I planned to continue on my perspectives journey with shorter posts, which I will do, but a friend emailed me a question that I thought deserved a broad response and is in fact about perspective. There is a false view that is circulating fairly broadly and seems quite popular in the body of Christ in the Western church. It seems to be primarily based on the misapplication of the two scriptures below.
3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 1 Corinthians 14:3 (NKJV)
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:4 (NKJV)
Tied to these scriptures is the oft repeated expression, “God is good all the time.” The scriptures and the statement in and of themselves are both true. However, we also need to interpret and apply them, which is where things often go wrong. In this case, because our Western church is so conformed to the surrounding culture we tend to interpret ‘goodness’ and ‘edification and exhortation and comfort’ as things that make us feel good. This gets further translated into any talk of ‘judgement’ being viewed as negative and false.
The problem with this view is that it is easily demonstrated to be wrong from even a cursory examination of scripture. I am not suggesting that prophetic words won’t make us feel good at times, I have had a few, in fact some very encouraging ones in a prayer ministry time just this past week that focused things in my life in a very good way. However part of the prayer time included a message of difficult trials that would strengthen me. So given that is not an enjoyable prospect do I throw that part out because it didn’t make me feel good? It did encourage me.
Let me go back to the scriptures above. In 1 Corinthians 14:3 the NKJV uses the term ‘exhortation,’ while the NIV says ‘encouragement.’ They simply translate a Greek word into English differently. The meaning of the word is just as it says. Below is another usage of it in the NT.
18 And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. Luke 3:18 (NKJV)
If you read Luke 3:1-17 you will find the exhortations referred to in verse 18. Not a lot of them were heart-warming and comforting but a proper response to John’s preaching would bring comfort, it just may have been painful to get there. John as a prophet was practicing what 1 Corinthians 14:3 encourages us to do.
What of Romans 2:4, does the ‘goodness of God’ lead to repentance? Absolutely! However, read the context. The verses before and after are warnings of judgment and wrath. The point is that God in His goodness convicts us of our sin (read, makes us feel guilty, not happy) so that we will repent and not experience judgement and wrath. That is the context.
If we apply our feel good theology to the NT we need to remove some of the writers. That John guy in Revelation sure predicted a lot of judgement, we better not listen to him. The other John, you know, the first Baptist, he wasn’t warm and fuzzy. In fact he was downright negative and abrasive, we better not listen to him. O yes, what about that Jesus guy? Well Matthew 24 certainly isn’t all that encouraging and uplifting, and in Matthew 23 He had the gall to call people fools, hypocrites and blinds guides! Far too negative, better not listen to Him.
Obviously I am being sarcastic but that is the end this false theology leads us to, we just don’t seem to see or realize it. I just read something this week from the editor of a large charismatic magazine who seemed to echoing the views I have just lampooned – do we not see?
How about some real life examples in our day?
I had an aunt who died a number of years ago. She had stomach pains and went to her Dr. who reassured her everything was fine, so she felt better, in fact even encouraged I think. However the pains persisted and got worse so she went back. The Dr. again reassured her everything was fine. However, this time she didn’t fell reassured and since she worked in a hospital she pulled aside a Dr. that she knew. He examined her and told her that he thought she had stomach cancer, which she did, and died of a few months later. Was the first Dr. being good when he reassured and encouraged her? Might she have lived if she had been given a proper diagnosis, painful news and the issue addressed when she first raised it?
I had a similar experience. At 23 I went to the Dr. with a strange lump. The Dr. reassured me it was an infection and put me on antibiotics. In fact the Dr. was nice and reassuring enough to say to me, “Don’t worry, it’s not cancer.” Now, to this point that idea had not occurred to me and I gave it little thought after. Someone messed up. I don’t know whether the Dr. or the pharmacist but I ended up on half the recommended dosage of antibiotics for twice the length of time. When I finally returned to the Dr. because the antibiotics had no effect I was referred to a specialist and had my first surgery shortly thereafter, because I did in fact have cancer.
My point in both stories is the issue could have been dealt with sooner with an accurate diagnosis. For our eternal condition the best diagnostic tool is the scriptures. However if we are fixated on only reading the parts that make us feel good, or reinterpreting the ‘negative’ parts so that we feel good, we will not arrive at an accurate diagnosis and thus apply the wrong remedy.
Current reality is that we as the Western church need to mature, and quickly. The moral compass of our culture is broken and sadly in many places it seems to be broken in the church as well. Our culture is desperately in need of effective salt and light. For too long we have abandoned our responsibility to be just that for our culture. There are many encouraging and comforting things in the scriptures, as we generally define encouragement and comfort, things that make us feel better. However, that is not all that is in the scriptures. We are in a season where we need to move beyond milk and partake of some solid food (see Heb. 5:12-14).
Are we in the time of which Paul wrote? Would we recognize it if we were?
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NKJV)
My final exhortation in this post. Read the scriptures! However, first try to set aside preconceived notions and read them in the context in which they were written. In fact, pray first and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth in them so that we can bypass our biases!