One Word

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
~ Isaiah 9:8

Terrible advice preachers give

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible every day. With a plan, you could read the entire Bible this year. But the Bible is such a big book. You’re likely to get started and then get discouraged and quit. That won’t do. Everybody is pressed for time. In our parents’ day, the preachers would suggest you read one verse and meditate on that, but we don’t have time in our modern day for such old fashioned advice. We need something much more instant.

What you need is your one word for the year. Find a word and let that be your meditation starter. Some people’s word might be grace, faith, or prayer. Those words might be a little ambitious. My word for the year is “and.” That’s right, “and.” Think about it. The word and is spread throughout the entire Bible. Open to any page and you will find it quickly. It’s versatile but also meaningful. Think about it. The word and is used to join things together, so that means adding. Each day I can be moved thinking about all the things God has added to me and my life. What a powerful word and is!

That’s my word. You need to find your word for the year. It would be counterproductive to have to spend a lot of time on it, so find something short and easy. You don’t want to pick a word you’re not sure how to spell and have to look up in a dictionary to know what it means, like propitiation or something. Pick a good word and the whole Bible is open before you. For instance, this morning I opened randomly to Acts 8:8: “And there was great joy in that city.” There’s my word. I meditated for forty-five seconds on how God is going to add joy to my life. It was rich. You should’ve been there.

Just One Verse

Yes, I’ve been exaggerating, perhaps being facetious, to make a point. I only say this because some of my esteemed colleagues occasionally remind me that many people “don’t get it.” So, let’s seriously address the matter at hand and see if I may warm to my subject.

It is common this time of year for preachers to talk about daily Bible reading, daily devotions, daily quiet time, or some other terms for daily practices. I am glad to add my voice to those encouragements, but I also want to warn you against terrible advice. I regularly hear preachers recommending that you read just one verse every day and then meditate on that verse to see what the Holy Spirit may give you from it. They usually suggest reading just one verse is better than reading by some plan or schedule where you read a few chapters and tick a box. That is just plain bad advice.

First, let’s deal with the obvious. The Bible has no command about the daily reading of the Bible. We are not commanded to read the entire Bible in one year or two years. We are not commanded to read just one verse every day. We are not commanded to read the Bible according to any particular plan. We should be able to agree that any attempt to set some rule about Bible reading that Christians must keep is legalistic. If that’s the case then, why would reading one verse to get something out of it be bad advice?

Let us Reason Together

Now let’s get to reasons reading just one verse is such terrible advice.

1) It consoles and encourages laziness in the Christian life and pursuit of holiness in sanctification. Yeah, I said it. All of the Bible is God’s breathed out word of revelation to us (2 Timothy 3:16), and all of it is profitable for us to bring us to completion for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). We are born again through that word (1 Peter 1:23) and sanctified through that word (John 17:17). Every word is true and faithful (Proverbs 30:5) and every word converts and gives wisdom (Psalm 19:7-11).

The idea of reading just one verse minimalizes the Bible’s self-testimony. If all of it is good, then 0.003% of it is good. That is the percentage of one verse out of the total number of verses in the Bible. If you think you are going to read the entire Bible by reading just one verse a day, then know that it will take you over 85 years to read the whole Bible. I’ve heard every excuse there is. You have 15 minutes. Read your Bible.

2) This advice sets a bad example for the congregation. I fear that many preachers who recommend reading just one verse to get something out of it are actually recommending their own practice of sermon preparation. They read a verse or two and rattle them around in their head to see what comes out. It’s how they come up with sermons and then blame the Holy Spirit for it, as if that is ever conveyed in the Bible. Read the Pastoral Epistles. Nowhere does Paul suggest such a scheme. Every word he gives Timothy and Titus informs them and charges them about the hard work they have to do to preach and teach (1 Timothy 1:3-4, 18-19; 3:1; 4:6-16; 5:17-18; 6:11-16; 2 Timothy 1:6, 13-14; 2:1-7, 14-18, 23-26; 3:14-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:9-14; 2:1, 7-8, 15; 3:8-11).

3) This advice teaches you to misread, misinterpret, and overall mishandle the word of God. The Bible was not written for you to read one verse to get something out of it. The Bible was written as one book that is made up of sixty-six books. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses. The Bible began to be written down over 1,400 years before Jesus was born and was completed around 70 years after he died. It was another twelve centuries before the Bible books were divided into chapters and another three centuries before those chapters were divided into verses. That means the verse divisions have only been around a little longer than the original King James translation, which is a little over 400 years old.

Chapters and verses do provide a good reference and convenience for study, but they have also done much harm. I have to agree with Charles Spurgeon about the trouble with such divisions:

I feel vexed with the fellow who chopped the Bible up into chapters; I forget his name just now, and I am sure it is not worth recollecting. I have heard that he did the most of his carving of the new Testament, between London and Paris, and rough work he made of it. Surely he was chaptering the Gospel of Matthew while he was crossing the Channel, for he has divided it in such queer places.

(From the sermon, “Harvest Men Wanted,” preached August 17, 1873, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.)

When Paul wrote the letter to the Church at Colosse, he never intended them to read one verse and see what they could come up with. He intended the entire letter to be read in that church and other churches as well (Colossians 4:16). The Bible was given in a progressive revelation over time (Hebrews 1:1). That progression means continuity and also movement toward completion, which has come with the first advent of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2). God has given us a complete revelation and he means for us to read it all, but more than this, one cannot interpret the Bible correctly without reading all of it.

For example: how are we to understand Daniel 9:2? There Daniel is praying for understanding of the seventy years prophecy in Jeremiah. Daniel did not read one verse and then meditate on it. He read, considered, studied, and understood the scrolls, which were the extant Old Testament Scriptures. He particularly understood the duration of the promised desolations as seventy years from Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah specifically mentions the seventy years in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and Jeremiah 29:10, but these “verses” are not all that’s being considered. He referred to the “desolations” of Jerusalem, which Jeremiah also spoke of in Jeremiah 7:34; 22:5; 25:9, 11, 18; 44:2, 6, 22; et al.

But that’s not all. Jeremiah did not originate the prophecy of desolation. When Jeremiah wrote of desolations of Israel, he was tapping into a judgment motif that runs through the Scriptures. Over 100 years before, Isaiah wrote of these desolations (Isaiah 49:19; 51:3; 52:9; 58:12; 61:4; 64:11). This motif occurs in other Prophets’ writings and in the Psalms. It actually originates in the covenant curses at Sinai in Leviticus 26:31-33 and is repeated in the covenant rehearsal with the second generation of Israel in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

You can’t just pick up and read Daniel 9:2 and get something out of it, at least not something accurate. Daniel is connected to the books before it and after it. Everyone of those “verses” have an original context that must be understood. It is simply not possible to correctly handle the word of God without handling all of it.

Another Word

Reading one verse to get something out of it is exactly the approach and practice of Bible reading that has us in the mess of biblical illiteracy we are in today. It ought to be obvious in books like Hebrews and Romans that they are filled with Old Testament references and you cannot read just one verse and properly understand the book’s message, but that’s true of the rest of the Bible as well.

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible daily. Don’t take bad advice. Read the whole Bible. You can do it. You won’t regret it.

Knocking on Your Door

If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
~ 2 John 1:10

What are we opening the door to?

I‘ve had cultists at my door. I’ve had conversations with them on the front porch. I’ve had cultists come up to me in public places, like the gas pump. Doctrine and practice varies from group to group, but nearly all seem to have certain foundations in common.

If you have talked much with cultists, you know that talking with them can be frustrating for an evangelical Christian who holds to historic orthodox Christianity. They use the same or similar terms that you do, but you soon realize those terms differ in meaning coming from them. Some claim to be a part of Christianity and can certainly sound like it in some ways. Some even use the Bible to a certain extent.

The term cult can be offensive and some have sought out other designations, but there’s no need for such quibbling. Classically, a cult is a religious group or movement whose views on the nature and being of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and consequently their views on the gospel are inconsistent or contradictory to the sixty-six books of God-inspired, written revelation. Various groups may differ in how or where they contradict the Bible, but have in common that they contradict it. They may have any number of problems beyond this, but this is the foundational error they tend to have in common.

A Question of Authority

This brings us to the crucial foundational issue we Christians have with cultic groups. The issue is authority. By authority I mean, who or what is the ultimate determiner of what we should believe, teach, and practice. For historic orthodox Christianity, the Bible is the supreme and final authority of all faith and practice. The Bible is the revelation of God written down by men who were inspired by God and complete in sixty-six books.

What does it mean for the Bible to be the supreme and final authority for all faith and practice? The Bible is God’s self-revelation, which is necessary because he is the Creator and we are the created. The distinction between Creator and creature is such that we could never come to the knowledge of God without him revealing himself to us. This means the Bible is the sole authority for the knowledge of God and not our thoughts, feelings, or experiences. This also means that nothing outside the closed canon of written Scripture informs our understanding of God in his nature and being and what he requires from the people he created.

Orthodox Christians hold the Bible as such and clash with cultists at this foundational level because, no matter how much they may refer to the Bible, cults recognize authorities outside of the closed canon of written Scripture. Most cults trace back to a founder who was a charismatic leader and self-styled prophet who claimed to receive further revelation. Their revelations may have been oral or written, but those groups are following supposed revelations beyond the closed canon of written Scripture, which also tends to reinterpret that Scripture. Cults recognize an authority beyond the true prophets and apostles who God inspired to write what we have in the sixty-six books.

Closer Than You Think

In this context, it is easy to understand why those conversations can be frustrating. Orthodox Christians reject authorities and revelations outside of the closed canon of written Scripture, and that is why it is so concerning that those same Christians will allow it in other contexts. Let me explain.

Preachers who would oppose cultists for appealing to authorities outside the closed canon of written Scripture will in turn allow it in the pulpit. Even in small, conservative Baptist churches that have orthodox confessions of faith regarding Scripture, the gospel, sovereign grace, the local church, etc. will regularly have the preacher preach “what God laid on his heart.” Preachers get in pulpits and say God gave them the sermon they are about to preach, God told them to preach this or that, God spoke to them in a dream or vision to give them a sermon, or they have a direct or inspired message from God to preach.

If a preacher is preaching a message that was given to him in some of the above such ways from God, even if he uses the Bible to support what he is saying, he is informing the doctrine and practice of the congregation by something outside the closed canon of written Scripture. You will find eerily similar proclamations from the founders of cultic groups. That same preacher would oppose a cultist for believing and teaching something outside of the closed canon of written Scripture, as he should. However, he will get in his own pulpit or the conference pulpit and bring a message that he plainly says originated outside of the closed canon of written Scripture while he was meditating, sleeping, driving, working, or doing something else.

If the Bible and history have taught us anything, it is that going beyond the closed canon of written Scripture always leads to error. It may take a generation or two to become full blown heresy, but it will get there. I don’t understand why a preacher would reject such from a cultist but allow such in the pulpit. I don’t understand why church members are allowing such in the pulpit. I don’t understand why somebody isn’t asking where in the closed canon of written Scripture are messages outside of it promised, expected, or condoned. Why is the preacher’s dreams and visions allowed, but not those of the cult prophet? Why are we opening that door?

Stand on the Rock

Christians are concerned about cultists and how to reach them, as we should be. The goal should never be to win an argument, but a soul. The problem many Christians and churches have is that while attempting to evangelize the cultist, they stand on the same shifting sand of outside authorities with them. The real need of the hour is to stand on the rock of the closed canon of written Scripture. The Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice cannot simply be an article of faith. It must be the absolute commitment of our hearts before God and the only rock on which we will stand. Don’t be satisfied to be descending into the quicksand at a slower rate than the cultist you’re trying to save.

Piping Hot and Served Daily

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
~ James 3:5

A stack of hot takes and the syrup, oh so good.

A hot word has dropped on your ear. What should you do? You heard that somebody said or did something, somewhere, sometime. In other words, someone spilled the piping hot tea. What do you do with that? You have options—ignore it, speak about it to somebody, speak about it to a group of somebodies, like in a church, post about it online in specific language, post about it online in vague language, or go directly to the person and ask about it. I realize that last option is so extreme it’s seldom exercised but just know it’s in the toolbox.

Social media have given us an unprecedented ability to speak out early and often about anything and everything. Our words can reach the uttermost parts of the earth and the International Space Station in seconds. Such ability is powerful and very new. People have adapted quickly to using it. In our new age, people can speak about things and also think they should speak about everything. It’s as if we’ve been endowed with the inalienable right to speak about everything by the creators of the internet. To hear something is to feel the obligation that we must say something. Should we say something? How do we decide?

I want to try to keep this as general as possible, because a host of factors affects what you might do with or about something you’ve heard. I also want to focus on speaking out publicly about what you’ve heard someone said or did. I want to take a flowchart approach to walk through this biblically. If we consider the biblical principles of justice, we find a sure guide to when is a time to speak and when is a time to keep silent.

Mere Information

All statements come irreducibly to one of two conditions—true or false. I realize words can be true or false in different ways. Something can be partly true, where some information is accurate and some is not. Something could simply be a mistake and, though false, not malicious. I don’t want to get all knotted up in those variations. Distilled to the essence, words are either true or false. This is the best starting point because we cannot get any further back of it.

I can’t possibly cover all variations so we are going to consider the two primary conditions of true and false. So you have received information and the statement is either true of false. Let’s begin.

Condition 1: The Statement is True

The first condition means that you have heard a report of something someone said or did. This doesn’t mean it’s a word-for-word quote, but that it is an accurate representation of the facts. The person(s) in question really did say or do as reported. Remember you are receiving second-hand information, at best. You have been told by someone that someone else said or did something. Old covenant law required the truthfulness of a report to be established with the accused given opportunity to speak to his own case (Deuteronomy 19:17-19), which principle is a continued expectation of righteous judgment in the New Testament (Matthew 18:16; 1 Timothy 5:19). Hearsay was inadmissible (Leviticus 5:1). Failure to establish the truthfulness of a report is to be unjust, a gossiper (Leviticus 19:16; Psalms 15:3; Proverbs 11:13; 20:19, 27; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:5), and perhaps an unrighteous witness (Exodus 23:1). In common law, we refer to that as due process.

Next, we must consider if the meaning of the report is understood. Let’s say a friend comes to you after church and says, “I just heard the pastor tell the deacon, ‘Get out of here.'” This is an accurate report of what was said, but what does it mean? From this brief report, you might conclude the pastor was angry with the deacon and maybe they had been arguing. You would easily come to that conclusion if the friend delivered the report with a concerned look and tone. However, the friend didn’t know, or tell you, that the pastor and the deacon had been joking around and the pastor laughingly told him, “Get out of here.” If words and actions are reported accurately but the meaning is misunderstood, then there has been a misrepresentation. Misrepresentation can be unintentional and would be folly (Proverbs 18:2, 13, 17). Intentional misrepresentation is a false witness (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 25:18). This goes back to the need to establish truthfulness.

Accurately understood words and actions have to be evaluated according to Scripture. Do they agree or contradict Scripture? If they agree, you commend them, and if they contradict, you condemn them. Now we are ready for one last consideration before we speak to the report: is it your business or place to speak to it? If it is your business or place to speak to it, you are being faithful to do so (Galatians 6:1; Titus 3:10; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). If it isn’t your business or place to speak to it, you should hold your peace and not be a busybody in other men’s affairs (Proverbs 11:13; 17:9; 1 Peter 4:15).

Condition 2: The Statement is False

The second condition is a false report. The statement you heard is not true. In the case of a false report, the teller either knows it’s false or doesn’t know it’s false. If the informer doesn’t know it is false, he is sharing gossip and slandering someone. He may not have malicious intent, but his carelessness marks him a fool (Proverbs 18:2, 13, 17). You take part in his folly by sharing it and add fuel to a destructive fire (Proverbs 26:20-21). If someone knowingly shares a false report, he is a liar, deliberate slanderer, and sower of discord (Proverbs 6:16-19). Speaking to it in this case makes you participate in his sins. It means you are putting your hand in to raise a false report (Exodus 23:1).

Conclusion

The truthfulness of a report is not enough of itself to justify to your speaking to it publicly, but established truthfulness is absolutely required if speaking to it publicly. Further, we should remember our words should always be governed by wisdom as taught extensively in the book of Proverbs. I will end with a short dose of wisdom for our words in a list I have adapted from Kidner’s Proverbs commentary.

  1. Words are powerful for good or bad (Proverbs 12:18; 16:24; 18:21; 29:5).
  2. Words are cheap, easily manipulated, but cannot change reality (Proverbs 14:23; 24:12; 26:23-28; 29:19).
  3. Words should be honest and few (10:19; 16:13; 17:28; 24:24-26).
  4. Words should be thoughtful and well considered (Proverbs 10:20; 15:2, 23, 28; 16:1; 25:11).
  5. Words should be calm and calming (Proverbs 15:1; 17:27; 18:13, 17; 25:15).

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