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From Suffering to Praise: A sermon on 1 Peter 5:6-11

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Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Bible Interpretation

The Bible employs many different genres of literature. There is poetry. There are personal letters. There are visions and dreams. There is narrative. Good interpretation of the Bible requires recognizing the genre of the respective passage and applying the appropriate interpretive rules for the genre.

One interpretive decision to make that crosses over genres, but occurs most especially in personal letters and narrative, is whether to understand the passage as descriptive or prescriptive. Let me explain…

Descriptive: Some passages are descriptive. That is, they tell you what was happening. It’s not necessarily telling us whether it is morally right or wrong, just that it is what happened. Example:

He [Solomon] had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart (1 Ki 11:3).

Was it good for Solomon to have 1000 women in his harem? No. Was it right for Solomon to have 1000 women in his harem? No. So this passage is a clear example of a descriptive passage that tells us what was happening, but never infers that it was good or what was should have been happening. The Bible is clear on marriage… one man, one woman, forever.

Prescriptive: Other passages, however, are intended to prescribe moral imperatives upon the reader. Example:

You shall not murder (Ex 20:13).

Murder is wrong. That is clear. This verse (and the 10 Commandments in general) are moral prescriptions of how God’s people are supposed to act (praise God for grace that covers us when we don’t do what we are supposed to do). But the point is that this verse is prescriptive.

In short, when reading the Bible, ask yourself this question: Is this passage describing what should be (prescriptive) or describing what is happening (descriptive)?

Of course, the challenge is, it’s not always as easy as the passages I used as examples above. And sometimes it may even change in the course of a chapter from description to prescription and back again. Let’s look at one more example:

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him (1 Cor 11:14).

So is this passage descriptive or prescriptive? If prescriptive, that means it is morally wrong for a man to grow long hair. But if it is simply descriptive, is the rest of 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul teaches on the Lord’s Supper? Here are back to back sections on Godly worship in the same chapter. So is this passage descriptive or prescriptive? It’s a big decision…

Deciding whether a passage is descriptive or prescriptive is one of the most important decisions we make in properly interpreting the Bible. And if you are ever not sure, ask a friend…

Interact: What passages of the Bible do you struggle to decide if they are descriptive or prescriptive?

Practicing Righteousness, Pursuing Eternal Rewards

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for them you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

In prepping for an upcoming sermon on part of Matthew 6, I was struck by the two presuppositions of Matthew 6:1, along with the three specific areas that are then elaborated on. In short, verse 1 serves as the big idea of which the rest of the chapter serves as an explanation and application of verse 1.

Two Presuppositions in Matthew 6:1

Practicing RighteousnessVerse 1 presupposes two important things:

  • We are supposed to practice righteousness.
  • That is a funny statement, but we are to be living out the disciplines of the Christian faith. There are good and necessary out workings of our faith, and we are expected to be applying them to our lives.
  • We are to long for rewards.
  • Unfortunately, too many Christians think that rewards are bad. Never does the Bible condemn pursuing rewards, but instead presents a picture of actively pursuing rewards, crowns, and treasures.

The caution the Bible does provide with respect to pursuing rewards is to pursue eternal rewards, not temporal ones. Pursue treasures that will last forever, not ones that will be pass away. Pursue heavenly rewards, not immediate gratification rewards from those around us. And therein lies exactly the reason that Jesus then elaborates on three specific areas of application.

Three Specific Areas to which Jesus Applies Matthew 6:1

  • Giving to the needy (vs 2-4).
    • “Thus when you give to the needy…” (vs 2)
    • “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (vs 4).
    • There is a temptation to approach giving to the needy as a means of paying it forward, thinking that it will come back to us in the future. Or we make a big deal about our giving, trumpeting how many kids we sponsor or how many wells we’ve helped dig. There is a reward to our giving to the needy. But for me, I want my reward to come from the Father who sees in secret…
  • Prayer (vs 5-6)
    • “And when you pray…” (vs 5)
    • “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vs 6).
    • Daniel went into his closet and prayed. May that be a great example for us that our prayers not be marked by ten-cent words, but rather by humble spirits dependent upon God to move in our lives and on our behalf. But there is a temptation to show off our praying. here is a reward to our prayer. But for me, I want my reward to come from the Father who sees in secret…
  • Fasting (vs 16-18)
    • “And when you fast…” (vs 16)
    • “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vs 18).
    • This is one many (most) of us rarely do. But if we do, we want to make sure everyone knows about it. “I’m fasting from Facebook for Lent.” Nevermind my thoughts on that even counting as a “fast,” but notice how self-congratulating it is. And likely, also its own full reward. here is a reward to our fasting. But for me, I want my reward to come from the Father who sees in secret…

Did you see the structure of those sections? Each started with “when you…” and ended with “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Those sections begin and end by addressing the two presuppositions of verse 1. May each of us ever grow in our practice of righteousness, and eagerly await the day we will be with the Father in glory and receive his eternal rewards.

Good Friday: The day Christ fell is the day Mercy stood!

How is it that a day of such of evil and pain…

ever got the word “good” in its name?

The Space Between: A Good Friday Reflection

We call it Good Friday, yet it is marked by death… the death of Jesus. We may know that Sunday’s coming, with its promise of hope and resurrection. But the space between death and resurrection is a place of pain, heartache, loneliness and sorrow. The following is a poem I wrote as a reflection last year for Good Friday entitled, The Space Between. Special thanks to Steve Brown of Key Life who recorded the audio.

[audio http://www.covenantlifepca.com/clients/73/media/TheSpaceBetween.mp3]

The Space Between

The space between Sunday and Friday
Is more than I grasp, more than I can say
What started on a high note has turned into an awful week
Let me share the story of how it got this bleak

It all began on Sunday as Jesus came riding into town
For just the chance to see him, people gathered from all around
“Hosanna” they shouted, “Won’t you be our king?”
“We’ll put a crown upon your head and on your finger, a ring”

As Sunday turned to Friday, all joy began to disappear
The celebration ended, replaced by doubt and fear
Walking through that week and all that did unfold
The air, like my heart, grew heavy and cold

For 30 pieces of silver he was betrayed by a good friend
Then Peter said he didn’t know him, or so he did pretend
They hurled baseless accusations in that sham of a trial
Still he did not defend himself, not even a denial

Pilate was gonna set him free, but he gave into the crowd
He was gonna let him walk, but that’s when they got really loud
His enemies riled the crowd ‘til all you could hear was “Crucify!”
So he was beaten, bruised, spat upon and hung on a cross to die

As he breathed his final breath, he cried out “It is done”
That’s when darkness covered the land, swallowing the sun
The One who at creation declared “Let there be light”
Died a violent death and was buried on that scandalous night

For years I had followed him wherever he went
Never could I have foreseen this dramatic turn of events
My God, my King, my Jesus was laid in a grave
The hopes and fears of all the years… Buried with him in that cave

The space between Sunday and Friday
Is more than I grasp, more than I can say
Sunday’s triumphant parade of victory
Has given way to Friday’s agony

His friends all forsook him, they all began to flee
I ran too, so that list includes me
Our once-so-close knit group has been all strewn and scattered
After three years of following him, I wonder if any of it mattered

The space between Friday and Sunday is a terrible place
It’s an ugly, dark and unjust land of fear and disgrace
The brokenness and the dread, the heartache and the pain
Here I stand all alone, my faith has begun to wane

Someone once called this the dark night of the soul
If only someone could come and make my aching heart whole
Jesus is the only one who could do that, but alas, he is dead
Trapped in that gloomy moment, I hold on to something he once said

He made a curious comment: “Three days and I will rise”
If that is true, my friends, I must see it with my own eyes
I count the days till Sunday, I long for it to come
If Jesus does rise, a mighty victory’s been won

Caught between the grave and resurrection, between death and life
I want to believe, but in this place I’m torn between hope and strife
Right here, right now, that coming victory hardly can be seen
So until Sunday I’ll wait, in the space between

 

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

The whole Bible is about Jesus. The whole Bible was expecting Jesus’ arrival at that first Christmas. From the dawn of creation, God was telling a single story, building toward and expecting the glory of Christmas. Enjoy this spectacular video from The Skit Guys telling that story to the tune of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus!

Made in the Image of God

ImagoDei

Yesterday, we looked at a whole bunch of verses about the way the God sees you. Truth be told, that list could have gone on for a long time. But there is one passage that I believe captures, even more than any of those, the way God sees us. He sees us as his image-bearers.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

            So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them (Gen 1:26-28).

Three times in two verses we read that God made humans, male and female, in his own image. And a fourth reference says “after our likeness,” with likeness meaning the same thing. We are the pinnacle of creation, the climax of God’s creative work, because, unlike anything else in that creation, we bear his image. What does that mean? Stay tuned. But for now, exalt in this:

Who I really am is the image of God. And so are you.