a few weeks ago i was in a conversation with a friend about the use of the Bible in our Christian faith. i sometimes get criticized for not using the Bible enough, in that i am not that excited about exegeting passages intellectually. i definitely believe in the value, challenge, and beauty in the Bible, but i will be honest–i think we waste valuable time focused on picking apart passages and talking about the Bible that could be better spent on actually living the Bible.
Jesus–God incarnate and a Jew–obviously had a high value of the scriptures. he referenced them often in the gospels. yet, so often when he did he used it to make a point to the pharisees and those clinging to religiosity–the law is easier than love. it just is. it is much easier to have a rule book of the do’s and don’t and hold others to that first (and usually ourselves second) instead of practice the ways of tangible love. he talked about God desiring mercy over sacrifice (hosea 6:6), setting captives free (luke 4:18), and loving God and our neighbors (luke 10:27). he called out people who elevated a long list of rules above restoring dignity. he pointed out the travesty of judging others & hypocrisy by calling us to our own log instead of our brother’s speck. he made clear that he came to set people free of the law to fulfill the law (as Love set in motion) instead of keeping them entrapped to its constant snare of self-righteousness. one of his most pointed & angry discourses is in matthew 23, the “woes to the pharisees”. here’s some of what he says:
“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (v. 4).
“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues” (v. 5-6).
“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (vs. 8, 11-12).
“Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (v. 13).
“For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith…You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (vs. 23, 24).
“First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (vs. 26, 28).
yikes, those are some strong words. words i think we all should consider listening to because none of us are exempt from the tendency to control people & limit God.
i think the most powerful one is: “for you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”
i do think the enemy–Satan, the evil one, whatever-you-want-to-call-the-forces-of-evil-against-the world–is often gloating at how much time we spend picking apart & defending passages of the Bible. it’s a great distraction that prevents us from opening the door to the Kingdom of God. as i’ve said before, while we’re talking about theology, the world is crying out for hope. yeah, it’s much easier to spend a lot of time talking about the greek word for “pastor” than actually engaging in in-the-flesh relationships with people. it protects us. it insulates us. it gives us something to focus our mind & energies on.
but ultimately it distracts us from the bigger work at hand–bringing resurrection & hope to dark places in this world. intense dialogue on different opinions about Bible verses tend to be dead ends. it’s why i usually don’t spend much time on them; going toe-to-toe on scripture only usually lands people in a nasty place and i’m just tired of spending time on it when there are many more important things to focus on.
we make a lot more room for the Kingdom of God when we suspend our need to defend correct doctrine & center our hearts, attention, and practices on loving other people, humbling ourselves, and sacrificing our need to be “right”.
we honor the Word of God by offering presence and cups of cold water and taking our hands off the need to control or convince–trusting the Holy Spirit & and that some kind of transformation, no matter how big or small, usually happens.
people are set free.
honestly, i think that was what Jesus was getting at in the gospels–turning our tendency toward being distracted by rules & regulations & doctrine upside down.
over and over he said his ways were going to be way harder and would require more of us than following the letter of the law. loving our enemies, setting down our stones, touching lepers, advocating for the voiceless, giving up our power & ego & need to be right, receiving and giving grace is heavy lifting.
but what Jesus challenges us toward.
i don’t want to be caught up by minutia, distracted by defending things that don’t matter.
i don’t want to get caught up in conversations & time-suckers & online theological disagreements that distract me from hanging out with people who are looking for love & hope, not scriptural discourses.
i don’t want to only talk about the Bible & what this or that passage means to whoever’s interpreting it.
it’s not that those things have no value at all, but they can tend to be great distractions to Love. and honestly, i think the world is tired of it and are waiting for Christ-followers to set down their Bibles and start living what’s in there instead.
i’d much rather engage in living the Bible face to face, heart to heart, life to life–with all its risks, all its dangers. yeah, i want a practical theology.
God, help us stay focused on you and not be distracted by details that draw us away from Christ’s love & life & hope.