Letting God's Word Light Our Way
The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.
David Helm has this favorite illustration that he’s incorporated into the Simeon Trust workshops. I first heard the lecture maybe 10 years ago, but it always strikes home. He talks about how we use scripture: are we using it like a drunk person might use a lamp post (leaning on it to prop us up)? Or are we using the lamp post for what it’s made for: to illuminate our way. The lamp post here is a metaphor for scripture, and the essential question is this: how are we using scripture, is it for our own benefit and in our own way or the way that is most beneficial for us because it’s how God intended it to be used? Now this is of utmost importance for pastors because pastors are entrusted with setting the trajectory of biblical engagement for their congregation. If the pastors of your church simply use scripture to prove their points, then the congregation isn’t actually grasping in their most common context how they should interpret the scriptures rightly. A mature person might be able to sniff it out and find resources elsewhere, but that’s not how God intended to do things: a la carte Christianity undermines every local church and the people inside those churches especially the immature and the weak. The immature will assume the pastor’s way of interpreting and when it comes up short, it will be hard to figure out where to go.
Now the thing is that we could go to the previous generation of Christians to see this. One of Ami’s churches growing up had pretty bad teaching which engaged scripture like a drunk guy uses a lamp post. One of the teachers in particular would take a text and, instead of Spurgeon who always found the road to Christ, he would find the road to one of his pet peeves: anti-drums or women’s modesty. So the story of Dinah being raped was really about how women should be modest. Did this teach people to know the wrong of immodesty or that drums are bad? No. Instead, it taught the congregation, you can tell the scriptures to prove whatever things you think are bad in the world. Ami recently had a conversation with someone, saying, shouldn’t we be concerned about what God intended to say and what the author intended to say? But when there is no training to see things this way, it is a non-starter. This isn’t even a category. Instead, other things like abusive authority and lifting up women are topics that control the meaning of the text.
Now the thing is these are worthy topics. Abusive authority is destructive generationally. Just look at families where the father was abusive even though he confessed Christ. It is only by God’s grace that salvation comes to the next generation. We want women (and men) to know their dignity before the Lord. And honestly, these topics are addressed in scripture. But we have to do the work of handling God’s word the way he intended. Otherwise, like David Helm said in this week’s study, ‘We can hear the word of God but completely miss the voice of God.’ It’s like that funny thing where we distinguish between listening and hearing with our kids. We can hear God’s word, but it goes out the other ear. We can miss the point, and in all honesty undermine the long term reach of God’s word in our lives because we think it says something different than what it actually says: Dinah’s story is not about modesty. But when you find modesty under every rock and treat it anachronistically like that you will actually remove biblical dignity offered to women and men. And that’s what happened in the previous generation in some circles. And many have left the faith because of this faulty hermeneutic. But when we hear the word of God and listen to it properly, we hear the voice of God and what he intended to say through the scriptures. And we hear the true offense of the gospel, to which we will have to give an account. Some will reject it, and some will not. But at least we’re dealing with the truth of it and not some American anachronism.
So then what in the world does this have to do with Jeremiah 1? Well, we see here the manner of God’s communication to his prophet. God communicated a message (note the singular word) to Jeremiah. And Jeremiah communicated that message with his words (note the plural words). And Jeremiah was faithful in preaching in his own style, but he didn’t deviate from the message God had given him. In a similar way, we are called to take God’s word that was communicated to us through people, and our work is to work at understanding what they intended to mean because it’s God’s word; and in God’s word, ultimately as it makes Christ known to us, we have life.
But all too often we use God’s word like a drunk uses a lamppost, to support our drunken opinions rather than using God’s word to enlighten our lives (both the good and the bad). This takes a lot of humility because we have to deny ourselves and our own ideas (which are often reactions to the evil and brokenness in this world). This takes a lot of humility, but in the end, God’s word will direct us to the only path of restoration from all that brokenness and evil. This restoration will be fully realized in eternal life for those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ. We are probably going to miss the point of scripture…often. You’re going to have a magnet on your fridge or have your favorite list of verses (I know in high school I had maybe 20 verses that I thought were great, but of course, I was reading them mostly out of context). The point isn’t to give up or throw these things away. Instead, it is an encouragement to put some elbow grease in it and over the long haul, the work will begin to slowly pay dividends. God is at work through his word by his Spirit even when we misread it, but this is not an excuse. God has saved some great people through bad interpretation. For this we should be grateful. And we should realize that these are simply a few examples of God working to bring each of us from immaturity to maturity. And this is a process that we will glory in for the rest of eternity. Let’s not grow tired then in doing this good work.