It is amazing to me how we can read the Bible over and over and over again and still find new things in it! And beyond that, how God brings things into our lives to emphasize the importance of the new thing that He has shown us. At least, that’s how it is in my life! Here is a verse that I have read countless times, I’m sure. But I finally SAW it. God’s word is so beautiful, and so…good! Even though this is a little different than what I normally have prepared for our ladies’ study, it felt important…so I’m just going with it, and trusting that this is what God wants me to share.
1 Corinthians 4:6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.
That’s it! Just one little verse. And at first, it seems like there isn't much there. It’s in the middle of this huge passage about church leaders, and about not following a man as your spiritual leader, since he is only the servant of Christ who has actually purchased your salvation. I encourage you to read the whole book, being aware of this setting. It will change your view of some verses that you have probably heard used out of context. But that’s not the part I want to focus on right now. The part that jumped out at me was, “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written…” Don’t go beyond what is written. That really stuck with me. So often, we “go beyond.” We want to know more, we want to figure it out. But that was part of the problem here in Corinth. They were so focused on what they knew, and what they could figure out, that they were losing sight of the fact that Christ was the one to follow. Instead, they were following the man they thought most wise or knowledgeable about the things of God. Right from the first chapter of this book, Paul is reminding these people that human wisdom is foolish, and that true wisdom can only come from God. Therefore, knowledge of spiritual truths is nothing to be prideful over. Rather, we are to be thankful that these truths have been revealed to us. Instead, we look for man after man to lead us. We want the most knowledgeable, the most experienced, the one who can speak most eloquently.
There is a line to walk here, of course. We know we are to test everything against the scriptures to see if it is true. So we must study the scriptures and know them, or we will never be able to hold any doctrine up to it for examination. Then there are commentaries and historical documents that can help us understand what was going on when different passages were written. Context changes the way people hear things. To someone who has grown up in the city, it might not make sense that we call Jesus the Good Shepherd. But once you explain how sheep need to be watched and led to food and water, and guarded against wolves and other predators, the picture of Jesus begins to change. Now He’s not just a man standing in a field with a staff. Now He is everything necessary to a safe, healthy life. So I’m not saying not to study, and study deeply. But this verse clearly says not to go beyond what is written. Let me give you an example.
Last week a friend of mine posted something about the sovereignty of God. Another guy we both know from college commented this:
“I think that God likes to roll a die just like some of us do every now and then. I think He likes to see what will randomly happen every now and then. I believe He has all of the parameters put in place purposely and knows what the outcome of the roll will be before He rolls it, but nevertheless, randomness is still interesting. Randomness forces us to adapt and think critically. They are good tests for God to determine if we are willing to follow Him despite any random circumstance.
In addition to that, I also believe that God gives us the choice to make decisions, and lets us live with those decisions. Sure, there are times that He will interfere, but for the most part, I think He leaves a lot of things up to us. Sometimes the "thing that happened for a reason" is that we did it to ourselves - whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.”
The verse we’re discussing today had been rolling around in my head for about a week when I read this, and his comment just set me on fire. “I feel,” “I think,” “I believe…” and not a bit of scripture. I wanted to tear into him and tell him how out of line he was. But I've found that yelling rarely convinces someone that they’re wrong, so I tried to be nice. I said, “Nice theory with the dice. Any scripture to back that up?” He didn't reply with scripture. He said, “I’m made in His image, right? I honestly thing that this is a part of God’s creative spirit that dwells in all of us.” He went on to describe the great variety we find in the world and added, “Do I really need a scripture verse to prove that God enjoys randomness? Doesn't His creation prove it enough?”
SO many people have this same idea about God. They look around at themselves and other people and creation and think they can figure out who God is by that. It’s like seeing the colors on a painter’s palate and thinking you can know everything about the painter by that small bit of information. So I said, “Yes (because he asked if he needed scripture). We don’t have to assume who He is, because He’s told us. He is a God of order (that’s scripture). He places the stars and counts the hairs on my head and gathers our tears in bottles. That’s scripture! He sets parameters in place…He has plans for me. That’s the God we see in the Bible…The Bible also tells us that He holds us together. Actually holds us together! If He were to take His hands off, the world would fall apart. He is just so much bigger and so much more than we can ever realize…I know that the Bible doesn't tell us everything about God. But He gave us what He wanted us to have. I don’t even understand everything about Him that is IN the Bible. Until I have studied and digested and lived by THAT, I won’t try to figure out anything more.”
Maybe this is something that most of you realize already. But that is just one example of how people go beyond what is written. Making up a god that they think is there because of random bits of creation that they see. Thinking they can figure Him out because they have a small bit of knowledge. Verse four goes on to say, “that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one over another.” This is the danger. It’s the sin that was in the garden. The sin of wanting to know what God knows. Or at the very least (as we see often in churches today), wanting to follow the man that seems to know the most of what God knows. Be on your guard when you hear the words, “I think,” or “I feel,” when it comes to spiritual matters. The heart and mind of man is wicked. Why would you trust it? Even hearing someone say what they “believe” needs to be listened to with guarded ears. Measure everything against scripture. If you hear someone say what they believe, ask what scripture they've based that belief on! You don’t have to be rude, especially since they might be absolutely correct. But study, study, study!
When you witness, answer questions with scripture. I know it’s hard to memorize chapter and verse. But you can memorize at least some. And even if you don’t know the exact wording or exactly where it is found, you should be reading your Bible enough to at least know what is in there. If they want to read it for themselves, look it up and give them the reference later. But don’t tell people what you think, just based off of emotion or personal experience. God has given us the perfect tool to plant spiritual seeds, water them, and bring in the harvest.
I used to be the worst offender in this area. Looking back, I cringe at how many times I offered my opinion instead of the precious Word of God. This is an area that God has grown me in (He has used my husband to help me so much with this!). I pray that this verse is both a challenge to you and an encouragement. A challenge to follow it, because it is what we are commanded to do. An encouragement because everything you need is IN the Bible, so you will never have to flounder about for the “right” answer again. Dig in! Learn! Grow! Study and wash yourself with the Word so that when the time comes to give an answer, His words will be on your lips.