You’re Taking That Out of Context

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I was part of a prayer group some time ago where I felt compelled to share scriptures on knowing the will of God.  I shared Ephesians 5:17 and Colossians 1:9-10.  Almost immediately, I was accused of taking the scriptures out of context and admonished that, if I read further into Colossians, I would see that the will of God was a mystery.  It wasn’t impossible for me to have taken a scripture out of context and so I did read further into Colossians.  I found it was so obvious I had NOT taken the scriptures out of context, and what had indeed been a mystery was now revealed to us (see Colossians 1:25-27), that I longed for an opportunity to confront my accuser.  God, in His infinite wisdom, did not allow it and so I chose to hand the criticism over to Him and learn what I could from it.  

The context of scripture is of vital importance in both its meanings.  Dictionary.com defines “context” these two ways: 1. “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect” and 2. “the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.”  Both are important and I believe some scriptures cannot be understood outside of the culture and beliefs of the day in which they were written.  I agree that it can be dangerous to lift a scripture out of its context and use it to say something it was never intended to say.  And yet, I find I take scriptures out of their context all the time.  A scripture I find comforting is Hebrews 13:5: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (KJV).  Other translations say, “Be free from the love of money” (ASV, ESV, Amplified).  And so, within its context, this scripture has to do with money, not being obsessed with it, being satisfied with those things I have, and trusting God to provide for my material needs.

I do apply the promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me to my finances.  I also apply it to those times when I have a flare, my entire body is in agony, and I can barely move.  I apply it to those times when I am lonely.  I apply it to those times when my future looks bleak.  I apply it when I am tired and depressed. I apply it to situations far and above its original context.  If the Writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is quoting Deuteronomy 31 verse 6 or verse 8, then he too has taken it out of its context.  The original promise was made to Israel before entering the Promised Land and then to Joshua and yet the Writer had no qualms about applying the promise to the fledgling believers of his day. 

I recently started reading a collection of lectures by Andrew Jukes where he traces the mystery of the Kingdom of God through I and II Kings.  In his introduction, Andrew Jukes acknowledges that questions may arise as to why he’s applying Old Testament scriptures outside of their proper context and says, “The facts are these, – Christ and His apostles continually refer to various passages from the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms; but these references, though claimed as applicable either to the Church or Christ, appear, when we turn to them, to be quoted apart from their proper context, and to relate not to Christ, but rather to certain circumstances in the life of some Old Testament saint, or to some portion of the history of the ancient Israel”.  Andrew Jukes then shares some examples.

He first compares John 15: 24, 25 where Jesus quotes from Psalm 35:19: “they hated me without cause”; words which come from a Psalm of David, were applied to David himself, and were in reference to men and circumstances of David’s own day.  Mr. Jukes also references Acts 1:16-20 where the Apostle Paul says, “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, who was guide to them that took Jesus.  For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and his bishopric let another take.”  Paul is quoting from two different Psalms-Psalm 69:25 and 109:8-both of which are Psalms of David and, again, originally applied to David himself and were in reference to people and circumstances of his day.

These are just two of the examples shared by Mr. Jukes: the pages of his introductions are filled with many more.  What is his material point?  At the end of his introduction, Mr. Jukes says; “Now when we remember that these applications of Scripture are applications made by the Holy Ghost, and that they pervade the entire writings of the New Testament, we shall I think feel that we have unexceptionable witness at least to the fact that the Word contains something beneath and besides its first and historic meaning.  In saying this, I by no means deny the first or literal sense both of the histories and prophecies of the Old Testament; I am only contending that this first and historic sense is not the only one, nor indeed the highest one…”

This comforts me.  There are so many scriptures that the Holy Spirit has used to comfort me where the original context applied to someone else in a different time.  It doesn’t matter.  Every scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are ultimately about Jesus and since “in Him all the promises of God are yes” (1 Corinthians 1:20) and I am in Him; any promise made, regardless of original context, is mine. 

Context is important, even crucial for understanding, but it is not king.  2 Corinthians 3:5-6 says, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth live”.  The proper context of this is comparison of the Mosaic Covenant, or the law, as compared to the New Covenant which is ministered by the Holy Spirit.  And yet, this passage has an application here.  Keeping scriptures cemented in the time and place in which they were written, declaring that promises made to Ancient Israel was for that people in that time, leads to stagnation.  The Spirit enlivens scripture, applies it to our circumstances in this time, and the words become springs of living water within us. 

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” is the direction that comes to us through Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.  When another quotes scripture, I check the context to gain understanding and listen for what The Spirit is saying in this moment.  When someone accuses me of taking scripture out of context, I offer that accusation up to God and listen for what The Spirit is saying.  Then I pray for the accuser that The Spirit will open the eyes of their heart, that they will come to know the freedom that is in Christ Jesus, and that they will see that the letter killeth but The Spirit giveth life.

Scriptures quoted from:

The Holy Bible Old and New Testaments Authorized King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003

Andrew Jukes quotes from:

Jukes, Andrew, The Mystery of the Kingdom, 1884-Based on Public Domain Texts

Remembrance

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Remembrance

I spoke-at once the words were gone
I formed and said them without thought
I wished that they could be withdrawn
I had not behaved as I ought
My words had not been trustworthy
I looked at myself in disgust
O Holy One who maketh me
Please remember I am dust
Can something still be called a lie
If it is one merely implied?
My feelings say it can and I
Desperately want to run and hide
From the sight of The One who saw it all
And how much I've come up short
O Holy One-don't let me fall
Remind me You are my support
I anticipate some punishment
Or some penance I must do
So I come with my head bent
And find nothing there but You
Your arms are tight about me
You strengthen me to start anew
O Holy One how can it be
I am so loved by You?
Most High Lord of all creation
You give Your blessings day by day
There is no guilt or condemnation
You wash all my sins away
With You I can face all I must
Because Your Spirit lives in me
O Holy One faithful and just
In You I now live righteously!

Entering His Rest

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I’ve been studying The Epistle to the Hebrews using, among other references, Andrew Murray’s “Holiest of All: A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews”.  I quoted from it last week and have decided to do so again this week.  I have not moved much beyond Chapter Thirty-One which is entitled “Rest from Works”.  I understand the truth of “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) but living this truth out in my day to day life is a challenge. It is I who gets up every morning, gets ready, and then goes to work.  I am the one people are interacting with every day.  I hold on to that awareness of Christ in me but it is I who gets tired, it is I whose feelings get hurt, and it is I who is tempted to lose her temper.  I am diligent to enter into His rest and do not want to fail to do so through disobedience (Hebrews 4:11), but how do I do it?  What does it look like?

In order to enter His rest I must first see it and the only way to see it is to have the Holy Spirit open my eyes and to show me, as Andrew Murray says; “Jesus as our Joshua, who has entered into God’s presence, who sits upon the throne as High Priest, bringing us in living union with Himself into that place of rest and of love and, by His Spirit within us, making that life of heaven a reality and an experience”.  At the end of Chapter Thirty-Two which is Andrew Murray’s exposition on Hebrews 4:11, he says; “Jesus said, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew 11:29).  It was through meekness and lowliness of heart that Jesus found His rest in God.  He allowed God to be all, trusted God for all-the rest of God was His abode.  He invites us to share HIs rest and tells us the secret.  In the meekness and lowliness of Jesus is the way to rest.”

I understand.  I fix my eyes on Jesus.  I take His yoke and am lead by Him.  I learn of Him.  I know this to be true but neither can I deny I don’t always manage to perfectly live my life out of His.  Learning of Him is a process.  I have heard many teachers speak of this life in Jesus as a process but don’t think anyone described it as well as Andrew Murray.  In his chapter notes at the end of Chapter Thirty-One, he says; “’Not I, but Christ” (Galatians 2:20 KJV).  This is the rest of faith in which a man rests from his works.  With the unconverted man it is “Not Christ, but I.”  With the feeble and slothful Christian, “I and Christ: I first, and Christ to fill up what is wanting.”  With increasing earnestness it becomes, “Christ and I: Christ first, but I still second.”  With the man who dies with Christ it is, “Not I, but Christ:’ Christ alone and Christ all.”  He has ceased from his work: Christ lives in Him.  This is the rest of faith.”  This description arrested me and I’ve spent a couple of weeks now pondering it.

I can’t remember ever being unconverted and being in the “Not Christ, but I” mindset. My family moved a lot and church attendance was sporadic but my Mom made sure I was taught of the Lord. In terms of works, there are times I have acted selfishly and have been rebellious but I don’t remember ever thinking I could do whatever I liked because there was no God.

I spent way too much time in the “I and Christ: I first, and Christ to fill up what is wanting” mindset.  I thought it was right. As I got older, life got more structured, and I started regularly attending church, I was taught this was how the Christian life worked. The Bible laid out what my works were to be, I did them, and Jesus would bolster me when my strength failed. There were so many times when I “stepped out in faith” believing for my healing and every time I crashed and burned.  This, of course, meant I was double minded, had doubted, and thus Jesus couldn’t heal me.  My failure was proof I didn’t have enough faith because; couldn’t I do all things through Christ who strengthened me?  If He wasn’t strengthening me, then I had failed somewhere.  I knew of no alternative though because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17) so I had to keep on. 

I find a perfect description of how I felt in Andrew Murray’s book.  Speaking of Christians, he says: “Their life is one of earnest effort and ceaseless struggling.  They long to do God’s will and to live to His glory.  Continued failure and bitter disappointment is their too frequent experience.  Very often, as the result, they give themselves up to a feeling of hopelessness: ‘It will never be otherwise.’  Theirs is truly the wilderness life-they have not entered into God’s rest.”

What a joy to see that it is not “I and Christ” and “Christ to fill up what is wanting”!  How I rejoice that He has shown me that I live by His life, His faith, His guidance, His strength.  I enter His rest and it is made a reality within me by His Spirit.  Since I know this is my reality, I had difficulty understanding what Andrew Murray meant by “Christ and I: Christ first, but I still second.”  Surely not.  I had ceased from my works and was utterly submitted to Christ.  I was already living in the “Not I but Christ” mindset, wasn’t I?  Yes and no.  I got to thinking of some recent experiences and, in remembering them, I think I have come to an understanding of what Andrew Murray means by “Christ and I: Christ first, but I second.”

While I would like my circumstances to be different, I cannot be sorry for them.  They have been the vehicle through which God has revealed Himself to me.  When He is ready, He will change them and, until then, so be it: I am submitted to the Spirit of God living within me.  I do that which He has put in my hands to do and serve those He has put in my life to serve.  Then there comes the moment when the person I’m delighting to serve overlooks the hundred things I have done and comes up with a hundred and first that I have not.  They are a little disappointed-not much, mind you-but still disappointed that I didn’t even think of the one thing that was most important to them which I ought to have done if I really cared about them.  They are disappointed and maybe a little hurt. 

Here is where I feel the “Christ first, but I second”.  Having just been blindsided, I am angry.  All the past hurts and put downs I’ve let go come rushing back.  The moment I can get by myself, I lay it all before God.  Does He hear how this person talks to me?  Does He see how I am treated?  I do not serve to be thanked-I do all things as unto the Lord-but neither has He called me to be a doormat.  When is it time to shake the dust off my feet and move on to better things?  I am submitted to Him.  I listen for His voice and strive to obey in all things, but don’t my feelings matter?  Christ first, but I second?

No.  Not I at all but Christ and He alone.  My feelings do matter and because I know He loves me and they matter, I can take my hurt and seething rage and pour it out to Him.  He listens, He soothes, and then He invites me to enter into His thoughts and feelings.  He shows me the situation from His perspective where I matter so much He gave His life for me just as He gave His life for the person who has wronged me.

I know who I am in Christ.  I know what I am worth because of what Jesus has done.  No one can affect this truth.  There are many who don’t know and I am to live the reality of “Not I but Christ” every moment, no matter what.  I am to see that what He did for me, He did for everyone else.  He loves the person who has hurt me just as much as He loves me.  I choose not to allow my Self to rule.  I remember that I am not only crucified with Christ but risen with Him.  Everything He has He gives to me.  My life is hid in His.  It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  I exchange the wilderness life of my own works for the rest life in which God does His perfect work.  Jesus came to give it.  His rest is mine.

All scripture quotes are from:

The New King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1982

All Andrew Murray quotes are from:

Murray, Andrew, Holiest of All: A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews, Whitaker House, New Kensington, Pennsylvania, 1996, 2004, Chapters Thirty-One and Thirty-Two, Pages 163-170

Relationship Not Religion

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I follow a Facebook page called “A.W-Tozer: A Man of God”; a page that is, as you would expect, devoted to A.W. Tozer’s writings.  The page recently shared a quote from A.W. Tozer’s “That Incredible Christian” which caught my attention.  The quote references 2 Corinthians 8:5: “And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” and then goes on to say:

“Before the judgment seat of Christ my service will be judged not by how much I have done but by how much I could have done.  In God’s sight my giving is measured not by how much I have given but by how much I could have given and how much I had left after I made my gift.  The needs of the world and my total ability to minister to those needs decide the worth of my service.

“Not by its size is my gift judged, but by how much of me there is in it.  No man gives at all until he has given all.  No man gives anything acceptable to God until he has first given himself in love and sacrifice…

 “In the work of the church the amount one man must do to accomplish a given task is determined by how much or how little the rest of the company is willing to do.  It is a rare church whose members all put their shoulder to the wheel.  The typical church is composed of the few whose shoulders are bruised by their faithful labors and the many who are unwilling to raise a blister in the service of God and their fellow men.  There may be a bit of wry humor in all this, but it is quite certain that there will be no laughter when each of us gives account to God of the deeds done in the body.” 

What?  What is A. W. Tozer saying here?  It’s difficult to tell what his material point is without reading “That Incredible Christian” in its entirety.  As it’s not in The Essential Tozer, which is the book I currently have on my shelf, I’ll have to find a copy and may perhaps due a follow-up.  What I am going to address in this week’s post is how this excerpt left me feeling empty and anxious and with the idea that no matter what I did it was never going to be enough for God.  There was nothing in these words that tasted of the Fruit of the Spirit and I couldn’t help but compare them to words I had just read in Andrew Murray’s “Holiest of All: A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews”.

Andrew Murray is commenting on Hebrews 4:9-10 which states: “There remaineth therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  For he that is entered into His rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”

Andrew Murray then goes on to say: “It is this resting from their own work that many Christians cannot understand.  They think of it as a state of passive and selfish enjoyment, of still contemplation that leads to the neglect of the duties of life and unfits for that watchfulness and warfare to which Scripture calls.  What an entire misunderstanding of God’s call to rest!  As the Almighty, God is the only Source of power.  In nature, He works all.  In grace, He waits to work all, too, if man will but consent and allow.  Truly to rest in God is to yield oneself up to the highest activity.  We work, because He works in us to will and to do.  As Paul said of himself, “I labour…, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily (literally, “agonizing according to His energy who energizes in me with might” [Colossians 1:29]).  Entering the rest of God is the ceasing from self-effort and the yielding up of oneself in full surrender of faith to God’s working.”

What a difference I find in these two quotes!  I find they’re a perfect example of what I mean when I say “relationship not religion”.  I stick fast on A. W. Tozer’s words:”Before the judgment seat of Christ my service will be judged not by how much I have done but by how much I could have done.”  These words are correct if all we have are rules, regulations, the idea that we earn our place in the Kingdom of God through our works, and the deep fear that nothing we do is going to be enough.  I don’t find any joy in the A. W. Tozer quote, no trust in a relationship with God, and no rest.

Rest is the focus of the Andrew Murray quote. That rest is found in Christ and we rest because we trust the relationship we have with the Father, in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  How can there be anything but joy once we know this?  All the scriptures that speak of our works being proof of who we are as Christians are not referencing works we do in order to prove we are Christians.  Rather, because of who we are in Christ, because we live in union with Him, because the Holy Spirit lives in us and is a fountain of living water, we can’t help but produce works.  Our works are the fruit of His life in us. 

I am not afraid that there will come a day when God judges me by how much I could have done.  Ever.  I know Him, I trust Him, and I trust the words He has spoken through the writers of the scriptures are true.  I trust that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1).  I trust that “it is God which worketh in you to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  I trust that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).  I trust that His word still stands and will not return unto Him void but it shall accomplish that which He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto He sends it (Isaiah 55:11, paraphrased from the KJV). 

Amen.  So be it.

The A. W. Tozer quote was taken from the A. W. Tozer-A Man of God Facebook post dated Saturday, November 6, 2021.  That quote is referenced as being from “That Incredible Christian, 105”.

The Andrew Murray quote was taken from his book “Holiest of All: A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews”, Whitaker House, New Kensington, Pennsylvania, 1996, 2004, Chapter Thirty-One Rest From Works, Page 164

All scriptures are quoted from The Authorized King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003  

It’s Personal

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It’s been a few weeks now since a post included the passage from 2 Corinthians 10:5: “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (KJV).  I have been meditating on the last part of that passage-the bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ-and focusing on doing so.

I don’t know if any of you have ever made this your focus but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I didn’t realize how often my mind wandered until I turned my attention to what I was actually thinking about and attempting to bring an awareness of Jesus Christ to every moment.  Even in prayer time with my church or with my family, I would catch myself mouthing the words while I was thinking about what to make for breakfast or what my plans were for the next day or a hundred other things.  It was not focused on God.  To paraphrase Yoda, my mind was never on where I was-what I was doing.

One thing I was not aware I was doing was separating in my mind time with God and time to think about whatever I wanted.  I would do my bible reading, some prayer time, some study time and then I’d make no attempt to control my thoughts throughout the rest of the day.  It was like I’d scored my brownie points with God.  It had become habit to give Him His allotted time and then I was free to think about whatever I wanted.  Since I was thinking about a story I was writing or blog posts or poems-all things that had to do with God-I didn’t think what I was doing needed to change.  I recently heard one of my teachers say “religion is easy: relationship is hard” and that struck me. 

I had already realized how much of my thought life was consumed of planning all I was going to do for God.  Upcoming studies that would be turned into blog posts, which books I would read after I finished my current ones, what all I needed to do to share to good news of Jesus with those around me.  And then, when my brain was overwhelmed with all of these plans, I’d escape into a story or a television show: anything to give my brain a break.  Realizing I was thinking this way and having this experience, I realized how true that statement it: religion is easy: relationship is hard.

It is so easy for me to keep God intellectual.  I have stacks of books at my fingertips.  I could spend the rest of my life in study of Him and learn things that would fill blog post after blog post.  I might even write something that helps someone else.  What does any of it matter if I spend so much time working for Him that I don’t have anything left over for spending time with Him?  For so long I acted like, somehow, I was in control. I’d get up in the mornings and ready my studies and devotionals, and then pray He’d help me get through my day. Hadn’t I earned His blessing?  I’d put Him first, checked my “aren’t I a good Christian” boxes, and now He had to hold up His end of things.  My relationship with Him, if I can even call it a relationship, was contractual rather than covenant.  I was living out of a “because I then He” rather than living life from Him.

Do you know that if I never picked up a Bible again, God would still love me?  It is amazing to me, I sit in utter wonder of it, to know that there is nothing I can ever do or not do that affect God’s love for me.  He loves me because He is love.  That is terrifying. I can’t do anything to control when or how He loves me. I do not earn His love by prayers or readings or studies or memorization.  I don’t present my Good Christian Resume and tell Him I’ve kept the rules so He has to keep His promises.  No, I am in relationship with the living God.  I almost can’t bear to type it.  THE LIVING GOD!  The covenant God.  The God who gives Himself to me in love.  This God lives inside of me now.  I do not bide my time performing for Him so I get to go to heaven when I die.  He and I are one right this moment.  We are in covenant relationship and because He is all that He is to me right now-all His promises are “Yes” in Christ Jesus-therefore I live my life from Him.

Knowing this-really knowing it-sitting with it until it became a reality in my heart not just an idea, changed how I look at Paul’s words in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge: and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not charity, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, KJV).  And then comes that beautiful passage describing agape which is the Greek word translated “charity” here.

1 John 4:8 ends with the words, “for God is love” and that word in the Greek is agape.  Malcolm Smith will often stress that God is love: He doesn’t have it, He is it.  I sit in realization if this and see that the love (or charity) Paul is talking about isn’t a feeling or even an act of my will: it’s the very person of Jesus.  He is what I need.  Without Him, I am nothing. 

And so, of course I read my Bible but to know Him not to appease Him.  I read where Moses says, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence” (Exodus 33:15, KJV).  My heart says a hearty “amen” and then I rejoice knowing that because I am joined to the Lord, I am one spirit with Him and I have the relationship Moses only anticipated.  I make David’s words in Psalm 27 my own prayer: “When thou saidist, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (verse 8, KJV).  And, I bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.  Not in an attitude of “Sir, yes sir!” but in the true meaning of the word obedience: attentive hearkening.  I don’t want to wander off into my own thoughts: I want to seek His face and hear His voice.  Only then, because He speaks and has inclined my ear to hear Him; then will I do.

Obedience

G5218 hupakoe, from 5219; attentive hearkening, i.e. (by impl.) compliance or submission;–obedience, (make) obedient, obey (-ing)

G5219 hupakouo, from 5259 and 191; to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively…

Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990