In this episode, our series on how to be rich continues with a discussion about the opportunity we have to listen to God. Scripture promises we can buy all the gold we want by listening to God. Not physical gold, but spiritual riches. Reading scripture invites us to hear the voice of God, bear witness to the historical and eternal working of the divine, and discern what that means for our daily life.
More about Listening
Last week, we went through some practical ways to listen to God, and why did we want to go through practical ways to listen to God? What was the reason for it from last week? You remember? What does listening to God allow us to do?
Make wise choices.
Make wise choices, but specifically, from Revelation 3?
Yes, get rich. Specifically, buy gold. Buy gold. The way you buy gold—or from Isaiah 55, the way you buy food and drink without having any money is to listen to God. That’s where true riches come from. We talked about four practical ways to listen to God.
What I’m going to do today is go back through those four practical ways to listen to God because we like to buy gold with no money. We like that. We like to be rich. We like to have true riches.
I’m going to go back through there and just expand on these four things a little bit and some practical things. Maybe you have some things as well.
Read the Bible
The first thing we talked about in listening to God, this opportunity to buy gold, this opportunity to buy food and drink and sustenance without having any money, the first way to listen to God we talked about was reading the Bible. God’s given us the Bible.
There’s some very great ways we do this around here. Bible memory is a great way to read the Bible. Our AWANA program is a terrific way to read the Bible.
All of you have had various times and means in which you’ve memorized the Bible. What better way to put seeds in your mind so that you can understand things as you go along through the day; and, to the extent you have done that, that’s great. It’s always great to add more. I don’t think you can ever do too much of Bible memory.
During the Babylonian captivity, the Jews created their scholastic tradition where they said we can’t worship in the temple anymore so we’ll worship God with our minds. They started the Talmudic tradition of really studying the Bible.
At the time of Jesus, according to some people that have informed us about that, at the time of Jesus, up on the northern shore of Galilee, those guys that had come back from that Babylonian tradition, the young men, by the time they’re 15, would have known the whole Old Testament word perfect.
Pretty much the pinnacle of ambition for a young man was to become a rabbi. If you wanted to be a rabbi, you not only had to be able to memorize it, but discuss the context and everything about the context.
It was something that was an integral part of the culture to memorize scripture; and it’s a fantastic way to know the scripture and listen to God.
There’s a couple other things that I’ve personally benefited from immensely. Of course, you can’t really benefit from reading the Bible unless you set aside time to read the Bible. For those of you who are schedule people, putting it in your schedule is a wise thing to do.
I think most preachers are schedule-type people, and so they tend to emphasize that, which is fine.
I’m not a schedule-type person. What I have to do is create challenges for myself. Usually, when I study the scripture best, it’s when I can come up with a question that I want to address because that’s just kind of the way I’m wired.
This class helps me a lot. It helps me dig because I’m like I got to find something that’s interesting to say to these people, you know? It’s not going to be interesting to them unless it’s interesting to me, so I have to come up with questions; so that helps a lot.
The two things that I’ve learned that I think have helped me the most in reading the Bible and listening to God through reading the Bible, I’m going to tell you.
Who wrote it to whom?
The first thing is so simple, and I think it’s not going to be a surprise to any of you. It’s so simple, but it’s so rarely done in western Christianity the last hundreds of years. It’s to look at who wrote whatever you’re reading and who the audience was that they were writing to and to discern why they wrote it.
People don’t just sit down and write things randomly. People don’t sit down and just start writing random thoughts and then send it to someone and then have somebody say, “Hey, let’s put this in the Bible!” It’s not a random process that generated these scriptures. There’s an author. There’s a reason the author’s writing. There’s a group that they’re writing to.
This was driven home to me, to some extent, when I started looking into some of the Pilgrim preachers, and that’s part of our heritage so I thought I’d dig into it a little bit. I looked up Jonathan Edwards famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God; and I started reading that.
I noticed the passage that it’s done off of. Anybody know what the passage was that he used as his text for Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? Anybody know?
Their foot shall slide in due time. Their foot shall slide in due time. I thought, what? Foot shall slide in due time? What’s that? It’s from Deuteronomy.
I flipped it open, looked it up, and it’s Moses writing to the Israelites and telling them at some point in the future, your nation is going to do wrong, and when they do, they’re going to suffer the consequences of that, and then I’m going to bring them back because I’m a merciful God.
It has nothing whatsoever to do with standing on the precipice of a pit and dangling over the fire like a spider, which is the description that Jonathan Edwards used. Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. And I thought, whoa!
Using the Bible to justify our position
Then as I looked, that’s pretty common. It’s pretty common. It’s human nature, isn’t it?
You start this even as little children. “Why did you do that?” You ask a child, “Why did you do that?” What do you get? What kind of answer do you get when you ask a child? Yeah, maybe “I don’t know.” Or, what did you say, Jamie?
Yeah, “Because.” Or “Because he told me to do it.”
You’re not going to get a, “Well I think I’m a sinful person, and I was really being self-oriented.” You don’t get a rational—You get a justifying type of response, right? You don’t have to train kids to self-justify.
It’s normal for us to say, “I want to make a point of some kind,” and then go look for justification. It’s common for people to go, “Where’s a verse that says—oh! There’s one! I can use that!” You go justify, and you’re not looking at what was written from the perspective of who wrote it and who did they write it to.
Now, it’s certainly appropriate to take something someone said to someone, understand what they were saying to that person, and then make application in other ways. That’s certainly appropriate.
I’m going to step onto holy turf here, and so if you brought any rotten fruit, you might get it out here. The Roman Road, as great as it is, and as useful as it is, when you look at the Roman Road from the perspective of—when people talk about it from the perspective of “This is what this book is for,” it’s not. It is an appropriate application, perhaps; but that’s not what Paul was doing.
He was writing to a group of people whose faith was spoken of throughout the whole world. You don’t write to a group of people whose faith was spoken of throughout the whole world and try to show them from step one to step two how to get justified.
He does go through the justification process. As an application, no problem. But to claim that’s what he was doing, it’s just not looking at the evidence.
The reason he’s talking about justification is because the key in the book of Romans is to make a distinction between justification, which is new birth, which we have no part in other than to receive it, and sanctification which is growing up in Christ, which has everything to do with our choices that we make, and you have to have a distinction between the two.
If you don’t have a distinction between the two, you get messed up.
Why did Paul write Romans?
The book of Romans was precipitated—why? Why did Paul write the book of Romans? What caused him to write it? He wrote it to a group of people he didn’t know. It’s the only book like that. Every other book, it’s people he knows intimately, and he’s writing some kind of exhortation.
Why did he write the book of Romans? This is a core fundamental thing, and we don’t even look at it, right?
He was hearing what was happening in Rome.
He was hearing what was happening in Rome. Yeah. He was doing that. That’s a fact. But what was he hearing that was making him write this letter to people he didn’t even know?
In that verse, it says so that you can know glory, honor, and immortality. So, to grow them up to be overcomers.
He certainly wanted to grow them up to be overcomers. But what precipitated the letter? You don’t just—
That’s certainly a key part of—That’s the core message that he has in there. But what precipitated him writing the letter?
Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole earth.
Yeah, well he was congratulating them for their faith being spoken of throughout the whole world, but that’s—
He doesn’t want the Judaizers to come in and corrupt their—
He doesn’t want the Judaizers to come in and corrupt. But what precipitated him writing the letter?
He didn’t have anything else to do.
He didn’t have anything else to do. OK.
If you look in, chapter 3, it says, “as we are slanderously reported to have been teaching.” As we have been slanderously reported that we are teaching.
Now if you are an apostle and God has told you your mission is to go preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and your message is being slandered in Rome—is Rome important at this time? Why is Rome important? It’s the center of the world. Who’s your message being slandered to? A group of believers whose faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
If a group of believers whose faith is spoken of throughout the whole world in the center of the world believe the slander about your gospel, what’s going to happen to your ministry?
It’s going to be corrupted.
Would you write a letter?
Why do we not know this? Because this isn’t what we focus on. We focus on I’ve got a point to make, and I want to go find something to—It’s our tradition. This is our tradition. This is what’s been handed down to us.
What I’m saying is it’s not a good tradition. This is one we ought to throw overboard. We ought to say thank you very much for that, but let me first look at, who wrote this? Who did they write it to, and why? Why were they writing this?
Some things are fairly obvious. Why did Paul write 1 Corinthians?
Because they were overly corrupt.
Yeah, they had a big problem going on, right? They had a specific problem going on, and they had questions. In 1 and 2 Corinthians, he’s answering questions.
It’s so interesting that conservatives when they interpret the constitution sort of go old school, original intent.
Yes. Original intent. Yes.
It’s sort of the same thing.
They do the same kind of thing, don’t they? Yeah, that’s right.
They’re trying not only to discern, to interpret this new question based on the constitution, they’re trying to historically determine what the intent of the framers was.
What did they really mean by this, and then how do we apply it in the modern era? Yeah. It says it’s the same kind of thing.
It’s the notion that the Bible was written in a normal manner, that a person meant something when they said it, and they intended for the person who is hearing it to hear it in a certain way. And it’s inspired so that whatever that said is true in every respect.
If we can get that perspective, we can apply that in all kinds of ways.
When you understand that Paul wrote Romans because his message was being slandered, what would be the most important question you could ask next? Yeah, how was this, and what was the slander? What was the slander, do you know?
Let us sin so grace may abound.
The slander—in Romans 2 it says let us do evil that good may come. That’s the slander. The other way he says it is where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Because Paul’s claim is you cannot out-sin the grace of God. No matter what. You can run as fast as you can, and you will not get past God sinning because the cross has paid for everything. If you pile it up, it’s just going to be taller. You cannot out sin the grace of God because justification is completely free and independent of anything you ever do.
The reason the Romans Road is there is because he is making it clear that justification comes by faith alone. Abraham believed God; It was reckoned to him as righteousness. Circumcision came twenty years later.
There’s a total separation between covenant and righteousness and declaration— justification/righteousness. The law came 400 years later. There’s a complete separation between the law and justification/righteousness.
The whole book of Romans is the question of, if we’ve been declared righteous, then why should we not just live in sin all we want to because everybody knows sin’s fun. Nobody’s going to deny that.
So his whole point in his book is to answer the question, why shouldn’t we sin if we can? That’s why he says, well, sin’s death. You’ve been resurrected. Everybody comes to the funeral home for the wake and the gathering. You get out of the casket. Everybody’s happy. It’s been a resurrection. Two weeks later you say, you know, “It was comfortable in that casket. I kind of liked that funeral home.”
You go back, knock on it, and say, “Can I get back in that casket again? Matter of fact, I might even like to be buried.”
Paul saying, does that really make any sense? Really? You were a slave; you’re set free. You’re on the galley ship, chained. People are whipping you. Somebody comes and says you’ve been set free. They unlock the manacles. Hallelujah! I’m free!
You go for a month, and you say, “My muscles just aren’t what they used to be; and, you know, I kind of like being whipped.” You know, is anybody going to do that? That’s crazy! Why would you want to do that?
You’ve come out from under condemnation. Sin has consequences! What payment do you get for sinning? Death. Yeah. It has consequences. You were on the payroll of death, and now you don’t have to be on that payroll anymore. You want to get back on that payroll again? You want those consequences, those negative consequences? Really?
No, we don’t sin because we have to in order to get justification. We don’t sin because we don’t want the wrath of God pouring on us that we’ve been delivered from.
In Romans 1, how’s the wrath of God poured out?
Giving us over to our lusts.
Giving us what we want! Letting us have what we demand.
So, he’s saying, don’t do that! He contrasts the righteousness of faith and the righteousness of the law because the righteousness of faith brings righteousness, and the righteousness of the law doesn’t. The reason he’s doing that is because his slanderers are preaching that the law is necessary as an integral part of justification.
That’s the book of Romans.
If you understand that, it just all makes a lot more sense. Your ability to apply, then, the jot and the tittle is going to be much more accurate. It is appropriate to use jot and tittle. Paul builds one of his big arguments on the fact that seed is singular rather than plural.
Getting it down to the minute is completely appropriate; but not without the full context. I’m going to tell you, for me, listening to God by reading the Bible and asking that question, well, why is he writing this? Who’s this to? Why is he saying that?
What I found is the more confusing a passage is—when I get to a passage and go, “What?” I automatically think I must not understand who’s saying this and who they’re saying it to and why they’re saying it. If I go straight back to that and I just puzzle on it until—Ah! Oh, of course!
That’s number one. Read the Bible. Look at the writer and the audience and why they wrote it. There’s slander involved! Of course you’re going to defend your ministry if you’re slandered.
Translation and context
The second thing that really helped me immensely was Jody Dillow, who pointed out the technical phrase he uses, because he’s a wonk. You know the policy wonk guys. Illegitimate totality transfer. Don’t you love that phrase?
Illegitimate means you shouldn’t do it. Totality meaning you always do it. Transfer meaning it’s going from one thing to the other. Here’s the notion: It’s that you take the meaning of a word in one context and say, “Because it’s that meaning in that context, then it must be that meaning in all contexts.”
The word that has created the most confusion for me and obstacle to listening to God through reading the Bible is the word salvation and saved. Because I grew up, and if you said save and soul in any kind of context, save and soul, that only meant one thing. The spider dangling over the fiery pit, and the question is, is God going to let go, or am I going to jump out of that hand and say, no, I don’t want to go in that? That’s all that it could ever mean. Only possible thing you meant. Because soul only means one thing: Heaven/hell, and save only means one thing: Heaven/hell.
What I’ve learned is that this Greek word sozo or so soterio, whether it’s a noun or verb, is used in the Bible exactly the same way we use it in English. If I say to you, “Have you saved any money this week?” what am I asking? Yeah. You have you hung on to any.
My question is, have you delivered any of your wages from being consumed and delivered it to being preserved for future use. That’s what I’m asking.
What would you think if you asked someone that and say, “Hey, have you saved any money this month?” They said, “Oh, yes! I prayed over my checkbook, and it came to Jesus! It was going to hell, and now it’s bound for glory!” What would you think about that? Yeah, you’d think they’re nuts, right?
That’s exactly what we do! That’s exactly what we do with this in the Bible.
You know the word soul, the English translation is a translation of the Greek word psuche. We get our word psyche from it, psychology. Half the time, it’s translated soul, and half the time it’s translated life.
Now what if somebody says, “I want to save your life”? What comes into your mind? “Oh, that means he doesn’t want me to go to hell”? It doesn’t come into your mind, right?
What if they say “I want to save your soul”? Well, then, I want you to go to heaven, right? It’s the same word. It’s just the translators are pushing it in a direction because they want to make everything about heaven and hell.
When it comes along and says, “And the person was sozo from their disease,” they don’t write “saved” from the disease; they write “healed.” But it’s the same word. Because they’re pushing it in a direction.
When I understood that “Hey, Mariano Rivera saves the game” doesn’t mean the Yankees are going to heaven. I always have to ask, when I see the word save, who’s being delivered from what? What’s being delivered from what?
Most of the time when you see the word save it’s a believer who’s being delivered from the power of sin so they can live the Christian walk.
Why would that make sense that that’s mostly what it’s saying? Who’s writing these letters? Paul, John, Peter. Who are they writing it to? Their disciples! Peter says I’m about to die. I’m going to die just like the Lord told me I was going to. I’m going to be martyred. I know it’s coming. I’m writing this down because I’ve been telling you this over and over again. I’m not going to be here to keep telling you. I’m writing it down for you.
It’s to his faithful that he’s saying this. Is he going to say to the faithful, “Please go to heaven”? It doesn’t even make any sense.
Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church. You’ll talk to people, they’ll say, “Yeah, but every Church has unbelievers in the audience.” It’s not a sermon, for heaven sakes! It’s not an evangelistic service! They weren’t recording it, and then they transcribed it. That’s not what—He’s writing a letter from someplace else!
When I realized that, it’s like the scales fell off my eyes.
I’ve sat through trainings on the book of Hebrews early in my Christian life, and I got done and thought, “I guess you just have to have a PhD to understand this book. It sounds like it says “the dog ran out of the house,” and by the time that guy gets done, it’s “the deer gets shot in the woods.” How did he do that? You must just have to have a ThD. That must be it.
It’s actually pretty simple if you just look at who wrote and who it was written to. The book of Hebrews, this writer’s writing to a group of people. He says at the end, “Bear with these few words of exhortation. I’m hoping to be with you soon. Pray for me.” He says, “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” He says, “I’m mindful of all the good work you have done and continue to do.” He says, “Remember the days when you ministered to me in my chains, and you lost your possessions and were glad because you know you have a more enduring possession in heaven.”
Does this sound like a bunch of lost people? Is it an evangelistic sermon to people he’s never met before? This is not a Billy Graham letter.
So listen to God. Those are two huge keys that I’ve had in reading the Bible.