I am constantly amazed and often shocked by what I hear from many pulpits, choir-stands, and people of God, as they claim to preach, teach, and witness to what the Bible says! Some of the things I hear cause me to stop and even wonder whether or not these people are reading a different book other than the Bible I read.
In 2 Timothy 2:15, the Apostle Paul encouraged his young protégé to make every effort, to be diligent, to spare no expense, to make sure that he was approved of God, accurately and correctly handling the word of truth. This was important in Timothy’s context because at the time, there were so many false doctrines and phony philosophies deceiving people, giving them false hope, and failing faith! The Lord made provisions to prevent this, which is what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said: “Wherefore he saith: When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. . . And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” In the letter to Timothy and the letter to the Ephesians, Paul stated the importance of correctly handling the word of truth because when the word of truth is not handled correctly, people are vulnerable to being deceived and tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
And so, with that in mind, I want to talk about lazy Bible-reading and bad theology. Lazy Bible-reading produces bad theology, which in turn produces a biblically deficient faith and a spiritually impotent lifestyle. What is lazy Bible-reading? Lazy Bible-reading is many things, but for our time together today, I am just going to give three definitions and three examples. First of all, lazy Bible-reading is the practice of reading the Bible, but failing to give proper attention to the details of the text. A prime example is found in the popular re-telling of the story of the Prodigal Son. According to the KJV, Jesus said in Luke 15:13: “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” The Greek word that is translated as ‘riotous’ is a word that simply means; ‘senseless, or reckless behavior.’ All Jesus said was that the boy was senseless and reckless in his spending. Now, I am using this as an example because most of the time when this story preached, the boy is said to have spent his money on wild parties and women! But where did that idea come from? It didn’t come from Jesus! All Jesus said was that the boy was reckless in his spending! No! It didn’t come from Jesus, but rather it came from the elder brother, who said to his father in verse 30: “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.” Now, my question is: “How did he know how the boy spent the money?” He wasn’t there! Therefore, his accusation was not fact, but rather an expression of jealousy and resentment. Yet, the words of the elder brother have been so often repeated and applied by preachers as if they were the gospel truth! Lazy Bible-reading does not pay attention to who said what or why they said it!
Another example of lazy Bible-reading is reading a biblical text and forming a conclusion while ignoring or not knowing any the relevant contexts of the text. A prime example of this is seen in the traditional representation of the woman at the well in John 4. The woman has been traditionally portrayed as a woman who jumped in and out of five marriages before she gave up on marriage and decided to just shack-up! But let’s take a look at this woman from the perspective of the confines of her historical and cultural context. Although she was a Samaritan woman, the Samaritans followed the Jewish law, which gave Jewish wives no legal grounds to divorce their husbands. Therefore, since this woman had had five husbands, more than likely, it was not because she had left them, but rather because they had left her, either through divorce and/or death. And speaking of divorce, it was a common practice of that day for men to divorce their wives for something as trivial as burning their meals!
In addition to that, women were severely limited in options to support themselves. An unmarried woman had to depend on support from her father. Married women had to depend on support from their husbands. Widows had to depend on support from their sons, but they had no sons, they went back to their father’s house! Therefore, with these limited options, it is highly unlikely that any woman of that era, even if she legally could, would have taken the gamble of jumping from man to man! No! The most-likely story was that this woman had been rejected and disappointed so much that by the time she met Jesus, she was willing to live with a man without being married, just to survive! Traditionally, we have made this woman out to be a villain, but when we look at her, in the historical cultural context of her time and not in our modern Western context, it is easy to see that she was actually a victim, saved by Jesus; the seventh significant man in her life! But we have traditionally missed the real message of this story because of lazy Bible-reading and as a consequence, we have been preaching bad theology!
So, lazy Bible-reading is reading without paying attention to the details of the text as we have done in the story of the Prodigal Son. Lazy Bible-reading is reading and drawing conclusions, without regarding the relevant contexts of the biblical text as we have done with the woman at the well in John 4. Lazy Bible-reading is also failing to read the complete thought of the biblical text. A prime example of this is our handling of 1 Corinthians 2:9. The Apostle Paul, paraphrasing Isaiah 52:15 and 64:4, wrote: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” We’ve taken this verse, preached sermons, and written songs, about how eyes haven’t seen, ears have heard, neither has it entered into the hearts of man what great things the Lord has prepared for those that love him!
Now, you might be wondering at this point; “So, what’s the problem?” The problem is this: Verse 9 is not Paul’s complete thought! It’s lazy Bible-reading to stop at verse 9 because Paul wasn’t through talking! Verse 10 starts with a ‘but,’ that makes a contrast to what Paul said in verse 9! Therefore, to get Paul’s complete thought, we need to read verses 9 and 10 together! Paul said: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. ‘But God’ hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” We preach and sing that we cannot know the things which God has prepared for them that love him, but in the very next verse, Paul said; ‘but God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit!’ We say they cannot be known, but Paul said they ‘can’ be known because God has revealed them to us by his Spirit! Paul wrote in verses 11-16: “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, ‘that we might understand the things freely given us by God.’ And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” We have completely missed the point because of lazy Bible-reading! Paul’s point was not that eyes haven’t seen, and ears haven’t heard what great things the Lord has prepared for them that love him. Paul’s point was that ‘even though’ eyes haven’t seen, and ears haven’t heard what great things the Lord has prepared for them that love him, those things have been revealed to us by God’s Spirit! We are like the people who listened to Paul Harvey’s commentary back in the day but did not continue to listen after the commercial break to hear the rest of the story! Yes! Not paying attention to the details, disregarding relevant contexts, and not reading the complete thought are all prime examples lazy Bible-reading that often lead to bad theology!
Many times, popular but unbiblical ideas which promote bad theology are birthed because of lazy Bible-reading. A great example of this is the popular belief that God won’t put any more on us than what we are able to bear! This erroneous belief comes from a faulty reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” First of all, note that Paul never said God was the source of the temptation or the trial! The idea that God puts burdens on us is not biblical and it is bad theology! In fact, James 1:13 says: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” The point of the text is not that God won’t put on us more than we can bear, but rather whatever is on us, God will not allow it to be more than we can handle because he will help us to endure it!
Lazy Bible-reading is particularly egregious when it causes God to be blamed for what the enemy has done! Because of lazy Bible-reading, when people are killed, some people will say that it was God’s will! But God is not in the business of killing people! God is the Author of life! Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Because of lazy Bible-reading, when a Christian dies, many say they have gone home to be with God in Heaven, but the Bible plainly states that God will be with us in our eternal home on the Redeemed Earth! Please Beware! Oh! May God deliver us from lazy Bible-reading and bad theology and help us resolve to correctly handle the word of truth!