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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Desires & Reading the Bible

While I want to assure anyone reading this post applies to both genders, you can really tell that the Book of Proverbs was originally written from a man (father) to a man (son). I've been trying to meditate on Proverbs lately & I hadn't before realized how this large chunk of it (Chapters 5,6,7) is entirely dedicated to speaking to man's greatest day-to-day folly. It's not scheming, planning deceit, even jealousy, or egotism. It's really just base desire. (Not that desire is bad in and of itself -- more on that in a moment -- but a misplaced desire reeks havoc).

These chapters address the temptation and seduction of an adultress calling out to a man -- it even goes into the particulars with not a little steamy detail. Over the course of three chapters, the author moves from a real woman seducing to using the seductress as a symbol of foolishness/folly.

Any time I consider desires & passions, C.S Lewis' famous quote from his sermon The Weight of Glory comes to mind:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of the reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lor finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Lewis' point is a biblical one. When Jesus speaks of His Kingdom as the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of Great price or of feasting at the Great Wedding Banquet to come -- all are analogies of making Him the object of our desires & passions.

Why am I bringing this up? Misplaced desires are the #1 reason people misread or misinterpret the Bible. Over the last couple months, I've encountered this in a few ways. First, the Lord has challenged me to check my misplaced desires at the door when reading His Word. Second, upon sharing a passage of Scripture that had a hard word or two in it, I heard it said, "Well, I guess that's why people have different interpretations of the Bible" (but left it at that).

Two guys talking about wealth. But the last situation was the most interesting to me. I have to say I am guilty of the sin of eavesdropping (is that a sin?? Chime in, I can always use a healthy rebuke). I was at the Christian Enlightenment Bookstore (if you don't live in Cayman, yes, that is the name and its our only Christian bookstore...I was however disappointed that the title didn't live up to its name -- unless you count a store still selling "WWJD" bracelets "enlightening"). Anywho, two guys were talking about whether God's desire was to bless each Christian $monetarily$. One was trying to justify that God does, in fact, want to do so but had conceded some points. Finally he said,

"It's hard. Most things in the New Testament talk about denying self, receiving treasures in heaven and that sort of thing. But then you read Proverbs and it talks about the righteous man getting wealth."

This was a fascinating and potentially insightful comment from which to learn on at least a couple levels, both of which I want to explore. First, he brings up a common confusion about Proverbs -- namely, that they are promises, which in fact they are not. Take for example Proverbs such as 13:22 - "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous." We all know plenty of examples where the good man gets swindled by the deceptive man. But we also know from experience that, generally speaking, such a 'sinner' generally gets caught up in his own web of deceit. My point is that here, the person was in honest need good tools to rightly interpret God's Word.

But when his friend pressed him saying, "Do you really believe that [that there is a contradiction in Scripture] or do you just want it to be true?", he then relented a little: "There's definitely some of that there too."

Which leads my second point: Misunderstanding or Misinterpreting God's Word is primarily a matter of misplaced, sinful desire. Jim Petersen, International VP for Navigator's Ministry, is right on when he says:

Have you ever noticed how the Scriptures point out that false teachings or false doctrines aren't the result of someone's honest mistake in interpreting the Scriptures? Rather they are elaborate creations for the sake of satisfying someone's sinful desire.

Hence the Apostle Paul says in II Timothy 4:3 (NLT): "For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear."

Be honest for a moment. Has the misplaced desire for peace (a.k.a. "the path of least resistance") affected how you read the Bible? So you don't want your interpretation to cause strife among you and your spouse, with your homies and homettes, or at your workplace. Hey, I get it -- especially if a plain reading of Scripture goes against the culture & society in which we we dwell. Has the misplaced desire to please yourself made you go to verses about freedom, grace & mercy while avoiding reading the rest of the passage that talks about the serious offense of sin and not using your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Has the misplaced desire of elevating self affected how you view your role in the Body of Christ its portrayed in Scripture?

Next time you want to Rightly Understand & Interpret God's Word -- you'll still want to purchase a good study Bible (like the NIV Study Bible at, ironically, the Christian Enllightenment Bookstore) and you'll still want to ask good questions, read a passage in its context (but that's a separate post - see for great tips here).

But perhaps the most important strategy we must employ when reading Scripture is asking the Holy Spirit to root out of us misplaced desires. To confess those desires, go to the cross & receive forgiveness from Him whose hand provides pleasures evermore (Psalm 16:11). Then idols of misplaced pleasure fall like a house of cards & we begin to delight in rightly understanding and rightly living out the Word at any cost because He becomes the object of our greatest delight.

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