How to Get Him to Think Straight

The difficulty in attempting to explain the meaning of a passage of Scripture to one who has his mind made up already is a task greater than a human being possesses. Aren’t you glad that it’s the Holy Spirit Who illumines believers’ minds—and not you?

Of course, He does so—interestingly—not apart from but, through the Word itself.

It is, therefore, crucial when dealing with pig-headed Christians, who think they are accomplished exegetes, but can’t tell the difference between the meaning of a verse from a child’s jingle, to remember this and to do what you can do.

“What’s that?”

The first profitable thing to do is to refrain from argument, reason or trying to beat the truth into his head by pure repetition.

“I understand that—but what can I do?”

The thing to do—at all costs—is to get him to read (rather, study) the Bible.

“How will that help, if his mind is made up?”

Since, as Paul said, the truth is “spiritually discerned,” that is where your hope lies. When he gets serious about learning what God says from the Bible, you can expect things to happen. For truth to be spiritually discerned means, to have the Spirit working in him to enable him to understand His Word.

And that’s exactly what you want—isn’t it? Not what you think, but what the Spirit teaches from His Book.

So, don’t argue. Instead give him helps that will encourage him to study the Scriptures—concordances, Bible dictionaries, commentaries—whatever it takes to get him into serious study of the Bible.

If you succeed in persuading him do so, you’ve won twice over: in time he may soon come to see the truth about what you said, and—of greater importance—he will become a student the Word of God. Even if it takes time, humility, or even repentance for the former to occur, in the meantime you can rejoice in the latter.

Three, or One?

It’s interesting how people struggle to solve problems that they don’t realize are of their own making! Let’s take an example: The story of the lost son (Luke 15). They are all het up about such matters as “How can the father accept him when he returns and not do as much for the elder son who never went astray?” They want to know if the elder son was a genuine believer or simply a follower of works righteousness, etc., etc. To ask such a questions—or a dozen more like it—is to betray one’s failure to understand Luke’s words. Many think that when Jesus told the story He intended to portray the way of salvation. While salvation was in the background of it—in one secondary way—to explain it isn’t the reason why Jesus told the story.

Well, then what did He have in mind? What is the story all about? Let me explain why people go astray here: how they fail to read the context (a common failure that leads to seriously misunderstanding Scripture).

Let me point out two factors:

First, there is only one parable here—not three! Read verse 3:

So He told them this parable (emphasis mine).

Then, Jesus went ahead and told a three-part parable, each part of which sets for the same truth. In this way, He emphasized the same truth over and over again. It was a three part parable with a kicker in the end (as he nailed the religious leaders who complained)!

Second, the three story parable was occasioned by the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes (v. 3) who grumbled because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.

The parable drives home again, and again, and again the fact that people ought to rejoice as the shepherds, the women, the father did, (and the angels in heaven do) when one who had been lost is found. The key to the parable is what the fellow-shepherds did when the lost sheep was found, what her female friends did when the woman found her lost coin, and what the father did—but the elder son (who was like the Pharisees and scribes) didn’t do. Can’t you see that this clears up all those prior questions? Always put a passage in its context, and read it carefully for singular or plural usages, etc.

A God?

Does Ezekiel 28 speak about Satan?

There are many who think and teach so.  Yet, I insist that the passage itself denies that idea. Listen to v. 2:

Your heart is proud, and you have said: I am a god. I sit in the seat of gods in the heart of the sea. Yet you are a man, and not a god, though you have regarded your heart as that of a god.

Certainly, the King of Tyre may have thought himself to be a god—that isn’t the point. But some, because of the imagery that follows in the rest of the chapter, think that this was actually a reference to Satan, that the things said about the King could have been said of none but that evil one. Yet, they fail to recognize the extravagant nature of oriental imagery.

When the text is explicit, however, it is dangerous to say it is speaking of something else. Doesn’t it say, addressing the King of Tyre sitting upon his seemingly impregnable throne, in his unconquerable island in the sea, YOU are a man?” He may have said, “I am a god?” He may have thought so, but a man isn’t a god, he isn’t an angel—even a fallen one!

There is no affirmation of any other fact in the text.  Indeed, the passage plainly sets things straight from the outset: “Yet you are a man.”  He isn’t addressed as an angel, as Satan, or anything other than what he was—“a man.”

My plea is—no matter how others have construed the passage—stick with the clear words of the Scriptures.  That is the only way to do accurate exegesis.

From the Days of John

In Luke 16:16 Jesus made an interesting comment about preaching. He contrasted preaching before the coming of John the Baptist with preaching after his advent. Here are His words:

The law and the prophets were preached until John; from this time on, God’s kingdom has been preached and everybody has been pressing into it.

In other words, preaching would take on a new aspect. Jesus had risen and was ascended to the Father’s right hand. He was ruling over His new kingdom. He had given Peter the keys to the kingdom from the heavens, and he opened the door to the new church, first for the Jews (on Pentecost), and then for the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. He was preaching a new message—the kingdom had come!

The same emphasis may be found in the account of the transfiguration. There, Moses and Elijah (representing the law and the prophets) are said to discuss the coming exodus in which Jesus would lead men from death into life. And as these two Old Covenant figures receded into the background, God’s voice was heard to say to all coming generations, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” There was to be a change from the Old era to the new in which the commandments of Jesus would be uppermost (Matthew 28:20).

The new wine could not be poured into old wineskins; the new cloth would not do as a patch sewed on a new garment. A new era with new ways had dawned. The shadows were gone; the reality had come.

Preachers should no longer preach as they once did. Now, they must interpret every passage in the Old or New Testament with New Testament eyes. They must preach the new kingdom from the heavens!

Specifics—Aren’t They Wonderful?

Isn’t it wonderful that the Bible doesn’t just leave us with generalities to figure out their applications to specific situations? Sure, there are plenty of those issues where that is exactly what we must do; but God has also laid out plenty of specific directions as well.

“Give me a for instance, please.”

Delighted to do so. Take the issue of church discipline found in Matthew 18:15ff. There, we are told precisely how to handle the situation. If a person goes to another who has wronged him, and the other repents, he is to be forgiven and there is to be reconciliation.   If he refuses, step two is provided—take others with you. If there is still refusal, then there is a third step clearly set forth—tell it to the church. If that fails, then he is to be put out of the church. Specifics! Precisely what many in the church today decry. The Bible, they say, is a story into which you are to enter, allowing events to change you as you focus on redemption.

But, thankfully—there are even specifics about how the recalcitrant, disciplined, brother is to be received if he repents: you receive him in the status of a full brother: check out korizo, you must help, assist, comfort him (parakaleo), and you are to forgive him ( 2 Corinthians 2:8-11).  Now, that’s laying out a program—what many would decry as “cookbook theology.” Call it what you will, Scripture often gives us general principles from which we must reason to specific conclusions and map our courses of action, on the basis of those and other biblical principles that are brought together in a fruitful way.  But not always so—as some would have you think. There are concrete directions a-plenty as well.

“Can you give me another for instance?”

Consider matters concerning divorce, for instance, that are laid out in the Gospels for God’s covenant people, and in I Corinthians 7 for those believers who are married to those who are not (presumably when one has become a Christian after marriage, and the other has not).

“Thanks. I guess you’re right.”

So, don’t get caught up in those schemes of biblical interpretation that limit your options where the Bible doesn’t. God’s Word is a big book—it has much to say, and many ways to say it. Don’t shrink it to some insular volume that to which the  method of interpretation that a narrow school of thought does. God addresses us just as we address one another—in lots of different ways. Paul could have commanded Philemon to release Onesimus . . . right?”

“He says he has the right to do so.”

“Sure; but, in wisdom that would lead to the former’s spiritual growth, he allows him to make the decision. (Not without a lot of hints along the way!)”

There are confining systems imposed upon Bible interpretation today that hinder true understanding, that send one searching for what was never supposed to be found, that find what never was lost, and that frustrate the simple believer to whom most of the Scriptures were written. Be careful not to be caught up in any of them.


Context is important in the interpretation of Scripture. When you realize that the people addressed in the Book of Hebrews were 1st generation Jews who had become shaky about their profession of faith in Christ because they were facing mild persecution, you recognize what it is that was behind the weakness of their trust.  And when you read the author’s comment in the last chapter about the letter being an exhortation, you recognize why there are seven warnings in the Book. Moreover, you can see that there is reason why they have become dull of hearing—they had not been immersing themselves in the Scriptures so that their perceptual faculties were sharp enough to discern the difference between good and evil.

A simple verse can provide all the context that is necessary.  In Ezekiel 28, there is oriental pageantry describing the king of Tyre who was on his way to hell. Instead, many, because they don’t recognize the extravagance of language used, think what is said if him really pertains to Satan. But read the contextual verse 2,where we read concerning the King: ”Yet you are a man and not a god.” He dressed and acted like one; he would raise himself to God’s place if he could, but he was not a god.  Nor was he the Devil.  We are told explicitly that he was “a man.”

Focus in Preaching

In Luke 16:16 we read,

The Law and the Prophets [what we call the Old Testament] were preached until John; from his time on, God’s kingdom has been preached, and everybody has been pressing into it.

From those words of the Lord Jesus, we understand that there came a time when preaching changed. Before John appeared in fulfillment of prophecies in Isaiah and Malachi true preaching had focused upon the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom (see Daniel 2:44,45; 7:13,14 for predictions of the Messianic kingdom). But when the kingdom came (as, indeed, it did at the first coming of Christ), the issue was not whether it would come, but now that it’s here, what will be your response to that fact? What does that mean to you?

Upon the preaching of Jesus and John many repented, and a great many “pressed” into it.  This seeming “revival” (or as the Septuagint in Malachi 4:6 calls it, “restoration”), however, like the revival under John’s predecessor, Elijah, though causing temporary excitement (as on Mt. Carmel), didn’t last. Zechariah foretold that at Messiah’s coming mourning of sins would be private (12:12-14). That is to say, there would be no national repentance (as there was under the preaching  of Jonah by Nineveh). Individuals and families participated, but early on the rulers rejected the Lord (Matthew 23:13) and, ultimately, the people followed their lead (Matthew 11:11-19). Neither John’s nor Jesus’ preaching saw lasting, national fruit.

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What Preachers Are Commanded to Do:

“Teach and urge these things.” (1 Timothy 6:2)

According to some thinking today, all hortatory material should be taboo from the pulpit.  Believe it or not—people actually “exhort” us to refrain from using it in sermons!


Yup.  Some systems of “Biblical Theology” (the discipline borrowed from the liberals that goes under that name), and ideas stemming from them, urge just that!

“Hard to believe.”

Yup.  But true. Especially in light of verses like the one from 1 Timothy quoted above. If your preacher has been lured into this way of thinking—and preaching (you probably can tell from his preaching), beware!

“What should I look for?”

Well, let’s see. For one thing the lack of use of the second person “you” in addressing the congregation. And, especially, a lack of commands to obey. And the idea that you are just another person living out the history of redemption with little to contribute on your own by means of obedience, and – oh, well, you’ll detect it if you begin to look for it. I suggest that if it looks like that’s what he subscribes to, then you might ask him directly, “Are you a redemptive–historical preacher?”

“Then what?”

Who knows? Give it a try and let me know.


But you’d better ask yourself and your family whether or not you have been getting the directions from the Bible that you should, whether or not you are being exhorted to biblical obedience, or whether (instead) you are getting interesting biblical history lessons. And then decide what to do.

Redemptive Historical materials are necessary for preparing messages, but the message should not become merely an historical essay, like Vos’, Grace and Glory were (even though they were called sermons). They were good essays, valuable material from which to preach—but not preaching to the hearts of man.

Remember Aunt Minnie!

I’m always amused, when not disturbed, by the ways in which people misunderstand and, then, misrepresent biblical teaching. It’s interesting and instructive to study the phenomenon. In doing so, you discover there is one-short-of a zillion factors that might lead a person to do so.

Usually those factors are more-or-less unconscious. The person committing the “crime” doesn’t fully understand his own motivation.

Most frequently it seems, when that is the case, he remembers an incident from the past that he uses now to bolster his totally irrational reasoning. Something–you know–like what happened to Aunt Minnie fifteen years ago. He thinks that the reason for citing her case, I said, is to bolster his argument as an illustration for or against something, when all of the time, rather than an additional proof,” it is the very reason for his atrocious prejudice. All these years he’s been waiting to get at whoever might seem to agree with what happened to old “Aunti.”

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