two to supply his physical needs while under arrest. Look at the passage in that light.

Philippians 4:10–13 – 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

In verses 11-12, Paul says that he is particularly not trying to tell the Philippians that he could not survive without a little more money. ON the contrary, Paul was telling the church that he, under the tutelage of Christ, had learned to be content. He was content when he had nice clothes and a soft bed. He was content when he suffered great hardships.

Paul’s willingness to survive whether he has plenty or goes hungry is the context for the statement, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The phrase, “all things,” does not have anything to do with hitting a baseball, leading a corporation, performing a miracle, or investing in the stock market. No, the all things that he can do, in context, is the all things of living in times of plenty and times of want. Paul is saying, in the all things he can do through Christ, that he can be poor, devastatingly poor, and still love Jesus. And Paul is saying that he can have a very nice cash flow, and not love it more than Jesus.

Paul’s words have nothing to do with naming a prosperity and claiming it as his right. On the contrary, Paul is saying that he will joyfully live through all circumstances, happy and sad, by the strength of Jesus. As we often hear in wedding vows, Paul is saying that he has learned to joyfully trust in Jesus for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity.

Let Philippians 4:13 give you joy, but not ripped out of the flow of the text. That verse reminds us that we can love Jesus and be OK in all sorts of easy and hard times. Our circumstances, our wealth, our poverty, have nothing to do with our relationship with God. There will be wealthy Christians and poor Christians. There will be sick Christians and healthy Christians. There will be pro athletes and folks who cannot control their weight. There will be corporate CEOs and hard-working ditch-diggers. And the trick is for us to know that, because of Jesus, because of his strength, because of his Holy Spirit, we can learn to do all things, handle all circumstances, because of our Lord.

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When God’s Word is not Your Authority

I was having a conversation with someone recently about Christianity, and I found it sad to continually need to speak to the difference between a biblical Christianity as opposed to so much else that is out there. That led me to think about how sad it is that so many organizations and groups put on the word Christian as a title even when they clearly oppose the fundamentals of the faith.

Then I read through a few chapters in Judges, and I saw a thread that helps me understand how in the world this has happened in the modern world.

In Judges 17-18, we read a very dark, very ugly story. A man named Micah steals money from his mom. When he gives it back, his mom blesses him. That actually makes some sense. Mom is proud of her boy being honest. But look what she tells him to do with the money.

Judges 17:3 – And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.”

Wait a minute. She said that she dedicated the silver to the Lord. Thus, she is saying that what she is doing is something she fully expects the God of the Bible to be pleased with. But in her next breath, she says that the silver should be used for the fashioning of a carved image. She would call her religion faithful. But she is violating two clear commands of God.

Exodus 20:4-6 – 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God is absolutely, abundantly, crystal clear. He forbids those who would worship him doing so through the fashioning of images. This woman has commanded her son, as an act of worship, worship she believes is of the Lord, to do what God says never ever do.

Exodus 20:7 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Because the woman uses the name of the Lord in her pronouncement, she is also violating this, the third commandment. She shows us a perfect example of what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain. She is using the name of God in a way that is false. She is calling something of God that is exactly opposite. She is using the name of God in an empty and meaningless way.

The story gets worse. Micah finds a Levite wandering around the countryside, not staying put and serving the Lord as he should have done. The Levite is not holding fast to the word of God or teaching others the law as he should have done. And Micah invites the Levite to serve him as a priest. The Levite is happy to help. And now he has joined Micah in his idolatry.

Judges 17:13 – Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

Micah thinks that his sin will lead to his prosperity. Why? He thinks that having a Levite as priest is enough to guarantee him God’s blessing. He has no worry about the commands of God.

In chapter 18, men from the tribe of Dan have failed to settle in their allotted land. They want to take a spot for themselves, and they send out an armed force. ON the way, scouts discover Micah’s house and the idols therein.

Judges 18:14 – Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

What should be the response of the men to this? They should go in with their swords drawn to destroy those idols and to execute those who are polluting the land of Israel with their violations of the word of God (cf. Deut. 13:1-18). But what do they do instead? They go in, take the idols and the Levite with them, and set him up as their own priest to those idols in their new tribal home.

Then, as the story closes, we get a revelation that ought to knock us over.

Judges 18:30 – And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.

Woah. The Levite who played priest for the Danites, the one who helped Micah and his household worship idols, the one who was wandering the countryside instead of serving the Lord and teaching his word, he was a grandson of Moses. It is possible that he was a great or multiple great grandson, as we do not always record every single generation in a verse like this one. But, either way, this man was a direct descendant from Moses, the Moses, Ten Commands and parting the Red Sea and delivering the law of God Moses. Yet this man pretended that his worshipping of idols was somehow pleasing to God.

And again, to tie this all together, I ask, “What happened?” Why did this happen in the Old Testament? And I add to that question this one: Why do things like this happen in the church today? Why are people who claim to be Christians so easily able to promote things that are in direct violation of the word of God?

The answer is in the sinfulness of the human heart. But the answer is also in the book of Judges.

Judges 17:6 – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

The problem is that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes. The problem is that nobody was standing up and holding to the authority of the written word of God. No king was in the land to tell the people that they are to submit to the law of God. And so, corruption crept in.

And the very same is the problem in the broad swath of people in our land who use the word Christian as a label. If they are not holding to the word of God as the ultimate and final authority for all things related to faith and practice, for all doctrine, for all our lives, they will be just like the people who are doing what is right in their own eyes. That leads to foolish ideas. It leads to people who would bow to a statue and call it worshipping God. It leads to people who would violate the command of God and, with a straight face, declare that violation of the law of God to be the thing that pleases God.

What is your authority for what you believe and how you live? Is it Scripture? Or is your authority your own opinions? Is your authority the word of God or some teacher or collection of teachers? If you wish to be genuinely Christian, you must find your authority in the word of God rightly and clearly interpreted and applied.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Is All Scripture Profitable?

We know that 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. We know that every single verse of the Bible is inspired by God. But we also know that some profit is easier to find than others.

Take for example the book of Joshua. We get pretty excited about the whole conquest of the land stuff. God parts the Jordan River to let the nation cross. God knocks down the walls of Jericho. God judges the nation when they are disobedient. Caleb is a man!

But then things shift. We get chapter after chapter of boundaries and borders. WE get chapters about the doling out of the land. Yes, from time to time we see that one of the 12 tribes is faithless and will not drive out the people from the part of the land they have been promised. But, for the most part, for several pages, all we see are names and places we do not recognize. How is that profitable?

Joshua 21:43-45 – 43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

How those chapters are profitable is summed up right here. God is faithful. Not one word of all God promised the people failed to come to pass. God said he would do it. God did it. And here, Joshua lets us know he did it.

If you were of the people of God in ancient times, perhaps living under the judges or even the early kings, how great would the book of Joshua be to you? How wonderful would it have been to have read to you the real word of God allotting your particular tribe the inheritance that God promised? In honesty, though the first half of Joshua would make a better movie, what would make you celebrate is hearing about God giving your people their land.

And even when we live in a foreign land, oceans away from those boundaries, we should be able to recognize the teaching of the word of God. God is faithful. God makes promises and keeps promises. The word of God, whether law, prophets, or writings, whether gospels, Acts, epistles, or Revelation, all of the word of God is true and trustworthy. What God promises, God does. God is able to do the seemingly impossible. God is faithful to keep his word.

A Command to Meditate

Recently, I had a physician recommend meditation to my daughter. It may or may not surprise you that this led to some interesting discussions about what in the world that doctor was talking about. What does she mean by meditate? Is that practice a good one? Is that something Christians do?

This conversation came back to me when I was reading through Joshua. There, we find a biblical command for Joshua, as a leader of the people of God, to participate in meditation daily. But what God told Joshua to do is far different than what the doctor advised my daughter to do for relaxation before bed.

Joshua 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

God commanded Joshua to daily, day and night, meditate on the law of God. The reason God said this is given. He wants Joshua to know, without any doubt or question, exactly what God wants. He wants Joshua to be able to obey without any form of confusion. This is especially important for Joshua, as his leadership of the nation either toward or away from the way of the Lord will result in the saving of or loss of lives.

How does this compare to the doctor’s advice for my young one? It is a completely different concept. The form of eastern meditation that the physician was suggesting involves taking steps to empty your mind and to remain in that state for a time. Such a plan, from a worldview such as Buddhism, is a religious practice that some non-religious folks have found to be helpful, not unlike yoga. Depending on the source of the meditation philosophy, this could be simply for the sake of calming yourself and quieting your mind, or it can be to slow your spiritual rhythms and recognize your oneness with the universe as a pantheist.

But what is the meditation that God commanded Joshua? Joshua was not to empty his mind, but instead to focus his mind on something significant and true. Joshua was to read and study the law of God. And when that study was done, Joshua, in his quiet moments, was to still let that truth roll around in his mind. Every day, Joshua was to take time out of his busy routine to take his eyes off the day-to-day running of a military camp and to focus it fully on something true and beautiful, the word of God.

So, what do we learn from Joshua for ourselves? While you and I do not sit in a position of authority over a nation, we do have daily lives to live. The choices we make and the actions we take are significant. We can please God or dishonor him based on what we choose to do or how we choose to think. And, thanks be to God, the Lord has given us his perfect and fully complete word to guide us.

Thus, I would argue that it is wise for a Christian to meditate, not by emptying our minds from all thought, but by focusing our thoughts on the word of God. Each day, reading the word of God is good. Each day, studying the word of God so as to rightly understand it and apply it is good. And then, each day, taking time to pray and to simply think on the word of God is good. Let the word of God and the truths therein roll around in your mind. Let it become something you think about even as it drives other distractions out of your brain. That is a form of meditation I can get behind, as it fits what the Lord tells his people.

No, I’m not a fan of the form of meditation her doctor recommended to my daughter. God does not call us to empty minds. Of course, relaxation is fine and helpful in general. Making good choices to quiet ourselves so that we can focus on one, good thing makes sense. But, if we really want to be a people living under a biblical worldview, we need to be hungry, not to empty our minds of all thought, but to fill our minds with the word of God.

Law as a Gift

What do you think of when you think of the law of God? Do you think of something mysterious and perhaps ugly? Do you think of standards that nobody can meet? Do you feel a little repulsed by the bloody sacrifices and odd laws about diet and blended fabrics?

If the law of God is off-putting to you, there is something that is missing in your understanding of what the Lord did for his people. Look at the words that Moses speaks to Israel as he finishes reiterating the law before the people entered into the promised land.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 – 11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

See what Moses emphasizes about the law of God. First, he tells the people that this law is not too hard for them. Stop and read that again. Moses said it is not too hard for them. This law was not impossible for the nation to follow. It is not impossible for a nation to not eat the foods God forbids. It is not impossible for a nation to exercise actual justice. It is not impossible for a nation to refrain from casting and worshiping idols. It is not impossible for a people to obey God’s standards for marriage, sexuality, gender, and family. It is not impossible to refrain from cruelty and to do kindness. It is not impossible to love God and love neighbor.

This requires a quick note. No, God is not saying that the people of the land can live out the kind of righteousness that would make them enter into his favor as individuals under the covenant of works. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The law does expose for us how much less than perfect we are. But, as a nation, as a people, living as a society, these laws are not too hard. And the people who live under these laws will live as a prosperous nation, the people of god, who would eventually birth the Messiah into the world. These same people also have the temple system and its sacrifices which help them to find salvation by God’s grace through faith as they obey his commands to sacrifice animals which point to the ultimate and perfect sacrifice of Jesus. This is how the law is not too hard.

Then Moses points out that the law is not distant. God has not kept his standards a secret in heaven. No mythical hero has to climb a ladder into the clouds to find out how not to incur the wrath of God. Nor does a sacred ship need to be commissioned to traverse the seas to go and find the law. No, the law of God is right there. Moses has told them. The people can speak it. The people can read it. The people can love it in their hearts. The law of God is revealed.

That, dear friends, is a tremendous gift. God giving us the rules is grace. How? What if he did not? What if God told us just to please him, but then he still enacted justice based on his standards? Our natural instinct is not righteousness. Our reflex is not holiness. We would make choices that damn us all because our ways are not the Lord’s ways. That God would give his rules to us is a kindness beyond anything we can imagine. He tells us what he demands. He tells us what is just. He told the Israelites how to sacrifice to have their sins covered. He tells us now how to trust in the sacrifice of Jesus to be forgiven. Those commands, that word, is a treasure worth more than anything else on earth.

With those thoughts in mind, perhaps you will reconsider how you feel when you think of the law of God. It is not too hard. It is not far away. The law of God was given to the people of God to help them to love God and live in his favor. For Christians who have a completed canon of Scripture, we must love the word of God from beginning to end.

God’s Law Shows Us As Wise

Reading Deuteronomy 4, I came across something that grabbed my attention in a very strong way. It is one of those paragraphs that feels wrong in our culture. But it is absolutely perfect.

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 – 5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

When God sent Israel into the land, he told them to keep his law. One reason for them to keep his law is that doing so would show the people of Israel as wise to the watching pagan world around them. People would see a people who were different from them in a thousand ways, and that difference would be notable.

This paragraph stands as an indictment against our modern American culture. God is clear that lost people should see the people of God who live according to the commands of God and find it wise. Lost people should see how we deal with worship, with family, with community, with justice, with charity, and they should be amazed at how orderly and wise is the word of God. It is a black mark against America that we as a nation no longer express respect for the justice and wisdom of the word of God.

And this stands as an indictment against the modern church. We as the people who claim the name of God today in America—I’m here talking about big evangelicalism in general—have failed to cling to the word of God in the face of society. Church after church and organization after organization has let go of the word of God. Bit by bit, standard after standard, people who say they love God are letting Go of God’s word and God’s ways so as to look pleasing to our culture. We fear that our culture will not like us, will not accept us, might even persecute us if we do not show them that we are willing to adopt their ways. And thus we deny that the word of God is clear that the people of God, living in accord with the word of god, will ultimately amaze the watching world with the wisdom of God’s word and ways.

Church, let us love and obey the word of God. Yes, that will make us look different from the world. That is, after all, the point. There is no value in winning someone to a gospel that has let go of the word of God as if that is any sort of gospel at all. We must look, think, and act differently than the world around us. And we reach out to that world with the grace of the God whose word we obey. God will use that word to convict others of sin and draw them to himself. And we must never pretend that following the Lord looks just like the rest of the world, only with a little cross attached somewhere.