A treatise on vanity. This is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.
At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?
Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.
If we don’t understand things in their proper context there will be grave results. Let’s look at a few verses as an example and apply a skewed hermeneutical approach and see what the result is.
John 3:16 says, “God sent His Son” and we see that Jesus as God’s son is confirmed in other Scriptures. Take for example Romans 8:32. Or Hebrews 5:8 tells us that although Jesus “was a son, He learned obedience.” Luke 2:42 says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
So, it could be argued that Jesus, as God’s Son, was created and had to learn. After all, doesn’t “son” mean “son”?! Isn’t that the clear reading of the text? If the Bible says that Jesus is a “son” and “the firstborn of all creation” does that mean that Jesus is not eternal? Does it mean that He is a created being?
If we just look at the word “son” and extrapolate its meaning without understanding the context and the sense in which the author is using the word we can make very dangerous and false conclusions. Is Jesus a son in the sense of being a created being? No! That is the Arian heresy. We must understand what the author meant and we must use clear texts to help us interpret the less clear. A bad hermeneutical approach will lead to all sorts of false and destructive doctrines.
When looking at any doctrine it is important to understand a number of things. When looking at the sonship of Jesus for example, it is important to know the Old Testament and cultural importance of sonship. It is also important that other Scriptures are factored in. For example, John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-17 show us that Jesus is not created but instead Creator.
So, “the obscure passage must yield to the clear passage. That is, on a given doctrine we should take our primary guidance from those passages which are clear rather from those which are obscure.” Charles Hodge said in his Systematic Theology that
“If the Scriptures be what they claim to be, the word of God, they are the work of one mind, and that mind divine. From this it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. God cannot teach in one place anything which is inconsistent with what He teaches in another. Hence Scripture must explain Scripture. If a passage admits of different interpretations, that only can be the true one which agrees with what the Bible teaches elsewhere on the same subject.”
Here are some important affirmations for biblical hermeneutics:
- We should affirm the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.
- We should affirm that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it.
- We should affirm that our personal zeal and experiences should never be elevated above Scripture (see Rom. 10:2-3).
- We should affirm that texts of Scripture must be interpreted in context (both the immediate and broad context).
- We should affirm that we must only base normative theological doctrine on clear didactic passages that deal with a particular doctrine explicitly. So, we should affirm that we must never use implicit teaching to contradict explicit teaching.
 Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 37.
 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Introduction, Chapter VI, The Protestant Rule of Faith.
 See “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics,” Article XVII.
 See Ibid., Article XIX.
We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).
But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Read More…
The average American spends 50 minutes of their time each day on Facebook’s platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger). That is one-sixteenth of the average American’s waking time.
Facebook, the web, ESPN, and news networks are built to engage and grab us (except perhaps CSPAN). There is a lot riding on whether or not we spend five or fifty minutes on Facebook. There is a lot invested to make us scroll, click, share… There are people fighting for our fascination and time. There are specialists employed and there are algorithms designed to grab our attention.
Of course, I am not the social media police, this is not 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. You can be on social media. I am. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Messenger… However, let’s consider the way we plan to spend our time in 2017.
D.A. Carson has said,
“The challenge [to reading Scripture] has become increasingly severe in recent years, owing to several factors. All of us must confront the regular sins of laziness… The sheer pace of life… The constant sensory input from all sides is gently addictive—we become used to being entertained and diverted, and it is difficult to carve out the space and silence necessary for serious and thoughtful reading of Scripture.”
Below are some follow up questions for you consider related to my message “Treasure in the Right Place” from Matthew 6:19-34.
Is it true that worry often tells us what we worship?
Is it true that we can be orthodox and even astute theologically and actually have our heart somewhere else entirely?
Is it true that social media and shopping malls shape us and our views of significance and security subtly but substantially?
Materialism may be the single greatest pull away from authentic Christianity (cf. Deut. 6 esp. v.10-13). What do you think?
- What does it mean to “lay up treasures in heaven”? What are “treasures” in heaven?
- How do vv. 25-34 relate to the previous verses (vv. 19-24)? How do we apply these verses to our context in Fairfax?
- How can we purposely invest in heaven and not drift to the service of other gods?
- Daily and seriously ask yourself, “Is life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
- Ask yourself if what you’re focused on and are worried about will stand the test of eternity.
- In chapter 6:1-18 we see the word “reward” 6 times (ESV) and then in vv. 19-21 we see “treasure” used 3 times (ESV). Do we very often think about the “reward” and “treasure” that awaits us in heaven? Remember, anxiety produces nothing; except perhaps ulcers. And remember, anxiety isn’t inevitable. What can help us loosen the grip of anxiety upon our life?
Quote from the Message:
“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship…” and the thing is “If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already… The whole trick is keeping the truth up- front in daily consciousness. Worship power—you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” And so on.
He goes on to say, “Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day… And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default- settings, because the so-called world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. ” – From a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College
A 20 Day Study in Stewardship by Redeemer Presbyterian Church