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How to Relate Truth to Life: Connecting Ancient Texts with Modern People

November 24, 2014

How to Relate Truth to Life--Connecting Ancient Texts with Modern People

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Bill Smith

How to Relate Truth to Life--Connecting Ancient Texts with Modern People

How do you speak God’s words in a way that grabs the people in front of you? Understanding what God was saying to people two-thousand years ago is critical, but equally so is how that word translates into the present so that people today understand what he’s also saying to them.

An Example from God’s Word

Peter points the way when he says, “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15).

Do his examples strike you as odd? They do to me. Did he honestly believe that the majority of his audience was likely to suffer for being murderers? Thieves? Other kinds of criminals?

There’s nothing in the Scripture to indicate that the early church was mostly populated by social delinquents. To the contrary, if anything, it was filled with pious people who had to unlearn the religious legalism they’d grown up with. Why then does Peter, as he’s applying his message, single out groups of people that his hearers were unlikely to identify with?

I wonder if he’s doing something similar to Nathan when he confronted King David in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan told a story that allowed David to focus outside himself, see truth objectively and agree with it, so that later it might meet with less resistance and convict his own heart.

In a similar way, Peter invites you to agree, “You shouldn’t suffer as a murderer, right?”

“Absolutely not!” you affirm.

“Nor should you suffer as a thief. Nor any kind of criminal. Right?”

“Right, and right again!”

That’s when he has you, “And you really shouldn’t suffer as a meddler—as a common busy-body who goes about sticking their nose into other people’s business where it doesn’t belong.”

“Oh … now you’re talking about me. Before I could agree with you because the truth was really obvious (and it was obviously not me!), which means that I’m still having to agree, only now, it obviously is me.”

Crafting Examples in the Personal Ministry of the Word and the Public Ministry of the Word

Peter took things that were safe to contemplate because they were relatively far away, but he didn’t stay at that far-horizon. Instead, he came in close, extending his logic to something every single person can identify with. His approach helps me when I think about how to craft an example in a counseling situation or in more public ministry.

Recently I had to describe the gospel in the first chapter of Galatians as God’s means of rescuing us from “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) to a room full of relatively well-off, optimistic North-easterners.

Now, does my congregation have troubles and struggles living on this earth? Sure. But do most of us wake up each morning believing that the best description of the world in which we live is “the present evil age”? I doubt it.

Worse, I suspect that many of those in the room still share the American belief that our most pressing problems are those external to us, not internal. Therefore, in order to value this gospel that God offers, I needed to help us see the pervasiveness of “the present evil age” as well as our own participation in it.

So, following Peter’s lead, I began by describing something that had nothing to do with anyone in the room, but that could then create a bridge for each one to see and agree that “the present evil age” is an appropriate and helpful interpretive lens through which to view life.

I talked about ants. Specifically, the ant colonies that were invading my home and that were waging open warfare on each other—chewing and biting each other to death—despite having access to nearly unlimited supplies of food in my kitchen.

From there I broadened the scope to consider our two cats that in a similar way have everything they need and most of what they want in their world, and yet, one of them cannot get along with the other, picking fights whenever he can.

Now I could come closer to the people in the room by introducing human beings who are also infected by the same darkness of the present evil age. I reflected on my children who, like the ants and cats, have everything they need and most of what they want, and yet, also struggle to get along. I noted that there are days when all you need to do is leave a room for a fight to break out.

And that allowed me to home in on the people in the room by talking about the darkness I find in myself. It’s a short step from considering my children to considering their parents, who also have everything they need and most of what they want, and who don’t even need others to leave the room in order to start a fight.

Going from the ants to the cats to the kids to the parents, I’m simultaneously narrowing the focus to each individual in the room, while highlighting the severity of the problem; that each person needs to be rescued from themselves.

While there are times for a blunt approach, Nathan and Peter’s method gives someone a chance to see and assent to the true nature of the issue that God’s addressing, without automatically triggering our self-justifying natures. Having seen and agreed with his truth for others from a more objective perspective, it’s easier to acknowledge that it’s equally true of us as well.

Join the Conversation

How do you relate truth to life in counseling? In teaching/preaching?