Monday, March 27, 2006

David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop III - Sharpening the Application

David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop
Taken with permission. Photo thanks to J
In the third in a series of Bible reading workshops organised by Project Timothy, David Jackman focused on the application of biblical text. This is a summary of the workshop:

It is often said that there is an ugly ditch between the Bible and the 21st century. But if we look closely, the similarities are overwhelming: we are sinful, like the people in the Bible, and God is the same God he was then.

God in the Bible and God now
The Bible is God preaching God to us. Remember in the first session we saw that the Bible was God revealing himself to us. Event + Explanation = Revelation. Has God changed from the biblical times to the 21st century? No! Is the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament the same? Yes! God is unchanging. So when we look at the Bible, there is a direct link between the God of the Bible and God now. The application is the same now as it was then.
David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop (Diagram)
Remember what we learnt in the second session: what have I learnt about Jesus and God? So what I have learnt hasn't changed because God is eternal. He is one person (though he is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit) and he is one God revealing himself. What I have learnt about God in the Bible is directly applicable to me today.

Israel in the Bible and the Church Now
The line between Israel in the Bible and the church now is a dotted line. They are not the same. (1) Israel then was under theocratic rule, therefore there were laws for that nation of Israel. We cannot expect to impose the laws of the Old Testament on a multicultural, multireligious nation now. And it would be a wrong reading of the Old Testament in any case. (2) Roman 8:9 tells us that when we repent and believe, we have the Holy Spirit in us. People of the Old Testament didn't have the Holy Spirit permanently indwelling in them all the time. The Spirit was given to them for a while, he did his work and he left. He came and went. In John 7:37-9, Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit and everyone who is called to trust in the gospel and does so will have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is eternal, but he had a different role in biblical times as he has now. (3) The prohibitions in the Old Testament were designed to teach Israel to distinguish themselves from other nations. However now in the New Testament, Jesus abolished food laws so that now you can eat pork and shellfish (provided of course they are properly cleaned). Now the church is made up of many nations so we do not try to distinguish ourselves from other nations but from the world.

So you just can't lift things from the Old Testament and apply them to ourselves today.

Biblical Characters and Us
Take the example of Gideon in Judges. Gideon sought God's will and asked for a sign. And as you know he put out a fleece and the fleece was dry when the ground around it was wet, and it was wet when all around it was dry. Some people take that as an example and when they want to know God's will for them, they put out a fleece. Metaphorically of course, not that they go up to their bedroom, take the sheepskin rug and lay it out in their backyard. They ask God for a sign, they ask God to show them what to do.

So let's say you're not sure if you should be a missionary and you're sitting at the bus stop and you say to God,"If you really want me to be a missionary, please let the next bus be a 165." And the next bus is a 165 and you go,"Oops, perhaps I shouldn't have asked..." We sometimes want God to tell us what we actually want for ourselves.

There is the story of a man who wasn't sure if he should go out to missions. So one day, he said to God,"God, if you want me to be a missionary, please show me a sign. I'll be looking out for a sign all day today, so please show me a sign." So he went to work and on the way, he stopped at a shop to buy some newspapers. It happened that at the shop there was a marketing strategy, promoting Brazilian nuts. So the man gets excited and phones up his pastor and says,"I must come and see you today! God is telling me to be a missionary in Brazil!" So the pastor meets him at night, hears him out and says,"Wasn't it good that they weren't doing a marketing promotion on Mars bars?"

We should not play games, pretending we're Old Testament characters when we're not!

God does show us his will, but not on our terms. We are to use our minds, pray and try doors of opportunities. We are to trust God and follow in his footsteps. Usually, God is not in the same hurry as us. He wants to mould us and shape us, but we want to be doing the job now!

So a character in the Bible does not translate directly to me now. I will not necessarily have to do the same things that the character does nor will I definitely have the same experiences.

However
as I learn about God in the bible story, I know how God will relate to me. Take the story of the calling of Abraham. I do not, like Abraham, have to move to another country. but God does call us like he did Abraham, just not in the same way.

I used to know Sir Norman Anderson, an old Christian and a professor of Islamic studies. He spent some years of his youth in Egypt which is where he learnt so much about Islam. But before he left for Egypt, he was reading the Bible in his quiet time and he kept seeing "do not go down to Egypt", "do not go down to Egypt". You see, he was reading Jeremiah.

Take the letter of Paul to Timothy. If you were a woman, you don't have to identify with Timothy although you would pray for those characteristics in your pastor. If you were a young pastor, you could probably identify more closely with Timothy but you aren't Timothy in Ephesus.

The Bible is relevant but we have to apply it in the right way.

Let's look, for example, at 1 Peter 2. We are not going to jettison the principles that we have seen so far. In 2:1 we see a "therefore". When you see a "therefore", you ask what it is there for. It refers to the preceding paragraph, to the word of the gospel, the word that stands forever, faith in Jesus and salvation in him. So what? This is the flashing neon light, the application. If the word of God has brought me to new birth and created in me new love for God and brother, then love cannot co-exist with deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander. Love one another deeply means to love one another at full stretch: like a sprinter in the Commonwealth Games, stretching towards the tape. There was this athlete who ducked too soon and the other person won by, literally, a nose because he was really stretching out everything towards the finishing line.
  • What? is the exegesis
  • Why? is the significance
  • So what? is the application
  • and then there is How?
If you are preaching to me, please tell me the how. The preacher tells me what and I go home feeling depressed but I don't know how to change.

In 2:2 we see, "like" - a connecting word. So 2:1 and 2:2 relate together. As you taste the goodness of God, you will long for more and more pure spiritual milk (in the Greek, it is literally "spiritual word milk"), so you will put away sins. As a mother wrote in the Bible she was giving her son as he was going to university:"Sin will keep you from this book and this book will keep you from sin".

Newborn babies do not ask,"Mummy, could you please give me some milk?" No. They scream for it. And you know if you have a healthy baby, he wants more and more of it. When I was preaching somewhere else, they put me up in a lovely room in a hospital. Across the courtyard was the maternity ward and early, very early in the morning, you would be awakened by babies screaming, brawling for milk. You needed earplugs if you were going to continue sleeping.

So how do you get rid of sin? You crave the Bible. And as you read the Bible more and more, as your minds are filled with God's word, as your hearts are set on fire, you will put off sin.

It used to be said that John Bunyan, the Puritan author of "Pilgrim's Progress" had biblime blood. If you cut his blood, the Bible would flow out of it. He was so filled with God's word it was a part of him and his whole life.

It is the Bible, God's word, that is important, not experiences that I have to keep trying to hold on to.

If we find we are slanderous or envious etc (and of course we all are. As Christians we must be honest; honest with God and each other), then we need the Bible. We do not try harder. It is not enough to get things out. Remember the spirits that were cast out by Jesus? We must put something else in place.

No Imperatives Without Indicatives
We had a Scottish lecturer in college who would say "no imperatives without indicatives". Don't give commands without teachings. If you do, you will have very weary legalistic people. Teaching leads you to understand and obey the commands.

1 Peter 1:13-16 is a series of commands. But they are not on their own. In 1:13, we see a "therefore" (so we ask what is it there for). If you know all this, and you put your hope in the future, you will live like strangers and aliens in this world. In 1:17, we are to live our lives in reverend fear. So what? call on the Father. How? by the precious blood of Jesus.

The outworking of teaching must be seen in practical ways. For example, what we have seen with the spiritual milk earlier.

2:11-12 is a command. 2:13 tells us how. Not, ooh, let me think how we can do this, but we must get back to looking at the text. 2:13-3:9 is another series of commands. But you ask,"Why should I do this if my employer is getting more out of me than I am from him?" Commands are surrounded by teaching: 2:21-24, because Jesus did this; he gave his life. Why did Jesus do this? Because he was weak? No, because he was strong. He did it for the redemption of all. How should I overcome? Not by a show of strength or by going to war. Not actively demanding my rights (although not being a doormat either). Like a matyr said,"They can take the shirt from my back, my head from my shoulders but not Jesus from my heart".

Commands are the first route into the application of the passage. But they are filled out by teaching which expands the commands. So don't just get a set of rules but what God wants and how to do it.

(Before the break, someone asked how one would get the application from an Old Testament passage. David said that it would come out of what the story says the application is. The standard OT passage used in Cornhill was 2 Chronicles 12:1-22. The central idea is that God is just. If they humble themselves before the LORD, he will have mercy, but if they don't, he will judge them and destroy them.)

1 Peter 3
Let's look now at 1 Peter 3. You thought I'd skip this, didn't you? No, well, here we are. We need to look at:
  • what it says;
  • its underlying meaning; and
  • the application.
We are accumulating a toolbox you see, for reading the Bible.

Jesus Preaching to the Spirits in Prison
1 Peter 3:18-22 is one of the most complex passages of the book and, some say, the whole New Testament:
18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[e] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (NIV)
In 3:18, we encounter again the word "for". What is it there for? It is the example of Jesus, illustrating 3:17. There is reference to the cross and reference to the resurrection. He preached (the Greek word is "proclaimed") what he did in the resurrection to the spirits in prison.

Now the question we ask is: what was Jesus doing between the time he was hanging on the cross and the curtain in the temple was torn into two and the moment when the stone of his tomb was rolled away and he came out of it? What happened between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning?

Well, it seems that he was preaching to the spirits in prison. These spirits were from the day of Noah. Presumably they were disobedient and were imprisoned by God. Let us go back to the Old Testament because there is no dividing page between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Genesis 6 is a mysterious passage. Possibly, the writer was talking about angelic beings who were not tied by time but God determined that humans would be mortal and their days would be numbered. God reduces the lifespan of humans because humans have been affected by these fallen angels and have rebelled against God. God will destroy mankind for their rebellion, their sinfulness.

We should look for other passages in the Bible which also help us understand this passage:
  • 2 Peter 2:4-10 talks about angels being chained up in the gloomy darkness for sinning against God and then about the destruction of mankind in the days of Noah; and
  • Jude 1:6 talks about angels who did not stay within their own position of authority being kept in chains in gloomy darkness until the day of judgement.
So there are 3 clear New Testament references to those angels who did not submit to God but wanted to have authority over themselves. God threw them out of heaven and bound them. If Jesus preached to them, he proclaimed his victory over death and over sin by his resurrection. Satan and his angels have been defeated. Jesus wasn't preaching them an evangelistic sermon so that they would believe in Christ. He was proclaiming his victory.

2 Peter tell us that water was how Noah was rescued. He was safe in the ark on the water and the ark brought him through the flood. There were 8 people in all (1 Peter 3:20). Some people say that living in the ark would have been like living with your in-laws in a zoo! But if there's a flood outside, I'd rather be in the ark even if it meant living with my in-laws in a zoo. The flood waters which destroyed the world also buoyed Noah and the rest of the people in the ark through the judgement into salvation, because God in his mercy provided this special means of rescue.

Back to 1 Peter 3:21. So if you are wrapped up in Jesus, God's special means of rescue for you from his judgement, then Jesus will be the ark that takes the judgement on your behalf (like the ark weathered the flood) and he will bring you into salvation.

"Baptism' in the Greek is "to submerge". This does not refer to a modern baptismal method of full immersion but it means "sunk". So an ancient merchant wrote to his creditors "I cannot pay my bills because my ship has been baptised in the ocean".

This immersion into water is a sign that the old life has been washed away and the person is raised again as a symbol of new life. The old life is buried, is sunk, now look at the new. It's not about having a good wash, a shower in the morning. It's a sign that you are in a new relationship with God. (Of course, if you want to lose all your converts very quickly, you hold them under the water for too long.)

Now look at 1 Peter 3:22. The whole universe is in submission to Jesus, including angels good and evil. Why be afraid that you are aliens and strangers in the world? Jesus is in supreme authority over everything else. The people Peter was writing to knew that when they were baptised and when their names came up in the Cappadocian Times because they were in trouble with the magistrate, there was no fear of the hostile powers or of evil spirits or sin. Jesus had brought them out from all this and we can't be more secure than when in Christ.

The application is this: we can have confidence because our salvation is secure. We have a good conscience towards God and God has nothing against us.

This prepares us for 1 Peter 4. "Therefore" (1 Peter 4:1), since Christ suffered in order to be our ark, there is no going back to sin. We do not live for evil human desires but for holiness.

Question and Answer Time
Q: How were we supposed to have known that "preach" is "proclaim" in the Greek?
You don't have to know Greek to read the Bible because the Bible is for everyone. However, if you are going to preach or teach the Bible fulltime, it would be useful to know some Greek. If I am in the dentist's chair and she's poking around in my mouth, I would be pleased to see a certificate on her wall. If I am going to be a physican of souls, then I need a bit of New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew. I'd greatly recommend WE Vine's "Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words".

*************
I. The Beauty of Things and David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop
II. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop II: Digging Deeper for the Meaning
III. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop III: Sharpening the Application
IV. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part I)
V. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part II)

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