We’re coming in for a landing! We’re getting to the end of this blog series in which we’re learning how to receive from God’s word. So if you would allow me, may I challenge you to conduct a short exercise? It’s got nothing to do with jumping jacks or push-ups. Simply get out a piece of paper and a pen. (At this point, it is going to be incredibly tempting to not do what I just requested and instead just eyeball this blog first to see if it’s worth your time. Trust me, this exercise will not be a waste of time. Trust me.)
Okay, are you ready? Now answer the following questions in no more than one sentence. But make sure you write a complete, coherent sentence. (Not like my kids when I ask them a question like, “So, guys, what did you learn about in kids church today?” “Uh. God?” “I know you learned about God, but what did you learn about him that was new or helpful?”)
- Who is Paul? (You know, the guy in the New Testament.) In as much detail as you know, write once sentence describing him. Take your time.
- What is an apostle? (Reminder! Don’t run ahead! Stay with me here….) In one sentence, write everything you know about an apostle. (Sometimes it helps to say the word aloud and then write the first thing that comes to your mind.)
- This question is a bit more complicated…but you can do it! In the New Testament, Paul said that he was chosen to be an apostle by God and not by men. Why do you think he makes the distinction that he was not in the ministry because of the will of people, but of God?
- Often, when Paul would sign his letters, he would say that the letter also came from his traveling ministry team. Yet it was he, alone, who the Holy Spirit inspired to write his letters. Why do you think Paul included his friends in his salutations? What is the significance of the fact that even the mighty apostle Paul ministered and practiced his faith with others?
- What is the church? I know, I know…just put your pen to paper and come up with the best definition you’ve got. (You might be amazed at what you write down.)
- Final question: Where is Galatia? (Google it or go to Wikipedia if you don’t know. It’s okay.)
I’ve got some pretty cool news for you. If you thoughtfully answered those questions, you just interpreted the opening two verses of a rather difficult book in the New Testament, Galatians. “Paul, an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead - and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia…” Great job! Give yourself a pat on the back. Now I’m not saying that your responses are inscrutable, or that they are so sound they should end up in a future sermon. The value of this exercise is that it’s a great start. It’s intended to get you headed in the right direction.
I’ve got a beat up New King James Bible. It’s light blue and leather-bound. (It sort of looks like something I’d give my thirteen-year-old daughter.) My folks gave it to me when I was a teenager and I began using it toward the end of high school and the several years thereafter. Every once and a while I thumb through that bible and read some of the comments that I scribbled into the margins all those years ago as a young, untrained student of scripture. At times, I am delighted by the truth I stumbled upon as I was taking my first steps in the faith. But most of my scribbles aren’t just silly, they’re flat-out incorrect.
You know what? I don’t think God was worried back then. He is the one who stands outside of time and can see the totality of our lives with a single glimpse. He knew back then that I’d grow up and get a lot better at this. And you will, too. Not only that, but he is the one who is guiding you and me in our development. Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 bring me much hope in this regard. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Those of us who are serious about growing as followers of Jesus will grow. God will see to it himself.
As we devote ourselves to his word, he will increase our knowledge. We will grow in biblical fluency. Trust me. Begin reading God’s word thoughtfully. Yeah, you’ll look back over your shoulder one day down the road and smile as you reflect on some of your assumptions in your rookie years - sort of the way I smile at my 19-month-old when he tries to utter a new word, but something totally indistinguishable comes out of his mouth. Yeah, it’s not “correct.” But it’s so dad-gum cute! And I know that he’ll get it one day. I’m just happy he’s trying.
But wait! We’re not ready to wrap up yet! Next week, we’re going to talk about how to apply what you interpret to your own life. If we are only interpreting the Scriptures, we’re doing half the job. How does the Bible’s truth relate to your life where you are right now? How is the Holy Spirit pressing the truth of the text into your soul for further consideration, meditation, and prayer? See you next Tuesday.