Are You Humble?
In my last article I asked, “are you a lover of truth?” Naturally, we all would say yes to that question almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But when we asked probing questions about how we respond when confronted with truths that conflict with our previously held beliefs, we learned that most people cannot truly call themselves lovers of truth. At the least, they must admit there are some things they love more than truth, things that they are willing to abandon truth in order to protect. Today I want to ask another question with regard to reading and interpreting Scripture: Are you humble?
We all understand the importance of humility in the Christian life. What does humility look like in the pursuit of truth, particularly when one reads Scripture? First, a humble interpreter does not assume his own presupposed notions will always be confirmed by Scripture. A humble person recognizes the likelihood that his doctrine is imperfect in some places, and humbly seeks God’s word to show him where these errors exist. This means he will occasionally have to modify his doctrine, but because he is humble, this does not bother him. A humble interpreter also does not assume he can interpret Scripture on his own. He seeks guidance from the Holy Spirit, and when he gains an insight from Scripture, he tells others about it so they may be blessed, and when he does, he gives all the credit to the Holy Spirit. Also, a humble interpreter does not assume he knows the meaning of a passage without studying it closely. A humble interpreter will look for meaning beyond what is evident in a superficial reading of the text, and will expect to find it, realizing that the insights gained may change his original interpretation of the passage. Let us look at this characteristic of a humble interpreter more closely.
Pride in the reading of Scripture can easily be spotted in one who quickly reads a text and immediately assumes he knows what it says and what it means. But careful observation almost always turns up insights that the reader did not notice at first glance. For example, in 1 Cor 2:16 Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.” Who has the mind of Christ? A casual reader who assumes he already knows the answer will likely respond, “well, believers, of course. All believers have the mind of Christ, don’t they?” Actually, no. In the next verse, Paul contrasts “we” with “you,” saying, “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit” (1 Cor 3:1). For Paul, having the mind of Christ is a summary statement of what it means to live by the Spirit, as he has just explained in chapter 2. This is in contrast to the Corinthian believers, whom Paul calls “worldly” (3:1). Paul is claiming that he and his co-workers have the mind of Christ, while the factional Corinthian believers with their jealousy and quarreling most certainly do not. But how many “carnal” Christians have claimed this verse for their own, justifying fleshly behavior and thought patterns because they preferred to use Scripture to validate them, rather than bowing before the text and allowing it to rebuke them, as this text did to the Corinthian church?
Many Christians are willing to look closely at the text, but only when they deem it necessary. They pick and choose which Scriptures to look at carefully and studiously interpret them, choosing not to do so with other verses that can serve their purposes without further reflection. They will read a verse such as 1 Cor 14:34, which says, “women should remain silent in the churches,” and piously respond, “I just obey what it says. All women are forbidden to teach in church.” As a result, many Christians assume the Bible forbids women to teach men in any setting. But is this command even referring to all women? The next verse tells these women to, “ask their own husbands at home” if they have any questions. Unmarried women cannot do this, so what should they do if they have a question? Besides, the command does not say that women cannot teach; it says they cannot speak. If we want to insist on a literal obedience of this verse, should we forbid women to greet visitors or talk to friends in church? And what about the women who pray or prophesy in church, as 1 Cor 11:5 affirms as a valid practice?
I am not here arguing for an egalitarian interpretation of 1 Cor 14:34. What I am arguing is for us to take a humble approach to the Scripture and not dare to claim an understanding of what a verse means unless we are prepared to explain every aspect of it. If we do not know what to do about single women or prophetesses or missionaries, then we should admit that we do not yet possess the definitive interpretation of the verse, and the interpretation we do have should be regarded as tentative or preliminary.
When a verse supports what we believe, we tend to not want to look at it more closely because we have nothing to gain and a lot to lose, namely, our precious doctrines. Humility forces us to look more closely and find out if our doctrines are really true or not. If we love the truth, we will allow humility to take us down this path. Are you willing to look more closely at the controversial doctrines you believe and see if Scripture really supports your position? Are you willing to look at the text from the point of view of those who differ from you, honestly seeking to understand their point of view? Or do you only want to read the text in order to use it as ammunition against your opponents? Which approach represents the mind of Christ and which one is worldly? If you love the truth, then Scripture will always be on your side, even when it corrects you. Treat it as your friend and treat it with respect. It will never let you down.