Tuesday, February 26, 2008

...what does the Bible actually mean? the pastor's duty in preaching

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

A few years ago a gentleman approached me after a concert with a question about what I had been teaching that evening (it was Hebrews 2:9-18). He mentioned one of the verses to me that he gave a very unusual meaning to. He was taking completely out of context, but defiantly said that he couldn't be challenged on what that verse meant, because regardless what I had to say—this is what he "felt" it meant. When he calmed down and actually inquired what I thought the verse meant I replied with a bit of sarcasm saying, "I think that this verse means that Michael Jordan is going to come out of retirement, return to the Bulls, and they will win another NBA Championship." He looked puzzled at me and then barked out, "that isn't what this verse is saying!!!" I said, "Oh, we're not concerned with what it’s actually saying... just what it means to me and what it means to you." He then reluctantly acknowledged what I was driving at… that the Scriptures actually mean something textually apart from any experience or proclivities we bring to them.

Dr. MacArthur is famous for saying, "The duty of any faithful exegete of God’s Word is to find out its true meaning and then preach it to the people. In other words, what does the Bible mean if we were dead?" …that graphically really says it. In our postmodern world that we live in everyone has become their own Bible; every man has become his own authority; and people think that they can make any verse mean whatever they want it to mean.

Words have meaning; and their context gives weight to their import. Biblical truth is no exception. The terms and the truth they represent have meaning and their context gives the weight of meaning in application to our lives. It seems to be th fashion of the day to want to make the Word mean whatever you want it to mean in your situation regardless of what it is actually saying.

Here are three of the most taken out of context, misplaced, misapplied, misappropriated, and misinterpreted Bible verses that we hear. All three of these verses are found in Matthew 18:18-20; all three of these verses have to do with church discipline; and all three of these verses can mean only one thing in their proper context. Let’s take a look…

1. "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven" -Matthew 18:18.
This is a favorite on the TBN Network; where embellished meanings of biblical expressions is left to whatever they think it means absent of proper hermeneutics.

This first verse under consideration is usually applied in regards to spiritual warfare (confronting Satan and winning victory over him.) TBNers will say that you are to "bind Satan" from your life; places of ministry; from one's home; or any negative influence you might "feel" occurring in your life. And then you can "loose" the blessing and the victory that the Lord has given to you. All that you need to do is command that reality "in Jesus name" and it is yours for the demanding. This is patently false beloved. If believers in the Lord can bind Satan and if believers all over the world are binding him day and night; then why isn’t Satan caught in a state of perpetual bound? Why is he still “loosed?” And when you do “bind him” how long does the binding last for? One hour; till the next worship service starts; until after the concert; until you’re done praying; etc.?

“Binding and loosing” has nothing to do with satanic battles or spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness. Those instructions are given in other passages (James 4:7; Eph. 6:10-17). “Binding and loosing” has to do with someone being repentant or unrepentant in their sin. It is a command given to the church for confirming whether a brother or sister in Christ is unrepentant in their sin (bound) or has been repentant of their sin (loosed). In the Greek, this phrase is stated in the past tense: whatever you bind on earth has already been bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth has already been loosed in heaven. The Lord is speaking here in the context of church discipline over sin. When someone is unrepentant in his or her sin--they are bound; when someone is repentant of his or her sin--they are loosed. And this is given to the body of Christ to definitively affirm in the lives of other believers. All church discipline is for restoration, reconciliation and repentance—never retribution or revenge. It is for the health of the church and the purity of the individual in Christ.

2. "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven" -Matthew 18:19
This verse is commonly used for prayer—“if two of you agree on earth about anything…” Firstly, if this verse was used for prayer, then private prayers could never be heard; because there wouldn't be two to agree on earth about anything in His name. Secondly, the context once again is church discipline. The two that the Lord is speaking of here, are the two that are going to confront someone in their sin, to confirm the reality of their sin, and their repentance or unrepentance. Matthew 18:16 says, "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED." Anytime that a few believers go to another trapped in sin and confront them in it they have this promise: "that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven." The Lord will grant such "asking" if they agree as to the sin of another and have affirmed their repentance or unrepentance. Televangelists are notorious for using this verse as a means for soliciting money; promising miracles; getting your healing; obtaining financial success; and tragically, even for the salvation of a loved one. It is a cheap charlatan idiom and should be decried and avoided for what it is—unsound doctrine.

3. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst" -Matthew 18:20.
This is the last of these three verses and the most commonly recited out of context. How many times have we been in a church service, a Christian concert, conference, or festival and someone shouts from the microphone, "there is more than two or three gathered in the name of the Lord here tonight and therefore He is with us... give Him a praise offering!" This may rev up the crowd but has nothing to do with this verse.

The Lord is always with us; He will never leave nor forsake us. Even when we are alone—He is with us. Nothing can separate us from His love and He lives in our very lives. “Christ in you,” Paul says, “the hope of glory.”

Once again, the issue here is church discipline and the two or three spoken of are the ones going to confront another in their sin. The church is in no greater way like the Lord than when we are lovingly confronting another in their waywardness and walking with them to the place of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration. This verse describes part of that process. When two or three are gathered in the name of the Lord to deal with sin issues in a fellow believer, the promise is profound: "I am there in their midst." The Lord is honored when such loving humility is given to a wayward brother or sister in Christ and seeks their repentance from sin.

"It is truth alone that capacitates any soul to glorify God." 
-John Owen 

The duty of any faithful preacher/teacher of the Word of God is to “give the sense of it.” That is known as expository preaching. The Bible means something in its words and truth constraints; it means something apart from the baggage that we bring to it. We honor the Lord by honoring His Word—rightly dividing the truth--cutting IT straight.

So next time you turn on TBN (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) and they start to bind Satan; and ask you to agree with them for your "financial miracle" by sending in a donation or ordering their prayer cloth they’re peddling that month; OR, if you are in a church service or meeting and are told the Lord is here because two or three are gathered in His name; may I encourage you to in grace and truth go up after the service and lovingly correct the pastor or Bible teacher propagating such tripe in the name of the Lord; encourage them to read their Bibles more carefully; and remind them that James 3:1 encourages "not many you to be teachers"—for a more stricter judgment will be awarded to them.

Guard the Truth,


Jeremy Weaver said...

And don't forget everybody's favorite verse, "Judge not, that you be not judged." Matthew 7:1

Jeremy Weaver said...

And yes you are correct. Church discipline is the issue in these verses.

loren said...

Hi Steve,

Congratulations, you're the first person I've seen who has properly applied those vereses to their context of church discipline! I'd never say there is no broader application, but the specific one should never be overlooked . . . for all these years . . .

Bhedr said...

Ok Efrayhim I got you and Steve on my case....Just please remember that verse you quoted.

Brian said...

My vote goes to Matthew 7:1 as well.

Even people that aren't Christians attempt to use this verse out of context ("against" others).


Anonymous said...

Thank you! I'm not sure what's up with all the new McLarenites who talk about "no absolute truth" or "no meaning in the text itself". Semantics is turned to by these people, and they often explain how it is the Spirit who moves in us and who gives meaning to the text. It almost seems neo-orthodox (oxymoron?).

Steve, if you ever get the time, would you be willing to post more information about Brian McLaren or this new rising fad concerning "no absolutes"? I really want to hear this from a highly respected source as yourself, so I'm hoping either you or Phil (or someone) will discuss it soon. I want to know more about how to respond to such arguements as, "Well, there are essentials, but no one is absolutely perfect in understanding, so even Christians can't know what they call 'absolute truth'". I'm sure you hear it as well. Blessings!

Jim from OldTruth.com said...

My vote for the #1 most out of context verse is 2 Peter 3:9. The context for this passage is setup in 1 Peter 1:1 which denotes that the "you" in 2 Peter 3:9 is "the elect" (not everyone who ever lives).

Here's another shocking example of "context ignored":

Timotheos said...


You might also have mentioned - 'enlarge my territory' i.e. the Prayer of Jabez as one of the biggest hoaxes put off on the church in the last 50 years. So many people bought into this so quickly, it was pathetic.

Unchained Slave said...

Sorry for the 'late' comment Steve,
You can't forget the MOST most taken out of context, misplaced, misapplied, misappropriated, and misinterpreted passage in the Bible HAS to be Matthew 16:18-19, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

ScriptureZealot said...

I just posted one yesterday:
Jeremiah 29:11


Hayden said...


You must have been reading my mind. I preached a sermon 2 weeks ago called "The Criminal Abuse of Scripture" and the verses you talked about were ones that a man came up and asked me to preach on someday with a smile. I normally do not promote anything I preach, but if you would like to hear it go to...

www.mmccchurch.org and look in the downloads section Sunday PM

Brian said...

John McArthur's quote rings true. Let us remember that a sermon combines the true, literal meaning of the text (in its context, like you described) and applies it to people's applicational needs now. You can't give a sermon to dead people. Good exegesis does not mean a good sermon.

Brian said...

John McArthur's quote rings true. Let us remember that a sermon combines the true, literal meaning of the text (in its context, like you described) and applies it to people's applicational needs now. You can't give a sermon to dead people. Good exegesis does not mean a good sermon.

Jeff and Donna Hebert said...

Steve, wonderful article! We need to truly learn to read the Bible in context. I am learning so much recently. Don't forget the famous Rev. 3:20...Jesus begging at a sinners heart...hmmmm...no doorknob..imagine that..sigh..so glad I understand biblical hermeneutics now!

Janny said...

Right on. I've seen so many churches take those verses out of context. Even as part of their classes required to become a member, they used Matthew 18:19 to drive home their point of "There is power in corporate prayer." The pastor told me that the word "Again" at the beginning of this verse was key - that it meant Jesus was drawing from another passage in the Bible. Where that passage was, He never said. But I tried to drive home that wherever the word "Again" is used, it's because Jesus was emphasizing on what he JUST talked about (Matt 13:44, 45, 47, 19:24, to name a few).

Also wherever the word "2 or 3" is used, it's referring in reference of having witnesses - Deut 17:6, Hebrew 10:28, 2 Cor 13:1, 1 Tim 5:19, then these two deal specifically with Jesus - Romans 9:1 and John 5:31-35

Thanks for writing this. :)

Charles said...

"in My name" means THE theme and topic of your gathering must be Christ, not church, men, news or any other peripheral issue. If two or three are testifying any truth about who Christ is, What He did, and What He desires, Jesus is there in their midst. Christians will not be able to do this without glorifying Him, and "If God is for us..." becomes a living reality. Conversely if your gathering talks about anything but Christ Himself, your gathering is not "in His name" and your fellowship is wasted on man.

blubs said...

Remember we must have the heart of children to live in the simplicity of Jesus Christ. Hypocrisy prevents us and others from entering the Kingdom. Religion is the worst form of government seperating church and state.
Salvation is God's plan to restore fallen man from a state of human depravity to right standing. Simplicity is God's wisdom. God does it all in His time and season. God's grace is sufficient.
We are all in the same boat.
We are not being taught our position in Christ and how to operate in Kingdom faith.
There is a need for the trials and testing that produce patience, endurance, wisdom etc. Kindness and humility in Christ to teach misunderstandings regarding God's love. After all, we are created in His image and likeness.
Only the blood of Jesus brings redemption and freedom. Everyday is a choice. Psalms 150:6


Hi, I would like to know how you interpret Mark 7:19.
Many people get the wrong idea that what the author of the book clarifies in parentheses
"(Thus he declared all foods ritually clean.)", is an indulgence to eat what was forbidden in the Old Testament.
I think this verse has also been taken out of, not only, the context of this narration, but also, out of the cultural context and background of those to whom Jesus was talking to and those to whom he later explained what he said.