The Common Good

God's Word vs. the American Bible

As Christians, we’ve been taught to follow the commands written in the Bible, but it’s easy to pick and choose which verses we want to follow, and we tailor ‘holiness’ according to our particular comforts and cultural preferences.

Man highlighting Scripture, James Steidl / Shutterstock.com
Man highlighting Scripture, James Steidl / Shutterstock.com

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For example, there are hundreds of verses, stories, and illustrations in the Bible that talk about giving abundantly to the poor, being absurdly generous with our resources, and not idolizing money, and yet we have a tendency to focus on the few verses that mention being ‘good stewards’ of our money (Prov. 10:4-5; 13:22).

1 Tim. 5:8 says: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Phew! This verse is all we need. It provides an opportunity for us to succumb to society’s expectations under the false pretense of being righteous — it’s a Biblical escape clause.

We search for these texts and treat them like precious treasures because they accommodate our lifestyle and help us rationalize our action (or inaction) — but we often rip them out of the larger context and disregard God’s greater intention.

Much of Jesus’s ministry centers on reconciling relationships, forgiving — and loving — enemies (Matt: 5:43-48), empathizing with those who we don’t normally understand (Philippians 2:3-4, John 8:1-11; Matt. 19:14; John 4) and loving others (John 13:34; 1 John 4:19-21). It’s hard to deny these truths, but when reality hits and we encounter those we dislike, we rely on verses that warn against bad company (1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 13:20; Psalm 1:1) and spending time with evildoers. It’s easier to fall back on these verses than it is to recognize the ones calling us to wholeheartedly love others.

When we naturally don’t get along with people, instead of putting in the Christ-like effort to love them, we often point to how even Christ had an “inner circle” and “beloved disciple” (John 20:2) — so it’s OK if we devote most of our time with those we naturally like instead of trying to love those who irritate us. Jesus did it, so why can’t we?

We know that it’s wrong to judge others, assume the worst, and hatefully condemn them — so we simply do it under the guise of “spiritual accountability.” (Prov. 27:17; Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:19-20).

We don’t give to the homeless because the Bible warns about putting money in a fool’s hand (Prov. 17:16).

We rationalize our addiction to work and not spending quality time with our family because the Bible warns us against laziness (Prov. 19:15; Prov. 20:13).

We craze power, authority, and control, so we use verses (Hebrews: 13:17) to manipulate people into following us — even to participate in sinful acts!

Parents use verses (1 Pet. 5:5; Eph. 6:1) to rationalize child abuse and horrendous verbal, emotional, and physical pain.

The Bible is even used to promote sexism (1 Tim. 2:11-15) and promote inequality under the mask of “biblical submission.”

The Bible is full of confusing texts and paradoxical ideas, and it’s easy to manipulate Scripture to fit our desires. We can have the appearance of righteousness — backed up by numerous Scripture verses, pastoral sermons, and theological debates — but completely misrepresent Jesus at the exact same time.

If we take the Bible as a whole, and step back to look at the big picture, God’s word centers on a theme of love and redemption and hope — brought about through sacrifice, service, humility, and following Christ’s example.

But Christians have a tendency to reject and ignore 99 percent of the content and obsess over the 1 percent. We avoid the majority and focus on the few minor texts that benefit us the most according to our pride, current needs, political agendas, social status, comforts, and desires.

Therefore, we rant about homosexuality, evolution, and the lack of prayer in public schools but often miss the big picture: loving others as Christ loved us. God help us.

Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective,and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Image: Man highlighting Scripture, James Steidl / Shutterstock.com

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