Are there passages of Scripture which cause you to wince?

Even though I love God and have come to treasure reading the Bible, I’m often challenged when reading certain portions, like the following statement of Jesus:

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  (Matthew 5:29).

While we’ll take a look at what Jesus was teaching in this verse, coming to fully comprehend Matthew 5:29 is not the purpose of this blog. Rather, we’re going to consider four common impediments which contribute to difficulties in understanding and embracing certain Scriptures, like this one. When honestly coming to terms with them, doors of appreciation open and portions of the Bible we might otherwise be tempted to be offended by, skim past, or stress over become treasure troves.

Four common impediments are:

  1. A struggle to fathom God’s holiness and righteousness.
  2. A failure to acknowledge our own comfort level with sin.
  3. Apathy—neglecting to seek God’s Holy Spirit for help in understanding a passage and/or failure to study it out.
  4. Forgetting that God sometimes limits His followers’ understanding of certain portions of His Word, for their best and for His glory, until an appointed time.

Let’s check out these common road blocks and learn to say “goodbye” to Oh, no. Not THAT Bible verse!

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FIRST IMPEDIMENT:  A struggle to fathom God’s holiness and righteousness. What can seem “offensive” to us in Scripture is often related to the fact that, when it comes to right-thinking and right-doing, we’re more than a million miles apart from God. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we just don’t “get” what God says and does, it’s often because mere mortals are incapable of fully comprehending the immensity of His holiness and righteousness.

The verses surrounding Matthew 5:29 reveal that Jesus is describing a righteousness which exceeds the requirements of the Law given through Moses. He was addressing a crowd where many took pride in obeying the Law, albeit never perfectly. Some of them were into what we might call “sin management.” They had an outward sign of godliness, but their hearts were far from God. One of the moral requirements of keeping the Law was to abstain from adultery, which one might avoid outwardly while looking where he or she shouldn’t and committing the sin inwardly. Jesus was faithfully apprising them of a much needed, sobering truth!

Because of the potential for this first impediment to be at work in us, any passage of Scripture we’re reading which seems offensive should be met with the question:

Is my discomfort possibly rooted in the fact that, as a naturally unrighteous being, I’m running up against the utter righteousness of God?

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SECOND IMPEDIMENT:  A failure to acknowledge our own comfort level with sin.  
The Bible is clear: God is holy and we are not. We don’t become sinful by sinning; we sin because we are sinful by nature (see Romans 5:12-14). God’s holiness sets Him apart from any and all evil, while you and I are surrounded by it, accustomed to it, and often blind to it. We subsequently fail to view all sin in the same way God does. Therefore, when He deals with sin appropriately, potential exists for us to wonder if God isn’t perhaps overly harsh in His judgements.

This is also manifested in the Matthew 5:29 passage. Jesus knew full well an individual could pluck out his or her eye (or even both eyes) and still have problems with sins such as lusting after another person’s body or looking at and coveting someone else’s fortunes. He used this very radical, graphic image to illustrate the seriousness of sin. The consequences of sin are almost unthinkable: eternity in hell—yet Jesus graciously and urgently spoke of that dire consequence to His listeners. It has never been God’s desire that anyone be eternally separated from Him, yet sin is a separator. Jesus was making the point that, as radical as gouging out an eye would seem to us, it would be far superior to living in denial of our sin and choosing to hold God’s holiness and justice in contempt—all the way to hell.

God’s holiness would not consider our throwing out the TV, ending an unhealthy relationship, or changing a job or career the least bit radical if it would serve to distance us from a sin which keeps entangling us or that we may otherwise succumb to.

Because of this inhibitor, any time we run into a passage which causes us to wince we should learn to ask:

Is it possible this Scripture involves the truth of God’s hatred of all sin and evil and I’m just having difficulty coming to terms with it?

It’s an act of God’s mercy when He shows us we’re actually comfortable with what is evil and then graciously empowers us to respond to Him appropriately about it.  I John 1:8-10 instructs us how we should move forward: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

What an encouragement!

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THIRD IMPEDIMENT:  Apathy—neglecting to seek God’s Holy Spirit for help in understanding a passage and/or failure to study it out.  When Jesus was speaking to His disciples only hours before His death, He told them the Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come to “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26). Christ was affirming the reality that the Helper/Holy Spirit is needed to teach us spiritual truths found in the Scriptures.  Even though we can know this, it’s ridiculously easy for many of us to try and navigate our way through the Word of God without praying and asking the Spirit to direct and enrich our time in it.

Dependence on God’s Holy Spirit is of primary importance. Now we have received, not the spirt of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given by God (I Corinthians 2:12).

Apathy can be the quiet killer of a Christ follower’s spiritual growth. Here are a few questions I’m learning to employ to help guard against my own tendency to take the path of least resistance:

Have I taken time to pray about this passage?

Are there other portions of the Bible which expand on or refer to this instance/issue?

Am I weighing a passage’s context and accessing available tools to increase my learning about it?

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Believe it or not, I find the fourth contributor to our discomfort and/or perplexity with some portions of the Bible almost unbearably sweet!

FOURTH INHIBITOR: Forgetting that God sometimes limits His followers’ understanding of certain portions of His Word, for their best and for His glory, until an appointed time. This beautifully encompasses the arena of a believer’s faith. There are times when we can be stumped over a passage even after prayer, soul searching, and study. Once in a while, clarity may unexpectedly come regarding something we’ve been mulling over for months, or even years. But when it doesn’t, we can delight in an assurance that God will—perhaps through eternity—do for us what Jesus did with His two followers on the road to Emmaus the day of His resurrection from the dead:

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32)

We can worship God in advance for what He will one day reveal to us! And I just know that even those seemingly endless details regarding the sacrificial offerings, measurements of the temple, and division of the land to the tribes of Israel I’ve personally struggled through will thrill me to the core once God “opens” those Scriptures to me.

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The volunteers at ETL love you and trust this blog will be used by God to encourage and help you take what may be a different approach the next time an “Oh, no. Not THAT verse!” thought crosses your mind.  We appreciate your willingness to journey with us and welcome you to check out the Helpful Tools page on the Encouragement That Lasts website. It contains information and links for reading and studying the Bible you may find, well… helpful!

Prayer and the reading, studying, and commitment to God’s Word increases the nourishment our souls need and deepens our intimacy with Jesus Christ.

June

June

People Lover. Author. Blogger. Speaker. Forgiven Much & Wild About God. Learn about June's latest book on her website.

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