February 2, 2010

To Live is Christ — means careful interpretation

When reading a phrase or single verse in the Bible, it is vital to read the context also. Otherwise, I can make an incorrect interpretation. If I apply that error, then I am apt to be doing something outside of the will of God.

A good example is the verse from my devotional guide. The authors of this guide ended the quote at the word “Christ” and asked several questions that could lead me in the wrong direction.

First, this passage is about the things that Paul might have considered important to his status before God. He realized that nothing, no matter how pious or important it seemed, gave him any merit in God’s sight. He stopped relying on these things when he trusted Christ. He said,

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ . . . (Philippians 3:8)
Paul was a religious man, but he realized that none of the things that made him what he was had any value in God’s sight. He willingly abandoned his trust in those things so he could gain Christ and salvation by Christ.

The questions in the devotional guide appear to be adding something that the text does not say. These questions are as follows:

•    Have losses such as financial, competition, family members, relationships, or job ever caused you distress? Explain.
•    How does this help you to understand this Scripture?
•    Could it be that compared to having a relationship with Christ, these losses are really gain because they make more room in your heart for Him?
Without examining the context and using only the first part of the verse and those questions, it seems as if God is asking Christians to put everything else in the trash but Jesus. That is, all that a Christian has or owns, including family, relationships, and a job, is keeping him or her from fully knowing God. Therefore, losing all this is better than having it. But is that what God is saying?

Again I think of the man that told me, “Just because I love Jesus doesn’t mean I stop loving my wife.” Had he taken this verse out of context and to the extreme, he would have divorced his wife so he was free to serve God. It seems strange, yet some have done just that. I have to ask if this is what God wants?

In context, this says Paul was willing to forsake his credentials and reputation when he was saved so that he was relying only on Jesus and nothing else. For me, it could have been my own “goodness” or church attendance, or acts of charity, or my Bible reading. God wanted me to abandon trust in those things and trust Christ alone for salvation. I had to be willing to see them as nothing, even garbage, in order to gain or know Christ.

Before I became a Christian, I read my Bible for 16-17 years. Was that my basis for pleasing God? It could have been, but I realized that the only way I can be pleasing to Him is by putting my faith in His Son. Yet when that happened, I didn’t stop reading my Bible. Instead, because of the Holy Spirit, I began reading it with understanding.

In the case of losses like those in the questions, losing a job or a spouse could bring a person to God in their distress, but it isn’t losses and distress that save a person either. We are saved by grace through faith. Our part, if we have a part, is to be sorry for our sin. We need to repent, but for even that we need God’s help.

In the life of a Christian, losses also might bring us closer to God. I’ve found His sustaining power and appreciated His great and generous heart during loss. I’ve also realized in some cases that I was relying too much on my family or a particular situation and not on Christ. The losses helped me see that Jesus is all that I need.

However, other passages in the Bible better describe Christian consecration and the priority of Christ that this one. Instead, Philippians 3:8 is about Paul’s attitude toward the source of his spiritual confidence for salvation. After he trusted Christ for salvation, he no longer trusted his Jewish heritage and his religious activity (suffered their loss) and considered such trust as foolish. These things looked like garbage compared to trusting Christ.

God didn’t ask Paul to stop being a Jew, but to stop trusting his Jewishness. God didn’t ask me to stop reading my Bible or abandon other disciplines. Instead, He changed the reasons why I was doing those things.

Further, He made room in my heart for Jesus and continues to make room by kicking out sin and unimportant activities. Besides that, Jesus enlarges my heart. He gives me a greater capacity. Like my elderly friend, when I started loving Jesus, I didn’t stop loving others or abandon my work and relationships. Instead, His love makes people and all other good things even more important, and never garbage.

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