In the previous chapter, we looked at a series of seven simple study questions that can sometime prove invaluable in our quest for the authentic truth of God’s word. As we get down toward the bottom of our repertoire, the study questions become a bit more personal:
6. Is there an eternal principle set forth in the passage that I believe God wants me to comprehend and adhere to; and finally,
7. Does the passage contain specific commandments that I am to obey, or examples that I believe God wants me to emulate?
When it comes to answering these questions and discerning particular teachings in the Bible that are essential to understanding God’s will for our personal lives, it will help us to remember an important statement that Jesus made to His twelve apostles when He said to them:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
(Matthew 16:19, NASB)
Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
(Matthew 18:18, NASB)
Keeping these verses within their literary and historical context, we must remember that Jesus is speaking directly to His apostles in these passages—those twelve closest disciples who had been specially chosen to represent Christ and who were soon to receive the direct empowering of the Holy Spirit. He is not speaking to the church at large, nor to us individually.
These statements to His apostles pertain to the gift of prophecy and the message of the Gospel that they would take with them into all the world after Jesus’ mission on earth was accomplished. The “keys of the kingdom of heaven” is a reference to God’s inspired word which the Holy Spirit would deliver to the 1st century apostles and prophets; who would then preach it, teach it, and write it down for posterity. Yes, the “word” contains the “keys” to the kingdom!
The New American Standard Bible seems to catch the verb tense of these passages the best; as it makes clear that whatever the apostles taught on the earth was to be something that had already been determined in heaven. In other words, even the apostles were not free to determine the rules for the coming Messianic kingdom of God—the ekklesia. That authority did not originate with the apostles here on earth and then extend to heaven above. Rather, as we have noted earlier in our study together, the authority came, first, from heaven—from the Father, to the Son, through the Holy Spirit, and then to the apostles and prophets on earth. The apostles were not free to decide the perimeters of the kingdom—who was in, who was out—or to determine its belief system, culture, or morality; nor are we. These things had already been determined by God.
When Jesus spoke of binding, saying “whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven,” He is talking about specific commandments or requirements that God has inculcated upon His people. Things that are bound are things that are required of us in order to enter into a saving relationship with God and to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.
When Jesus spoke of loosing, saying, “and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven,” He is talking about freedoms and our Christian liberty. Herein we find the foundation for what we have come to refer to as, “the freedom of the new covenant.” The Apostle Paul says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NASB). We will talk more in-depth about our call to freedom in Chapter 5.
The problem that Christians have continually faced since the time of Christ is that of people who, for various reasons, want to take the matter of binding and loosing into their own hands. These are people who, to borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, teach “…in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men…” and who have, “…to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion” (Colossians 2:21-23, NASB).
On the one hand, there are those people, sometimes referred to as “legalists” or “traditionalists,” who thrust themselves into the role of binding where God, through His word, has not bound. These people make up rules and regulations, usually in keeping with their own denominational traditions, and seek to bind them upon others as though they were the word of God. Jesus warned against this pharisaical mentality of His day saying:
Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
(Matthew 15:3-9, NASB)
Jesus also condemned the religious leaders of His day for their many burdensome rules and regulations by which they sought to control people’s lives and rule their faith, saying, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:4, NASB).
On the other hand, there are those people, sometimes referred to as “liberals” or “progressives,” who take authority unto themselves to loose where God has not loosed. In other words, they grant freedom in areas where God has not granted freedom. They seek to change or nullify the expressed will of God, rewrite the Bible to fit their own desires, or redesign the kingdom of God and kingdom culture to suit their own purposes. They permit things that God has specifically forbidden. For example, the Apostle Paul says:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
(I Corinthians 6:9-11, NASB)
Notice that, after mentioning a list of things that God has forbidden, Paul says, “and such were some of you.” But they are those things no longer. They had repented of their sin and had come to Jesus for cleansing and sanctification. But the liberal—one who takes authority to loose where God has bound—looks at such passages of scripture as though they don’t apply anymore; as though, perhaps, God, in keeping with popular public opinion, has changed His mind about some of these things and, therefore, no repentance is necessary. These people excuse, justify, permit, and even celebrate the continued practice of that which God has condemned.
Sadly, when it comes to matters of binding and loosing, sometimes even the new covenant children of God get lost in the confusion of human opinion. It is important in our search for truth that we not proceed with blinders on our eyes—unaware of human tendency, and our own proclivity, to take matters into our own hands and seek to establish our own authority. Let’s not be guilty of creating, adhering to, or binding upon others various rules and regulations that, to us, seem wise but do not further “the administration of God which is by faith” (I Timothy 1:4, NASB). We must recognize and defend the freedom of the new covenant. Likewise, let us not be guilty of going too far in the other direction and throwing in with those “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness [lacking legal or moral restraints] and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4, NASB).
There is, yet, one other aspect of Biblical interpretation and application with which we must be extremely careful; and that is the area of “inference”—“a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning” (Inference, 2013), or “implication”—a “conclusion that can be drawn from something, although it is not explicitly stated” (Implication, 2013). This is a DANGER ZONE and extreme caution must be used when it comes to those things that seem to be inferred or implied by a passage of scripture. Perhaps no other aspect of Biblical interpretation has been as hotly contested, or has provided such a seedbed for discord and division, as this one; simply because this area is so prone to human opinion and bias.
The problem is that every single one of us is socialized to perceive things from a certain paradigm, perspective, or personal viewpoint. And while we all go through an occasional paradigm shift, wherein we find our worldview seriously challenged and broadened, still, few people, if any, are ever completely objective and free from bias.
The various lenses through which we filter our perceptions of the world, and everything in it, tend to color our interpretations of everything; even the word of God. Thus, what one person believes to be necessarily inferred from a scriptural text is not always necessarily inferred by another person. We’ve all heard the statement: “Well, that’s just your interpretation!” And, quite frankly, it is. The interpretation may be correct, insofar as comprehending the will of God, or it may be way off base. But, either way, our interpretations are colored by our personal background and experiences. Wise is the student of God’s word who understands his or her own frailty, and that of others, when it comes to these matters.
One big area wherein the use of inference seems to have taken a rather legalistic toehold has to do with that which we commonly refer to as “the silence of the scripture.” I find it almost comical, if it weren’t so sad, that people are forever locking horns in spiritual combat with one another over what the Bible does not say—issues, beliefs, or practices that the scriptures simply do not address.
Some take the view that the silence of the scripture infers freedom and gives permission for the children of God to believe and practice whatever they want in regard to a given issue. Others take the position that the silence of the scripture infers that the belief or practice is forbidden—since it is not specifically authorized by scripture. But I take the position that the silence of the scripture is not some kind of interpretive device that can be so legalistically applied either way; and that taking either approach is dangerous because it moves the whole issue out of the realm of love and into the realm of law.
The silence of the scripture is no more an automatic license for participation than it is an abject forbiddance of participation. Why? Because there are many other factors that come into play and that must be considered with regard to anything that falls into the realm of human understanding, opinion, interpretation, and application.
Two big factors that help determine how we might apply the concept of the silence of the scripture to our own personal walk of life are those of faith and love. I hope you will take a moment to devour this important passage of scripture and, as you do, focus in on what the Apostle Paul says with regard to the concepts of both faith and love; and how these two concepts help shape and mold our personal, Christian walk of life:
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
(Romans 14:13-23, NASB)
This incredible passage reminds us that our Christian walk of life is meant to be relational—our faith-practice is governed by our relationship with God and with one another. There are many things—things not specifically spelled out in scripture—that may be considered either right or wrong, depending on one’s own heart and how our participation, or nonparticipation, plays out in the hearts and lives of others.
In the passage above, Paul makes it clear that, “to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (verse 14) and says, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (verse 23). So, to some degree, my own personal faith determines my level of participation in matters that are not specifically addressed in scripture. However, the final verdict does not rest even with my own faith, for Paul also makes it clear that, if “your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love“ (verse 15).
Not having a clear cut “thus sayeth the Lord” with corresponding book, chapter, and verse for everything we believe and practice may seem a little dicey to some; especially those with legalistic tendencies who are more than a little concerned with playing by the rules. But I don’t think having a faith governed by love is meant to threaten or scare us; but rather, it is meant to liberate us. To walk by faith controlled by love is a joyful way of life. I think it fits right in with Jesus’ invitation to walk with Him, when He beckons us:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30, NASB)
As far as sometimes “getting it wrong” goes, suffice it to say that God’s grace is plenty big enough to cover all our “honest” misinterpretations or misapplications. God knows our hearts. He knows the faith and the love that resides therein. He has determined, in the wisdom of His great master plan, that the love in our hearts will govern our submission to the will of God; and is, therefore, sufficient to guide us in all matters pertaining to seeking and knowing the truth. And, praise God, we do not have to be absolutely correct about virtually everything in order to “know the truth” (John 8:32) that sets us free from sin and enables us to enjoy a personal, life-giving relationship with Him.
This, however, does not excuse willful ignorance or deliberate misinterpretations and misapplications that are the result of people wanting the Bible to agree with them, rather than surrendering their hearts and bringing their lives into agreement with the word of God. Remember, the Apostle Peter issues a dire warning for those who may be tempted to follow that route; saying, with regard to the writings of Paul:
…in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.
(2 Peter 3:16-17, NASB)
But that having been said, God is not going to leave some critical point of doctrine—one that is essential to my relationship with Him—to be determined by mere human inference. Nor is He going to hold me accountable for what His word does not say or things that the scripture simply does not address; “…sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Romans 5:13, NASB).
God, through His prophetic word, has shown Himself perfectly capable of clearly informing me as to His will in every matter pertaining to my salvation. There are plenty of commands and examples set forth in scripture for me to ascertain what I need to believe and practice in order to have a life-giving personal relationship with Him and to be pleasing in His sight. I do not have to rely on inferences and implications based on my own, or anybody else’s, human reasoning in order to substantiate my relationship with Him. And, beloved, that takes a lot of burden off of my shoulders, and yours.
Beloved, I’m convinced that, as we pursue our ongoing quest for authentic Christianity, there is simply no substitute for both personal and collective Bible study. Unless one is illiterate, or God’s written word is simply not available, why would any child of God today depend solely on someone else to tell him or her what to believe or practice in order to be pleasing to God? Or, for that matter, why would any group of God’s people choose to rely exclusively on some pastor or priest to inculcate upon them some denominational body of doctrine?
When we, the called out “children of God” (I John 3:1)—those who long to hear our Lord’s voice—draw near to God “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22, NASB), we can be sure of God promise to us when He said, “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, NASB).
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