I was once at a Bible study and the Bible study leader read several verses of Scripture. He then pointed out a particular verse and asked people what they thought it meant. The verse was not particularly ambiguous, and it was not explicitly clear. So, people in the room began to give their opinions on what the verse meant. Some of the opinions contradicted each other. I waited to see what the Bible study leader would do with these contradictions and how he would handle what the verse might actually mean. He simply said that all the opinions sounded good and that we must find out for ourselves what God’s word means. Of course, this bothered me. Such relativism is dangerous.
The Bible study leader proceeded to go on to another verse where the same thing was done and other opinions were offered. After a few minutes I could no longer remain silent and I spoke up. Not wanting to dominate the study, I tried to remain polite and cautious as I attempted to correct an error that had just happened in the Bible study.
I carefully pointed out that though there are times when certain scriptures are difficult to understand and that our opinions on these verses might be equally valid, if they contradict each other, they cannot all be valid. Furthermore, I pointed out that we must not subject God’s word to our opinions. It is a mistake to have a group of people look at a Scripture and offer varying opinions on what it means as though God’s word means only what it means to us at that time and that we can contradict each other and that’s fine. Instead, we should ask ourselves “what does a text say?” We should work hard at trying to discover the best single possible meaning to the text is — if that is applicable. We should not view God’s word as a well from which we draw whatever feeling, sensation, or opinion that suits us for the time. Instead, we must do our best to find out what the word actually says to the best of our ability instead of “feeling” our way through the scriptures using relativism as a guide. Otherwise, we would be saying that God didn’t actually mean anything specific when He inspired the writers of the Bible. If we were to say that God’s word can mean different things, then the word of God doesn’t mean anything at all. The problem here is that relativism was creeping into the Bible study.
The danger in this is that if taken to its logical extreme, verses could mean anything we wanted them to mean. With no absolutes to draw from, apostasy would begin to creep in. For example, I am reminded of how some major denominations are actually putting millions of dollars into studying the issue of homosexuality to determine to what extent people can be held responsible for this sin… if they determined that it is a sin at all! This, of course, leads down the road apostasy and needs to be stopped.
So I ask you. When you study God’s word devotionally, or otherwise, do you hope to find what it actually means so you can subject yourself to what it says, or do you try and find a meaning for Scripture that suits your needs, your feelings, and your desires? I would hope that you do the former. We need to check ourselves.
To test yourself, I suggest that you read Romans 9:9-23. This section of Scripture is often difficult to interpret and can even be controversial. But it is God’s word nonetheless. In it, there is a test. As you read the text, see if you find yourself objecting. See if you find yourself complaining the same way Paul did. See if you ask the same basic objections to the arguments that Paul is raising. If you do not, then you are failing to understand the text. If you do raise the same basic objections as you read through the verses, then that means that you understand what it says… not what you hope it means. Then, see what your attitude is towards what the text says. It can be very revealing.
Let our devotion to God be submission to his word.
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