|Volume 22 Number 9 September 2020||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Empty oratory, cotton candy and meringue are each sweet tasting, and yet, none of them have any nutritional value. They simply are not healthy! In fact, a diet of such is toxic!
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV)
This first century exhortation is no less needed today in the twenty-first century. Next to false teaching (1 John 4:1), hollow homilies, fluffy with “smooth words and flattering speech” (Romans 16:18), which are undergirded by philosophy and endless personal analysis, immeasurably harm the collective of the church and Christians individually.
Alas, however, rare is the preacher or teacher these days who will in a straightforward manner undertake the pronouncement of a portion of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Book, chapter and verse preaching is neither any longer promulgated nor tolerated by the majority of present-day preachers or teachers and their auditors. Gone are the days when the pulpit and the lectern concentrated chiefly on conveying God’s message. The churches of Christ need more of the kind of preaching for which Ezra and his assistants were noted. “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). No finer model of preaching and of teaching exists than what one can discern from Nehemiah 8:1-8.
Our babies in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1; Hebrews 5:13) are starving! They go hungry at the feet of the very ones who have been designated to feed them the Word of God—preachers (Romans 10:14). Furthermore, where are the elders who, ultimately, are responsible for feeding the flock of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2 KJV)?
We wonder in complete amazement that our brethren believe a little bit of everything and not much of anything. Often, they do not know from where we came, who we are, where we are going or how to get there. It is no wonder, then, that few demonstrate in their lives a distinction from the ungodly world ruled by Satan (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Instead, Christians are supposed to be “a peculiar people” (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9 KJV), unlike those all around us with “filthy language” (Colossians 3:8), who conduct themselves immorally, lack true purpose in life and have no genuine heavenly aspirations.
Statistically, the Lord’s church is disappearing! It is evaporating! The churches of Christ—Christians who compose it—are being dissolved by the ungodly world. Sin is the solvent that eats away at one’s Christianity, and on a large scale, sin is consuming the Lord’s church.
Rather than idly observe what appears to be the inevitable demise of true Christianity in many communities, faithful Christians—armed with God’s Word and strong conviction derived therefrom—must preach plainly and unapologetically the Gospel of Jesus Christ—without appealing to empty oratory, cotton candy and meringue. Sweet fluff and puff sermons and Bible classes that do not “convince, rebuke [and] exhort” are a large part of how we arrived in the despicable circumstances confronting the Lord’s church in our day. The apostle Paul said, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 NKJV). The apostle Peter wrote, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).
The solution we need begins with a desire by the church to adopt a diet of God’s Word, beginning with the “milk” and graduating to the “meat” (Hebrews 5:12-6:2). Equally important, preachers, teachers and elders need to make sure that the milk and the meat of God’s Word are amply provided—without admixture of man’s ideas (Colossians 2:23), other gospels (Galatians 1:6-10) or amusements. “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). To rightly divide the Word of Truth, one must use certain principles of interpretation. Sadly, some approach the Bible in a completely different way than they would approach any other book. While the Bible is certainly not just “any other book,” the rules of interpretation are universal in nature. Context is key when it comes to understanding any communication. This is certainly true when it comes to rightly dividing the Bible. How does one go about properly interpreting God’s Word in its context?
Firstly, there is the age context. When one begins to study the Bible, the first thing necessary for an honest interpretation is to determine in which age the penman was writing. There is the Patriarchal Age (creation to Sinai). Key figures during this dispensation were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is the Mosaic Age (Sinai to the cross), which included great men like Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah and Jesus. Lastly, there is the Christian age (cross to Judgment Day), which included people like Paul, Peter, John and Luke, as well as includes you and me. At one time, God spoke in different ways (directly to the Fathers in Patriarchy; through the Law of Moses in the Mosaic Age or in Judaism), but now God speaks to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). Therefore, religious authority to which we must turn is not what Moses said or what Elijah preached but what Jesus commands (Matthew 17:5).
Secondly, there is the historical context. One reason why some have a difficult time understanding God’s Word is that they try to view the Bible through the “lens” of today, instead of looking through the lens of history. Looking through first century glasses really aids in our understanding of first century things. There are five great questions that help aid in the historical context. Question #1: Who is speaking? Question #2: To whom is it being spoken? For example, when Jesus said, “You are of your father, the devil” (John 8:44a), He was not speaking to you or to me, but Jesus was addressing the unbelieving Pharisees (John 8:13). Question #3: From where was it being spoken? For example, when John said, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10), he was not in some “mystical trance,” but rather, John was in exile on an island called Patmos. Although he could not be present with the saints on Sunday, his spirit or his mind was with them. Question #4: When was it being spoken? For example, when Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), the new covenant had not been yet ratified (Christ was still alive), and therefore, the thief did not have to obey the Great Commission command (Luke 24:47) to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38), which command was given after Jesus’ death, not before! Question #5: Why was it being spoken? For example, why did Paul ask the Corinthians, “What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?” (1 Corinthians 11:22)? Was there some law against eating in the meeting place? When one studies the context, Paul was correcting their misuse of the Lord’s Supper, not addressing eating in the meetinghouse at all.
Thirdly, there is the textual context. There are essentially three areas to consider in the realm of textual context. There is the immediate context. What is happening in the preceding and following paragraphs? There is the remote context. What is going on in the entire chapter? There is the book context. What is the context of the entire book in which this paragraph falls? We must be willing to search out the textual context of anything we are studying! Context is key when it comes to rightly dividing God’s Word.
Rightly dividing God’s Word takes initiative and effort. Study is not for the faint of heart but rather for those who really desire to know truth. There is a story told of a seasoned Gospel preacher who was preaching a meeting in a distant town. Following his sermon, a woman approached him and said, “I would give my life to know the Bible like you do!” To which he replied, “That is exactly what it cost me.” Truth is costly and cannot be obtained by accident. God rewards those who “diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Seek Him daily, study His Word regularly, and see your life change before your very eyes!