As a missionary and pastor, passages like 1 John 2:20-27 and John 16:12-14 have always demanded a significant time of personal reflection. There really are two reasons for this. One is that I have preached verse by verse through John and am currently working through 1 John, and secondly, I have seen first hand the devastating consequences to those who misapply Scripture to their own destruction. We have all heard the statement “Practice makes perfect.” Really, this statement does not take into account the nature of the practice in which one is engaged. Practice does make permanent, but that permanent may in the long term prove to be detrimental to the person in training if his practice has firmly established detrimental habits. We all approach the Bible with certain biases and blind spots that often cloud the meaning of the text. Our culture, family situations, local church background, friends, fear, and pride all play a role in this subtle blurring of what should be very clear. Many times, our understanding of a passage like these two passages is not really built on careful observation of context and the author’s intent, but rather it is rooted in the status quo, what we have always heard. If we read the passage 5 times or we read the passage 100 times, our faulty understanding is never brought into question; rather it becomes more firmly rooted in our minds. This is why Paul commanded Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15 to be a diligent workman,“rightly dividing the word of truth.” Peter warned Christians in 2 Peter 3:16 to be careful of false teachers who are “unlearned and unstable” and “wrest” “the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.” We also see in Hebrews 5:13-14, we are warned that spiritually immature people are “unskillful in the word of righteousness” while those who are spiritually mature “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Rightly dividing the Word of Truth, is something that we grow in as we mature in the faith, and as we learn to establish good study habits that dig into the correct understanding of what “Paul or John” meant. It is not until we meet someone who rocks the boat for us that we for the first time carefully observe the text and understand it correctly. That person can come in many forms. It may be a person to whom we are trying to minister. It may be someone who flatly opposes our position. Who it is or the circumstances surrounding that confrontation are irrelevant. What really matters is that we step back, put aside our biases, and examine the details of the passage so the correct understanding can tear down our presuppositions. I want to invite you to look at these two passages more carefully, and consider the implications of your current position. Consider the following questions, and then let’s take them one by one:
- Are John’s statements in verse 20 “ye know all things” and his statement in verse 27 “ye need not that any man teach you…” meant to be understood as universal statements without limitation?
- What is the specific situation that John is addressing in this epistle?
- How does this specific situation limit the scope of what John is saying?
- How does the rest of Scripture relate to this statement?
- How should we apply John’s statement?