Truth in Conflict
A study of the scriptures is required to obtain a functional understanding of God's will and teaching (cp. 2 Tim. 2: 15). On some level - either simple or technical - any worthwhile hermeneutic system requires that certain axiomatic rules be followed. Such simple rules, for instance, as paying attention to who is speaking, to whom it is being spoken, and both the immediate and remote contexts. Another equally basic and important rule is not allowing one truth to conflict with or blur another relevant truth. While this is a simple common sense rule, I submit that it is often ignored.
The matter of prayer. The scriptures are replete with wonderful teaching regarding prayer. The writers of the New Testament often stressed the certainty of answered prayer and God's ability to deliver. Hear the apostle Paul:
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph. 3: 20).
Any Bible teaching regarding prayer will stress the fact of God's ability and promise pertaining to answering prayer. However, there are other verses that contain relevant teaching about prayer that are sometimes not appreciated. In fact, on occasion such verses as Ephesians 3: 20 are accented so strongly that they blur other important teaching and make it unimportant.
Consider a couple of these other equally important verses containing qualifying and fundamental truths:
"And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" and "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us" (I Jn. 3: 22, 5: 14).
Answered prayer, then, is contingent on man "keeping his commandments" and conforming to God's will. Such truth must not be blurred or de-emphasized by such positive and powerful statements as the one found in Ephesians 3: 20.
The security of the believer. There is absolutely no doubt regarding God's power, ability, and sovereignty in the matter of sustaining the believer. "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy," wrote Jude (vs. 24). Jesus made the emphatic following statement:
"And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all: and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" (Jn. 10: 28, 29).
Such verses as the foregoing should be stressed and their assurance fully stated. However, these truths must not be allowed to blur other germane truths. Three verses before the statement in Jude 24, the writer stated, "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." Affixed to Jesus' words in John 10: 28, 29 we read, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (Jn. 10: 27). Some verses declare God's part in the matter of the preservation of the saints; and other verses contains truths pertaining to how God's children must remain faithful (cp. 2 Chroni. 15: 1, 2). One truth must not be presented in such a way as to blur another. Yes, God is able, but man can fall and be lost (Gal. 5: 4, Heb. 6: 4ff.).
The church and the individual. Some verses stress the church, both universally and locally (Eph. 3: 10, I Tim. 3: 15). It is true that the church consists of people or individuals (I Cor. 12). The local church has benevolent duties in certain areas. One involves believing widows (I Tim. 5: 3, 16). The Holy Spirit provided an example of the church taking care of indigent widows (Acts 6: 1-4). However, the scriptures also address the duties of certain individuals over and before the local church. In so doing, a clear distinction is made between church action (the treasury) and the individual. Consider Paul's language:
"16: If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (I Tim. 5).
Hence, there are some things that the individual Christian is to do that are forbidden regarding the local church. An individual may buy and sell real estate for profit, but the church has no authority in being in the real estate business (I Cor. 16: 1, 2). To stress the church to the blurring of the individual or the individual to the playing down of the church is wrong and results in insufficient action.
Domestic matters. The scriptures are plain when it comes to the role of the wife in her relationship to her husband. Consider what is taught:
"22: Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23: For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24: Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing" (Eph. 5).
"The scriptures require my wife to obey me," husbands are heard saying. A few years ago, a husband was cheating IRS and was demanding the silence of his wife. "I told my wife to not say anything and according to the scriptures, she is to obey me," he said to me. Yes, the scriptures require the obedience of the wife, but there are other scriptures that qualify this obedience. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord" (Col. 3: 18). "As it is fit in the Lord" indicates that a husband has no right to require of his wife anything that is illegal or immoral. Hence, Ephesians 5: 22ff. can be and often is used in such a fashion as to blur Colossians 3: 18. Also, other verses in the passage of Ephesians 5 require certain things of the husband, such as respect and love toward his wife (vs. 25-33).
Civil government. We live in a world that has rules, regulations, and civil laws. Though they are not perfect, society must have law. The Christian is taught to keep civil law. The scriptures teach:
"1: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2: Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3: For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5: Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake" (Rom. 13).
In addition to the text of Romans 13, there are other stated truths that must be considered. For instance, when there is a conflict between civil law and God's laws as such, we read, "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than man" (Acts 5: 29). I was discussing a foreign work with a member whose uncle was preaching in that location to witness him saying, "My uncle and his group cannot assemble to worship or tell others about Christ because to do so would be to break the law of that country." Different churches were supporting the man to preach and he could not do so because there was a law against it. The member sighted Romans 13, but how about Acts 5: 29? He so used Romans 13 so as to blur the importance of Acts 5: 29!
Man's salvation. A classic example of a faulty hermeneutic that results in blurring scripture is the belief and teaching that man is saved by grace alone and that man is totally passive in his salvation. Sure, the scriptures accent God's role in man's salvation. God gave his Son and all things that pertain to life and godliness (Jn. 3: 16, 2 Pet. 1: 3). Consider the scriptures:
"13: For it is God which worketh in you," declared Paul, "both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phili. 2: 13).
However, one verse up we read: "12: Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Salvation involves God and man working together. Even belief is a work, a work that God requires (Jn. 6: 29). It is true that we are not saved by works (Tit. 3: 5). However, the acts that God has required of man do not have the nature of meritorious works (Eph. 2: 8-10). Man must certainly appropriate salvation and man's part in no way de-emphasizes God's role.
God has given us a book that contains the presentation of the very being and nature of God and the expressed will of this Supreme One. We, though, must responsibly use it, study it, and apply it. Denominationalism (many different churches, teaching many conflicting doctrines) is a good example of what happens when men irresponsibly attempt to teach the scriptures (I Cor. 1: 10ff.).