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Archive | God’s Word for Today

The Real Promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13

Promise, temptation

You’ve probably heard – or maybe you’ve even said – “God will never give me more than I can handle.” Sounds really good but there’s just one problem. The Bible doesn’t teach that.

Many people point to 1 Corinthians 10:13 to back up this “Christian teaching.” But is that what Paul meant when he wrote: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear?” Let’s pull back and look at this sentence in the context of the larger passage to find out what Paul was talking about. (See this post for more information on “biblical context.) The context, the topic of 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 is temptation and being prepared to resist it. Keep reading to discover the real promise found in verse 13.

At the end of chapter 9, Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to practice strict spiritual discipline like he did. Take note of the “for” in 1 Corinthians 10:1 (NIV). Paul wanted them to be self-disciplined. He did not want them to follow the bad example of Israel in the wilderness who gave into temptation and disobeyed God. Because of their disobedience that generation died in the desert and never entered the promised land. Their story was recorded as a warning for the Corinthians and for us (1 Corinthians 10:11).

The Real Promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13

Then in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, Paul elaborates on what we should do instead of giving into temptation and falling into sin. Here are three truth points for us from this passage:

  1. Thinking we are too strong to fall into sin makes us vulnerable. We must keep up our guard.
  2. No temptation will come our way that hasn’t already been part of the human experience. We won’t be tempted with something “new” or “unusual.”
  3. God is faithful. He will not allow any temptation to come our way that is too great for us to resist. He will always provide a way for us to say no and the strength to bear up under the pull of sin.

Okay, did you see that? Number 3 is the real promise of verse 13. God will never allow us to be tempted to sin beyond what we can resist. 

God Does Give Us More than We Can Handle

So what about this question: “Does God ever give us more hardship than we can handle?” The short answer is “yes.” But let’s turn to another one of Paul’s letters for a more in-depth explanation.

In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul wrote about hardships he experienced in Asia:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NIV

The same biblical author that wrote 1 Corinthians 10:13 also wrote 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. Paul knew that God would allow him to experience more hardship than he could bear. He had lived it. He had pressure in

Asia that was far beyond his ability to endure.

Why? Why did God allow Paul – and why does God allow us – to experience trials and difficulties, grief and pain, more than we can bear? So that we will rely on God and not on our own strength and power.

Hear Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:10:

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. 2 Corinthians 1:10, NIV

When we are unable to deliver ourselves, God is able. When we are unable to stand up under the pressure, it will be God’s strength in us.

No, God does not promise that He will never give us more than we can handle. Instead, He holds out His hand and tells us to lean on Him.

Have you ever misunderstood the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13? What comfort can you take in the real promise?

 

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The 5 Most Challenging Bible Verses

challenging Bible verses

Some verses in the Bible are easier to swallow than others. Even though I wholeheartedly believe them all, there are some I honestly just don’t like very much. In fact, some Bible verses are too challenging.

Let me explain.

Some verses, like “He gives strength to the weary…” and “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine…” cause me to throw my arms open wide and yell “Bring it on, Lord!”

But others cause me to sigh and take a deep breath and think, “Really? Isn’t that kind of difficult?”

5 Bible Verses that Challenge Me

Below are 5 verses that I find really challenging to fully embrace and live out every day. Oh, there are others too – and I may have a slightly different top 5 tomorrow – but these will definitely stay in at least the top 10 for the indefinite future.

  1. Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I really like the last half of this verse about God supplying my needs, oh yes! But when we read the whole thing in the context of the passage, we see the primary topic is worry. Jesus said we spend too much time and energy worrying about our needs. We allow worry to keep us from pursuing Jesus and His Kingdom. The challenge: To turn off the worry and turn to Jesus. Or better yet, turn to Jesus to turn off the worry!
  2. James 1:2 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds...” James doesn’t waste any time with small talk in his letter. Essentially he says, “Dear Jewish believers, be full of joy when life punches you in the gut.” (My paraphrase of course.) Sounds unrealistic right? James says we can be joyful in spite of our circumstances because we know God plans to use them for our spiritual good and for His purposes. The challenge: To keep our eyes on the spiritual and eternal rather than the physical and temporary.
  3. Romans 12:2“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” God wants us to be like Jesus, not like the world around us. But truly, it’s like fighting a battle every day. Our culture constantly bombards us with values and behavior that is contrary to the character of Christ. The challenge: To strap on that spiritual armor, refuse to compromise, and yield ourselves to the Spirit’s transforming power. (Mandisa shares one battle story here.)
  4. John 15:12 – “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Okay, let’s be honest. Sometimes our fellow believers aren’t easy to love. Plus, did you notice that Jesus said we should love each other “as I have loved you.” Well, Jesus gave His life for us, so this is really extreme. He wants us to be willing to die for each other. To put others’ needs ahead of our own. To honor others over ourselves. The challenge: To take off pride and selfishness and put on humility and selflessness in order to genuinely love others.
  5. Galatians 2:20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Wait a minute. My life isn’t my life? Nope. Jesus purchased my life on the cross and it’s His to do with as He sees fit. But if I can remember this, the previous 4 challenging verses suddenly get a lot easy to live out. The challenge: To consciously choose every minute of every day to give my life to Jesus.

Jesus’ way may seem challenging. But the reality is, He only wants what’s best for us. His way is abundant and satisfying and joyful. His way is life.

Please feel free to disagree with my list. Or add to it! What Bible verses do you find the most challenging and why?

Other posts you may find helpful:

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10 Characteristics of a Blameless Life

blameless life

Imagine entering heaven and approaching God’s throne. Picture yourself as you kneel at His feet and bask in the joy of His presence. All the struggles of life fade away as you praise Him who sits on the throne.

Do you long to enter God’s holy presence and joyfully worship at His feet? According to Psalm 15:2, those whose “walk is blameless” may dwell in God’s sanctuary and live on His holy hill. I long to enter God’s presence, but I’m not sure I would describe myself as “blameless.” Would you?

What does it mean to be blameless?

According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the Hebrew word translated as “blameless” in Psalm 15:2 describes a person with “nothing in his outward activities or internal disposition that is odious to God.”

Good definition, but that’s too general for me to get my mind around. I need some specifics about what a “blameless” life looks like. Thankfully, the Bible tells us. Psalm 15 and 102 describe a blameless life (Read them now if you have time. They are not long.) The following list of characteristics is derived from these two psalms of David.

10 Characteristics of a Blameless Person

  1. She practices praise – Regularly contemplate the holy nature of God. Recognizing His worthiness will not only foster praise, we will also be moved to obedience.
  2. She lives with integrity at home – Sometimes we fail to purposefully watch our words and actions at home like we do other places. We tend to let our guard down; to allow our first, sinful instincts to rule. We need to be as careful at home as we are away from home.
  3. She turns away from everything vile or vulgar – “Blameless” woman do not compromise with the sinful ways of the world. We don’t allow ourselves to become desensitized to immorality, crudeness, or risqué humor by watching it, reading it, or listening to it. For a sad example, read this post “Holiness is not a Shade of Grey.”
  4. She ruthlessly guards against evil thoughts and behavior – We must proactively rid our lives of every thought and action contrary to the nature and character of God.
  5. She does not use her words to tear down others – Our speech should be edifying and encouraging. That doesn’t mean everything we need to say will be easy. But it does mean it will be helpful to the hearer.
  6. She does not collaborate with ungodly, wicked people – The only way to never encounter ungodly people is to leave this life and transfer to heaven. However, we can choose not to enter into agreements, projects, or business dealings with people whose worldview is not Christ-centered.
  7. She embraces honesty – Satan is the father of lies. Anytime we are less than honest we have yielded to the tempter! Let’s commit to total honesty in our own lives and conduct. We should also expect honesty from the people around us and distance ourselves from those who refuse to be honest.
  8. She does not seek gain that brings harm to others – God wants us to use our God-given skills, talents, and gifts to support the Kingdom, serve others, and provide for ourselves and our families. However, any effort for gain or advancement that takes advantage of others is sinful.
  9. She squashes pride and conceit – Pride fosters an abundance of sin. Those who want to live blameless before God will seek humility by keeping both God and ourselves in proper perspective.
  10. She helps, encourages, and protects the godly – God calls us to serve others and meet the needs of those who cannot help themselves. Do we respond when they cross our paths?

This may not be a complete list of “blameless” characteristics, but it’s a start. Let’s keep searching God’s Word, applying what He shows us, and enjoying His holy presence!

Which of these 10 characteristics do you struggle with the most? Why is that, do you think?

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5 Things I Wish Christians Would Stop Saying

Just because we hear something – or say something – over and over again doesn’t mean it’s true. For instance, when my grandson Micah was 3-years-old, he referred to Hulu as “WeeHoo.” Whenever my daughter carefully pronounced it correctly for him, he would say “No, Mom. It’s ‘WeeHoo.'” Yes, the illiterate toddler thought he knew better than the grownup.

As silly as that sounds, we sometimes do that with God and His Word. We have allowed things out of line with Scripture to become so embedded in our brains, we now accept them as fact. Or we take a truth out of context and misapply it. And unfortunately, we repeat these things to others.

Although not an exhaustive list, the following examples are ones I hear over and over.

  1. “We are all God’s children” – All people are definitely God’s “creatures,” created by God and for God. But only those who have been spiritually born again through a saving relationship with Jesus are God’s “children” (Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:15-17, Galatians 4:4-7). (This post explores what the Bible says about this topic.) At its best, this phrase is incorrect. At its worst, it gives people without a saving relationship with Jesus, a false sense of eternal security.
  2. “Judge not” – We too often quote these words of Jesus as an excuse to ignore sin in others’ lives or as a reason for others to leave us to our own detrimental behavior. The passages we whip out are Matthew 7:1 and James 4:12. Unfortunately, we regularly fail to consider the context of the greater passage and the whole counsel of God’s Word. Yes, both Jesus and James condemned a harsh, critical “judging” of people’s motives. This kind of “judging” is motivated by a self-righteous, hypocritical attitude. But in the whole of Scripture – including words of Jesus and James – God clearly commands Christians to lovingly point out sin and exhort each other to holiness. It is not our place to determine their motives, but it is our responsibility as a member of the body of Christ to gently identify behavior that God has already judged to be “sin.” The goal is to reconcile that person with others and with God and to keep the sin from spreading to others (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:5-7, Hebrews 12:15, James 5:19-20). For more about “judging” read this post.
  3. “God will never give us more than we can handle” – There is just one problem with saying this: It’s simply not what the Bible teaches. Many well-meaning people quote 1 Corinthians 10:13 to back up this understandable desire. But the context of this passage is about temptation. Here’s the good news: God does promise that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear; He will always show us a way to stand firm. So what does God teach about the amount of trials and difficulties He will allow into our lives? In a nutshell: He will allow far more than we can handle. Paul wrote that he had suffered extreme hardship in Asia, “far beyond his ability to endure so that he despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).  God allowed this so Paul and his companions “might not rely on themselves but on God.” For more on this topic, read this post.
  4. “God is love” – First, yes I believe that God is love! Scripture says it over and over (1 John 4:8-10). God defines real love. He is loving by nature. He expresses this divine love in all that He does. But unfortunately, some Christians try to stand on this truth – “God is love” – to rationalize sin or to dismiss hell.
  • “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.”
  • “God loves me, He would want me to be happy.”

But our loving, holy God does not sweep sin under the rug. Instead His love moved Him to provide a way of salvation for all people by sending Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:11). And Christ’s love compels us to repent of our sins, accept His sacrificial death, and be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). God’s love provides a way of salvation, not a license to sin.

  1. “All sin is the same” – Most assuredly, any and all sin separates us from God and brings eternal spiritual death (Romans 6:23). In that way, all sin is the same. But Scripture does show that some kinds of sins cause far greater harm to ourselves and other people or bring far greater consequences than other sins. (For more on this see this article at BillyGraham.org.) Here are a few examples:
  • Sexual Immorality – Due to the intimate nature of sex, sexual immorality has unique consequences, such as tearing apart families and even directly impacting our relationship with God (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
  • Pride – Scripture condemns the sin of pride over and over. In fact, the Bible says that God “opposes the proud” (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6). Pride is an underlying attitude that manifests itself in a host of other “sinful” ways.
  • Hypocrisy – Jesus sternly warned the Pharisees about their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:13-36). This kind of self-righteousness blinds us to our own sin and our need for God. “Woe!”
  • Leading others into sin – Jesus’ language was harsh for those who would dare lead a “little one” into sin. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea. Sounds serious! (See Matthew 18:1-9.)

You may not agree with me on all these, and that’s okay. What I hope we will all do is go to God’s Word to find His truth. But, let’s not ever settle for a “truth” we’ve grown accustomed to.

Have you ever said any of these 5 things? How do you feel about it now? What are some other things you hear often from Christians that don’t line up with God’s Word? Be sure to share what God’s Word says about it!

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Diversity and Unity – God’s Heart for the Church

I saw a video yesterday that perfectly illustrates God’s design for the church – diversity within unity. This commercial for Android features two grand pianos. Both have 88 keys. One has the full range of notes. The other has 88 keys all tuned to middle C.

I’m going to admit it right up front. I heard the illustration in church yesterday. I did not come up with it, but I did ask the pastor if I could borrow his idea for today’s blog. Check out the short video now:

 

The music from the piano on the left sounds like the composer intended. Full, rich, a harmony of sound blending together into something greater than the sum of the individual notes.

The music from the piano on the right is monotone. Flat and lifeless.

God designed the church to be like the piano on the left. Eighty-eight keys each playing a different note, but working together in perfect harmony:

  • Each with a different gift (Romans 12:4).
  • Each given by God for a specific purpose (Romans 12:7).
  • All of us working together to serve the same Lord (Romans 12:5).
  • All working to build up the Church and share Jesus (Ephesians 4:12).

Different gifts, different tasks, but the same goal. One heart, one mind, one faith (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Together but not the same. Diverse, but unified.

Maybe if the Church plays loud enough the world will hear.

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5 Things to Do When You Feel Discouraged

When was the last time you felt discouraged? Maybe it’s today. Perhaps you face difficult circumstances or everything just seems to be going wrong. You don’t have to give in to discouragement.

The Apostle Paul had plenty of reason to be discouraged. Daily, he endured hardship, danger, pain, suffering, and uncertainty. More than once he looked death in the face. Yet he claimed to not only be content and at peace in any and every circumstance, Paul even rejoiced!

No matter the concern or difficult situation, Paul was at peace. Whether fed or hungry, he was content. Whether in need or in plenty, he was satisfied. In every event and every season, Paul chose to rejoice. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? What was Paul’s secret?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. 

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:4-13

Paul purposefully developed an active trust and confident dependence on Christ’s provision and power. Paul took every small need, big need, and in-between need to God in prayer. Peace filled Paul because he chose to trust that God would provide. He did not allow his mind to dwell on the “what ifs.”

Paul experienced contentment in every difficult circumstance or physical need by relying on the strengthening power of Christ working within him. He found total sufficiency in trusting Jesus. And Paul could rejoice because he depended on God’s gracious provision.

We can also experience peace, contentment, and joy when we follow Paul’s example. Here are a few practical tips to get us started:

  1. Take every concern and need to God in prayer.
  2. Choose to trust Him with the answer.
  3. Discipline our thoughts. Focus on God’s provision and not the “what ifs.”
  4. Ask Jesus to strengthen us in times of discontentment. Then rely on His strength.
  5. Choose joy over discouragement.

Bury these marvelous truths in your heart, then share them with others. Jesus is far greater than our need. His power mightily overshadows our discouragement.

What one thing discourages you the most today? What truth from God’s Word today speaks encouragement to you?

 

 

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Is God Still Good in Loss?

God is goodFor the last week, I’ve been glued to the news and “praying without ceasing.” Since we just moved to the Dallas area from Houston in June, the area and the people are near to our hearts. We have been worried about neighbors, friends, and church family. Some have suffered loss of property, while others’ homes have escaped the flood waters. Some may be thinking God is good. Others, not so much.

Where is God in all of this? Has He been good to some but withheld His help from others? We are so quick to say “God is good” when things go the way we want. When we get the job. When the sick child is healed. When the water recedes. But do we still praise Him, do we still believe God is good when the flood waters rise?

The Bible teaches us that our circumstances do not dictate or define God’s goodness. God’s character dictates His goodness. God is good all the time. No matter the circumstances. God’s goodness does not depend on a dry house. A flooded home does not mean God has not been good to us. In fact, a flooded home could be an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power and grace in your life in a dramatic way.

Truths about the Goodness of God

So what? Let’s start with a correct understanding of God’s goodness. Here are a few truths from Scripture to help us:

  • God’s will for our lives is always good (Romans 12:2). Sometimes – in fact, often – His will includes trials and difficulty that He uses for our spiritual refinement.
  • In all things, in all circumstances, our good God is working for our good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
  • The assurance of God’s goodness enables us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to declare in easy times and hard times, “God is good!”

God is Good Even if Our Circumstances Aren’t

Whether our physical circumstances are easy or difficult, how should these truths impact our daily lives? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Remember that God is good all the time. Not just when things are going the way we think they should.
  • Thank Him for His goodness and provision in every life situation.
  • Be sensitive to those around you who are facing difficult and painful circumstances. Don’t flaunt your “better” circumstances.
  • Declare His goodness in every circumstance, particularly in the hard times. Watch for His provision.
  • Lean on His strength and grace in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. His power working in you will testify of His greatness to others.
  • Remember that He can work in your pain and loss to bring glory to Himself.

God is indeed good all the time. He sees your every need and He cares. Lean on Him in every circumstance – good or bad. If you are able, be God’s tool to help someone else.

If your circumstances are “bad” right now, how have you seen God working in the midst of them?

You may also be interested in:

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The 4 “R” Bible Study Method

Bible study methodThere is not just one right Bible study method. Depending on your goal, you can dive into God’s Word in lots of different ways. For instance, you can do a word, character, or topical study. You can dissect and ingest a small passage, a chapter, or an entire book.

However, there are some general guidelines for all and any Bible study. For instance, we must keep the genre of the book and the context of the passage in mind. We must seek to discover the original meaning of the passage. There are infinite ways to apply a passage, but only one meaning. And, to keep the proper perspective, we must always keep in mind that God’s Word is first and foremost about God.

This Bible study method below is a basic way to dig a little deeper into any biblical passage. You don’t need extra tools or resources. All you need is your Bible, a pen, a notebook or journal, and a humble, teachable attitude. The “R” repetition makes it easy to remember! You can literally take it anywhere! (Click here to get a printable PDF of the following study method.)

The 4 R Bible Study Method

  1. Read – Read the entire passage. For instance, if you plan to study the book of Philippians, read all 4 chapters in one sitting. If you plan to study John 15, read the entire chapter. If you can, it’s helpful to read the passage from several different translations. If you want to go the extra mile – or if your passage is relatively short – rewrite the passage in your own words.
  2. Record – Read the passage again with the attitude of an investigative journalist. If you plan to study a larger passage or book, break it up into chunks to make it manageable. Observe the text, ask the journalistic questions – who, what why, where, and when – and record what you discover. Here are a few other things to look for and record:

Facts

Keywords, repeated words and phrases

People

Places

Timing

Who is writing to who and why

  1. Recognize – Read the passage again and look back over your written observations. Ask God to show you what eternal truths and principles this passage teaches. For instance, what do you learn about God, His character, and His ways? What do you learn about Jesus and what it means to follow Him? What do you learn about the church, salvation, a life of faith, godly relationships?
  2. Respond – This is where the rubber meets the road! How does God want you to apply His truth to your life today? Is there some sin to confess and turn away from? Is there a relationship that needs to be healed? Is there a command to be obeyed or an act of service to perform? Are there beliefs and ways of thinking that need to be conformed to God’s truth?

This Bible study method is so flexible! You can work through it in one sitting with a small passage or weeks with a larger passage or book. Check below for a list of a few helpful resources that will give a good foundation to a lifetime of purposeful Bible study.

I’d love to hear about your favorite Bible study method! Please share!

Bible study resources

A few resources you may find helpful: 

 

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3 Attitudes I Need to Approach God’s Word

God's WordI do a lot of reading. In addition to God’s Word, I read novels, cookbooks, blogs, articles, non-fiction books and more. Some of this reading is for fun. Other reading is for instruction or information. Some I approach casually. Other with skepticism. Some things I read might instruct my behavior. Other things I dismiss as irrelevant or even wrong.

But the Bible is different from anything else we might read. Unlike everything else, it was not written by man, but directly inspired by God Himself. God’s words, God’s heart, given to us. How should we approach the Bible? What attitudes are vital to not only read God’s Word, but to really hear it, to be shaped by it?

I need an attitude adjustment

  1. Humility – Far too often I approach God’s Word with some level pride. Pride in thinking I already know this passage. Pride that I don’t need what He has to say. Oh, but pride is a great deceiver, keeping me from everything God has for me in His Word. Do I really want God to teach me? To use me for His purposes? Then I must humbly allow Him to correct, rebuke, and train me through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way” (Psalm 25:9).
  2. Submission – Some days I take God’s Word far too casually. I read it and hear His gentle whisper to “tell” or “do” or “go” or “stop.” And I consider obedience. The Bible is God’s authority for my life. It is living, actively penetrating the deepest parts of my heart, mind, and soul to judge my attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, and intentions. To make me more like Jesus. How dare I ever tell Him “no.”
  3. Anticipation – God’s Word is light and life and hope. It guides, delivers, and comforts. God’s laws are right and true and trustworthy. The Word of God gives wisdom and joy. I should run to read His Word each day, greatly anticipating the treasure I will find there. Sometimes I do, but not always.

God has reminded me today I need a little attitude adjustment. What about you? Do you approach God’s Word with humility, submission, and anticipation?

Lord God, adjust my attitude today. Forgive me of pride and foster a humble spirit within me. Help me submit to the authority of Your Word, so that I will live a life a full obedience to You. And grant me the joy of anticipation, always delighting in the discovery of Your Word. Amen.

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3 Tips for Understanding Proverbs

understanding proverbsWant to live wisely? Then read the book of Proverbs. They are chock-full of biblical wisdom and insight. Proverbs are easy to remember and often fun to say. For instance, men love to quote Proverbs 21:9: “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” (Ladies, unfortunately this is sad, but true!)

However, believers today often misunderstand or misuse this ancient form of wisdom writing. In today’s post, we will briefly define a proverb and then consider 3 interpretive tips that will help us understand this practical advice for living.

What is a proverb?

A proverb is an observation of life stated in a memorable way. It is a “persuasive saying proven true by experience” (“Encountering the Old Testament” by Arnold and Beyer, page 314). Proverbs are not unique to the Bible. Many ancient cultures made us of this literary device.

However, for the ancient Israelite, the purpose of a proverb was to “apply the principles of Israel’s covenant faith to everyday attitudes, activities, and relationships”  (“Old Testament Survey” by Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush, page 460). Biblical proverbs are also an observation of life, but they also acknowledge that true wisdom comes from God (Proverbs 1:7).

How can we understand the Proverbs?

Like the rest of Scripture, the Proverbs must be understood in light of their purpose, literary genre, context, and original meaning (See also “4 Things to Consider for Biblical Context“). Since proverbs are a unique literary style, we cannot interpret them in the same way we do a historical book or an epistle.

Although the tips below are just a tip of the hermeneutical iceberg, they will get us off to a great start in understanding the Proverbs and applying their wisdom to our lives.

3 Tips to understanding Proverbs:

  1. A Proverb is a Principle, Not a Promise

A biblical proverb seeks to apply God’s wisdom to the situations of life. They are guidelines for living, general principles, not promises from God. While generally accurate, they do not take into account every possible scenario or individual circumstance. Therefore, they are not guarantees of a certain outcome, but rather point hearers to the best chance for success.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Many of us have known Christian parents who claimed Proverbs 22:6 as a promise and then were disillusioned when a child turned away from God and never returned. This demonstrates how important it is to understand the nature of a proverb.

  1. A Proverb is Pithy Poetry

A proverb is a saying that encapsulates a broad observation about life. Its primary goal is to state an important, simple truth about life in easy-to-remember terms.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:6

Brief and memorable, this proverb is about something much deeper than flesh wounds and kisses. True friends tell us the truth for our good, even when it hurts. “Enemies” simply tell us what we want to hear or butter us up to get something they want.

Let’s look beyond the surface and past the simple, catchy words of a proverb to find the deeper truth. Then let’s apply that godly wisdom to our lives.

  1. A Proverb has a Proper Perspective

Ancient standards guide these ancient proverbs. They usually speak of simple desires and basic needs. Yet, often we subconsciously impose our modern, Western mindset and values.

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20).

Just imagine how the influence of our affluent culture can affect our understanding of “prospers” and “blessed.” The typical ancient Israelite considered himself blessed if he had shelter and enough food.

We could talk a lot more about proverbs. However, if we remember these 3 tips, we will be well on our way to wise living!

Did any of these 3 surprise you? In light of these 3 tips, have been misunderstanding a particular proverb?

 

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