The Importance of Humility, Openness, and Generosity toward the Holy Spirit in Reading Scripture

We need to be ever humble before God and ever humble in our reliance on our own understanding


In my last blog post, I wrote about the crippled woman Jesus healed in the synagogue, to the synagogue leader’s chagrin (The Danger of Being Too Set in Our Interpretation of What God Requires and What He Is Doing). The synagogue leader thought Jesus shouldn’t be working/healing on the Sabbath, so he instructed the crowd that they could come any other day of the week to be healed, but not on the Sabbath. (Luke 13:10-17)

It seems ridiculous to us, but who knows what doctrines, dogmas, understandings, and ways of thinking we have that get in our way of recognizing God and what He is doing in our present time. If we shrug our shoulders at the seeming insignificance of the Sabbath concern, we will miss the weight of this encounter.

The keeping of the Sabbath was a sacred tradition that goes all the way back to Genesis, when God rested after the six (6) days of creation. (Gen. 2:2-3) Moses passed on the commandment directly from God when the Hebrews were delivered out of Egypt: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work….” (Ex. 20:9-10)

The Sabbath was reinforced by Moses as part of the covenant relationship established by God with the Israelites. Many centuries before Jesus, God told Moses:

“Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people.” (Ex. 31:13-14)

Can you see why the first century Hebrews held so tightly to their Sabbath doctrine? It was a commandment; it was sacred; it was an intimate sign of their covenant with God going back many centuries; and the penalty of violating the Sabbath in the Mosaic law was death (or being cut off from the people).

For that reason, the Jewish leaders added strict protocols to the observance of the Sabbath to be sure that no one violated it, even inadvertently. Thus, when Jesus did something highly irregular, like calling a crippled woman forward in the synagogue in the first place, and then healing her, the synagogue leader was legitimately concerned, in his mind, about a violation of that sacred commandment.

Yet, in his concern for not offending God and for observing law, he failed to recognize God in the flesh standing right before him! Ironically, the Law that was intended to point the Hebrews to God got in the way of the him recognizing God.

God commanded them to keep the Sabbath at the risk of death and exile! Thus, they believed they couldn’t be too careful! What are we to make of this?

One clue is in the details of the response by Jesus. He called the religious leaders hypocrites because they untied their livestock and took them out to get water on the Sabbath. (Luke 13:13) If they believed that caring for their animals on the Sabbath was ok on the Sabbath, they should have recognized that healing a person was ok also.

“Yes, but God commanded!”, the synagogue leader might have said. I suppose Jesus might have asked in return, “Commanded what?” The synagogue leader might have protested further, “But we cannot be too careful! These things are not to be taken lightly. We need to err on the side of caution, lest we step over the line!”

These things should not be taken lightly, no doubt, but the synagogue leader obviously missed something of essential importance. What he missed, I think is better understood in the context of some global criticisms Jesus expressed toward the religious leaders of his day (which likely are as applicable today as they were then):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:23-24)

The Law and all of its rules were not meant to be the end all be all. Paul says the law was a guardian or tutor to lead us to Christ. (Gal. 2:24) Perhaps partially, to help us recognize our need for Christ in our inability to keep the Law. Perhaps, partially, to provide rituals by and through which a relationship could be established with God. Perhaps, in other ways as well.

The point is that the Law was never meant to define the totality of God’s relationship with people. What God wanted, which is what the Law was intended to teach, was for the Hebrews to love Him and for them to love each other.

Jesus said as much when he said the Law can be summed up succinctly in two phrases: Love God, and love your neighbor.

This was not a new concept when Jesus spoke those words, though. Jesus was once asked, “What is greatest commandment?”, by a teacher of the Law. When Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor, the teacher commended Jesus for the answer, demonstrating that the teacher of the Law knew the answer, himself. (Mark 12:28-34)

When the teacher of the law commended Jesus for the answer, Jesus told the teacher that he answered “wisely” and, therefore, is “not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 12:34) In other words, the key to unlocking the “mystery” of the Law is to understand that it is meant to teach us to love God and love our neighbors. If we fail to see that, we are missing the boat

When we hold too tightly to our doctrinal constructs to the point that we miss the ultimate point, like the synagogue leader did, we fail to understand God; we fail to recognize God when He is acting in our midst; and we risk being on the “outside” with God, though we may be good, religious people in every other way.


Jesus said,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23

How do we apply this? How do we make sense of the things God has commanded us without missing the forest for the trees? How do we take a lesson from the synagogue ruler? I am no theologian, but I have some thoughts.

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The Danger of Being Too Set in Our Interpretation of What God Requires and What He Is Doing

The synagogue church in Nazareth old city, Israel

While visiting in Kansas City with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter recently, I attended church with them. The sermon from Luke 13 included the statement, “The entrance to the kingdom is different than we expect.” The statement came after Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath.

A synagogue leader was indignant because Jesus paused his teaching one Sabbath day to call a woman forward. This was unusual on its own, but what Jesus did next drew criticism from the synagogue leader.

This woman had been bent over with a crippling condition for 18 years. Jesus called her upfront, and he healed her on the spot. Cause for celebration, right?

The synagogue leader didn’t think so. The act of calling a woman to the front of the synagogue – while he was teaching – was bad enough form, but the leader of the synagogue drew the line and took exception to the healing.

It’s hard to wrap our modern heads around this scene, but we don’t observe the Sabbath like first century Hebrews did. The Sabbath was sacred. It was commanded by God. To avoid violating God’s command, the religious leaders went into great detail about the things a person could not do (lest it be considered work, in violation of God’s command).

I am not sure that healing was actually on that list of things one cannot do, but it probably also wasn’t on the list of things a person could do. Perhaps out of an abundance of caution, the synagogue leader stepped up and asserted his authority, telling the crowd that they were welcome to come and be healed on any day of the week, except for the Sabbath. (Luke 13:10-14)

We look back on this scene with little real appreciation of the weightiness of the Sabbath rules. We also know (spoiler alert) that Jesus is God in the flesh! The synagogue leader didn’t have a clue.

Should we imagine that he would stand in front of God, telling the people gathered around God that they cannot be healed by God on that day because of the Sabbath if he knew who Jesus was? I kind of doubt it!

It seems absurd to us twenty centuries later, but we can’t be so sure we would have known exactly who Jesus was in that moment. The disciples didn’t know! They were still weren’t’ sure up to the point of his resurrection. John the Baptist wasn’t sure when he sent a messenger to ask Jesus about it. We should probably assume that we might have known either.

We don’t have a robust or strict religious tradition on the Sabbath like first century Hebrews did, but we have other sacred doctrines. Different groups may have different sacred doctrines, and we are capable of being so locked in on our sacred doctrines that we might sometimes fail to grasp at times exactly who God is.

If we hold reflexively to our views, and do not allow for the possibility that reality may be more than we perceive, we run the risk of failing to understand or appreciate God, even as we stand in His very presence. Or worse, we might be responsible for inhibiting other people in their relationship to Him!

That synagogue leader didn’t appreciate that God in the flesh stood before him on that day and miraculously healed a poor woman of a crippling condition that oppressed her for 18 years. Instead of rejoicing with her and marveling at God’s love for her and people like her, he fixated on the Sabbath rule (as he understood it) and took offense.

He completely missed the significance of what Jesus did and it’s implications because he was set in his understanding of the Sabbath rules. He was unwilling to let go of his understanding and expectations to accept and embrace what Jesus was doing. This is a common theme in the New Testament if you pay attention to it.

We probably can’t stress enough the need for finite beings like us to be humble and open to having our views and expectations expanded as we encounter new things. Our expectations are set by our understanding, and our expectations can become obstacles to truth if we don’t understand clearly the things we know (or think we know). Jesus said,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23

This is a warning to all who seek to encounter Jesus. Beware of misunderstanding him! Do not be so quick to jump to conclusions. Hold your doctrines, especially your pet doctrines, loosely. Our understanding of great traditions, like strict adherence to the Sabbath rules, can be warped just enough that we fail to recognize and understand the reality of God and His purposes.

“[W]e may find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. We should not battle for our own interpretation but for the teaching of Holy Scripture. We should not wish to conform the meaning of Holy Scripture to our interpretation, but our interpretation to the meaning of Holy Scripture.”

St. Augustine of Hippo, De Genesi ad litteram Vol 1 Ch 19)

The Intersectionality of Jesus Christ

Intersectionality is the focus of my Christmas thoughts this morning.


A recent podcast hosted by Justin Brierley, Debating the Statement on Social Justice – Jarrod McKenna and James White, sparks my thinking this morning. One might wonder what social justice has to do with Christmas Eve that I should be thinking about it. Quite a lot actually.

Before tying up that loose end, though, I feel the need to comment on the discussion. James White was a drafter of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. The express purpose of the Statement is to clarify the meaning of the Gospel in order to guard against false teachings creeping into the Church through modern “sociological, psychological, and political theories”. Certainly, concern over false teachings and false gospels is a theme we find as far back as the Gospels, themselves, and the Pauline letters. We are right o be concerned.

On the other hand, as I listened to the discussion, another concern occurred to me. Yes, we are not of the world, but we are in the world, and the world is our mission field. Jesus left the 99 to search for the one lost sheep. Paul was a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, becoming all things to all people so that he could reach them with the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) Though Paul was concerned about false gospels creeping into the Church, he was also concerned about relating to the lost world.

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Vain Discussions

We get into the weeds on issues that may be interesting, but they aren’t central or necessary to the Gospel.

Male friends arguing


“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

What Paul characterizes here in the first chapter of his first letter to Timothy is something that goes on quite a bit in religious circles today. We may not speculate about “myths and endless genealogies” today, but we engage in similar discussions. I don’t think that myths and genealogies are so much the issue, as the time we spend locked into trying to prove and persuade others of particular points and principles that are peripheral and distract us from “the stewardship of God that is by faith”.

When Paul talks about certain persons teaching a “different doctrine”, I don’t think he is speaking about doctrine in the way we might view the word today. In Paul’s time, there were no systematic theologies. Doctrinal issues focused on the fundamentals – who is Jesus? Did he rise from the dead in bodily form? Must believers be circumcised?

Today, there is no end to the theologies and doctrinal points of view that get so finely tuned as to focus on modern equivalents to how many angles can dance on the head of a pin without jostling each other. I jest of course; but that is the point. We get into the weeds on issues that may be interesting, but they aren’t central or necessary to the Gospel.

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Reformation and Renewal

If we aren’t willing to renew our wineskins periodically, the old ones wear out and don’t hold the new wine like they did when they were fresh.

depositphotos Image ID: 10694365 Copyright: rumifaz

Since some of us are celebrating the Reformation today. I don’t really care about Halloween, so I figure I should say something about the Reformation.

You might call me a reformed Catholic. I grew up in the Catholic Church. When I encountered Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, who shed His glory to become a man, walked in obedience to His own purposes, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead, my life changed.

When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I left the Catholic Church for greener pastures and still waters. I have been involved with and visited many churches since then, and I am still looking for greener pastures and still waters. Along the way, I have learned that Catholics haven’t cornered the market on rigid structures and white-washed tombs.

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