Lesson 77—August 9, 2015
Audio Lesson by Life Focus Teacher David Daniel
Where Preachers Fear to Tread
Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26
Lesson Goal: To gain a better understanding of Jesus’ words pertaining to true righteousness.
Introduction: Many years ago, I came across a small paperback book that caught my attention. Actually, it was the title that caught my attention. The book’s author was O. S. Hawkins, and the title was Where Angels Fear to Tread. As I thumbed through its passages, I realized where the title came from. It was a play on the fact that there were certain biblical topics and subjects that were not easily explained. The book’s content dealt with social issues and struggles, along with personal and ethical issues from a biblical perspective.
Through my years of ministry, I have witnessed that there are seemingly certain topics and subjects “where preachers fear to tread.” As a writer, it is quite frustrating to seek the help of some of the most brilliant theologically minded commentators of Scriptures only to find that they have intentionally skipped or passed over a particular verse or verses without offering any explanation or commentary. It seems as if the verse or verses just disappeared because of their level of difficulty or potential for controversy. Indeed, there are topics and subjects “where preachers fear to tread.”
Concerning these difficult subjects, I have witnessed that often preachers take one of two primary strategies. The first strategy I mentioned in the previous paragraph—simply avoid the subject completely. I call this the “avoidance strategy.” The problem with this approach is that while a controversy may be avoided, the danger caused by avoidance is far greater than any potential controversy that may be caused. Merely avoiding a passage does not allow for the truth of the passage to be made known. By avoiding, we do not study and find the true meaning and principle in the passage. Because of the level of difficulty or the assumed potential for controversy, are we given the right, as biblical learners, to just avoid the passage? If we take this approach to Bible study, we are robbing ourselves of many great truths and wonderful blessings. Beware of the danger of the “avoidance” approach to Scripture.
The second primary strategy often used by preachers to deal with difficult subjects is what I call the “aggressive, forceful strategy.” This approach is very different from the “avoidance strategy.” Instead of avoiding a subject because of its difficulty, the “aggressive, forceful strategy” seeks to pound one’s own interpretation into the minds and hearts of the learners. In this approach, often the preacher’s own preconceived ideas about a passage become the basis for interpretation. There is great danger in this strategy as well. Too often preachers or teachers, because of their own religious backgrounds and preconditioned, preconceived ideas, speak their personal meaning of a passage into the Bible, instead of letting the Bible speak its meaning into them. Let me say it in Town Creek language: “We should not tell the Bible what it says; the Bible tells us what it says. We do not bring meaning to the Bible; the Bible brings meaning to us.” Sometimes preachers and teachers, by their own aggressive style, want to intimate learners into believing their interpretation merely by the volume of their voices and the forcefulness of their delivery. The danger of this approach is that it leaves no room for personal interpretation led by the Holy Spirit. The aggressive, forceful approach can come from a spirit of selfish “knowitallism” (know-it-all-ism—Brackin word).
So how do we deal with difficult passages, difficult subjects and difficult topics of the Bible?
I offer you a third strategy for the study of such passages. This strategy is called the “Appeal to the Holy Spirit strategy.” An appeal is defined as “an earnest plea, a serious request.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been blessed with the Holy Spirit as our teacher (1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 1:16-17; John 14:26). This approach is done prayerfully, biblically and wisely.
Prayerfully (Psalm 119:73; Psalm 119:34; Colossians 1:9)—We, followers of Jesus Christ, pray for spiritual understanding. We pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate our minds and hearts with the truth.
Biblically (2 Timothy 2:14-15; Psalm 25:4-5; Psalm 119:129-130; 119:105; 119:33-40)—We, followers of Jesus Christ, seek the truth found in the Word of God—our source of truth.
Wisely (James 1:5)—We, followers of Jesus Christ, understand that we need the wisdom of God as we interpret and apply the Word of God. May I remind you that as you study the God’s Word, the Bible is its own greatest commentary, especially important as you look at the more difficult passages?
Remember to take passages in their correct content and in context of all Scripture. There is a great danger in pulling isolated text to try to prove a point. We must let Scripture speak to Scripture. We can find great confidence in knowing that Scripture never violates itself. Our occasional inability to understand Scripture does not come as a result of the Bible’s own misunderstanding, but as a result of our lack of understanding.
Would you please pause as a class and ask God to give you understanding as you study His Word?
Would you take a moment, as a class, and do something that we normally associate with vacation Bible school? Would you stand while your teacher holds before you a copy of the Word of God and pledge allegiance to the Bible?
I pledge allegiance to the Bible,
God’s Holy Word.
I will make it a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path
and will hide its words in my heart
that I might not sin against God.
Jesus’ words in verse twenty were hanging in the people’s minds. How could anyone be more righteous than the seemingly righteous scribes and Pharisees? Jesus explained.
(V21) “You have heard that it was said to those of old”
Please read Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. In these passages, we see that the law against murder is the sixth commandment of the law. Life is to be respected and cherished. In fact, this law was given to protect life. But even before the law was given in Exodus, we find this truth in Genesis 9:6.
Jesus wanted His listeners to understand that His teaching went beyond what had been stated in the Ten Commandments and the law. Jesus wanted them to understand the intent of God’s law.
The people did not become righteous by keeping more laws than the Pharisees. It was not that their righteousness would not exceed the Pharisees’ by the sheer keeping of a greater number of laws than the Pharisees. But it would be by a new understanding of the literal law, as well as a new and clear
understanding of God’s intent found in the law. Jesus’ teaching would reach into the depths of people’s motives and attitudes, as well as actions.
“The Pharisees had created all kinds of ingenious ways of working around the intentions of God’s Word. For example, they found ways to harbor bitterness and hatred toward their neighbor while remaining innocent in their own eyes with regard to murder. They may have lusted after their neighbor’s wives, but so long as they didn’t commit adultery, they felt themselves to be holy, technically speaking. In general, they felt justified in blurring the edges of the truth” (Platt).
Jesus was introducing the truth of true righteousness found in the heart of man through the power of God by a personal relationship with God. This kind of righteousness begins in the heart with purity, holiness and love. It then becomes visible by the outward actions of life.
John MacArthur gives us some wonderful words concerning this exceeding kind of righteousness:
“The One who demands perfect righteousness gives perfect righteousness. The One who tells us of the way into the Kingdom is Himself that way. The King not only sets the standard of perfect righteousness, but will Himself bring anyone up to that standard who is willing to enter the Kingdom on the King’s terms.”
Please read Romans 3:21-22.
Questions for Life Focus
1. What happens when we are confronted by the righteousness of Jesus Christ? Please read Philippians 3:4-9.
2. Explain this major struggle for the Pharisees: If God’s law alone cannot make a person righteous, how much less can manmade traditions make a person righteous?
3. In 2015, what are some ways that people try to obtain the righteousness of God through the law and tradition?
Please read Matthew 15:19.