Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.--2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
Too often, we hear fellow Christians talking about “what this verse means to me.”
There certainly are verses that do have a special place in our hearts [link], which have given great comfort in times of crisis or direction out of aimless wanderings— this blessing , we may confidently hold unto. But if we become me-centered rather than Christ-centered, we quickly close the door to understanding as we quench the Spirit’s guidance.
Still, God in his great mercy bears with us in our immaturity.
As a child growing up in the Ozarks, Erasmus’ parents forbade him to take part in any skinny-dipping in the local ponds. As a teenager, Erasmus felt the conviction of a verse in James (1:2) which, in the King James Version, speaks of “divers temptations.” Perhaps “divers lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3) served to strengthen his convictions, and “divers diseases” (Mark 1:34) might have instilled enough dread to keep this young man out of the pond! But, being unfamiliar with Scuba diving, what would he have thought about “divers weights” and how would “divers colours” fit into the scheme of skinny-dipping unless it was winter tide and he was thinking of the color, blue?
We may make light of silly interpretations to expose our weakness. We, however, must take care not to make light of conviction in a boy indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But his understanding of this particular Scripture verse is not to be an example that we strive to follow. Rather, the example highlights one pitfall along our path as we read Scripture.
Though God bears with us, “the smoldering wick he will not quench,” immaturity is not our goal; nor are subjective interpretations of Scripture to be the guide that we follow.
If we continue on this post-modern path of subjectivism, of giving equal weight to each of our own opinions about what a verse of Scripture teaches, then we are reinforcing the secular claim that there is no absolute truth (which, of course, is an absolute claim and utter nonsense). If “what this verse means to me” becomes our standard, then we have nothing to say to the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses about their heretical teachings. After all, select verses of Scripture mean something different to them. And, in this new age, who are we to question their interpretations?
Against today’s subjectivism, we must clearly declare “that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).
As The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states, “no prophecy of Scripture is to be interpreted by any individual in an arbitrary way.” If we are ignorant of its full meaning and simply think of prophecy as limited to predicting the future, we will lose our way here. But prophecy encompasses bringing the mind of God to bear upon the present situation. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly reminded God’s people of what the word of God had already revealed to them. The prophets vividly reminded them and called them to return to God and obey his ways. They called them to repent.
When Peter wrote that warning quoted above, his concern centered on the parallel between “false prophets among the people” and “false teachers among you; who will secretly bring in destructive heresies . . .” (2 Peter 2:1).
Peter warned us about arbitrary interpretations of the prophecies of Scripture by any individual. This warning, as we see from the parallel that he drew, also applies to arbitrary interpretations of the teachings of Scripture. And the specific point we must see here is that we are not to interpret and apply Scriptural teaching in some arbitrary way which is awash in the philosophy of our own day.
The path that avoids that deep pitfall of arbitrariness lies alongside our familiarity with Scripture. (There can be none of this picking and choosing of verses without our awareness of their context.) To walk that path requires discipline. Step by step, we must regularly read God’s word and study it with the diligence of true disciples.
Here is an example of a passage where many Christians throw the context out the window and insert their own ideas. 1 Thessalonians 4