Curiosity Kills Your Soul

 

By Matthew Wireman

“Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak” (Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, 33).

I have been reading Sibbes’ work on the mercy of Christ toward us. The book is an extended meditation on Isaiah 42.1-3. I have been reading it in my personal devotions, and I have been reminded by Christ’s persevering patience with me. How often have I been a smoking flax–a reed that does not give off heat nor light–yet the Lord does not view such paltry devotion as condemnable. Rather, he condescends and fans into flame that smoldering wick so that I can enjoy him more. What may seem like an endless cycle of failed attempts, he views the good.

Sibbes, here, challenges us to reflect the same merciful inclination in our dealings with others. How quick am I to write off someone who rubs me the wrong way. How sure I am that this person is weak in faith and in need of rebuke. How dead set on dealing out justice am I that I cannot see God’s mercy on display in my brother.

I am a curious fellow. Yet, Sibbes challenges the assumption that curiosity–the need to know the intricacies of someone’s sin or weaknesses–is not altogether noble. Rather, curiosity bends toward an inclination to judging again the one whom God has pronounced “not guilty” in his tribunal. The need to gather all pertinent information stems from a desire to sit in the dock and pronounce on others what I would not dare they know or pronounce on me.

Our tendency should be towards wanting to see the good in others, not digging up graves that have been long-sealed when this brother put his faith in the Christ.

“What about leaders?” someone may ask. “Aren’t they held to a different standard?” Surely the pastor will be held to a stricter judgment, that’s why he shouldn’t be too quick to assume the office (James 3.1). Yet, the judgment James speaks about is the Final Judgment performed by the Triune God. This is not an earthly tribunal, nor is it an ad hoc court set up in the figment of our own minds. Rather, God pleads with us to exercise judgment with mercy (James 2.13).

Surely, a leader who sins repeatedly must be rebuked. A leader who is unrepentant must be ousted. But the leader who sins, and seeks forgiveness, should be forgiven. We should not exact perfection, nor should we use a canon distinct from our own lives.

I fear that those who so quickly give in to curiosity will find that the proclivity toward mercy will show that they had not received mercy. Those who so quickly write off Scripture’s admonition to cover over sin with love will grope for this kindness and find it wanting toward them.

May we be quick to forgive and slow to condemn. May we entrust right judgment to God. And as we find ourselves in the already-not yet, may we admonish the unrepentant. As we live in the time between the times, may we proactively and persistently give mercy. A mercy that is imperfect, but perpetual. To the degree that we have received mercy, may we give such beautiful and resplendent mercy.

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Ryle: Do We Really Use and Know the Bible Like We Should?

 

from Justin Taylor by Justin Taylor

Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) exhorts us on the importance of “Bible Reading“:

You live in a world where your soul is in constant danger. Enemies are round you on every side. Your own heart is deceitful. Bad examples are numerous. Satan is always laboring to lead you astray. Above all false doctrine and false teachers of every kind abound. This is your great danger.

To be safe you must be well armed. You must provide yourself with the weapons which God has given you for your help. You must store your mind with Holy Scripture. This is to be well armed.

Arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the written word of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible. . . . Neglect your Bible and nothing that I know of can prevent you from error if a plausible advocate of false teaching shall happen to meet you. Make it a rule to believe nothing except it can be proved from Scripture. The Bible alone is infallible. . . . Do you really use your Bible as much as you ought?

There are many today, who believe the Bible, yet read it very little. Does your conscience tell you that you are one of these persons?

If so, you are the man that is likely to get little help from the Bible in time of need. Trial is a sifting experience. . . . Your store of Bible consolations may one day run very low.

If so, you are the man that is unlikely to become established in the truth. I shall not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, etc. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. He can quote Scripture readily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to fight a good fight with him. . . . Your sword is held loosely in your hand.

If so, you are the man that is likely to make mistakes in life. I shall not wonder if I am told that you have problems in your marriage, problems with your children, problems about the conduct of your family and about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, shoals and sandbanks. You are not sufficiently familiar either with lighthouses or charts.

If so, you are the man who is likely to be carried away by some false teacher for a time. It will not surprise me if I hear that one of these clever eloquent men who can make a convincing presentation is leading you into error. You are in need of ballast (truth); no wonder if you are tossed to and fro like a cork on the waves.

All these are uncomfortable situations. I want you to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you today. Do not merely read your Bible a little—but read it a great deal. . . . Remember your many enemies. Be armed!

On Being Better Bereans

KEVIN DEYOUNG

A couple weeks ago, Trevin Wax posted a short list of urban legends frequently heard from the pulpit. These aren’t doctrinal mistakes per se. They are mistakes in interpretation, especially when it comes to appropriate background information and extra-biblical sources. Some of the myths are real whoppers (e.g., NASA has discovered a missing day), but others are repeated in study Bibles and commentaries (e.g., Gehenna was a burning trash dump). I admit I’ve repeated the last example many times. And while Trevin didn’t give a lot of information to counter that claim, the article he linked tomakes a lot of sense. Maybe the “trash heap” illustration was too good to be true.

So how can we be better Bereans? Most Christians are eager to receive the word, especially when we get new insights and background information, but how many go the extra step and examine the Scripture to see if the new nugget is actually true (Acts 17:11)? Here are a few things to keep in mind when we hear an exciting new teaching or connection:

1. Be wary of anyone who claims to have uncovered the real meaning from the Greek or Hebrew. We have so many good English translations, put together by the best scholars. If your pastor or favorite author comes up with stuff they never did, be concerned.

2. Ask yourself, “how do I know this is so?” True, we all take a lot on faith, trusting the books we read and the people we listen to. But if you come across a new insight you’ve never heard, examine what primary source evidence there is for this new claim. You may think the Bible says a lot about Lucifer, but it may be really be from John Milton.

3. Beware of parallelomania! This is where a lot of Christians get into trouble. They are over-eager to make connections between the Bible and the Roman world. Yes, background information is helpful. But some popular teachers find connections everywhere. Do we really know that Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” was meant to be an assault on the worship of Pan near Caesarea Philippi? Often a possible connection is too good to pass up as preaching fodder. The results are predictable: the teacher presents amazing new background information and the people are amazed at the insights they’ve never heard before. Preachers, resist the temptation to put preaching points before exegesis and historical accuracy.

4. Be careful not to overcompensate. With all the good historical work N.T. Wright has done on the gospels, I often feel  he is too quick to find political implications in familiar stories and too quick to make the narrative fit a return-from-exile theme. Many Christians have the habit of reading the Bible as a timeless book of ancient wisdom. That’s not right, but there’s an opposite danger, and that’s trying to make every story a subversive attempt to undermine Caesar.

5. Be concerned when you start to feel like you can’t possibly understand the Bible without multiple degrees. It does take skill to interpret many parts of the Bible, and background information can help. But if all the exciting things you’re learning fall in the category of “insights from ancient languages” or “insights from ancient culture” you could be heading down the wrong path.

6. Be extremely cautious when using Jewish sources. Christians love to hear about Jewish background. They love to learn what words or phrases really mean. But we must be careful. I use Jewish background on occasion. Just this week I preached on the Last Supper and talked about the Passover ritual. But I’m always cautious to do so. Consider:

a) Most of our “Jewish background” comes from the Mishna and Talmud which are centuries after the New Testament. Some of what they record was present in the first century, but it’s hard to be certain.

b) Whether we are using sources from Second Temple Judaism or from the Mishna, we shouldn’t be confident in our ability to recreate the Jewish world. That world was diverse and there is a lot we don’t know.

c) Don’t assume Jewish practices today reflect Jesus’ world. And don’t read back into the Old Testament what we first hear about centuries after Christ.

7. Realize that we all make mistakes. We hear things and read things that we later find out aren’t true. Be open to correction and ready to admit when you make a mistake. The goal is simply to know the Bible better. What have Bereans got to lose?

How NOT to Listen to Sermons

from Sovereign Grace Ministries Blog – C.J. Mahaney’s View from the …

If you are familiar with the television show American Idol you know Simon Cowell, the judge famous for his bluntness, biting criticisms, and blatant insults. In the presence of Simon, grown men and women sing with passion, reaching out to grasp pop-recording stardom. But if they fail to meet his standards, many of those same men and women walk off the stage in tears or anger. They walk back into the real world carrying the shards of a shattered dream. Simon has that effect on people, and he is the man who comes to mind when I read Newton’s letter about how some Christians listen to sermons.

Last week we looked at a portion of this letter as we considered how to respond when our pastor preaches a “sermon dud.” A little later in that same letter, Newton explains how Christians should listen to sermons, and how they should not listen to sermons.

First, Newton explains how we should listen to sermons. We should at all times listen with active biblical discernment:

As a hearer, you have a right to try all doctrines by the word of God; and it is your duty so to do. Faithful ministers will remind you of this: they will not wish to hold you in an implicit and blind obedience to what they say, upon their own authority, nor desire that you should follow them farther than they have the Scripture for their warrant. They would not be lords over your conscience, but helpers of your joy. Prize this Gospel liberty, which sets you free from the doctrines and commandments of men; but do not abuse it to the purposes of pride and self.

Well said.

Then Newton explains how we should not listen to sermons:

There are hearers who make themselves, and not the Scripture, the standard of their judgment. They attend not so much to be instructed, as to pass their sentence. To them, the pulpit is the bar at which the minister stands to take his trial before them; a bar at which few escape censure, from judges at once so severe and inconsistent.

In these few words Newton offers counsel that is biblically wise, balanced, and ready for us to practice on Sunday. At all times we should pray for our pastor and encourage him. At all times we should listen to sermons with discernment. And at some times it may even be appropriate to give our pastor feedback to help him grow.

But we should never listen to sermons with our proverbial arms crossed, as if our pastor were preaching on the American Idol stage, seeking to win the approval of autonomous judges.

Yet this is exactly what happens when hearers base their conclusions about a sermon on personal preference rather than biblical authenticity, writes Newton. To appraise a sermon as a self-appointed judge is simply an inappropriate posture for the listener. However, to eagerly anticipate a sermon and to listen with biblical discernment is a posture of noble worth (Acts 17:11).

 

Priorities

from The Glory of Plodding by Kevin DeYoung | Reformed Theology … by R.C. Sproul

When I first became a Christian I was introduced to the priorities of the Christian community. I learned quickly that it was expected of me that I have a daily devotion time, a time reserved for Bible reading and prayer. I was expected to go to church. I was expected to have a kind of piety that was evident by not cursing, not drinking, not smoking, and the like. I had no idea that biblical righteousness went far beyond these things. However, like most new Christians, I learned to emphasize such things. My personal letters took on a new pattern of language. They began to sound like pages from New Testament epistles. I soon learned to use Christian jargon in my everyday speech. I didn’t “tell” anybody anything, I “shared” it with them. Every good fortune was a “blessing,” and I found I could hardly speak without sprinkling my sentences with spiritual platitudes.

Soon, however, I found that there was more to the Christian life than daily devotions and sanctified words. I realized that God wanted more. He wanted me to grow in my faith and obedience, to go beyond milk to the meat. I also discovered that Christian jargon was an almost meaningless form of communication, both to non-Christians and Christians alike. I found myself more interested in echoing a subculture’s lingo than in finding true godliness.

My error was this: I was confusing spirituality with righteousness. I also discovered that I was not alone in this. I was caught up with a crowd who confused the means with the end. Spirituality can be a cheap substitute for righteousness.

Over the years I’ve had many young Christians ask me how to he more spiritual or more pious. Rare has been the earnest student who said, “Teach me how to be righteous.” Why; I wondered, does anybody want to be spiritual? What is the purpose of spirituality? What use is there in piety?

Spirituality and piety are not ends in themselves. In fact they are worthless unless they are means to a higher goal. The goal must go beyond spirituality to righteousness.

Spiritual disciplines are vitally necessary to achieve righteousness. Bible study, prayer, church attendance, evangelism, are necessary for Christian growth, but they cannot be the final goal. I cannot achieve righteousness without spirituality. But it is possible to be “spiritual,” at least on the surface, without attaining righteousness.

 

Denzel Washington, Martin Luther, and Our Strange Neglect of the Bible

from The Gospel Coalition Blog by Ray Pennoyer

What if you and I discovered that God himself—yes, the God who made the universe—was scheduled to speak at a certain college lecture hall or sports arena? I contend that we would spare no expense, time, or energy to get to that event and hear exactly what he had to say. We would be desperate to hear that word from God. And yet, that is what we claim about the Bible. Orthodox Christians around the world affirm and believe that the Bible is the very word of God. Yet do you and I seek to hear it just as desperately? If we are being honest, the answer for most of us would probably be “no.”

Why this strange neglect of the Bible? One reason, I submit, is the superabundance of printed (and now digital) Bibles available here in the West. This abundance has lulled us to sleep. The film The Book of Eli (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2010) sheds important light on this issue, as good art often can. It portrays a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future in which the human race suddenly finds itself without the things it formerly took for granted. The character of Eli, played by Denzel Washington, puts it this way in a conversation with Solara, played by Mila Kunis:

Solara: “What was it like in the world before?”

Eli: “People had more than they needed. We had no idea of what was precious, what wasn’t.”

With access to so many Bibles today, our sense of its importance—and especially of the urgency of our truly knowing its content—has dwindled. Turning back to the film (and here I will give away a few key plot elements), Eli carries under his protection in this dystopian world the last surviving copy of the Bible. Yet when that copy is forceably lost to him, Eli is still able to pass it on to posterity. How is that possible? Because he has taken those precious words from the printed page and made them part of his heart and mind.

Martin Luther’s love for the Bible. The great evangelical reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) had never even seen a Bible before the age of 20—and this despite being a highly educated university student. Yet when he entered the Augustinian monastery in 1505 he received a copy of the complete Bible as well as a separate edition of the Book of Psalms. Being in the midst of acute religious anxiety, Luther was desperate to hear from God and so devoted himself to these texts. He committed the Psalter entirely to memory, Martin Brecht observed. As for the Bible, Brecht writes:

Luther became so well acquainted with [his copy of the Bible] that he knew what was on every page and where every passage was found. Because of the image he had of it in his mind, Luther later regretted that this first Bible had been taken away from him. This is also why he did not give up his small Psalter, even when he had worn it to shreds. In this fashion he developed an extraordinary and phenomenal knowledge of the Bible. It is self-evident that what we are talking about was not a superficial reading. Luther meditated upon what he read, and so was able to retain the gist of every chapter. . . . In looking at the conclusion of his theological studies, Luther can say “I loved the Bible.”

Chapter theft. Let me pause here for just a moment to make a confession in the form of a thought experiment. Here I am, essentially a professional student of the Bible. What if someone were to surreptitiously remove select chapters from every Bible in the world, would I even realize it? To my shame, I am not at all sure. A select chapter here from Jeremiah, a portion there from Ezekiel, perhaps a section of Leviticus and a paragraph from Acts—and these are books I claim to know and love, books that I claim to be the very word of God!

How short of the example of Luther I would fall—and friends, I am not alone. And maybe, just maybe, this is due in part to the fact that I know multiple copies of the Scriptures sit on my shelves and digital access is just a few clicks away. The words of Denzel Washington’s character echo in my mind: “People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious, what wasn’t.” And I’m sadly reminded that there are places in the world where the Bible is scarce or even illegal.

But there is hope for you and me. We can start now to turn things around by reading, hearing, and applying ourselves to the study of the Scriptures. That is, by taking it from the page and into our hearts and minds. Again Luther serves as a good example. Even after his evangelical rediscovery of the gospel in the Scriptures, Luther continued to devote himself to its pages. Brecht writes:

In 1533 he could say of himself that for years he had read through the Bible twice a year, and that he had scrutinized every tiny branch on this tree. In this love and passion for the Bible Luther was an exception.

Let’s be an exception in our generation. In an earlier article, How Do You Read a Book?, I described the wisdom of “knowing a few great books well.” Without question, the greatest of these is the Bible itself.

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This article originally appeared at the homepage of The New England School of Theology.