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God's Word is not superficial. We must search for the principles that support what His Word states.
This has application to New Testament teaching as well, but I am thinking here primarily of the Old Testament law and its commands.
Jesus makes a point of distinguishing the particulars of the Law from the principles underlying them:
23 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law– justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others. 24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
The Pharisees were obsessed with the particulars, to the degree that they disregarded the governing principles:
And a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” 13 Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? 16 Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:11-16, emphasis mine; see also Matthew 12:1-13)
Many specific commands may not be directly applicable to men today, but the principles behind them may be. Consider how Paul ascertains the principle from the particular:
5 Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I lack the right not to work? 7 Who ever serves in the army at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Who tends a flock and does not consume its milk? 8 Am I saying these things only on the basis of common sense, or does the law not say this as well? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? 10 Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest. 11 If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you? 12 If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving? But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple eat food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar receive a part of the offerings? In the same way the Lord commanded those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:5-14, emphasis mine).
Paul is asserting his right to be financially supported (along with Barnabas, and all the other apostles), which he voluntarily chooses to forego, for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:15ff.). Paul buttresses his right to be financially supported by appealing to the Old Testament, both regarding rewarding the ox and the priests who labor. He goes so far as to say, “Does God really care about the ox? Is that what this command is all about – the care and feeding of oxen?” No, he insists, that is not the primary purpose of this law. It was to teach a much broader principle: the laborer is worthy of his wages (see Luke 10:7).
We may be city folks, and we may not have an ox, or a goat, but we can learn and be guided by the principle as it was to be applied to the ox. The problem with Jesus’ adversaries is that they were so caught up in the particulars they disregarded the guiding principles.
Many things have been said in an effort to stimulate your interest and diligence in reading and studying the Old Testament. If Jesus and the apostles loved it, so should we. If they diligently studied it, so should we.
It is in the Old Testament that we observe the incredible mercy and grace of God in dealing with sinful men and women. It is here that we receive the promise of salvation, and indications of the means by which it will be provided. It is here that we become painfully aware of our need for a Savior, and that we receive an increasingly growing revelation of what He will be like. And then, when we come to the New Testament and the Gospels we can declare, “There He is.”
It is this message which we still proclaim today: Jesus is the Promised Messiah of the Old Testament, who has come to save lost sinners from the condemnation they deserve. If you have not come to trust in Jesus yet, read the Bible, starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation. If you have come to trust in Jesus, read this old, old, story over and over again. I guarantee that every time you read through the Bible you will see more and more about your need for salvation, and about the marvelous salvation God has provided in Jesus.
- What is sixth step to apply when reading and studying the Bible?
- What other benefits can you think of that are applicable in applying this step that were not mentioned in this study?
- Let the group share any personal revelation that was realized by completing this study.
- Can you think of any other scriptures that may apply to this study?
- What was the take away message from step six?
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