Last week I shared about knowing the ‘whole counsel of God’ by knowing His character, and actions recorded in His Word. Today I’ll share ‘context‘.
Threw stones behind our back
When Barb and I first moved to the Boulder, Colorado area in May of 1980, we joined a church and got to know the pastor and his wife. To this day over 30 years later, we could pick up with them where we left off as friends, though we haven’t seen each other since 1992. That’s important for the story I’m about to tell.
We became friends with a couple who were leaders in the church, and they often hosted a lunch after Sunday morning service that was legendary. They were potlucks, but the wife, I’ll call her ‘E’, always made delicious Mexican food of such quality and abundance that no matter what everyone else made, we all
gravitated to whatever E had made.
As the 10-15 of us talked the conversation would inevitably drift towards church. Being Christians, its almost mandatory that everyone have an opinion about everything in church, ranging from the sermons to what the pastor’s wife was wearing to how dirty the bathrooms were Sunday – and everything in between.
Nothing said was critical, malicious, or in any way improper, just talking about how to make church better, or expressing thoughts over a meal as friends are prone to do.
And then one day…
We learned somehow we had fallen out of favor with the pastor and his wife, but were at first clueless. When we pressed an informant for information, the trail led directly back to E and talk during the Sunday afternoon potlucks. She had developed an attitude towards the pastor and his wife, but rather than go to them directly as scripture says, she pulled others into her criticism, including saying “John and Barb said”.
We were horrified, and immediately called the pastor and his wife and asked to come over. We apologized profusely, humbly, sincerely, for we were horrified what E had told them. But when the pastor and his wife asked ‘Did you say _________?’ we had to admit, ‘Yes’ to all charges – we did say all that E had reported.
But everything E had reported to them was taken out of context. Yes, the bathrooms were a mess, we said that, but that was sandwiched within talk of a plan to become involved in the bathroom cleaning rotation, and adding decorations to make the women’s bathroom more home-like, and so on.
It wasn’t criticism, which the pastor immediately saw in each and every claim, and our name was cleared – but it was a very humbling lesson. It ended our attendance at the Sunday potlucks, but we repaired the relationship with the pastor and his wife. And they learned E was the actually source of the sudden rise of strife in the church.
Again, a question of character
One of the comments the pastor made to us that afternoon was this; “Well, it didn’t sound like you…these things she reported to us seemed out of character.” Because they did know our character, it made it much easier to set the record straight and allowed them to see the real source of strife. E had just stood behind us (and others) to lob stones of accusation at the pastor and his wife, but we never let that happen again.
Jesus and context
One of the biggest things that people fall into is believing teaching that is taken out of context and turned into something that is far different from what Jesus said or the epistles teach. When that happens the 3 elements from last week are lost: Know the ‘whole counsel of God’ by staying with Character, Action, and Word.
Is what x teacher says consistent with the character of Jesus? Years ago some people were barking and crawling on the floor, supposedly under the influence of the Holy Spirit – really? Could you see Jesus barking like a dog or making anyone bark like a dog? No, of course not, so we dismiss the claim it is God.
Action – is that behavior found in the gospels or Acts, or described in the epistles? Word – can you find chapter and verse, and not just one, but 2 or 3 at least which say the same thing, and that thing is then consistent with the Lord’s recorded actions and character? Did Peter every bark by the Holy Spirit? No!
All 3 elements must agree to be the whole counsel of God: The character of God, the recorded actions of God, and the Word of God.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, haven’t we prophesied in your name? And in your name cast out many demons? And in your name done many wonderful things?’ And then I will admit (confess) to them, ‘I never knew you: Depart from me you who work iniquity.’” Matthew 7:21-23
This verse has been used to scare the living daylights out of Christians for years, who live in constant fear of their heavenly Father lest they do something that would get them kicked out of heaven.
And pulled out of context, that verse does sound like even Christians who love the Lord and living upright lives should fear the fires of hell. But let us put it in context and use our 3 guidelines to gain a clearer understanding.
Who is he talking about?
The preceding verses determine the context: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are hungry wolves. You will know them by the fruit of their lives. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree can’t produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t bring good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire, therefore by their fruit you will know them….Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven…they will say haven’t we done great things in your name…but I will admit that I never knew them…” Matthew 7:15-23
Let me ask you a question: If Jesus told you something, anything, would whatever He told you be the truth? Of course, but allow this foolishness. If Jesus told you anything at all, wouldn’t be the truth?
So if He told people, “I admit to you, I never knew you, leave me you who work iniquity”, wouldn’t that be the truth? I mean, He isn’t saying He once knew them but no longer do – I never knew you – that is the truth, right?
So when people – in context false Christians – claim to have prophesied, cast out demons, and done great things in Jesus’ name, and Jesus says ‘I never knew you’, who are you going to believe? Jesus, or them?
Now re-read that passage starting back in verse 15 that starts out “Beware of false prophets” and ends with “I never knew you” and you’ll see that you dear Christian, have nothing to fear.
Jesus isn’t talking about Christians, He is talking about false prophets, false Christians, non-born again people who work in the church, in Jesus’ name laying claim to great things they have done for God, yet on that last day Jesus will be forced to admit to them, ‘I never knew you, now leave me you workers of sin’.
(Look at the following verses talking about 2 houses, one built on sand (false prophets/false believers) and one built on the rock (Rock/Jesus) – it says the same thing as above, the false house false, the real survives)
The 3 guidelines
Besides context, we must ask these questions: Would throwing Christians out of heaven be consistent with the character of Jesus as seen in the gospels? Is there any example of Him telling any true believer they were destined for hell? The answer is no. Is there anything in Acts or the epistles saying genuine believers and disciples of Jesus might yet miss heaven? The answer is no.
Action – do we see any action taken in the gospels or Acts to suggest Jesus or the apostles telling true disciples who are walking as best as they can with the Lord, that they are going to hell? No.
Word – Can we find chapter and verse in the New Testament that says true disciples of Jesus might still go to hell? The answer is no.
Therefore, based on context, the character of Jesus, the actions of Jesus, and the Word, we can determine that when Jesus said ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into heaven’, He was in fact talking about false believers, not true Christians.
In the same way my pastor back in 1980 had doubts about things Barb and I supposedly said because he knew the quality of our character, so too ask yourself; Does that sound like the Jesus I know, who I see in the gospels? If the answer is no, dig into context, look for similar actions in the gospels, and try to find 2 or 3 other verses that support that claim – if any one of them is inconsistent, disregard what the teacher says.
Next week – culture in context