Love is more important
than Biblical interpretation

by Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas -- What are the most pressing situations in your world right now?

Here are three of mine.

  • The chaos in the world can be exhausting to watch.

  • The deteriorating world economy puts financial pressure on my family and friends.

  • Some of my friends are experiencing serious personal trials.

This world needs the love of God. This world needs the disciples of Christ to exhibit the true sign of His discipleship -- found in John 13:34-35.

If you want to read an excellent article about love, see an article titled "It's All About Love" by Carl Akins that is posted in the Edifying the Body section of our Web site for the weekend of April 5 (and on page 6 of this issue of The Journal).

Carl has been diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer and gives an insightful view about the subject of love.

Biblical discussions

As I watch the landscape in religion (including among the Church of God movement), I am concerned that too many people are allowing their Bible interpretations about knowledge to affect the way they deal with people.

There just seems to be more emphasis on Bible interpretations than on the way people deal with each other.

From my perspective, one of the foundational flaws in discussions (including religious discussions) is when people dogmatically state their ideas, opinions and interpretations as facts or truth.

I believe this error is magnified when people state their ideas, opinions and interpretations as speaking for God.


Conviction and compassion

One of my favorite expressions, which I periodically use in sermons, is the concept of having "conviction and compassion." I believe people should have strong convictions -- and the compassion to deal with people who have different convictions.

But placing compassion above conviction is difficult. Here are two problems.

First, some people believe they have a special assignment from God and thereby rationalize that they have dispensation to place conviction over compassion.

Some people claim to be prophets (or special messengers with other religious-sounding titles) who speak for God.

Such people generally believe that expressing the proper knowledge (including doctrine) is so important that the receivers of the knowledge need to hear what is true -- even if it makes them mad or sad.

Second, even when people believe compassion is more important than conviction, they make mistakes in dealing with other people.

Interpreting is good

It is my perspective that all people interpret Scripture, and it is my hope that people will do it wisely. Consider the following eight statements.

  • Many people in this world claim to use the Bible as their guide.

  • Those who use the Bible as their guide interpret Scripture.

  • No two people have exactly the same knowledge. You know things that other people don't know and they know things that you don't know.

  • The Bible says people are judged based on what they know (John 12:47-48; James 4:17).

  • Learning from other people is wise.

  • Hearing the interpretation of wise people is edifying.

  • Hearing the interpretation of foolish people or prideful people can be viewed as a waste of time.

  • People should seek to be the master of their time.

What about doctrine?

Someone could ask: With all this talk about interpretation, isn't biblical doctrine important? Absolutely.

Here are three scriptures that reveal the importance of doctrine.

"And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7).

"If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself" (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

"Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him" (2 John 1:9-10).

It is my perspective that the following two concepts are important.

  • People need to be careful when they seek to promote their interpretation as biblical doctrine.

  • People need to be careful when they seek to correct other people for having a different interpretation of doctrine.

What about heresy?

Someone could ask: With all this talk about interpretation, is there not still such a thing as heresy? Absolutely.

In the King James Version of the Bible there are two Greek words for the subject of heresy. The Greek word hairetikos is used one time and is translated "heretic." The Greek word hairesis is translated "sect" (five times), "heresies" (one time) and "heresy" (one time).

According to an article in Integrity magazine (Vol. 5, No. 11, pp. 164-165), heresy is commonly misunderstood.

It said: "Since the factious man (hairetikos) in the KJV is called a 'heretic' -- a word subject to misunderstanding -- we should look carefully at what this term denotes. The root from which it comes means 'to choose,' and a 'heretic' is one who makes a choice. In the Bible a hairesis is a body of people built around the same choice; hence a sect or party. Although the English word heresy is associated with the one who holds an unorthodox doctrine, this meaning is not found in the Bible. Even in 2 Pet. 2:1 (the only passage in which the RSV used the word) it does not seem to denote unorthodox doctrine.

"The heresies (factions) in 1 Cor. 11:19 result from separatists who do not recognize the inherent oneness of the body. The original word is properly rendered 'party spirit' in Gal. 5:20. The Biblical usage emphasizes the evil of dividing the body. Therefore the 'factious' man in Tit. 3:10 is one who creates division by the manner in which he holds his theological opinions, even though those opinions may not be actually 'heretical' in the modern sense ... So the word at this stage had nothing to do with orthodoxy of teaching."

It is my perspective that the following two concepts are important.

  • People need to be careful when they attribute another person's interpretation as heresy.

  • People need to be careful when they seek to correct another person because they categorize his interpretation as heresy.

Be a buyer

There is a famous expression showing a good approach when shopping: "I don't want to be sold items; I prefer to buy items."

I recommend you apply that principle to your religious discussions.

  • Don't let pushy people try to sell you on their knowledge.

  • You are a buyer (seeker) of knowledge.

  • If some pushy and rude religious salesmen seek to push their product (their interpretations) on you, be the master of your time. Resist their pushy approach.

  • If you want to seek someone's interpretation, approach him and see what he has to offer.

  • If you are not happy with his product (the information or the tone of his interpretation), end the discussion.

Notice the tone

Someone could ask: How much evaluation should I place on the tone of a pushy person's interpretation?

My answer: That's up to you. Personally, I place a lot of value on the tone.

Someone could ask: How quickly should I withdraw from a person with a presumptuous tone?

My answer: That's your choice. If someone is trying to dogmatically sell (push) his interpretation to me, Imay end the conversation rather quickly.

If I am trying to buy (seek) his interpretation, I am more likely to put up with his questionable tone for a while.

Generally, I prefer to avoid spending extensive time listening to a presumptuous person who dogmatically expresses his interpretation as undeniable truth.

Famous misapplication

One of the greatest misapplications of the Scripture is how people use the beautiful words of Christ's message to the seven congregations in Revelation 2-3.

My next comment would be humorous if it were not so sad. When dozens of church groups pompously brag about having the attitude of the Philadelphia congregation (Revelation 3:7-13), they are loudly expressing the attitude of the Laodicean congregation (verses 14-22).

John quoted Jesus as saying, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches" (Revelation 3:13, 22). Let's explore that a little further.

Don't be controlled

It is my perspective that civil government and church government generally seek to control other people. I believe that is the type of wrong leadership that Jesus described in Matthew 20:25 and Luke 22:25.

I mentioned earlier how some religious people claim to speak for God. Unfortunately, this action is often an attempt to control people.

Allow me to give you my perspective about phrases that can be used by religious people (inadvertently or deliberately) to control people.

  • "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches."

This phrase can be used to try to intimidate you into thinking the other person has knowledge that is superior to yours. He may present himself as having a spiritual perception that you can only hope to have some day.

  • "This is so simple."

Did he inadvertently call you a moron or is he deliberately insulting you?

  • "Everybody should understand this."

Are you a sucker for peer pressure?

  • "There is no question about this."

Really? We can't even ask questions about this interpretation? Besides, why would we want to ask a question of a prideful know-it-all?

  • "I believe only what I read in the Bible."

Did he inadvertently imply that you don't believe in the Bible? Did he inadvertently imply that he knows so much more about the Bible than you do?

  • "People who believe such things are rejecting the faith that was once delivered" (a phrase in Jude 4).

Does the critic's interpretation of the "faith that was once delivered" reflect God's absolute perspective? Is he sure? Or does God view the critic as someone seeking to divide the Body of Christ?

  • "People who believe such things are not in covenant with God."

Such proclaimers may be contradicting Mark 9:38-40.

  • "People who believe such things are not converted."

Such proclaimers may be contradicting 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.

  • "People who believe such things are not being called now."

Such proclaimers may be contradicting John 6:44.

  • "People who believe such things have rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior."

Such proclaimers may be contradicting 2 Timothy 2:19.

  • "People who believe such things have never had the Spirit of God."

Such proclaimers may be contradicting Romans 8:14-16.

  • "People who believe such things have rejected the Spirit of God."

Such proclaimers may be violating Matthew 12:31-32.

How to respond

Someone could ask: How should I respond to people who make some of the statements listed above?

My answer: Consider Proverbs 26:4-5 and Galatians 6:1.

  • According to Proverbs 26:4, there are times to avoid descending to their foolishness.

Someone could ask: If I don't respond, won't these types of people conclude that they are right?

My answer: If they are not willing to identify their ideas as interpretations, they already "know" they are right.

Someone could ask: If I don't respond, won't those types of people pass along bad information about me?

My answer: Possibly. But understand that people are already passing along false information about you.

Seeking to clarify false information about yourself is like chasing a pillowful of released feathers in the wind.

  • According to Proverbs 26:5, there are times to make a statement that exposes their wrong information or their wrong approach.

If the person regrets his foolishness (wrong information and wrong approach), you might be able to enter into a good conversation. If the person does not regret his foolishness (wrong information and wrong approach), I recommend that you do not waste your time.

  • According to Galatians 6:1, people can consider reaching out to help, but they should not feel compelled to intervene. And, if a person does choose to reach out to help, it should be done in the spirit of meekness.

Love trumps knowledge

Let's conclude with two scriptures.

In Romans 14:1, the apostle Paul described the general relationship between people who are considered strong in the faith and those who are considered weak in the faith:

"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things."

In 1 Corinthians 13:2 Paul mentioned the important characteristics of prophecy, mysteries, knowledge and faith. Then he noted the superiority of love:

"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

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