What does the Word of God mean to you? Is it your daily bread that helps lead and guide your path or is it a book that conforms around your world view? The Apostle Paul understood the implications of a doctrine that becomes tainted and altered. There is an interesting contrast of verses in Romans 1 that helps to bring this point into view:
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth of God in unrighteousness.” (Rom 1:17-18)
On one hand we see the power of the Word of God in its ability to reveal and impart righteousness as it is mixed with faith. Failure to do so can cause us to fall short of the mark. (Heb 4:2) Remember, faith comes by hearing and responding to the Word of God. (Rom 10:17) The Word of God produces a washing and cleansing as it is received and appropriated by faith in the heart of a believer. This is the fruit of good doctrine, the manner of Biblical teaching that is sadly lacking in much of today’s church.
We want to devote the majority of this article to verse 18. This verse reflects a people who hold the truth of God’s Word in unrighteousness. What does this mean and how can it be applied in a modern context? Let’s first understand God’s expression of wrath towards those who utilize Selective Scriptural Application. It begins subtle enough with a heart attitude of being ungrateful. (Rom 1:21) An attitude of being unthankful is an indicator of something wrong in one’s heart. This then leads to a callousness and hardened heart where ones affections can soon lead to idolatry. (vs 23) Is this not what happened to Israel a short time after their mighty deliverance from Israel? (Exo 32:3-4) Soon thereafter the truth of God was turned into a lie. (Rom 1:25) God then gave them over to another spirit to allow them to pursue after their lusts. (Rom 1:26-28) This is not the place to be. This cycle later repeated itself during Israel’s slide towards Babylon.
“Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgements whereby they should not live;” (Eze 20:25)
The danger in what is seen above is that the biblical applications become selective so as to fit a desired outcome. It can be an outcome that seems spiritual but is it God speaking or man playing God in presuming His intent? This is why the Apostle Paul emphasizes the teaching of the whole counsel of God.
“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)
So why is this subject on “Selective Scriptural Application” such a major concern and what are some examples where this is playing out today? Let’s consider three common scriptures where this can be understood. Please understand that God can speak a verse to bless and edify even if it is not in its scriptural context. Still, it is important to see these well-known verses from a greater perspective.
1) “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jer 29:11)
This is one of the most popular verses quoted in the modern day church. It is a beautiful scripture that speaks of the Lord’s peace and good will towards His people. I doubt anyone would take issue in being given this verse. Israel of old also sought to interpret this verse on their terms. Jeremiah records that the people spoke of peace when God was speaking otherwise.
“They have healed the hurt of my daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (Jer 6:14)
Everyone wanted peace but here in Jeremiah’s day it was proving elusive because it was not what God was saying. Oftentimes, when this verse is quoted (Jer 29:11) it is not a time of peace and prosperity. This is an example of taking a scripture selectively and applying it to fulfil a doctrine that is man based. This is what it means to hold the Word of God in unrighteousness. How can this be seeing that it is the Word of the Lord quoted word for word without deviation? The problem is that the verse is not being seen in its proper context. Where does the context come from?
“For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.” (Jer 29:10)
The context comes from the previous verse. Let’s now observe a conflict of prophetic voices over this truth; it is a clear-cut portrait of what is taking shape today. It is a battle over doctrine between Jeremiah and Hananiah; two prophets who speak towards the same enemy but with very different messages. On one hand we have a prophet who is able to separate the precious from the vile of God’s Word in contrast with the prophet who upholds the truth in unrighteousness.
“Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon” (Jer 28:2)
Jeremiah prophesied a 70 year captivity while Hananiah spoke of only two years. Which do you think was the more popular message? Can you see how Jer 29:11 could be interpreted out of context? Jeremiah was letting the people know that the seventy years of captivity would go well for those who heard and responded by faith to the Word of the Lord. How would this scenario play out today? Is there a maturity in the body of Christ in allowing God to express and receive True Doctrine or is there inclination to uphold God’s Word in presumption and unrighteousness? Hananiah died that same year as a consequence of distorting God’s Word for Israel. It not only affected Hananiah it affected those who gave ear to his doctrine:
“Go and tell Hananiah, saying Thus saith the Lord; Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron.” (Jer 28:13)
There is a tremendous responsibility upon those who minister God’s Word whether through teaching or prophetic declarations. The primary motive must always center on God’s agenda. Think for a moment if you were Hananiah having to face the people you convinced with your false prophetic declaration. You had a moment of popularity due to speaking a message that was palatable to the masses. Your message helped to validate the uncircumcised heart of people gaining you temporal prestige and credibility. The problem is Hananiah was speaking a message contrary to that of God. Jeremiah faithfully declared the Word of the Lord.
Once again the parallels are all too clear to see. Are we more interested in pleasing God by faithfully speaking His Word or more concerned in pleasing people by the use of Selective Scriptural Applications? Let’s take note of another popular example.
2) “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38)
How many times have you heard this scripture emphasized in meetings or over television airwaves? Several years ago I was asked to be part of a large evangelistic crusade in an Indian city where we were living. The featured speaker was well known whose ministry impacted the lives of countless thousands in various parts of the world. It was the first night of the meeting with an outdoor crowd of approximately 25,000 people gathered in heightened anticipation. The primary spokesperson on behalf of this evangelist opened the meeting in a peculiar way. He asked the question; how many here are looking to be blessed; how many could use a new vehicle or even perhaps a new home? Naturally, the response and enthusiasm of the crowd was at a fevered pitch. He went on to say that God was present and that an opportunity was at hand to be blessed of God. I am sure you can guess as to what happened next. Yes indeed, the offering bag was passed around. Would you be surprised to know that this happened every night? Would it surprise you that the appeal to give was oftentimes longer than the actual message of the evangelist? This was before any songs were sung or testimonies or messages given.
One of the problems seen today is Selective Scriptural Application; the taking of verses out of context. It is seen here! This is a subject that could fill many pages but for our example let’s consider the familiar verse from Luke as stated above. It would be good to read the 11 verses that precede verse 38. The Lord was speaking concerning the Beatitudes and the need to be willing to give to those in need without thinking of getting anything back. He also spoke of blessing those who may spite and abuse with an attitude of thanksgiving. If one isolates verse 38 from the presented context they miss the bigger picture and will be prone to abuse with the redefining of truth. The bottom line is this; what is the motive for our giving?
Make no mistake, God does bless the giver. This familiar verse is best understood from the standpoint of John 3:16. God gave everything he had in the form of His Son due to his great love for sinful man. It can also be understood from John 15:13 where Jesus gave everything He had (His life) due to His great love for His Father and man. This revelation helps to ensure a pure motive when giving to God. It is recognition that God already has given His very best to us. We do not give for the purpose of being blessed we give because of who He is and what He has already done.
How many times have you seen Luke 6:38 presented in this comprehensive fashion? It is important to consider the preceding verses so as to have proper context. (vs 27-37) It is also good to call to mind what God the Father and God the Son have already done on our behalf; they gave everything. Are they not worthy of our best first-fruit offering? It all comes down to motive of heart. Let’s look at one more example of a familiar scripture that often falls into this category of selective scriptural application.
3) “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)
The joy of the Lord is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It serves as a powerful weapon that can counter any assault of the enemy. For our purposes we want to try and put this well-known verse into its proper context so that we can better appreciate its value.
God has placed within man an appetite for pleasure and fulfilment. At the time of the fall this appetite became tainted and flawed resulting in pursuits that veered away from God. In today’s terms it is expressed through entertainment, recreation, and in more extreme cases alcohol and drugs. It is God’s intent for man to experience the fullness of true joy by spending time in His presence. (Psa 16:11) How is this achieved? How can the people of God come into that place of fullness of joy; the place where the joy of the Lord becomes our strength? The familiar verse in Nehemiah (Neh 8:10) can be understood when looking at the preceding verses of chapter 8. Here is a brief review of this scenario:
Nehemiah and Ezra were together with Israel at a time when they were celebrating the 3 feasts of the 7th month. (Neh 8:2, 18) This would consist of the Feast of Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles. Ezra the priest taught the people from the law of God resulting in a spirit of deep repentance and sorrow. (Neh 8:5-9) This is the message of the Atonement where God deals with the sin of His people. It is a sobering time where people come to the place of acknowledging truth concerning themselves. Remember King David making the statement of God desiring Truth on the inward parts? (Psa 51:6) It is a message that many in today’s church neglect to teach due to the cost of personal introspection. There is no cover-up here at the time of the Atonement. Once the people began to lament and mourn over their condition; once the law that was being read to them became real and personal the instruction then came to weep no more. (Neh 8:9)
The reason is that conviction and repentance had been achieved; truth has been acknowledged paving the way for the joy of the Lord to revive and refresh the people. Selective Scriptural Application seeks to by-pass the work of the atonement while highlighting the joy of the Lord being one’s strength. True joy is experienced while being in His presence; being in His presence will require an ability to humbly acknowledge the truth of who we are; acknowledging and knowing the Truth will then set us free indeed. (John 8:32, 36) The Feast of Tabernacles follows the Feast of Atonement and what we see here is a transition taking place. One of the names given to Tabernacles is the Feast of Joy. (The seven primary feasts of Israel are covered in Leviticus 23)
Psa 30:5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
The Bible makes clear that the joy the world seeks after is going to diminish and wither on the vine. (Joel 1:12) The pleasures the world seeks after are affecting the church. In the days to come it is imperative that we know true joy and how it can be realized in its fullness. This is why right doctrine is so important. When we selectively apply scriptures to fit an agenda or personal preference we open the door to the dangers of false doctrine. The motive of one’s heart will steer their doctrinal preference; put another way it will determine the church and leaders that they will follow.
This is a topic that can be examined in greater detail but hopefully an awareness of the need for doctrinal integrity has been sufficiently raised. Let us be those who allow our walk to be determined by the righteousness of God that is revealed from faith to faith. It represents a journey that is costly but in the end filed with everlasting joy and glory. The warnings of holding the truth of God’s Word in unrighteousness should serve as a wakeup call as to what is at stake. Personally, I feel this article of Selective Scriptural Application falls into this category.
The final instalment on this series of Knowing our Doctrine will focus on what constitutes True Doctrine. There is a notable hunger for Truth and the teaching of God’s Word gaining traction in the worldwide church. It all comes down to whether there is a love for Truth; we will either embrace Truth or hide and cover it up. The Lord is making His way into the garden, our garden, how will we respond? (Gen 3:8, Rev 3:20)