Christocentric Priority in Biblical Interpretation

Introduction

Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson note that at the heart of the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments stands “the message about the Christ.”[1] They are saying, in essence, what Jesus said about the Law and the Prophets, that they portray Jesus.[2] Or, as Ken Boa puts it, “Everywhere we read, we find hints, glimpses, foreshadowings [sic], veiled references, graphic pictures, whispered allusions, and prophetic mentions of Jesus. He moves through all the pages of the Bible, not just in the Gospels or in the apostles’ epistles.”[3] This view, then, takes for its core that the identity and work of Jesus the Messiah fills the Scriptures.

What are the implications of this statement for biblical hermeneutics? 

This view of the Christocentric nature of Scripture greatly impacts the work of biblical hermeneutics.[4] As Köstenberger and Patterson remind the biblical interpreter, this view provides cohesiveness to the canon of Scripture.[5] In addition to contributing to “this overall purpose of showing the fulfillment of the Old Testament hope and message in Christ,” it also gives an interpretive tool in the hermeneutic work chest.[6]

The first implication is that Christ must remain at the forefront of the mind of the biblical interpreter.

As Old Testament passages are studied, the person and work of Jesus Christ should be considered. For example, the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 has a present and future application.[7] While there was a present fulfillment of this prophecy, the biblical interpreter, utilizing Scripture, is also to interpret this verse Christo-centrically.[8] Thus, the entirety of Scripture points to Jesus. Sam Renihan remarks, “God has only ever had one plan, and history played out according to God’s design….The full and final plan of God was to bless the whole world through the Jewish Christ.”[9] While not every verse in the sacred Scripture points directly to Jesus, as a whole they speak of His person and His work, and this must ever-remain in the mind of the biblical interpreter.[10]

The second implication is that the person and work of Jesus provides an interpretive tool in the various aspects of the Old Testament in particular.

Noting this, Peppier writes, “…it is a way of interpreting Scripture primarily from the perspective of what Jesus taught and modeled, and from what he revealed concerning the nature, character, values, principles, and priorities of the Godhead.”[11] When interpreting Scripture, the student must not ignore the historical, literature, or theological issues involved. Nevertheless, “Christ is the focal point of the entire Bible—from beginning to end. He’s the one to whom the whole Old Testament points, the one on whom the Gospels focus, the one at whom the rest of the New Testament looks back.”[12]

What misunderstandings of this statement could occur?

This question is important because biblical interpreters must always be on guard of faulty interpretive measures and unethical approaches to Scripture.[13] Though the Scriptures must be interpreted Christo-centrically, it must be interpreted rightly. Concerning the possibility of this imbalance, Kevin Smith writes, “The proposed solution is that, to some extent, and in some instances, the rest of the canon needs to inform the Christocentric principle, just as the Christocentric principle often guides our interpretation of the rest of the canon.”[14] This balance is repeated by many hermeneutic guides.[15]

Along the same lines, Köstenberger and Patterson warn, “…the fact that, properly conceived, Christ is the center of all Scripture does not mean that every chapter and every verse in Scripture are narrowly focused on Christ as if every verse of the Bible needed to be read messianically in a strict sense.”[16] That is to say, Christ cannot be forced upon everything in the Old Testament.

Though biblical interpretation must consider the Christo-centricity of Scripture, it is not a tool wielding unlimited or imbalanced power.

The triad of hermeneutics provides that helpful balance.

An Example of the Possible Imbalanced Approach of the Christocentric Principle 

A popular example can be found in Job 19:25-27. In this account, Job says, “But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust.”[17] Concerning this Boa remarks, “Although Jesus is not named in the Book of Job, He is the only one Job could have been referring to. No one else can be called our Redeemer.”[18]

Boa makes two mistakes in forcing this Christo-centric hermeneutic. First, there is considerable debate on the identification of the redeemer mentioned by Job.[19] One study Bible describes the word redeemer, “The word is well-known in the OT because of its identification as the kinsman-redeemer (see the book of Ruth). This is the near kinsman who will pay off one’s debts, defend the family, avenge a hilling, marry the widow of the ceased. The word ‘redeemer’ evokes the wrong connotation for people familiar with the NT along; a translation of ‘Vindicator’ would capture the idea more.”[20] To conclude that “He is the only one Job could have been referring to” fails to consider the remainder of canonical literature on the topic of the redeemer. Boa handles this verse irresponsibly because he allows his Christo-centric focus to override the historical setting and literary context.

This leads to his second mistake. Because he allows his overarching purpose to see Christ in every book of the Bible, he misses the historical context of the redeemer in ancient Israel. Concerning the kinsman-redeemer, an important focus in Israel, one work notes that he was, “The relative who restores or preserves the full community rights of disadvantaged family members. The concept arises from God’s covenant relationship with Israel and points to the redemption of humanity in Jesus Christ.”[21] Boa’s mistake of overlooking the historical context of the kinsman-redeemer, and of a redeemer in general, causes him to place Christ where he is not. Köstenberger and Patterson state it best, “We must beware of an overly simplistic theology that finds Christ, somewhat anachronistically, in places in the Old Testament where finding him there would involve some major hermeneutical twisting and maneuvering.”[22]

__________

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011), 210.

[2] See Luke 24:27.

[3] Kenneth Boa, Jesus In the Bible: Seeing Jesus In Every Book of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), ix.

[4] See: Christopher C. Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle: A Jesus-Centered Hermeneutic,” Conspectus, vol. 13, no. 1 (March 2012), 117-135; for a counterview of Peppier, see: Kevin G. Smith, “The Christocentric Principle: Promise, Pitfalls and Proposal,” Conspectus, vol. 13, no. 1 (March 2012), 157-170.

[5] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210; for an example of how this applies to the diversity of the New Testament, see: Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 874-886.

[6] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210; see also Peppier, “Similarly, by acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the central figure of all of Scripture, we are compelled to interpret texts from an essentially Christ-centered perspective.” Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle,” 132.

[7] See Gary V. Smith,  Isaiah 1–39, Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary.( Nashville: TN, B & H Publishing Group, 2007), 201-205.

[8] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 84-86.

[9] Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019), 180; for the development of this history, see: Gerrhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments Reprint (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), 5-8.

[10] For example, see: Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 188-195.

[11] Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle,” 120; see also Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, 11-19; and Ephesians 3:1-13.

[12] Boa, Jesus In the Bible, viii-ix. The only point that Boa is mistaken upon is his remark that the “rest of the New Testament looks back.” Revelation points to the coming of Christ which is yet future. See: Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, 825-831; though the present author does not agree with all of his conclusions, see: John F. Walvoord, “The Future Work of Christ Part III: Christ’s Coming to Reign,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 123, no. 491 (July 1966), 195-203.

[13] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 58; Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Publishers, 1991), 59-61.

[14] Smith, “The Christocentric Principle,” 169.

[15] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation; Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation; J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012); and Gordon D. Fee and Doulas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).

[16] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210.

[17] Job 19:25, CSB.

[18] Boa, Jesus In the Bible, 36.

[19] Notice the translational effect of capitalizing Redeemer. It implies that this redeemer is different. For a brief treatment of the debate, see: David C. Deuel, “Job 19:25 and Job 23:10 Revisted An Exegetical Note,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, vol. 5, no. 1 (Spring 1994), 97-99; Brian P. Gault, “Job’s Hope: Redeemer Or Retribution?,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 173, no. 690 (April 2016), 147-165; and Greg W. Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 151, no. 604 (October 1994), 393-413.

[20] James Davis, managing editor, NET Bible, Full Notes Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019), 857.

[21] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: ENG: Martin Manser, 2009).

[22] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210.

Aesthetic Theology: A Brief Look

*This post is from a school assignment*

An Overview of Aesthetic Theology

Aesthetic theology, an approach to interpreting Scripture exclusively by its literary aspects, produces great harm in biblical interpretation. As one article describes this method, “Like philosophical aesthetics, theological aesthetics is a study of mak­ing and meaning. In both disciplines, the event of making is considered a combination of human skills and production, with the ungraspable moments of talent, inspiration and intuition, be they divine or not. As a study of meaning, each discipline explores subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality.”[1]

The Dangers of Aesthetic Theology

One can readily note many difficulties with this approach to interpretation. First, there is a failure to consider the historical setting of the Scriptures. As Kostenberger and Patterson remark, “Biblical scholarship was reduced to narrative criticism or various other forms of literary criticism, and while interesting literary insights were gained, Scripture’s historical dimension was unduly neglected, resulting in an imbalanced interpretation once again.”[2] This refusal to interact with the historical setting, which refuses to interact with the inspired text as given. Duvall and Hays counter this dangerous ejection, “Since God spoke his message in specific, historical situations…we should take the ancient historical-cultural situation seriously. The bottom line is that we cannot simply ignore ‘those people living back then’ and then jump directly to what God wants to say to us.”[3]

 

Duvall and Hays’ last comment provides insight to another danger of the aesthetic approach to biblical interpretation: it is subjective. In a review article, Kostenberger acknowledges this subjective theme, writing, “Once isolated from its historical grounding and its authoritative position, a text yields a limitless number of meaning possibilities. Radical pluralism and relativity in interpretation are the results, and authoritative biblical preaching degenerates into mere storytelling.”[4] Because aesthetic theology divorces itself from the anchor of history, it frees the interpreter to determine what he or she desires. Noting this, the anonymous reviewers of The Art of Theology conclude, “The result is a view on the human ability to be a creator in one’s own right as a given possibility to respond to the Creator. To actualise [sic] this possibility means becoming a co-creator who mediates the truth of creation.”[5] This danger allows for a variety of misinterpretations, up to and even including the creation of cults.[6]

 

A third danger with aesthetical theology is the reliance on the human interpreter. The anonymous authors state, “For in Chris­tian theology, the subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality are not only regarded as generating meaning, but also as participating in the meaning of divine creation.”[7] One immediately acknowledges the human interpreter as the essential need for interpretation. Biblically speaking, the individual human being is dependent upon: 1) the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 2:10-16), and 2) the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit (see 1 John 2:27). With aesthetic theology, however, one only needs to be able to understand literary genres, sentence structures, and grammar.[8]

The Antidote to Aesthetic Theology 

The primary difficulty with aesthetic theology is not that is utilizes narrative, nor is it because it incorporates literary studies in its interpretation. The primary issue is that it uses the tool of literature alone. The cure for such imbalance is the conduct the necessary historical research into the original setting.[9]

As Kostenberger and Patterson rightly observe, “In order for the interpretation of Scripture to be properly grounded, it is vital to explore the historical setting of a scriptural passage, including any cultural background features.”[10] By conducting the necessary research, the interpreter is able to grasp the context in which the original authors wrote. This prevents subjective interpretation, which is not biblically ethical.[11] It prevents aesthetic theology from overemphasizing the literary aspects of the text, working within a balanced framework from which to interpret the Scriptures properly.[12]

Additionally, after conducting the necessary background research of the historical context, interpreters must also be mindful of the theological ramifications. That is, interpretations are not divulged in a theological vacuum. There is a need to observe the theological cohesiveness of the canon of Scripture, and the means to operate within this spectrum are found within biblical theology as it relates to the interpretation of Scripture. “Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible,” says Vos. Within this framework, the interpreter is protected from teachings foreign to the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are the best interpreters of Scripture.[14]

Without divorcing the sacred text of its literary composition, biblical hermeneutics, aimed at “teaching the message of truth accurately,” investigates the original context in which the Scriptures were given, while observing their movement in the greater narrative of the Bible.[15]

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[1] WorldTrade.Com, “Review of The Art of Theology Theological: Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics and the Foundations of Faith,” Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technological Books in the Humanities & Sciences, https://www.wordtrade.com/religion/christianity/balthasar1R.htm, accessed 22 May 2020.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 2011), 77.

[3] J Scott Duvall and J. Daniels Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 116-117.

[4] Andreas Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology—Blessing or Curse? An Assessment of Narrative Theology,” Faith and Mission, vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 28.

[5] WorldTrade.Com.

[6] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 61-62.

[7] WorldTrade.Com.

[8] See Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology,” 30; see also Gordon D. Fee and Doulas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth 3rd Edition  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 27-28.

[9] Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 116; Fee and Stuart, How to Read, 26-27.

[10] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 93.

[11] See Kostenberger and Patterson’s warnings, Invitation, 58.

[12] Kostenberger and Patterson refer to this as “the hermeneutical triad,” Invitation, 66-68; Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 2015), 5.

[14] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 74; see also London Baptist Confession of Faith, I:9.

[15] 2 Timothy 2:15, New English Translation; see Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019) for an excellent treatment of this hermeneutical approach.

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 7)

We are in the midst of affliction. The introduction of the novel coronavirus, designated COVID-19[1], has at this point eliminated 79,381 image-bearers of God.[2] It has wreaked havoc to many nations, particularly Spain and Italy.[3] There are many who have endured great physical affliction, spending days and even weeks suffering through and recovering from COVID-19.[4] In addition to the physical loss and detriments to health, we have witnessed an economic shift unlike any other in history. According to the International Monetary Fund “In the last two weeks in March almost 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits.”[5] Furthermore, the psychological, educational, and social effects of the novel coronavirus will not be realized for years to come. We are, as I mentioned in the first sentence, in the midst of affliction.

How do we handle this? How does the Christian, the believer in the God of heaven, respond to such affliction? We have been studying this word affliction in Psalm 119. It is a soul-nourishing study, and today’s verse is no different.

Psalm 119:107 states, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” (ESV)

Like David, we are severely afflicted. We are overwhelmed, like the shore of the beach breaking under the crushing power of a massive wave. What is David’s response? What does affliction do in the Shepherd of Israel’s life?

Affliction, severe and life-altering affliction, points us to God.

The truth is that affliction points us to God. We are reminded of several truths in the midst of such affliction. First, we are reminded that we are not God. This unseen virus has practically shut the entire world down. COVID-19 is killing people, overwhelming hospitals, destroying economies, etc. We are powerless to stop this virus. We are not God. Secondly, we are reminded of how fragile life is. In my context, Americans enjoy a plethora of pleasures, enjoyments in life, and physical wellness. We have access to healthy food, clean water, and excellent facilities for care. In fact, my wife went to the doctor today to check on our unborn son. Yet, with all of this, we are fragile, Individuals who were otherwise healthy have succumbed to the virus. The lungs of survivors are weak. Large numbers of people are dying. We are fragile. Third, we are reminded of how quickly life can change. At the beginning of the year, I was planning out my preaching and teaching schedule. I had made plans for a conference in the fall, and yet this all came crashing to a sudden halt. Everything changed in a short period of time. What do all of these reminders provide for us? They point us to the One who is God, the One who is not fragile, and the One who is in complete control.

David, in the midst of his severe affliction, says, “Give me life, O LORD, according to your word!”

Affliction drives us to the All-Sufficient One. We turn to God in these afflictions. When faced with physical death, we remember the One who gives eternal life. When faced with the fragility of life, we are reminded of the Rock of our salvation. When faced with economic downfall, we are reminded of the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. When faced with overwhelming, severe affliction, we are reminded of the One who gives life!

There is one more phrase David mentions, following his practice in almost every verse of Psalm 119: the Word of God. David requests life “according to [God’s] Word.” It is God’s Word, David recognizes, that gives life.

We have the most wonderful gift in the sacred Scriptures. But how do they give us life? How, in the midst of severe affliction, do we get life?

  1. God’s Word provides the proper lens by which we view all of life, including severe affliction.
    David recognizes how God’s Word gives us the right (i.e., biblical) lens from which to view life. Difficulties, rather than unfair instances, are tools in the hands of a sovereign and good God. When in the midst of financial ruin, God’s Word reorients our focus from self-sufficiency to God-sufficiency. The list could go on, but let it be said that God’s Word helps us view life with a God-focused lens.
  2. God’s Word provides the encouragement that Christians are becoming more like Jesus with everything, especially with severe affliction.
    We are reminded in Romans 8:28-29 that God is chipping away everything in our lives (as believers) that are not like Jesus Christ. Paul says, “All things work together for good” (Romans 8:28, ESV), and this includes severe affliction. What a comfort that brings, brothers and sisters, that even in the midst of severe affliction, God is fulfilling His promise to make you be more like His Son, Jesus Christ! (Phil. 1:6) God’s Word gives life!
  3. God’s Word provides the avenue of dealing with the hardships of life, particularly during severe affliction.
    Think about Job, the “man [who] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). This man endured severe affliction, losing all ten of his children, most of his wealth, and his physical health in a short period of time (Job 1:6-19; 2:1-8). In a back-and-forth debate between Job and his three friends, God appears on the scene and begins questioning Job (see chapters 38-41). Every question reminds Job that He is not God and that even in the midst of severe affliction Job can (and should) trust God. Without demeaning Job’s pain, or doubting the difficulties he is experiencing, God reorients Job’s focus from his problems to Himself.

    This is extremely practical. We have the means to deal with the difficulties of life in God’s Word. This is why I call it a priceless treasure!

We are in the midst of affliction. To what do you turn? Or, more biblically, to Whom do you turn? Brothers and sisters, let us not turn to individuals, governments, scientists, and doctors (though all of those certainly have a part to play!), let us turn to God, and pray that He will give us life through His Word, for His glory!

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html, accessed 7 April 2020.

[2] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/, accessed 7 April 2020.

[3] For Spain, see: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/spain/; for Italy, see: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/italy/ (both accessed 7 April 2020).

[4] Here are a few perspectives: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/01/covid-19-recoveries-it-was-the-most-terrifying-experience-of-my-life, accessed 7 April 2020.

[5] John Bluedorn, Gita Gopinath, and Damiano Sandri, “An Early View of the Economic Impact of the Pandemic in 5 Charts,” International Monetary Fund blog, 6 April 2020, https://blogs.imf.org/2020/04/06/an-early-view-of-the-economic-impact-of-the-pandemic-in-5-charts/, accessed 7 April 2020.

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 6)

Psalm 119:92, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” (ESV)

With these words, the psalmist provides a wonderful example of how the sufficiency of God’s Word meets the needs of afflictions. In previous posts, we have laid the groundwork of affliction as it is understood in this psalm. Additionally, we have seen how God’s Word provides comfort, encouragement, and direction during those difficult times.

In this verse, the psalmist describes how believers can endure in trying circumstances: delight in God’s Word. The word “delight” is an interesting word. It conveys the idea of rapture, of utter and unmatchable delight (for a similar usage, see Psalm 119:24; Isaiah 5:7; and Jeremiah 31:20). Interestingly, the word is plural. It could (and probably should) be translated delights. In other words, it is a multifaceted delight. Like the delights brought about by a child, or a loved one, the Word of God provides boundless enjoyment and pleasure.

GOD’S WORD IS DELIGHTFUL

The Scriptures speak frequently of the delightfulness of God’s Word. Consider Psalm 119:24, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” (ESV) Or consider Psalm 119:72, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (ESV) The written and revealed truth of God’s Word is unimaginably delightful. Christians find comfort in the beauty of God’s Word. Passages like Psalm 23 and Romans 8:28 are pregnant with comforting truth that enables a believer to endure overwhelming situations.

GOD’S WORD HAS MANY DELIGHTS

Because the Scripture declares God’s Word is the psalmist’s delights, we see a hint of the multifaceted sweetness of the Bible. It gives encouragement when we are discouraged. It provides correction when we need discipline. It reorients our view of God to match the Scripture, and not our sin-marred view or experience-based picture of Who He is. Search the Scriptures, for they are a limitless treasure chest of many delights.

GOD’S WORD IS THE ANCHOR FOR ENDURANCE

Without the sacred Word of God, the Christian could not endure the afflictions this life has to offer. There are afflictions within, resulting from sinful choices to living in a fallen world. There are afflictions without, again, resulting from our own choices or from the will of others.

The believer, while not free from those afflictions, is nevertheless encouraged because God’s Word anchors his view of reality within the framework of a sovereign, loving God who works all things out for God’s glory and our good.  And lest we depart from the biblical definition of good, we must remember that in Romans 8:28 the good to which God works is the conformity of His children to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

CONCLUSION

What a glorious God we serve! His Word is indeed our delights! It is boundless, endless, and matchless. Oh, what a precious treasure He has given to His Church!

Psalm 119:1-8: A Brief Study

Yesterday (Wednesday 4 December 2019) I shared some thoughts to our Prayer Group from Psalm 119:1-8. I have been studying affliction in this particular psalm for some time, but I thought it might be a good idea to start on the sufficiency of God’s Word for the life of the believer.

Without going into much detail, here is the basic outline we examined.

I. There is a happiness that comes from sincere obedience to God’s Word- vss. 1-3
II. There is an expectation to observe God’s Law- vs. 4
III. There is a God-dependency revealed in keeping God’s Word- vs. 5
IV. There is a God-honoring confidence in keeping God’s Word- vss. 6-7
V. There is a Gospel-reminding quality with God’s Commandments- vs. 8

I have thoroughly enjoyed working through this psalm. There is so much meat, it fills my spiritual belly!

What thoughts do you have on these verses? How do you apply them to your daily life?

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 5)

Today something terrible happened to our family: my Maw Maw died.

We knew it was coming. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease almost four years ago. My Maw Maw was one of the most selfless, loving people I have ever met. We traveled down to my parents yesterday, and we enjoyed one brief visit with her before she went to heaven.

It is now 20:49, and as my brother, father, and I watch the Chargers and the Raiders play, I began researching for this post. I have been studying the verses with a form of afflicted. Today’s post focuses on Psalm 119:75.

David writes, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (NASB)

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND DAILY LIFE

There are times when I think on God’s sovereignty in the major events of the world. A certain president gets elected, a world leader passes away, or a enormous financial change occurs, and it is all attributed to God’s sovereign lead. But there are times when seemingly insignificant things seem completely driven by the hand of the sovereign God.

Today was one of those days. When my wife asked if we should head down to my parents, it seemed like a small push. But considering the events of today, it was all from God’s hand.

David, in considering his difficulties, acknowledged God’s sovereignty. This does not mean that God was guilty of sin, but that God allowed certain events to occur in his life. The afflictions David faced, though instigated by Saul, or Ahithophel, or whoever, all originated from the hand of the Almighty.

How this transforms our views of affliction! When we consider that God in His glorious sovereignty works all things, all things, for our good, we find ourselves realizing, like David, that “in faithfulness [God has] afflicted me.”

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

The basis for David’s realization is anchored in the righteousness of God. God’s acts are righteous. Because God is righteous, His acts are righteous. Everything God does stems from and is built upon His righteousness. There is nothing that occurs outside of His righteousness.

Study Psalm 119 and you will quickly see how God’s righteous helps David in his daily life. And when we begin to renew our minds (see Romans 12:1-2), our view of the afflictions of life come from the hands of the righteous God.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND AFFLICTION

The death of my Maw Maw is a terrible affliction. Our hearts are breaking, for a wonderful woman has departed this life. But it comes from the hands of a righteous God, and in that we can rejoice.

What afflictions do you find yourself in? Do you realize that God is righteous?

Pray to be like David, and view all things, all afflictions, as coming from the hands of a righteous God.

“I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75, NASB)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 4)

Affliction is good. 

You may read those words and, like me, say “What?” The concept of affliction is one that immediately brings forth feelings of discomfort and dread. We are creatures that love our comfort.

We love for the comforts of a fire on a cold and wet day. We long for the warmth of our beds. We leap with joy when we can shed our work clothes and don our sweats. But affliction? It is the troll under the bridge, baring our way on the road to comfort and ease. It is the dragon guarding the gold of comfort hidden in the cave. We dislike comfort in the most intense way imaginable.

So how in the world can affliction be good? 

David pens this conundrum,

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71, NASB)

There are a few things that are important to note at the outset. These thoughts will then, I hope, help to provide an explanation of how affliction can be good.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS A PASSIVE EXPERIENCE

David states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted.” That is, he experienced affliction. He received it. He endured it. People and circumstances afflicted David. He was the receiver, not the instigator.

In our own lives, we do not willingly set out seeking affliction (those who do usually have other issues). It is thrust upon us, like the breaking waves crashing on the seashore. We receive the bad report from the doctor. Our employer gives us the pink slip. That one person continues to drive us crazy.

Our afflictions usually come to us, not the other way around. Why is this important? First, we must remember that God is sovereign. He is in control, and regardless of how deep the affliction may be, it comes from God’s hand. The unimaginable comfort brought by the truths of Romans 8:28-29 provide wells of encouragement. Secondly, it also helps us realize that there are times when we can do everything right and still experience affliction. It is a theological error to think right behavior will bring blessings (read through the book of Job to have this view corrected). However, when we experience trials, we can take comfort that it may not be from our own fault.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION INCREASED LEARNING

I remember hearing in chapel this same thought. One of my professors would say, “You’ll learn more about God through conflict than you will from a systematic theology book!” I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “This guy is insane. There is no way that would happen.” Enter life and ministry, and the lesson holds true.

David realized that affliction brought a deeper intuition to God’s truth. The affliction David experienced enhanced his learning of God’s Word. He learned God’s statutes. Learning requires repetition and interaction. David’s love for God’s Word provided a rich environment in which affliction could yield positive fruits. But it was only enhanced by affliction.

This can help us endure affliction. Rather than dreading it, we can learn from it. We can grow through it. But only as we seek God’s Word. That is the key difference of Christian suffering. God’s Word is a unique tool, inspired by God, to provide growth toward Christlikeness. Affliction is an enhancer of growth. It is a growth activator, if you will.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS TEMPERED BY GOD’S WORD

The last point that stands out in this verse is the fact that God’s Word tempers our affliction. It is only by God’s Word that we understand that all things, including affliction and suffering, are used for good in the Christian’s life (Romans 8:28-29). Affliction turns us away from ourselves, our own accomplishments and abilities, toward God and His truth.

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 3)

Psalm 119 has seven verses that mention the word affliction. These references help form a framework from which the believer, the child of God, can endure, learn from, and thrive in, affliction.

Of course this idea seems to be a complete contradiction. But as we mentioned before, God’s workings are quite beyond our ability to comprehend (see Isaiah 55:8-9). The fact that we can endure affliction and thrive and learn in it is astounding.

Our second verse is Psalm 119:67. David writes,

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. (KJV)

This single verse provides an interesting timeline of events. Like the Order of Service printed on a church bulletin, this verse shows the progression of David’s experiences in affliction and the result of facing them.

MISLEADING AND DECEPTION

David plainly states, “Before I was afflicted I went astray.” That is, before David experienced trouble, he went astray. The phrase went astray is an interesting one. It comes from one Hebrew word, and though there are several shades of meaning, the basic concept is one of deception.

Another was to describe this is misled. Misleading can come in a variety of ways. For example, David experiencing a form of misleading when he was transporting the Ark of the Covenant. In II Samuel 6, David decides to take a large number of people (30,000, according to 6:1), to retrieve the Ark. It must have been a thrilling experiencing! All of those people celebrating the return of the Ark, surrounded by music and joy (6:2-5)!

Then something terrible happened. Tragedy struck a man named Uzzah. As they (Uzzah and Ahio, brothers, 6:3) drove the cart, the Ark slipped and began to fall and “Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it…And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (6:6-7).

Can you imagine how David, and the people, felt? It seemed as if they were doing everything right and then tragedy struck.

MISLEADING AND US

Does that not happen to us? Do we not proceed with life thinking we are doing well, but like Uzzah we face some affliction? The question is, “Why?”

Why did God strike Uzzah down? After all, he was trying to save the Ark. Why would God do that?

Affliction was a tool used in Uzzah’s, the people’s, and David’s life to remove that misleading. We are human beings, prone to deception and faulty thinking (see Ephesians 2:3; 4:17-18, for example). We believe we are doing right. We may think our motives are right, and therefore justify the means. We may think the end is right, and therefore justify the means.

This is what happened during the transportation of the Ark. David, leading the people, thought that by bringing the Ark back to the land they were doing good. This affliction, no doubt, drove David to consider God’s truth about the Ark. He would have been sent to the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) in which he would have read Numbers 4:15, 16, and 20.

And this is what happens in our own lives. Far too often we justify unbiblical ways of doing deeds, thinking thoughts, or spreading speech by the motive, the ends, and even the means. And, perhaps unbeknownst to us, we sin.

MISLEADING AND CORRECTION

However, God in His infinite mercy and marvelous sovereignty, uses our failures and deceptions to conform us to the image of His dear Son and our Savior, Jesus (Romans 8:29; cf. Gen. 50:20). David, brokenhearted and confused, “was afraid of the LORD that day” (II Sam. 6:9). Before David experienced this affliction he went astray. He was deceived.

Like us, we often need affliction in order to be driven to the God we worship. Like bumper bars in a bowling lane, affliction keeps us, like it did David, from being misled into the gutters of sin.

MISLEADING AND GOD’S WORD

Affliction is a unique tool in the hand of our sovereign, good God. He uses it so that we, like David, can say, “now I have kept thy word.”

Brothers and sisters, let us keep the Word of God! Let affliction be our guides to read, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word!

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 2)

A NERDY INTRODUCTION

In our last post we began to examine Psalm 119:50. We used the ESV translation, which states, ” “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”

The ESV chose an interesting way to translate the word אמרתך. The word is translated promise. However, in the NASB and the NKJV, is is translated word.

According to Logos, the word  אמרתך (or its derivatives) is translated one of three ways: word(s), speech, and command.

Psalm 119_50_Word Graphic
The results from a word search on Logos 8, gathered from the NASB95. The graph represents the occurrences of each translation of the Hebrew word. The total amounts of translation are: word(s): 32; speech: 4; and command: 1.

Generally, then, the אמרתך is used to describe word, speech, or a command. In the case of Psalm 119, we can safely presume it refers to God’s Word. Almost every verse of Psalm 119 (176 in total) refer to God’s Word in one form or another. The next question is, How does God’s Word (or promise, as the ESV renders it), provide comfort in affliction?

A PROFOUND TRUTH

Books can be written to answer that question. To limit our discussion (and the length of this post), I want to focus on a few verses from this Psalm in particular.

To begin with, there is a specific happiness that accompanies biblical obedience. The psalmist begins the wonderful chapter with these words, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk int he law of the LORD.” (Psalm 119:1, NASB) During times of affliction, whether spiritual or physical, comfort is gained from the joy of obedience (compare this with Hebrews 12:2).

Or take another verse, Psalm 119:6, “Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments.” (NASB) When we look at God’s commands. Of course the word entails more than simply looking with one’s eyes. It involves observation, intent attentionprolonged and purposeful examination. Even during affliction, observance of God’s Word frees one from shame.

SO WHAT?

So what does this mean for you? Well, it depends upon the affliction facing you. What are you going through? What troubles are attacking your body or soul? What family members are experience tumultuous times?

Do you turn to the only place that can provide true help? As Dr. Berg bluntly states, “It is, rather, mutinous for created beings to turn to themselves for solutions when they were created to depend upon God Himself.” [Jim Berg, God Is More Than Enough: Foundations For a Quiet Soul (Greenville, SC: Journey Forth, 2010), 6.] We are so prone to turn to everything but God, and He has graciously provided His Word to help us during times of affliction. When dealing with anxiety, we can turn to the God Who holds everything together. When struggling with sexual temptation, we can find satisfaction in the wonders of Jesus Christ. The afflictions will vary in kind and intensity, but the answer is always the same: God’s Word.

As we continue to journey through these verses in Psalm 119, I hope that you realize that God’s Word is such a treasure-trove of comfort and delight.

 

OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES

A Study in Affliction: An Introduction to Psalm 119 and the Believer’s Trials

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 1)

In a previous post, we begin a brief overview of affliction as it appears in Psalm 119. The subject of affliction appears seven times in the mammoth psalm. We begin with the first appearance of affliction in Psalm 119:50.

David pens these words,

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (ESV)

A BRIEF DEFINITION

Affliction is translated from the Hebrew word עני, which, according to one lexicon, means “affliction, poverty.” Another possible definition is “misery.” No matter which one you choose, the picture is not pleasant.

The connection with affliction and the trials we face are obvious. We are all afflicted with a variety of problems. They vary in significance and intensity, but they afflict us all. This broad understanding helps us in every situation, and is another evidence of the complete sufficiency of God’s Word for all our problems.

CAN THERE BE COMFORT IN AFFLICTION?

If you are like me, you may find yourself asking the question, “Can there be comfort in affliction?” It would appear to be an oxymoron to many of us. Imagine finding comfort while mourning the loss of a spouse. Try to find comfort when the doctor informs you that you have six months to live. Look for comfort when your bills are more than your income.

These are all severe cases, but what about the “little things”? Can you find comfort when you are late to work? Is there comfort for your car breaking down once again? Does a severed relationship with a friend at school make room for comfort?

Can comfort be present in affliction, severe or little?

David’s answer is a resounding yes. Contrary to the marred thinking of sinful human beings (see Ephesians 4:17-18), Christians can find comfort during times of affliction.

A LIFE CHANGING TRUTH

Is this not wonderful news? Regardless of the scenario of affliction, the believer can receive comfort. Though the trials will vary in intensity and timing, we can find comfort, true and life-infusing comfort.

The idea is consolation. We all need to be comforted, to feel that everything will be alright. God’s Word comforts us. Like feasting on chicken noodle soup after a bout with sickness, God’s Word provides healing down to the very depths of our souls.

LIFE GIVING PROMISE

How does David find comfort during times of affliction? David says, “your promise gives me life” (Psalm 119:50, ESV). The promise found in the sacred Scriptures provide life-infusing comfort during those times of adversity.

The question remains, what promise?

For that, you will have to wait until the next post.