Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Beware Dismissing Texts That Don't Apply To You

All Scripture is profitable, but not all Scripture directly applies to or addresses you.

If you are not a Christian and are reading the Bible, the promises of God for his children are really important for you to see, but they are not "yours" unless you are brought by faith into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. They function to show you the blessings of reconciliation with God and thus serve as an indirect, and winsome invitation to come to Jesus.

If, on the other hand, you are a child of God by faith in Jesus and you read the woes pronounced, for example, on Babylon in Habakkuk 2 or on the Pharisees in Luke 11, those warnings of judgment are not "yours" precisely because Jesus bore God's righteous wrath in your place on the cross. There is no woe left to pronounce over your life. You have been rescued from the wrath to come. Nevertheless, that does not mean that those texts are of no value to you.

So, how are they profitable? There are probably quite a few ways to answer that question. Let me just mention one, using a sentence written by David Powlison that I have found immensely helpful ever since the first time I read it. It's found on page 31 of his book titled Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture.
…beware, the defining characteristics of evildoers are always the remnant tendencies and temptations of those who believe. (emphasis original)
Let's take one of those woes from Habakkuk 2 as an example of what I mean.
9 "Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!
10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.
You are not (likely) part of a kingdom that brutally conquers and plunders other nations in order to fund your own security and luxury. And again, if you are in Christ, the blessing of God is pronounced over your life, not the curse. Nevertheless, "the defining characteristics of evildoers are always the remnant tendencies and temptations of those who believe." So, are there still tendencies in you to give way to temptation to selfish gain by evil or unjust means? How about cutting corners on your taxes? How about "little" compromises of integrity at work? Why are you tempted and, if you yield to them, why do you yield to those temptations? Is it not to gain (or protect) your own safety or security or standard of living? Do you see how verse 9 does not directly address you, and yet it does directly address you?

Look at verse 10. It might seem to be very "distant" from your life. It's not. The Babylonians grabbed this evil gain for the sake of their own glory. They were the great Babylon! They thought they were augmenting their glorious name by cutting off many peoples. Oh no. God was going to judge them and ultimately bring them down in shame for their evil "cutting off" work. In trying to save their own lives (pumping up the pride they had in their own power), they actually forfeited their lives. Do you see how profitable this verse is for you? You and I have a tendency and regular temptations to save our lives and our reputations (wanting to pump them up). That's pride. "The defining characteristics of evildoers are always the remnant tendencies and temptations of those who believe." As a Christian, can't you hear the echoes of Jesus's words in Mark 8:34-38 in this verse? If so, when you hear those echoes, Habakkuk 2:10 can serve to expose your shameful pride and lead you to repentance - even though it doesn't "directly" apply to you! The sympathetic vibrations of this verse with that of Mark 8 (among others), help us hear the message of a familiar biblical refrain: The emptiness of pride is hungry and looks to feed on and use others to get filled. The fullness that comes from God's grace humbles us and frees us to give our lives and serve others in love.

Finally, verse 11 probably seems more obscure and "distant" even than verse 10. But oh how helpful it is! Here's what it's saying: If you seek gain by unjust means (v9), to promote your own security and luxury, then you are building a haunted house. Let's say you do cheat on your taxes and receive a couple thousand dollars more in your return than is rightly yours. Then let's say you do a little home improvement with that money. You've really been wanting to do this project. In fact, truth be told, the hope of being able to do the project with your tax return put not a little leverage on your soul to "find" that money as you did your taxes. So what ends up happening with that lovely little home improvement project that you looked forward to enjoying? It will become a silent witness to your compromise. It will cry out against you.

Beware dismissing texts that "don't apply" to you. They are closer to home than you think. 

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