The Bible is full of contradictions!
That probably ranks up there with one of the most common charges against the Christian faith. Those who follow Christianity are deemed to be soft in the head because they follow an “ancient book” that is filled with “errors.”
These errors will often be of the “Judas hanged himself in Matthew, but threw himself over a cliff and was smashed on the rocks in Acts.” Or there are discrepancies of when Jesus cleared the Temple. There appear to be two accounts of a woman anointing Jesus with perfume and wiping his feet with her hair (an account in Luke 7 and then another in John 12).
All such errors, however, have plausible explanations based on perspective, or added information. For instance, one suggestion is that Judas went to hang himself, but then threw himself over the cliff so that his death would not be a mockery of Jesus hanging between heaven and earth. Another perspective says he did hang himself, but the branch broke, thus he fell.
It really doesn’t matter.
But there are other passages that create more division, and are far less easy to pin down. These are the passages that amount to Biblical Roulette in which a passage is taken out of context to prove a point. In fact, there are a lot of places that create paradoxes for us.
Consider an age-old argument of Free Will vs. Election. Or, as is commonly referred to as Arminianism vs. Calvinism. There are passages that clearly state that each must repent, turn and follow Jesus as Lord. This is absolutely their decision that must be made.
Then there are passages that talk of those whom the Lord foreknew and whom he predestined for salvation. These are referred to as the elect chosen before the foundation of the world (Rom. 8:29, Eph. 1:5, Eph. 1:11, Matt. 13:20, Eph. 1:4).
These concepts seem to be at odds with one another. How can there be a chosen elect, and then have the invitation be to whosesoever will? How is it mankind’s choice, but not mankind’s choice, but God’s?
It gets worse. There are passages that suggest we can lose our salvation. Then there are others that affirm that those who belong to the Lord will never be lost! Coincidentally, the divide on this issue is very much the same as the free will/election issue.
The solution isn’t simple, unfortunately. Some might throw up their hands and say that this proves the Bible is just a potpourri of ideas that are inconsistent, proving it is full of errors. Pass the strong drink, please.
Turns out, the answer is in understanding the context of the Bible. And this is a task that many, many people take very seriously. They discuss, read, discuss, research and work through these issues.
I believe that true Christians are not alone in this effort. I believe the Holy Spirit teaches us as we study God’s word with the tools available to us (1John 2:20-21).
I also believe that our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). This will allow Christians to get drawn away in pride and start cherry-picking verses that support one idea or the other, leading to division, hurt feelings and more. It’s easy to castigate someone’s choices with a quick quote. It’s equally easy to justify one’s choices with a verse.
For instance, on one hand we are to “love our enemies” and “do good to those that hurt us.” Yet, Jesus told the disciples to “shake off the dust from their feet” as a testimony against anyone who would not receive them.
We know that a “friend loves at all times,” but then sometimes it’s the very definition of love that is lacking. Remember, our hearts are deceitful. And our idea of love is largely a product of our culture. That’s why so many do not see God as loving. They don’t really understand the meaning of the word.
We tend to see love in the warm, accepting aspects, but reject it when it makes a decision that is hurtful, but for the long-term good.
Taking a look at Paul’s Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians, let’s note what love is:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Cor. 13:4-8.
I think most people pick up on patient, kind, bearing all things, believing all things and enduring all things. But we forget that when we’re envious of someone else, we’re not showing love. If we boast about something, that’s not coming from a place of love. Arrogance and rudeness are not hallmarks of love. Insisting on one’s own way violates the love principle.
How about rejoicing in wrongdoing? Of course, no one would be out there like a soccer fan when someone is robbing a bank! But, how do we apply that to our entertainment? Do we give sorcery or meditation or other worldly issues a pass for the sake of watching a movie? Do we have a level of smut that we are ‘okay with’ when deciding to watch a show? Wouldn’t giving money to a product that advocates wrongdoing be at least close to rejoicing in it? Or, when we advocate for a liberal position that ignores personal holiness in our lives? That’s essentially rejoicing in wrongdoing.
The fact is, no one meets these requirements for love. We all demand our own way, or pout when we don’t get it. We are all rude to someone we should care about. We are all envious at various times.
Paul is pointing out what love is, so we can measure ourselves and realize when we should repent of something.
Bottom line is, we can’t–and shouldn’t–cherry-pick Bible verses for other people, or ourselves. It is the whole word of God that requires careful study for our personal walk with the Lord. Personally, I believe that if we’re doing that, we’ll be very conscious of our own sin and unworthiness (in the midst of the flame, as it were) while those around us will be seeing us walk with one that shines like the son of man.