Speaking for God: Discerning His Truth
If you’ve been following my blog posts here, you’ll note that I have of late, posting reviews of three books, all of which the authors believe they speak for God. Anyone who teaches theology, or anything biblical is essentially speaking for God (including myself; cf. James 3:1). In a previous post, I alluded to the fact that because those of us speak for God, we also come under greater condemnation if we are wrong.
The Word of God – the Bible – is either God’s Word, or it is not. Though written by men (cf. 2 Peter 1:21), their thoughts were most certainly guided by the Holy Spirit, so that ultimately what we have is a book in which God is the final Author. Because of this, whenever we preach or teach from the Bible, it is important to realize that we are then disseminating the meaning of God’s Word to those who are listening and/or reading what it is we are saying.
Because of this, the responsibility is great and we cannot afford to be cavalier in the handling of God’s Word. If more pastors and teachers would stop to realize that we are representing God, whenever we stand in the pulpit, or in the front of the classroom, maybe, just maybe, we would think two, three, and even four times before we stated something that we attribute to God.
As I was reading through the end of the book of Job this morning, I was impressed with a number of things. Of course, we are familiar with all that Job suffered, all because Satan wanted to sift him as wheat and watch him fall by cursing God. If we look closely at the opening dialogue between God and Satan, it is God who first brings the subject of Job up, not Satan (cf. Job 1:8). Satan took the bait and proceeding to bring accusations against Job. God allowed Satan to do whatever he wanted, but he was not given permission to touch Job at all. The tragedies that occurred were around Job and indirectly affected him. Yet, in spite of the fact that he lost his children and his herds and flocks, he did not curse God, but actually thanked Him because He gives and He takes away.
The next step was God granting permission to Satan to do whatever he wanted to do to Job, except take his life. Following this, we see a multitude of horrific things that Satan inflicts on Job. His teeth fell out, his skin turned black and became covered with boils. He developed insomnia, yet he had terrible nightmares while awake, and he suffered other things as well. In all of this, he did not curse God.
His so-called friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to Job to try to comfort him. One by one, they all said what they believed God was doing with Job. They were sure they were right. Ultimately, they agreed that all of this must be happening to Job because of unconfessed sin resulting in hypocrisy. While Job obviously went through the motions of doing all that God wanted by sacrificing and praying, these – to his friends – were clearly only outward, and did not come from the heart. While he did these things, he must have been sinning and while other people could not see his sin, it was not hidden from God.
Elihu comes along and his words are filled with wisdom. Yet, even he too was slightly arrogant because there was too much self-assertiveness on his part. Yet, it is interesting to note that when God finally does respond to Job, while He accuses Job’s friends of wrongdoing, He leaves Elihu alone.
This brings us to the crux of the problem. Many people – in fact all people – who preach, teach, or write books that have anything to do with God, are stating that THEIR view is God’s view. Of course, this cannot be true of everyone simply due to the fact that there are so many opposing sides to every theological debate. It is not wrong to believe something about the Bible, unless it denigrates God’s attributes. Gulley (as mentioned in a previous post) does just that unfortunately, as does Brian McLaren. These men speak their words and they firmly believe that they are speaking truth, which they believe to be reflective of God’s thoughts.
Job’s three friends also believed they spoke the truth, but as it turns out, they were far from the truth. In fact, in Job 42, God makes it perfectly clear that these three men had sinned. God says to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath,” (Job 42:7b; emphasis added). Did you catch the full meaning of that? God was angry against Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar because they gave a false representation of God. In effect, they told lies about God; who He is and the nature of His attributes. Because of this, they were required to offer a fairly hefty sacrifice (7 bullocks and 7 rams), and even then, it would not be enough. On top of the sacrifice, only after Job prayed for them, would they be forgiven.
The tragedy is that too many people speak for God, but do so in a way that falsely attributes lies to Him. His character is maligned on a daily basis throughout the world; every Sunday, on Wednesdays and any other time that the Bible is either opened or spoken about from a pulpit (or music stand if it’s an Emergent Church). What should this realization cause to occur within us? Well, obviously, it should makes us think soberly about what we believe the Bible to be saying. We should approach God’s Word with complete humility, praying that God will keep us from an egotistical outlook.
Even after arriving at opinions about what we think God’s Word is teaching, we need to humbly and fearfully realize that we could be wrong. If we understand that in this life, we will never have perfect knowledge of God or His Word, that alone will make it easier for us to appreciate the importance of speaking for God with some hesitation. This does not mean that we cannot be emphatic. It means that we should always recognize that God through the Holy Spirit will always be teaching us.
I have noticed two things about the way people approach doctrine, and who wind up arriving at conclusions that are not necessarily biblically based:
- For many, the mode of interpretation is purely allegorical, in which it is possible to make the Bible say just about anything someone wants it to say, and
- There are far too many who approach situations in life with no thought of considering the Bible, but rely purely on how they feel about a situation.
Allegory as a standard form of interpretation is simply not the way to approach Scripture. Even in those areas in which prophecy appears to be allegorical in nature, it should be clear that God would have only one meaning. For those who look to themselves to determine what God would do in any given situation, they are elevated themselves to a higher authority than God’s Word. They believe that if they come to believe that same-sex marriage is fine, then how much more does God since He loves perfectly. The problem is that these individuals, far from understanding God’s position against all forms of sin, resort to a type of emotional, sympathetic “love” that is no love at all. It is purely sentimentalism.
God has spoken and it is in His Word, the Bible. Those who believe that the Bible was written by men, put together by men, and ultimately defined by men, have an extremely low view of God and it certainly shows in their “exegesis” of God’s Word. They routinely come up severely lacking. They have no fear of God at all.
When God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, his mouth was stopped. Job said of himself, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” (Job 42:5-6). Job abhorred himself at the sight and sound of God, yet this man was considered “perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil,” (Job 2:3b) by God.
Too many of us have become way too familiar with God. Because God loves us, and because this was proven to us by God the Son and His bloody and brutal death on Calvary’s cross, we believe if Jesus were physically right in front of us, we could go up to Him, slap Him on the back, and say, “What up?” We have taken God for granted, and by doing so, have brought Him down to our level. We have left His holiness, righteousness, and justice behind Him, because we prefer to see God only in a loving sense.
God is love, but He remains holy, just, righteous and all the other attributes. Because of this, it is incumbent upon each one of us who deigns to speak for the Lord, to think two, three and four times before attributing our thoughts and beliefs to Him. Beyond this, even when we arrive at a specific belief after carefully searching the Scriptures, we need to understand that humility is the path of learning, not arrogance.
There are – in my opinion – many individuals today who should not be preaching, teaching or writing books. Of course, that sounds arrogant, but it is not meant to be. Too many today are presenting their beliefs and opinions about God, as if God Himself were presenting them. The trouble is that these beliefs do not stand up under the scrutiny of God’s Word. Again, this may sound arrogant, especially to those who are fond of using the “judge not, lest ye be judged” card, which of course has absolutely nothing to do with using the discernment God gives us as we approach His Word in humility. We should never judge the motivations of another individual, but we are also called to discern what is right and true. This can only occur by comparing the espoused beliefs and doctrines of others to the Word of God. The Bereans of Acts did this with respect to Paul, and Paul had no problem with it at all (cf. Acts 17:10-12).
We are all called to be like the Bereans who, “they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things (that Paul was teaching – ed) were so,” (Acts 17:11b). It is our obligation to compare all teaching to the Bible. This is not judging. It is discerning. Do we want to know what God is saying? It is in His Word. Do we want to teach what God is saying? We had best look to His Word, allowing His Word to interpret itself.
If no one discerns what is right and true today, then error abounds. The reason there is so much error today is because there is little discernment. When some step forward in an attempt to discern, they are quickly shouted down, called names, and heckled. This should not be, but unfortunately, it exists. “But there were also false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of,” (2 Peter 2:1-2).
This is what is happening today folks. Good is bad and bad is good. Right is wrong and wrong is right. More than anything, we need discernment. We need to be like the Bereans, who searched the whole Scriptures to determine truth. They did not merely pull a proof text here and another one there. They viewed the entirety of the then-known Scriptures to determine God’s truth. How much more should we?
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