Thursday, September 17, 2015

What I'm Learning About Hard Truths from Scripture

Let's be totally honest here. Some parts of the Bible are challenging. They can be really difficult to read and to understand. Some of the verses I struggle with are passages that talk about women, like 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

Usually when I read that particular passage, I like to get through it as quickly as possible, especially verse 11. There is something a little painful about reading those verses, they make me cringe. But at the same time, I know if I was honest, there is something for me to learn in that passage just like every other verse in the Bible.

The reality is, we like to use the Bible to fit our views, to make us comfortable, to affirm our beliefs. We focus on the sections that we like and ignore or write off the portions we dislike or don't understand. But the truth is, the Bible isn't here to make us feel good, the Bible is here to tell us hard truth, to instruct us, to teach us about God and the things we need to know, obey, and live by. The whole  Bible.

One argument some people like to take against certain passages--like this one in 1 Timothy 2--is that it was cultural and thus not relevant or applicable to our culture and time. Women today shouldn't be bound to a command that was issued under a different cultural setting, some say. This may be completely true, but I would also argue, why dismiss a verse so quickly without allowing time to reflect, study, and ask God why this particular passage was included in the Bible? Just looking at it in cultural context can be too easy. What does God want to teach us through the tough passages, the parts we want to gloss over or skip all together?

I love how the Bible is described as "living and active" in Hebrews 4:12. It's a beautiful picture of the complexity and depth of the Scriptures. We can read the same verses over and over and receive new understanding and new enlightenment each time. Each time the Holy Spirit can show us something we haven't seen before, something we didn't know, if we open our hearts and minds to His leading.

I think God wants us to do that, to approach His Word with openness to whatever He may want to teach us. To come expectant that we will find not what we  want, but what He  wants, and in so doing, be transformed into men and women of God.

Too often we come to the Bible with an agenda. An agenda dictated by our society, by others' views, or our own thoughts and expectations. We use that agenda as a screen through which we view the Bible, and truthfully, it poisons everything we read. Allowing the world and people in it to dictate your view of the Bible and what you want to read in it is a level of conformity. Romans 12:2 says this about conformity:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This verse should be our guiding goal as we come to the Bible. We should be looking for transformation and renewal in our minds, seeking the will of God. The Bible should mold us in the truth, not be molded by us. It should be our guide and instruction in ultimate truth. Biblical transformation and renewal enables us to be able to discern God's will, which will answer our questions about social issues, morality, justice, even our roles as men and women in the church.

Which brings me back to 1 Timothy 2:12 which says, "I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent." No, I'm not particularly fond of this verse. Yes, it may be intended to have a strictly cultural application in a time when women were less educated than men. But I know and believe God wants to teach me and the church from it, both women and men.

Can I just be honest with you and unpack what I've been learning? No, I'm not going to tell you what women can and can't do. I'm not going to tell you what you should think when you read this verse. I'll let God handle that. I just want to share a few things that have been on my mind, that I've observed, and that I've learned by allowing God's Word to instruct me more than outside opinions.

This passage causes reflection on church leadership, positions which come with great responsibility. James 3:1 says, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." If someone assumes the role and responsibilities of a teacher in the church, he or she also assumes the consequences of failure within that role: stricter judgement.

I think any person who wants to be a leader in the church should do so carefully and somberly, not from a place of declaring, "I can and will do what I want," but from a place of asking, "God, what do you want from me?" There is no harm to being careful to obey God's Word, but there is harm in rushing ahead to do something just because we can. Just because a man or woman can preach, doesn't always mean that he or she should. Wisdom comes in knowing the difference.

I often hear an argument for women to be pastors coming from a place of progressive thought. We view it as a sign of growth, modernity, or moving forward out of the "dark ages" when women were treated as less. This progression isn't inherently bad--particularly in society--but it can become bad when we look to it before we look to the Word of God, particularly in the church. It can become bad when we see it as a right we have to fight for. We so quickly forget that ministry, the Church, God's kingdom, isn't about us or our "rights."

James 3:13-18 speaks to this situation well:
Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.
These passages also cause me to examine myself. Could there be something in 1 Timothy 2 or James 3 that I need to internalize, that I need to learn? The short answer is yes, I do feel like God has been showing me some things that I struggle with and some things I need to let go. The lessons are hard, but also sweet. I want to have humility, I want to have a gentle spirit, I want to have wisdom. I want to be known for Christ-likeness.

Like I said before, I'm not going to tell you what to do. I'm not going to say women shouldn't be pastors. I'm also not going to say that women should be pastors. I don't think blanket statements of that nature are good for deciding who should and shouldn't be a church leader. I definitely don't think men should assume church leadership roles based solely off of their gender, but the Bible speaks to that as well (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

Regardless of what I think, I leave those decisions to God's guidance and leading, because I know He calls those He wants to call, men and women. I do encourage you to seek Him before you make a decision about this either way. To move toward a decision out of a place of anger, intolerance, self-promotion, or condemnation will do more harm than good, to you and others. I think that if we are open, there are hard truths God wants to teach all of us from Scripture.

I would love to one day have a greater role in the church. My spiritual gifting is first pastor/shepherd and second administration. But I don't see that as a right, I see it as a privilege I hope to use for God's glory. What that will look like and how that will manifest itself, I don't know. But in the mean time, my main goal and objective is to know and glorify God, and to simply serve Him wherever I am, however I can.

My hope in sharing all of this is to encourage men and women, and myself, to always return to the Bible. Look to the guiding word of God before you act, before you jump on a social bandwagon, before you broadcast a platform. The Bible is and always will be relevant, instructive, and authoritative.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

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