After a break we are picking up right where we left off with a series of follow up post to “You Ought To Be Teachers”.
Every day I get into my car and drive the six miles across Tucson to my office. I am able to do so because I have a car and a licence to drive. I was able to show to the DMV that I was competent (relatively) in driving so they granted me a licence. They granted me the authority to drive. There are hundreds of decisions and actions we do on a daily basis that require on some level the exercise of authority.
When it comes to matters of religion it is no different. If we are going to do something we ought to have the right authorization to do the thing. We cannot simply do as we please and slap a sticker on it that says “God Approved” with a giant thumbs up and think that we are okay. A biblical example of this can be found in 1 Samuel 13:8-9. The context is that King Saul is waiting to attack the enemies of Israel. They are waiting for Samuel the Prophet to arrive so he can offer sacrifice before God. Saul grows impatient “Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.” Saul acted presumptuously and against what was commanded. Consider verse 13 of the same chapter, “Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you….” Saul did not act with God’s approval, His authority.
The question then is, how do we know if we have authority to do something? In answering this question we have to understand two core principles.
- God is Sovereign – He is the only true sovereign power. The ability to exercise dominion and ruler are inherent in Him. So all authority comes from God. Even the governments which we think be immensely powerful are limited in scope. Look at Romans 13:1 “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Because God is the only true sovereign He along has the right to set His terms and dictate the rules.
- Man is Limited – In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways.” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” We are limited beings that do not possess the whole of understanding of this life, realm, or universe. Now, this does not mean that we cannot know anything. What God has revealed He expects us to know. What this means is because we are not in a position to “know it all” we need to trust and put our faith in the One who is.
Everything pertaining to God and what He desires from us comes back to these two points. He is King (Isaiah 52:7) and we are not. Or, that He is limitless and we are limited. No matter how we phrase it, God is the only one in the position to authorize or not authorize what He wants. We are subject to Him, after all it was He who created us (Gen. 1:27) and not we who created Him.
Because God is King and is the only one who can authorize we need to know what He wants, or what He has authorized. To do this we go to His revealed word in the Bible and read what He has communicate to us. God spoke through Paul that “… when you read you can understand…” (Eph. 3:4). The reason why when we read we can understand is that God communicates His will the same way we communicate with each other. He can tell us directly, give us an example, or imply. So when we approach the bible we need to be looking for these things in their context to understand what God would have us to do.
A Few Examples:
- Tell (or God’s Commands) – These are the direct statements we read in the bible. They are not hard to understand. An Old Covenant example would be the ten commandments. Those ten direct statements were crystal clear. No one can misunderstand “Thou shalt not kill” (or at least I hope). In the New Testament we read such commands like Mark 16:16 “He who has believed and is baptized shall be saved, he that believes not shall be condemned.” or Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”
- Show (or examples) – Because the New Testament contains the earliest histories of the church we can look into the pages of the New Testament and find the practice or examples that the early church left in the inspired word of God. In Philippians 3:17 the Holy Spirit directed Paul to write “…Walk according to the pattern you have in us.” The Apostles left behind a pattern or example that Christians are to follow. So when we see Christians doing something in the text that is in harmony with the will of God we ought to be following after them. In Acts 20:7 Luke records “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” What is the example here? Luke writes about the practice the church had, that practice was meeting on the first day to partake of the Lord’s Supper and for teaching.
- Imply (or inferences) – God also communicates by implying what He means. Often we have enough information that we should get the point. Take Galatians 5:21 at the end of Paul expounding on the deeds of the flesh says, “envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” What is the implication here? That if there is something that I did not list here compare it to what is here. If it is of the flesh then don’t do it. There is nothing new under the sun the Wisdom writer once wrote and while something may appear to be “new” it is just the same old fleshly desires in a new packaging. The point is that God did not have to explicitly condemn something for it to be wrong. He has given us reason and logic for a reason. And we would be smart enough to get the implication of the text.
This is the foundational level of understanding what God wants and what we have authority for. We use common sense in ready every other book or text we pick up. The Bible is not different when it comes to reading and understanding. When reading we look for who is speaking, to who they are speaking, and what is being said. From that information we can figure out, rather quickly, what God would have us to do.