Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Helping Others Interpret Life Biblically

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Interpreting Life Biblically."]

As we studied Philippians 1:12-26 on Sunday, we saw that Paul interpreted his past, present, and future biblically.  He was constantly wanting to see his life through the lens of the Bible, and we were all challenged to do the same.

If I am going to see life with a biblical lens, then I am going to need help.  One thing that is true about interpreting life biblically is that we typically have an easier time interpreting other people's lives more accurately and honestly than we do our own.  We may look at the trials of others, knowing that if only they understood God's purposes in their trials, they would have such great hope!  Yet, we look in the mirror at our own trials, and all we want is to get out of them.  We want to escape more than we want strength to endure.  This is why we need help to interpret our lives biblically.

Think about it this way.  If the TV is getting blurry...if I have to squint to read (and then get a headache afterward)...if seeing while driving at night is getting harder...I have to look outside myself to get the problem fixed.  I go to the optometrist to get my eyes examined, receive a prescription for glasses, and then begin to wear them. The same is true in seeing our lives and trials and struggles and temptations clearly.  We need help from outside ourselves.  Yet, there is one great, hope-giving difference between these two. It doesn't take a doctorate, a master's degree, a Bible college degree, or a certain certification to be able to help others interpret their lives biblically. These can be helpful, if you have the ability to pursue them, but they are not necessary.

Let me explain. Paul wrote this to the Roman church: "I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another" (Rom. 15:14). The word for "instruct" in this verse is noutheteo, which means to counsel. He's saying to this congregation that he knows they are full of goodness and knowledge...and that they are very capable of counseling one another. Do you know what makes this verse all the more astounding? Paul had never been there in person (1:10)!  So, if Paul is confident that this unknown Roman church could counsel one another, then certainly we can have confidence that, by God's grace and with His help, we can do the same.

So, what must you do if you are going to really help others interpret their lives biblically?  Let me finish by listing four commitments we must have:
  • Be committed to the Bible.  You cannot help others see their lives through the lens of the Bible if you are not committed to the lens itself.  This means you must be consistently reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, and applying God's Word.  When God calls us to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15), He calls us to speak His truth.  This means we must be committed to knowing His truth!
  • Be committed to compassion.  When people are in the hospital, especially for serious conditions, the people they most remember are not the doctors but the nurses...good and bad.  Good and bad nurses have the same mission...carry out the doctor's orders.  The bad ones carry out orders in a cold-hearted way...get in, apply the meds, and get out!  No talking, no concern, no empathy...just a task to perform.  The good ones carry out the same orders.  They apply the same meds, and they, too, have other patients.  But they do their job with compassion...they hurt with you...they hate your pain.  Likewise, as we speak God's Word into another person's life, we are carrying out the orders of the Great Physician of Souls.  We should not just seek to get in, spout off some verses, and get out!  Rather, we should feel our brother's pain with him and minister the Word with compassion.
  • Be committed to the relationship.  The trials of life are often times when spiritual warfare is at its strongest.  This means helping your friend interpret the events of her life through the lens of the Bible will not be easy.  Your friend may go back and forth in her interpretation of life.  Sometimes it's biblical; other times it's just downright selfish and worldly.  There will be times when she doesn't want to hear anything you say, and other times, she will need to hear biblical hope like a thirsty man in the desert.  Whatever may come, remember, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Prov. 17:17).
  • Be committed to your own spiritual growth.  As I said earlier, it is often easier to help others see life from God's perspective than it is to see our own lives that way.  At times, when I am in the middle of helping other people with their problems, God confronts me with my own counsel!  For example, I may be speaking of a husband's need to do this or that, and all the while, it's as if God is saying to me: "Toby, can't you see that this is what I want from you?"  When God graciously shows me my flawed perspective, I intentionally take time to repent.  Sometimes, I'll even confess what just happened to the person I'm talking helps them know that they're not alone!  So, don't be surprised when your words to others hit home in your own heart.  And when they do, listen...grow...and change!