Be Diligent in Faith and Truth
Copyright © 1978
Indian Hills Community Church
2 Peter 3:15, 16
The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh on Nov. 24, 1996
One focus of Peter's attention in 2 Peter is the return of the Lord, particularly in chapters 2 and 3 in which Peter deals with false teachers who deny the reality of the second coming of Jesus Christ. False teachers scoff at the concept that Christ will come again and that He will deal in judgment. False teachers often teach that since God is a God of love, the focus of teaching should be on what God wants to do in peoples' lives today rather than on what the Bible says about the future and scaring people by teaching about sin and judgment and hell.
The real motivation of false teachers in not wanting to confront the reality of the second coming of Christ, however, is that they want to avoid and deny the concept of judgment. They don't want to face the reality that there is coming a day when every single person will stand before the judgment throne of Jesus Christ Himself. By denying the reality of the second coming of Christ, they negate the concept of judgment which is associated with the second coming. In doing away with the concept of judgment and the consequences of sin, there is no longer a fear of indulging in sin, and people are free to turn their attention from the future to the present and to turn their attention from God to themselves. They are free to concentrate on self-indulgent thoughts such as: "What would I want; what would I enjoy; what would please me; what would make my life most meaningful today and how do I get the pleasure of the moment." False teachers indulge themselves and encourage others to follow their example.
In Peter's second letter to the churches of Asia Minor, Peter has assured his readers that Jesus Christ is coming again. He has argued that if a person believes in the events surrounding the first coming of Christ, then that person will believe what the Scripture says regarding His second coming to earth. In other words, a person who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He became a man, walked this earth, was crucified on the cross and raised from the dead after three days in order that He might pay the penalty for sin, will also believe in the second coming of Christ. There may be some disagreements on details regarding the second coming, but if a person is truly a child of God who understands the word of God, he will recognize that Jesus Christ is coming again.
There will be two events of crucial importance -- a deliverance of God's people from sin and suffering, and the judgment of condemnation and sentencing to an eternal hell for all those who do not believe in Jesus Christ. People who deny the reality of the events of the second coming are simply manifesting the fact that they have never come to understand and believe the reality of the events of the first coming of Jesus Christ.
Peter has focused on two points in connection with the second coming of Christ and its impact upon a believer's life. The first point is that a believer will be characterized by a passion for holiness of life. If a person really believes that Jesus Christ is coming again, it will have a dramatic impact on the way he lives and what he does with his life today. In 2 Peter 3:14 Peter wrote, "Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things..." -- the second coming of Christ, the deliverance of God's people, the judgment of this world by fire -- "...be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless..." In verse 11 he wrote, "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness." He places emphasis on spotless and blameless, holy conduct, and godliness, which reveals that this is to be a driving passion in the hearts of those who anticipate the return of their Lord and Savior.
In verse 14, the word translated be diligent is in the form of a forceful command. It is in the aorist imperative. There is to be a zeal or a passion in the pursuit of holiness. Peter started his letter in the same way in 2 Peter 1:5, "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence..." And in verse 10, "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble." There is a passion for godliness and a passion for holiness in the heart of one who has been born again. That doesn't mean a believer is perfect or that holiness is perfectly manifested in his life, but the believer has a heart that pursues holiness and desires the manifestation of holiness in his life if he is truly born again.
1. Jesus Has Patience for the Unsaved
The second point is that there will be a passion for the salvation of the lost. In 2 Peter 3:15 Peter wrote, "and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation..." He had alluded to this in verse 9, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." Peter makes clear that God has provided this time leading up to the return of Christ as a time of salvation. This is the time of God's grace, the time of God's gracious invitation to come and partake of the water of life without cost. Come, be saved. Believers need to take advantage of these days of opportunity to reach out to the lost with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In John 4, Jesus addresses this issue with His disciples. Jesus is passing through Samaria with His disciples, and the disciples go ahead to secure food. Jesus enters into a conversation with a Samaritan woman and the disciples come back. Jesus confronts them because their first concern is food. They come back and see Jesus talking with this woman, and they urge Him to eat in verse 31. Jesus is talking with this woman about the eternal destiny of her soul and all the disciples can think about is that it's time to eat. Jesus says in verse 32, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." The disciples discuss among themselves what He has been eating while they were gone and how or where He got it. Jesus says to them in verse 34, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work." Does that mean Jesus didn't need to eat physical food? No, He did need food. What it means is that it was more important to Jesus to accomplish God's will in this life and do His work than to eat physical food which sustains life. Then He focuses their attention, "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?...'" He talks to them about a current time. In four months it would be time for the harvest. But He wants them to look at the spiritual issue. "...Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life..." He is pointing out what really matters. Lift up your eyes. Look around you. This is a day of salvation. It is a day of harvest. Don't miss the harvest.
In Nebraska, harvest time has just finished. Articles are being written in the newspaper depicting what a relief it is for the farmers when they get the harvest done. Everything else is set aside, and life is dominated by that one goal -- to get the harvest in while it is ripe. That is the way Jesus said believers need to be today. It is harvest time. The other things that need to be done -- food and clothing -- can be obtained along the way. What really matters is doing the will of God and accomplishing His work. These are days of salvation. Lift up your eyes and look around. It is easy to be like the disciples, to get caught up in the things of this life.
Matthew 9:36-38: "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.'" There are opportunities to reach souls, and there are just not enough workers to get the job done. There are people to be saved, but the workers are few. This is the sense of urgency, along with a sense of compassion, that drove our Lord and Savior. He had a compassion for the needy and an urgency to seize every opportunity to reach out and carry the message of life to the lost.
John 4 and Matthew 9 reflect what Jesus did during His earthly life. Even in the book of Revelation, which was written after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the message of Christ, His compassion and His urgency has not changed. It is the closing message from Christ to His church. Revelation 22:17: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come...'" The Spirit is the Holy Spirit of God. The bride is the church of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God is working in the church of Jesus Christ to give forth a message. "And let the one who hears say, 'Come.'" The bride gives forth the message, "Come." Anyone who responds to that message in the invitation given through the Spirit responds by saying, "Come." "...And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." Note the context of this in verse 20: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." The context is that the Lord Jesus is coming again. What is His church to be about? It is to be an instrument through which the Holy Spirit is inviting men, women and young people to come. This is the day of salvation. Come. You are thirsty. You can have the water of life. It's free. Come. Partake.
2. Believers Must Have Passion for the Lost
Those who really believe in the second coming of Christ are driven by a passion that God's holiness be produced in their lives. They also are driven by a passion for the salvation of the lost. If a person really believes that Jesus is coming again, there will be an urgency and a diligence in the pursuit of these matters. It is easy to think, "I want the lost to be saved, but I am busy today. Maybe tomorrow. There is time." The message of Scripture is that there may not be as much time as you think. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of opportunity. No one knows what will sweep through his life tomorrow. One of the reasons this message has such a minimal impact today is that it is delivered without any urgency about it. What if a messenger from heaven, like the hand in the book of Daniel, wrote right across the ceiling, The Lord is coming January first. You have approximately one month to reach the 200,000 people of your city with the message of Jesus Christ. Would you alter what you are doing to get the job done?
Sometimes believers pray for an open door to share the gospel with the lost, but they don't recognize when the door opens. My definition of an open door is a believer with an unbeliever. As a believer, you are a servant of the living God. You are His representative in the presence of one on the way to an eternal hell, one who needs to hear the message of eternal life. Often when someone prays for an open door, he wants an opportunity to share the gospel in a context where no one will get upset, where he is sure the listener won't get mad. Do you know what would happen if believers decided to turn themselves loose in the power of the Spirit to reach this city in a month? They would offend more people than you could count. Believers would be more unpopular than they have ever been. People all over the city would be saying, "The nerve. We were having lunch, and he brought up the issue of sin." Or, "They had the audacity to tell me I am going to hell." Or, "They think they are the only people who have the truth." But what happened to Jesus Christ? After three years, the people couldn't take it. They crucified Him.
What happened to Paul and the other apostles whenever they came to a city? Paul says they were considered the dregs of society. They were rejected, persecuted, scoffed at. Why? They were not delivering a popular message. Believers need to settle whether they really believe that Jesus Christ is coming again,. They have to decide whether they believe that women, men, young people -- even some of our own children -- are lost and on their way to hell. Can I be indifferent and say, "Well, maybe tomorrow we will talk about it?" If our parents are on their way to hell, do I think, "Well, maybe we will talk about it next week?" Is there no sense of urgency? Do I really believe He is coming again? If I do, then I want to do all I can to have His character developed in me. I want to do all I can to reach the lost who need to hear.
In 2 Peter 3, Peter supports his message by reminding the readers that this is the same thing Paul wrote in his letter. He also reminds them that in Paul's letter there are some hard things to understand and that the false teachers twist and distort the message. The result is their own destruction. These are matters of eternal importance and significance. 2 Peter3:15: "...just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you." Peter is indicating that what he is writing about holiness and about salvation is the same thing Paul wrote.
3. Peter Bears No Grudge After Rebuke
Peter is open and honest. In the next verse, he is going to tell us that Paul wrote some things that are hard to understand. There is no cover-up on Peter's part. Peter unashamedly refers to Paul as "our beloved brother," the one who has this special wisdom from God, the one who has written things that we have to study hard to understand. This is the same Paul who publicly rebuked Peter, and these readers are aware of that. In 1 Peter 1:1, Peter writes that he is addressing this letter to Jewish believers scattered throughout the five provinces of Asia Minor. One of the provinces listed there is Galatia. 2 Peter is a follow-up letter to follow up to the same people, according to 2 Peter 3:1. It was in the letter of Paul to the Galatians -- Galatians 2:11-14 -- that Paul mentioned he had to publicly rebuke Peter for his inconsistency with true, biblical doctrine. But there are no hard feelings on Peter's part. Peter was corrected for doing wrong, but he still refers to Paul as a beloved brother. No grudges. No hard feelings. This is a reminder that Peter was indeed a godly man who desired to be used of God and had a great appreciation for Paul even though Paul had to rebuke him.
In 2 Peter 3:15, Peter indicates that Paul has written "...according to the wisdom given him..." This concept is important because of where Peter is going with the next verse. Paul was writing not from greater intellectual capacities, not because he was a better scholar, but because he had been supernaturally gifted by God with information and insight from which we need to learn. Paul himself often referred to the grace that was given to him as an apostle. God bestowed unmerited favor upon Paul in making him a recipient of revelation from God. Paul's ministry was to explain that revelation as He gave it. It was the grace of God given to Paul.
4. Gospel Is Inspired Word of God
In Galatians 2, a letter that Peter's readers are familiar with, Paul refers in verse 9 to the grace that was bestowed on him: "...and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John..." James, Peter -- who also was called Cephas -- and John recognized the grace that was given to Paul. They understood that Paul had been designated for God's ministry and that he had received the gospel from God. Paul also referred to that in Galatians 1:11: "...the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."
In Ephesians, another letter written by Paul to a church in Asia Minor, the area to which Peter is writing, Paul mentions this gift of grace in chapter 3, verse 2: "if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you;" and in verse 7, "of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power." Peter refers to it in 2 Peter 3:15 as "...the wisdom given..." Peter was saying that Paul's insight and understanding was a gift from God. This gift was information God had entrusted to him.
The end of 2 Peter 3:15 implies that Peter was familiar with the letter or letters that Paul had written to these churches to which Peter is now writing : "just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you." Since Peter is writing to believers in the five provinces of Asia Minor, it is possible to narrow down which of Paul's letters he is probably talking about -- Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians. These three are the letters in the New Testament that were written to believers in Asia Minor. Galatia, Colossea and Ephesus are all in Asia Minor. It is not clear which of these letters Peter is referring to. He just says Paul wrote to you. It could be a reference to one of the letters; it could be a reference to all of the letters. The point is that Paul wrote to you, and in each of those letters Paul deals with issues like Peter is now dealing with in 2 Peter -- the importance of godly living, the importance of understanding God's grace and the obligations of God's people in light of God's grace.
In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter goes beyond the letters Paul wrote to Asia Minor, "as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things..." Peter wrote 2 Peter somewhere around 66, 67, or 68 A.D. Peter indicates that he was already familiar with many of the letters of the Apostle Paul. Some people take this to mean that Peter did not write this letter, that it was written later in time by someone who used Peter's name. But it simply means that Peter had already recognized at this early point in time that Paul's writings were Scripture. In fact, Peter had already pointed this out in 2 Peter 3:2 when he encouraged the people to pay attention to "...the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets..." -- that is the Old Testament Scripture -- "...and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles." Peter writes that the apostles were speaking the words of Christ, so those words are authoritative Scripture. Paul's writings, not only in the letter or letters he wrote to those in Asia Minor but in all his letters, have this emphasis on God's salvation and its transforming work in the lives of those who truly believe.
Colossians is another letter to believers in Asia Minor, those at Colossea. In Colossians 4:16, Paul writes, "When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans..." Laodicea is also a city in Asia Minor. In Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, the seven churches of Asia Minor are addressed. These are the same churches Peter is addressing in the same area. Note that Paul directs the Colossians to pass the letter along to Laodicea: "...and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea." The Lord intended that these writings of the apostles be circulated among the churches, and the various churches would learn from them.
There is no record of any letter from Paul addressed to the Laodiceans. It may be a letter that has not been preserved as part of the Bible. There is also the possibility that the letter to the Laodiceans is a reference to the letter today known as the letter to the Ephesians. Many of the manuscripts of the letter to the Ephesians do not have an addressee in the letter. The word Ephesians is not in the manuscript. Some understand it to be a circular letter, similar to Peter's letter, that it was circulated among the churches of Asia Minor. Both Peter and Paul intended for their letters to be circulated among the churches, and so they were.
5. We Are to Understand Difficult Passages
In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter continues: "as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand..." It appears that these things refers to what he has been writing about, verses 14 and 15 in particular. It could probably be broadened to include all that Paul said about salvation and the second coming of Christ as the culmination of our salvation, the outworking of that salvation in holiness today and the message of salvation as it is conveyed to others. But Peter has particularly been concerned about godliness and purity and holiness because of the false teachers and their corruption, which also is a dominant emphasis by Paul in Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians.
Peter says that in these letters there are some things which are hard to understand. Peter does not put on an air of superiority; he openly states there are some things hard to understand. He also makes it clear that we are responsible to understand it. It is necessary for us to understand it, but to study what is written will take work, along with a submissive attitude and a reliance on the Holy Spirit to understand it. Those things are lacking in the false teachers.
What is it that is hard to understand in what Paul wrote? Sometimes we as Christians like to give the idea that it's not hard to understand the Bible. But parts of the Bible are easier to understand and parts of the Bible are harder to understand. Peter is probably referring to the whole concept of salvation by grace that Paul dealt with so extensively in the letter to the Galatians, including the confusion of the relationship of the Law to the relationship of God's grace and how that works out in salvation and then how you live the Christian life. Do you begin by the Spirit and then grow by keeping the law? No. It is hard to understand just how this all works out. There are still books written on the relationship of the law and grace, and people are still studying it and trying to sort it out. It is not a concept that is easily grasped. What does it mean to be free from the law? Am I now free to sin? No, that's not what it means. What is Christian liberty and how do you use your liberty? All these issues are dealt with in Galatians. Ephesians 5 also talks about godliness in life, and in Colossians he gets into the same thing in chapter 3. The concepts of grace, law, liberty and license take some study. You have to be serious about the Scripture or you will be confused and mishandle the Scripture.
6. Interpretations Distorted by Unstable Teachers
2 Peter 3:16 continues: "...which the untaught and unstable distort...." The untaught and unstable use the hard things Paul has written because the hard things are the easiest to twist since at first reading you may not grasp what is meant. To be untaught means not to have been properly instructed in the way to interpret the Scripture. The untaught do not have the proper method of interpreting the Scripture. Note that the problem is not with Paul's writings. He has written some things that are hard to understand, but the problem is that these people are untaught. They have not learned how to properly interpret the Scripture. They are without grounding in the truth, so they are unstable. They are afloat.
In 2 Peter 2:14, this statement was made regarding the followers of false teachers: "having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls..." The unstable souls are those who aren't grounded in the truth. They aren't saved yet, and perhaps there are some new believers who haven't been firmly grounded in truth. Peter is convinced, as we saw in previous studies, that his readers are grounded. 2 Peter 1:12: "Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you." The word translated established is the same word translated unstable in 2 Peter 3:16, but the negative is put on the front of it to make it unstable, unestablished. "I am writing to you who are 'stable' in the truth." But the false teachers who are twisting the Scriptures have not been taught the proper method of handling the Scriptures, and they are not grounded and anchored in the truth, so they distort and twist the writings of Paul.
The word distort is a good translation. It is a word that means to twist. It is a word that was used when someone was tortured on the rack, and his body was twisted and distorted. The untaught and unstable take the Scriptures and twist them and distort them. It is important to remember that false teachers use the Scriptures. When I mention a false teacher by name, I am often approached by someone who defends him by saying, "Well, he uses the Scriptures." But that is one of the characteristics of false teachers within the church. They use the Scriptures, but they are misusing or abusing them. They twist and distort not only Paul's writings, but with the rest of the Scriptures as well.
Today there are many examples of false teachers who twist and distort the Scripture. Claiming they can do supernatural things, they quote a few verses and promise that if you send in money you will be blessed. They twist and distort the Scripture, but some people say, "He's using the Scripture." If you don't do your homework, you will be among the untaught, the unstable, and you will be susceptible to those who are twisting and wrenching the Scriptures -- not just Paul's writings, but the rest of Scripture as well. Peter had no qualms about putting the writings of Paul on the level with the Old Testament prophets. The word translated as the Scriptures -- the writings -- is only used in the New Testament of the Old Testament Scriptures and that which God has revealed. When Peter says that the untaught do with Paul's writings the same thing as they do with the rest of Scripture, he is putting Paul's writings on the same level as the Old Testament Scriptures. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul claims, "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."
7. Apostles Knew They Spoke for God
Ephesians 3:3-5 conveys the same message: "that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." A revelation was given to Paul of the mystery regarding the church that God was creating. Sometimes we are given the idea that these apostles didn't know they were writing Scripture; they didn't know this was really the word of God and that they thought they were just writing letters. But that is not true. Paul knew he was speaking forth the very word of God. When he wrote it down, it was the word of God. 1 Thessalonians 2:13: "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." That's a clear statement. There is no middle ground. Either Paul and Peter are arrogant liars and deceivers or they are penning the word of God. Paul knew it from the beginning. When he preached at Thessalonica, he knew he was giving them the word that God had given to him. It is a word that is powerful. It's alive. It's sharper than any two-edged sword, and it works in the lives of those who believe.
John, who was writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, knew that what he penned in the book of Revelation was the exact message from God. Revelation 22:18-19: "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book." In other words, anyone who adds to or takes away from the word of God is going to hell. He won't partake of the tree of life, and he won't be part of the New Jerusalem where the redeemed will be. That means he will be in the lake of fire which burns forever and ever. That's how serious this matter is. You don't add anything to His word. You don't take anything away from His word. If you do, you are manifesting that you don't belong to the living God and that you are on your way to hell.
The false teachers twist and distort the word of God. They are untaught. They are unstable. Just as John said in Revelation, Peter in 2 Peter 3:16 says, "...the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." They corrupt and distort the message of salvation, and they do it to their own destruction because in twisting that message and distorting it, they have rejected the only way of salvation. You can be duped by a terrible lie, but you are still duped by a lie. For example, say you had lung cancer and someone came up to you and said, "If you will smoke more cigarettes and inhale more deeply, that smoke will have a healing effect on your lungs." He might be very good at convincing you and martial all kinds of medical-sounding terminology so that some would be deceived, but it still is not true. No matter how convincing false teachers are, no matter how eloquent, no matter how much Scripture they use, they are still distorting the truth of Scripture. They are not interpreting it properly. When you twist the word of God, you do it to your own destruction. The word of God is the word of life. Romans 10:17 says, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:23, "...for you have been born again...through the living and enduring word of God." This is a matter of eternal consequence and significance. The word of God must be handled accurately.
People sometimes accuse me of being a nit-picker with the word of God. From the passages just discussed, don't you think you ought to be a nit-picker? If you add anything to the prophecy of Revelation or take anything away, you are on your way to hell. I want to nit-pick Revelation in the sense of handling it carefully. These false teachers twist and distort the word of God to their own destruction. I want to nit-pick Peter's writings, Paul's writings, and the rest of Scripture. That does not mean everybody has to understand it the way I do. I do not have perfect understanding. But it is important to approach the word of God reverently and seriously, and with a determination to understand it properly. Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." It takes diligence in order to handle the word of God accurately and to be approved by Him.
8. Holy Spirit Prepares Heart for Knowledge
To do this, you will have to have the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2 says that the natural man, the man apart from the Spirit of God, cannot understand the things of God because they are spiritually discerned. Paul puts it picturesquely in verses 9 and 10: "'...Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.' For to us God revealed them through the Spirit...". Paul is saying that people do not come to understand and know the things of God simply through a natural process; it is a supernatural process. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart and the mind. But be careful because this very truth gets distorted and corrupted in order to lead people away from the word of God. People sometimes get the idea, "I have a Bible. I have the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I can know what it means as well as you can know what it means, and it means this to me." But Paul is saying that this is the word of God revealed from God. That means it is objective truth. It is not dependent on what I say it means or what you say it means. It means what it means. It means what God intends it to mean and not what I would like it to mean. It has objective reality.
Believers sometimes have a "Bible study" to discuss what a passage means to them. But the point of Bible study should not be what it means to me. The point is what God meant when He said it. It doesn't matter what it means to me. What matters is what it meant as God said it. How does one know how to interpret the Scripture? There are certain principles that guide interpretation. God has given an objective revelation with the intention that it be understood, so it is important to be taught properly in how to interpret the Bible.
9. Literal, Historical, Grammatical Perspectives
I follow what is called a literal, historical, grammatical method of interpretation. Literal simply means "normal." When I got up and read the newspaper this morning, I read certain statements and I interpreted them in a normal fashion. I read that there was a freeze coming across our state last night. I didn't take that to mean that the author was trying to tell me there is a coldness in peoples' hearts toward whether our football team will be national champions for a third time. No, he's telling you it's cold outside. Just read the text in a normal way. That is a normal interpretation.
Historical means the text is understood in the context in which it was said. When you read about the Samaritan woman at the well, the questions come up, "Why was there a problem when Jesus approached her, and why is she amazed that Jesus would talk to her as a Samaritan?" It becomes important to study history to understand about the Jews and the Samaritans. Otherwise, someone may create a "reality" which is not a reality.
The grammatical method of interpretation means that words are put together in structure -- sentence structure for example. It is tempting to take things lightly, to not want to work. People often just want to pick up the Bible, read it and get a devotional thought, have their hearts moved and get on with the day. When they go to church, they don't want to take out a pen, open up a Bible and concentrate and work. But how else should one handle the word of God? Do you want to twist and distort it? To understand it, one has to grapple with it. Why are these words here? Why did he say it in this way? Why is that the structure of this sentence? We don't want to be among the untaught. We are grappling with something that is of eternal consequence. It must be properly handled or it will be mishandled.
You wouldn't want to be under the knife of a surgeon who zips in and says, "I should have done some study on how we are supposed to do this surgery. That's all right. We'll wing it." Not on me you won't. But somehow Christians are satisfied to have people wing it. "Let me just open up a passage here and as long as I can entertain you and weave in some good stories and make you laugh and move you along, you will go away and say that was good." The issue is not whether it was good, but whether it was true. Do we grapple with the eternally true word of God? Do we handle it with reverence? It's not that we put it on a pedestal and don't touch it and don't read it. No, we must get in and do the hard work. We must make an effort to understand what God was saying through Peter in this passage, to understand what the wisdom given to Paul was, that it was a revelation from God. It is important to understand what he is talking about when he says these things are hard to understand. We must know who the untaught are and what that word means. The unstable. We must understand that Peter thought his readers were stable, but the false teachers aren't stable. They are not anchored in the truth.
10. Our Responsibility Is to be Diligent
The Holy Spirit works in that way in a believer's life. I cannot teach you the word of God apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in your heart and life. But God has chosen to limit His ministry to His written word, so neither does the Holy Spirit teach you God's truth apart from the written word. That is why our responsibility is to be diligent to study the Bible. We send missionaries overseas to break down languages of tribes into written form so the word of God can be translated for them, but we are losing our ability to read and grapple with the word of God. People come up with all kinds of excuses: "I don't read well." Then you'd better learn to read. Go to the store and buy an English book. God has chosen to give us His word in written form. That doesn't mean we are all going to be experts in English or grammar, but it does mean that if this book is precious to me, I will want to learn grammar enough to be able to understand what it says and what it doesn't say. I want to learn to read so that I can read this truth and understand what is said. It's too precious to me to let it go. It is worth whatever trouble it takes. This is the word of God. We don't want it distorted. We don't want it corrupted.
I have two goals when I teach you the word. I want you to understand the passage that we are studying, and I want you to be developing for yourself that ability to grapple with the word through our regular systematic study of the word. Time after time, as we have worked through a passage, you have learned how to approach a passage, to look at this word in this sentence, in this verse, in this paragraph, in this chapter, in this book, in the overall picture of Scripture. This may not be the only interpretation, but to the best of my ability I have correctly handled the word of God in this place, and I know that at least this is a good possibility of what God has said in this text. There may be another option that I may have to yet wrestle with in interpreting. We want to handle accurately the word of truth so that we handle accurately the salvation that God has committed to our care in the proclamation of the word. Again, Romans 10:17: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." You must hear this message and believe it if you are to be saved. Let's pray together.
Thank You, Lord, for calling this church into existence by Your grace, and for bringing us together as a fellowship of people redeemed by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. Lord, may we be a people in love with our Savior, in love with the truth of His second coming, committed with passion to a diligent pursuit of holiness of life, committed with passion to a diligent pursuit of the salvation of the lost. Lord, in it all may we be rooted and grounded in the truth of Your word, stabilized, not driven about with all the strange doctrines, but doing the hard work of properly handling Your word, interpreting it carefully so that Your purposes can and will be accomplished in our lives. We pray in Christ's name, amen.
Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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