Sermon given to Sovereign Grace Fellowship, Boscawen, NH, on June 7, 2020
Our text is 1 Cor 13:8-13 NLT; Paul emphasizes what we have now and what we will have them –
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
For the Christian there are two kinds of Ignorance. And since “ignorance” is a harsh term, let’s use the term “Not Knowing”. One kind of Not Knowing is legitimate, one is quite probably our own fault.
One Kind of Not Knowing: “I do not know, because I cannot know!” And it’s okay, nothing to be ashamed of.
If a first grader doesn’t read at a college level, you don’t call him stupid. He’s a kid! It’s the same with the Christian life. It’s this first type of Not Knowing that 1 Cor 13 is talking about: “time of perfection” and “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” I believe he is talking about Christ’s second coming, when we will “know everything completely”. But in the meantime, No! So when someone talks about how he has figured out on what day Jesus will return, or how many angels there are, and what their names are in alphabetical order, we can say, “You do not know, because you cannot know these things!”
The Second Kind of Not Knowing is – “I could know if I wanted to, but I don’t know, and so maybe it IS my own fault”
To continue our illustration: this would be like, if a college student only reads at a first grade level. You check, and he doesn’t have a learning disability. The explanation might be that he just hasn’t bothered. That’s a different kind of Ignorance, of Not-Knowing. Here is a relevant verse in Heb 5:11-12 – “There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word.”
Take a look at this picture.
When we are in the States, we live in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. And so, on any given day we might see 50 or 100 horse-drawn carriages; or horses plowing the fields. And all the horses, every one, is wearing a set of “blinkers”, also known as “blinders”. They are squares of leather one on each side of the head. They put blinkers on the horses to block their field of vision, so they won’t get distracted because there’s some tasty clover at the side of the read, or frightened by a big truck, or angry that another horse is looking funny at them.
They put blinkers on horses, because it’s better for everyone: the horse will go in a straight line, because that’s all he can see. But some Christians put blinkers on themselves, “I could know if I wanted to, but I don’t, and so maybe it IS my own fault”.
Hebrews 5 says, “you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen”. The solution to this is, Get Busy! Not only by getting more information from the Bible, but also applying it more subtlety. Hence our title: Hey you, there, reading the Bible! You left your blinkers on!
It’s about horse blinkers, not about those drivers who leave their blinkers on mile after mile!
So, can we just decide, I’m going to take my blinkers off? Wait a moment, it’s not so easy!
Experts in the human mind have proven that our brains have blinkers and miss things that are right in the open. There was a famous experiment in 1975 called the Invisible Gorilla. The scientists had a video of guys playing with a basketball: half wore white shirts, the other half black shirts. The test subjects were Harvard students. They were told, watch this video, and keep a count of how many times the white shirts pass the ball, and afterwards tell us how many. So someone reported in, let’s say: I counted 23 times that the guys in white shirts passed the ball. The scientists noted that down and then asked, Did you see anything else, anything unusual? (because it turned out that the experiment was not about counting passes, but another issue). What had happened was, in the video, while they are passing the ball, a guy entered the field of vision and walked from the right side to the middle, paused and looked at the camera, pounded on his chest, then kept walking to the left side and out of the video. And he was dressed in a full gorilla suit! Half the subjects said, “Yeah, what was that guy in the gorilla suit?” But a full half said, “I didn’t see anything unusual.” Some even insisted there was never any gorilla in the video!
Sometimes when we are reading the Bible, we could say how many “passes” there were, but we miss the gorilla right there on the page! The technical term for this is “cognitive bias” – we see the verses that back up our own viewpoint, but with our mental blinders on, we blank out the ones that challenge what we already believe.
Let’s apply this to some current issues –
“COVID is God’s judgment on America,” some pastors have said. “It’s because we have gay marriage.”
“COVID is definitely not God’s judgment on America,” said one pastor.
I am intrigued by these statements, given that our adopted country Costa Rica is the least affected in the hemisphere, despite having (since May) legal gay marriage. Greenland has gay marriage and 0 Coronavirus fatalities. On the other hand, Italy and China have been blitzed by the pandemic, and they both ban gay marriage.
With regard to COVID and divine judgment, I doubt that any human knows the mind of God. That’s why it concerns me when someone says, “It’s simple! The right way to view this is X, and here is my Bible verse to back it up!” And then another person comes along to say, “No, the right way to view it is Y, and here is a different Bible verse that seems to back me up!”
No, even to begin to know God’s will, we have to look at the whole Bible, not just a few verses.
2. US State and Presidential Elections in 2020 – Our state held its primary on Tuesday; and there are Christians who say, “God’s choice is person X or person Y, or person Z, and I have a Bible verse to back up my viewpoint!”
3. Israel annexes Palestinian territory. One Christian group has these verses, another the other verses.
4. Race Issues this Month (June 2020): the murder of George Floyd, protests, and also rioting. One person looks at the Bible and says, the relevant truth is: “don’t take advantage of those who stand helpless in court. The Lord will argue their case for them and threaten the life of anyone who threatens theirs.” (Proverbs 22:23). But another Christian will look at the looters on TV and say, “No, on this the Bible is perfectly clear: ‘Thou shalt not steal!’”
I have opinions on these four issues, but my thought for today is not, “Here is the Bible viewpoint”; rather it is, “We need to take our questions to all the verses of the Bible.” For there is no-one more dangerous than the one with a few Bible verses. He’s the same person who tends to believe, “I don’t have any blinkers!”
It is impossible to completely get rid of the blinkers. But how do we start to peel them back? – here are three things, very simple but powerful:
- Learn how to interpret the Bible in a sound fashion, read it in context and compare Scripture with Scripture. It is no good to read the Bible if you don’t read it well. I recommend Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth.
- Know all of God’s Word, and know it very well. For example, this week I read Zephaniah, which is just three stops before the end of the OT. I can’t remember the last time I read it. It’s a short but powerful book; in fact, all twelve of the Minor Prophets are surprising relevant for America in June 2020. So instead of just a few arrows in our quiver, which we take out and shoot at any and every issue, we must bring the whole Word of God to bear on these issues.
- Depend on the Spirit to remake your thinking in line with God’s Word. I’ve given this a lot of thought, because sometimes people say, “God showed me this in the Bible,” and we really have our doubts about that! Besides, my whole training was in the “science” of Biblical interpretation: follow the rules of Bible interpretation and don’t be subjective! But while the science is important, or “inductive Bible study”, it cannot transform our minds and start to take away our blinkers. We absolutely must turn to the Holy Spirit, because only he can take away blindness and confusion. Even the confusion that results from a “scientifically objective” reading of the Word.
- the First kind of Not Knowing – it’s the 1 Cor 13 kind, we do not know, because God doesn’t allow us to know
- the Second kind of Not Knowing – it’s the Hebrews 5 kind, it may be our own fault
May the Lord save us from the Not Knowing that is our own fault: that we keep growing in the word and depending on the Spirit;
May the Lord save us from the Not Knowing that will only be fixed later on, when Christ will return and show us all that we could possibly know.
“Hey you, there, reading the Bible! You left your blinkers on!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica