A sobering warning

Ary Scheffer - The Temptation of Christ (1854)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

I’m sure that, like me, you’ve heard a sermon or two through this text. The fact that Satan tests Jesus three times lends itself to a nice, tidy 3-point sermon. The fact that Jesus is in the desert and passes tests of faith hearkens back to Israel’s testing and subsequent failure during their time in the desert. The fact that Jesus succeeds where the Israelites failed demonstrates that Jesus has come to fulfill a mission that was originally Israel’s. Then there’s the nature of the three tests: one physical, one spiritual, and one that’s a little bit of both. There’s lot to be learned from this passage, but there’s one thing I’ve never heard anyone say about it.

I’m really careful in my interpretations of the Bible, and this passage recently spoke to me in a new, startling, and sobering way. I’ve heard some people point out that, in his second test, Satan quotes Scripture against Jesus. Satan tries to fight fire with fire, in a sense. In fact, this is exactly what He did in the Garden of Eden with Eve. He asked, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1). Satan is quick to take God’s Word and twist it…not a lot, mind you. Satan will intentionally twist God’s Word just enough to cause others to stumble. But Jesus is quick to counter Satan’s verses with some other verses. It’s a case of verses versus verses, really. I’ve heard this almost casually mentioned as part of sermons covering this section as thought it’s just one more thing that Satan has in his arsenal. But has Satan ever appeared to you and misused Bible verses to your face? Me neither! So, what else can we learn from Satan’s tactic?

It’s this: whether we mean to or not, if we twist God’s Word, we are satanic. Any misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the Bible, whether intentional or unintentional, is satanic. Even if we’re unintentionally misinterpreting the Bible, that only means we’re unintentionally being satanic.

Ask yourself, “Is my biblical interpretation satanic?”

I’m becoming more and more convinced that just “knowing your Bible” is utterly insufficient. Satan knows the Bible! If there’s nothing separating us from Satan in our Biblical knowledge then we’re in big, big trouble. Telling people they just need to know their Bible is like saying you should just “buy a gun” for home defense. I wouldn’t tell anyone to buy a gun if they didn’t know how to handle it! I think that’s why Paul tells Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). We can logically assume that this means there is a way to wrongly handle the word of truth. That’s what Satan did while testing Jesus and that’s how he still operates today.

It’s not enough to just know your Bible, you have to also know how to rightly handle your Bible. Peter says there are two types of people who twist Scripture:  the ignorant and the unstable (2 Peter 3:16). Ignorant here describes one who has not acquired a formal education (which is funny to see, coming from a fisherman); and the word unstable refers to someone who has the tendency to change and waver in one’s views and attitudes (which is also funny to see from someone as rash and unpredictable as Peter was in his youth). So the sobering point is, if you’re going to tell people they need to buy a gun for home defense, it’s just as important that you teach them how to rightly handle their firearm, otherwise they’re a danger to themselves and everyone around them.

This should be very sobering to all of us. We must handle the Word of God with the greatest of care and humility. We must depend on the Holy Spirit to reveal its meaning and we must test that interpretation against the whole of Scripture. This is another reason it is so important for us to be involved in a local church; we must seek the wisdom of other believers to make sure that we’re not missing the meaning of the Bible–whether intentionally or unintentionally. If something is 99% truth, and 1% lie, it’s still a lie and this is precisely how we see Satan twisting the words of God.

At this point, the last thing you should do is instantly think of how this applies to other people. Notice I still said that is a thing you should do? I’m just saying it’s the last thing you should do. The first thing you should do is make sure this doesn’t apply to you. This requires humility, but we have to make sure we’re rightly handling the Word before we approach others. The point of all this is to push us towards greater humility as we approach the Scripture and greater dependance upon the Holy Spirit. Consider the plank in your eye and then, after you have made sure your eyes are clear, confront your brother about the plank in his! (Matthew 7:5)

So where to go from here? Well in the past I’ve written a few blogs that I called Bible Study 101. I’ve outlined several great possibilities in there. Another option is to read a book; I would recommend How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth, but there are many other options available, some of which are free. For a list of free resources that will help you understand God’s word more clearly, take a look here. Take heart and realize that, although the Bible requires a lifetime of study, it provides an eternity of benefit. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), that we will rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), and that we will never twist the word of God.

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