I was reading through our Sunday School Quarterly last night and came across a common illustration that isn’t based in truth. The lesson writer states that,
“Being sincere literally means to be without wax. This is a potter’s term and it refers to the devious practice of patching cracked pots with a mixture of colored dirt and wax in order to hide imperfections. An unwary buyer would think he had bought a good vessel until he used it. Then he would discover that it was defective. A sincere person does not have a cracked character that will be revealed under pressure. Of course, those who are sincere will not give offense to others. We should be honest with ourselves and God and allow God’s Word to mold our character.” (Fall Quarterly, Growing in Love, Joy and Knowledge p. 15, Bogard Press) (Note: I have serious concerns about this lesson writer and the publisher, but I digress.)
This sounds really good, and the premise has been used in many sermons to encourage people to be genuine and authentic. Unfortunately, it isn’t rooted in reality.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “There has been a temptation to see the first element as Latin sine ‘without.’ But there is no etymological justification for the common story that the word means ‘without wax’ (*sin cerae), which is dismissed out of hand by [this dictionary] and others, and the stories invented to justify that folk etymology are even less plausible.”
If we are to be sincere in studying and teaching God’s Word, we must be very careful when using stories like this. When we use “preacher stories”, we actually communicate untruths. Now, I won’t say that those of us who use illustrations like this are lying when we do so, because lying is telling an untruth with the purpose of deceit. What the lesson writer does is not unlike many Bible teachers when we use eisegesis instead of exegesis to study the Bible. Eisegesis means to read into whereas exegesis means to read out of. The dead giveaway for me — that sent me to research this – was the use of “literally” in the definition of sincere. Sadly, many times we say, “literally”, it isn’t literally true.
The Scripture Passage in question is Philippians 1:10 The lesson writer takes an English word sincere that was translated from the Biblical (Koine) Greek word εἰλικρινεις (eilikrineis) which means “pure”. Instead of translating the word from Koine Greek forward into Modern English and translating the word, “pure”, the lesson writer goes from 1611 Elizabethan English (KJV) backward to Latin to find a word pair that never existed to make an illustration that isn’t based in reality. This is a classic example of reading into the Bible what you want it to say, rather than simply letting the Bible Text speak for itself.
Thankfully, this illustration does little actual harm to a Sunday School Student. But being sloppy like this in studying and teaching God’s Word is irresponsible. And if the educated teachers (and degreed lesson writers) are sloppy and irresponsible, can we expect better from our students?
Let’s be sincere and let God’s Word speak for itself.
Have you ever sat down to read your Bible and nothing happened? I mean, you read the words on the page but the words don’t leap off the page. You didn’t get goosebumps. You didn’t see what you were reading as being very applicable to you. It didn’t seem to connect. It seemed so …boring. I know I have!
You’re in good company! It happens to all of us from time to time. Take a couple of minutes to watch this helpful video.
While singing Christmas carols at a rehab facility last week, I actually paid attention to the words I was singing. “Away in a Manger” is wrong!
“…but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes… “
In the words of my good friend, David Terry, “We have so deified Jesus, we have dehumanized Him.” Yes, little Lord Jesus did cry. He may have even been colicky. Not only that, little Lord Jesus had stinky diapers!
The Incarnation Message of Christmas is not only that God became man, but God became a helpless little baby.
In the next few days, try to put away the Christmas Card Theology that you’ve been fed (even/especially in church!). Read the Christmas story in Luke 2 through fresh eyes.
You might just learn something new.
Oftentimes, spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel are not seen as being related. Well, of course you have to have embraced the Gospel message to be born spiritually in order to grow spiritually. However, I’m talking about once you’re saved, there’s not a lot of emphasis on witnessing. At least for many church-goers.
Last week, we looked at the issue of spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel. We looked at the context of Jesus’ comments about “the fields are white for harvest” from John 4: the Samaritan “woman at the well” went to invite the townspeople to come meet Jesus who knew all sorts of things about her (as well as her friends and lovers). As they were coming to Jesus, He told His disciples that, “the fields are white for harvest”. (John 4:35)
Our job is to pray to the Lord of the Harvest, asking Him to send His workers into the harvest (Luke 10:2). By the way, that doesn’t mean that we pray for somebody else to come along and do the work for us. The idea is that we ask God to send others to help us bring in the harvest. So how do we do that?
One plan is called 4xFour and it was developed by Greg Wallace of Woodridge Baptist Church of Kingwood, Texas. He suggests the first step is to Identify four “unchurched” (i.e., lost) people within your circle of influence, whom God wants you to share your faith. To do that, we have to realize that there is a harvest, we are called to be involved in bringing in the harvest, and that now is the time to be about the Lord’s business of bringing in the harvest. And that requires that we pray, asking God to lead us to our “four” (we don’t just pick out four random people).
This is just the first step of one plan, which I suggested for Fellowship Baptist Church. You may not like this plan. That’s ok. So what is your plan? How is your plan working for you? (I assume you have a plan)
God hasn’t called anybody to win the entire world to Christ. But God intends all of us to witness to some (1Cor 9:22). We can start by Identifying your “Four”.
So have you identified your “Four”?
This article was published by DesiringGod in December 2014. I present it in its entirety.
Whether you feel like a beginner, or the grizzled old veteran, one of the most important things you can do is regularly read the Bible for yourself.
It is a remarkable thing that we have Bibles we can read personally, whenever we want. For most of the church history, and still today in many places in the world, Christians have not had their own personal copies of the Bible. They had to gather to hear someone read it to them. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) was all they had for Bible time.
But now, with printed Bibles and electronic options galore, we have priceless access to God’s very words to us, words that we are so tragically tempted to take lightly. Reading your own copy of the Bible daily is not a law that every believer must abide; most Christians have not had this option. But daily Bible reading is an extraordinary means of God’s grace. Why miss this bounty and blessing?
The Whole Thing?
“All Scripture,” says 2 Timothy 3:16, “is breathed out by God and profitable.” It is the whole Bible, says Sinclair Ferguson, which was given to make whole Christians. Everything in Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, is for the good of the church. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
But not every text functions to build our faith in the same way, and has the same effect for every one of God’s children in the new covenant. It is a wonderful thing to read all the way through the Bible. It is something that pastors and teachers in the church should strongly consider doing on an annual basis, to let all the Scriptural data pass before their eyes for continually informing their public theological claims. But this is not a yoke to be set on every Christian every year. Though it would be a good thing for every Christian to try at some point, or at least to have some multi-year plan in place to eventually get you through the whole Bible in some cycle.
For those considering the journey, you may be surprised how doable it is. It takes about 70 hours to read the Bible from cover to cover.
That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. (Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 29)
Maybe now is your time to try it. Here are some of our favorites:
Discipleship Journal is our most beloved, and most used, over the years at Desiring God. There are four daily readings, but only 25 days each month — which leaves some margin for missing here and there when life gets busy. John Piper says, “Few things discourage us more from reading the Bible through in a year than falling behind. This plan gives five catch up days every month. This is absolutely golden!”
M’Cheyne is the classic plan, designed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813–1843), the beloved Scottish minister who died before his thirtieth birthday. The plan has readings for every day of the year and will take you once through the Old Testament and twice through the Psalms and the New Testament.
The Kingdom gives proportionate weight to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and one for the New. The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, with one reading coming from each portion per day. Only 25 readings are slated per month and can be started at any time of the year.
For Shirkers and Slackers is for those who’ve tried other plans and stalled out again and again. This plan assigns certain genres to certain days of the week and breaks biblical books into sections you can read in one sitting — so without reading everyday, you can still make measurable headway. Pace yourself well and do some extra reading, and you might even finish in less than a year.
Or if the whole thing in a year seems out of your reach, try taking up a plan and working through it at your own pace, even if it takes you several years. It will give you a specific place to go next when you open the Bible, instead of just opening to some random text, and in time it will give you confidence that you’ve traversed the whole terrain of Scripture and at least glimpsed briefly God’s full written revelation to us.