Friday, March 29, 2013

Jesus was not a Bible Basher

Middle school was a tough time for me.  In seventh grade, I had some friends who liked to pick on other kids, and I joined them.  Church camp the following summer was a pivotal time for me, as I realized that if I wanted to say I follow Jesus, I couldn't behave that way anymore.  Unfortunately, I let the pendulum swing too far, and my eighth grade year I was something of a self-righteous snot. 

One memory I have I wish I could blot out forever.  One of my friends had a potty mouth, not so surprising since middle school kids can out cuss a sailor.  I didn't like hearing it, so my solution was simple: chase the poor girl around quoting Ephesians 4:29 to her. I still turn red when I think about her walking away from me with her fingers in her ears while I shouted "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."  I had memorized the scripture, but I obviously didn't really listen to it!  What could be less edifying that shouting a Bible verse at someone in order to chide them?

When Jesus quoted the Scripture he had memorized, He never did so to change a person's behavior.  Instead, Jesus used Old Testament Word to show that God is much more concerned with the heart, and always has been.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus quotes the law, which the self righteous Pharisees were so careful to keep.  They didn't murder, commit adultery, or make false vows.  They even put rules around the rules to make sure everyone followed the law as closely as they did.  (I wonder if they chased vow breakers, quoting the laws about false vows?)  Jesus, though, was more concerned about the heart of his people.  In his eyes, contempt for your brother or lustful eyes are just as bad as murder and adultery because they hit the heart.  It is also interesting to note that while Jesus did quote the Old Testament to the Pharisees, he didn't do that to everyone he ran across.  Zacchaeus and the woman at the well had no reason to call Jesus a Bible Basher.  When Jesus did quote Scripture, his purpose was not to let people know the rules; they had a grasp of those already.  His purpose was to change them from the inside out. 

Our purpose in using Scripture should be the same.  We cannot expect someone to change their external behaviors or even their beliefs just by quoting the Bible at them.  When the debate about abortion flares hot, we are quick to quote Jeremiah 1:5 where God says he knew the prophet in the womb, or the Psalm that describes how we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).  All of these things are true, but is throwing these verses around going to change anything?  I recently read an article by a pro-abortion author entitled "So What if Abortion Ends Life?"  I can guarantee that quoting Biblical passages about the sanctity of human life is not going to change her mind.  The only Scriptures that matter are the ones that will change her heart.  We are promised that the Word of God can do that in Hebrews 4:12. "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  Yes, the Bible is powerful, but only in the sense that it changes our hearts. True obedience comes from the heart, not from mere rule keeping.

We know all this on a personal level.  The answer to our children's behavior problems is not to make more and more rules for them to remember.  "Don't hit, bite, scratch, punch, push, or kick" doesn't work nearly as well as "Be kind to your sister because she is the only one you have, and you love her."  Why don't we use the same process when reaching out to our lost friends?  

When we are talking with those friends, we should never aim at their behaviors with Scripture.  Christ is not dwelling in them; how can we expect them to follow his Word?  I'm not saying the Bible is useless as an evangelism tool, quite the opposite!  The Word of God should be used to help them come to a saving knowledge of Jesus first because only He can change them from the inside.  

If I could go back to my 13 year old self, I would tell her a thing or two.  I would tell her that what comes out of her friend's mouth is a statement about what is in her heart.  I would remind her gently that she can't change her friend's heart by lashing out with random bible verses.  I would take her back to the time when Jesus changed her heart and help her lead her friend to the same decision.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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