7.01.2007

"The Clear Teaching of Scripture"

I have grown up hearing people refer to so many different things as "the clear teaching of scripture". I still hear it regularly! And yet we usually mean "the meaning of scripture that appears to me to be the obvious interpretation given the culture I am in, my understanding of the context it is in, and also the teaching I have received from different sources." We are limited in what can truly be clear to any of us, I am afraid -- because, individually and together, we still just see "through a glass darkly".

I do affirm there is objective TRUTH, and thus there is an interpretation of scripture that lines up with that TRUTH -- but that interpretation is not always the one we assume to be "the clear teaching of scripture". As I have studied scripture, read commentaries, listened to Bible teaching, and now done some teaching myself -- over 35 years now, since I first committed myself at 7 to living by the sermon on the mount -- my understanding of "the clear teaching of scripture" has many spots that are in direct opposition to what I understood at earlier points in my life.

What I can affirm, unequivocally, is that our God in Three Persons gives us each day everything we need to follow as disciples of Jesus and to live in His kingdom, here and now. We get that from scripture -- even when we are mistaken as to what God was really after in a passage, by His grace. We get that from the movement of the Holy Spirit in our own hearts. We get clear guidance often from the circumstances we find ourselves in. We get what we need from each other as we live in community. And we get what we need for this day as we bump up against the places where "the clear teaching of scripture" as we understood it yesterday is replaced by the new insights and realities of more information about TRUTH about God's Word and the world to which it comes and through which it comes.

My obligation is to follow faithfully and obediently, trusting His grace and mercy to lead me, rather than trusting my own systematic theology or world view or ethic or even understanding of "the clear teaching of scripture." That's not really all that complicated, the way we are wired and the way the Holy Spirit guides us. I make it too complicated when I try too hard to be perfect, and have my focus on that perfection that I think God wants me to walk in by my own piety and insight, rather than just keeping my focus on the One Who will walk with me minute by minute as I learn to live John 14-16 and Matthew 5-7.

His forgiveness is just like my forgiveness for the tantrums and naughtiness and dependency of a toddler or even of a 20-something as they grow and learn and move on in a better knowledge of life. Mistakes and sins are not the point. Relationship and growth are. He is leading us to an abundant life wrapped around Himself. He has no interest in teaching me all the details of right and wrong so that I can do it myself without Him there constantly. He is fully interested in teaching me how to cope with Him there constantly, right in the middle of everything I think and feel and do.

Martin Luther's famous quote "Sin Boldly!" is so NOT about walking away from this God and into sin. It is rather about facing Him and allowing Him to constantly engage us, so that we don't even have time to obsess about which things we want to do are right and which are wrong and how we can train ourselves to do the right ones and not do the wrong ones. Paul's ending to his "flesh vs spirit" dilemma in Romans 6 and 7 -- that victory is in Jesus -- is also all about taking the focus off that battle to be righteous and embracing fully Him Who is our righteousness.

So we are not set free to do whatever awful thing we are compelled to do, free of guilt because we have a ticket to heaven in Jesus. We are set free to cling to Him and grow in Him, and quit focusing on that Romans 6 and 7 battle. We do this by living John 14-16. And part of how we do that is by also living Psalm 119, and loving God's Word.

If I truly love God's Word, I will study it over and over and keep comparing it to the world around me each day. It will be as lovely to me as it was to the psalmist. And I will hold lightly any understanding I think I have of what is "the clear teaching of Scripture", just as does a lover who has letters from her beloved. She will keep re-reading them to try to better connect with him and understand him and love him. She won't ever reach the place where she thinks she understands it all, and can put the letters away to store. She'll keep pulling them out and trying to discern some new truth that she missed or distorted earlier. Even so, we will study scripture as a way to follow and love and understand our God.

May we return to scripture and look again each day for new and better ways to love and follow the One Who loves us and offers abundant life. May we never settle for our old understandings, but allow Him to give us new insight for the new day.

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