Dealing With Difficult Passages

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Timothy 4, James 4, Acts 17
Lesson Number: 

Lesson 12 Dealing With Difficult Passages

(1 Timothy 4, James 4, Acts 17)


Copr. 2020, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. If you normally receive this lesson by e-mail, but it is lost one week, you can find it by clicking on this link: Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you study..


Introduction: How do we make the Bible easier to understand? A good starting place is to use a Bible that you can understand! I’ve long thought that the saints who argue for the most difficult to read Bible, and try to force it on others, are doing the Devil’s work. He does not want us to understand God’s Word. What else can we do to better understand difficult passages of the Bible? Let’s plunge into our study this week and learn more!


  1. Honest Effort


    1. Read Proverbs 2:6-7 and 1 Timothy 4:16. What does our personal behavior have to do with understanding the Bible? (It demonstrates a desire to do God’s will. Why would God want to give us deeper insight if we do not take advantage of what we currently understand?)


      1. Notice the first part of 1 Timothy 4:16 that calls for a “close watch” “on the teaching.” What does that mean? (Pay attention to what others are teaching. My mind has been changed on Bible topics based on the teachings of others. I think the primary message here, however, is to watch for false teaching. )


      1. Notice the last part of 1 Timothy 4:16. Who else is at risk if we do not make an honest effort to obey God and teach the right thing? (Those who hear our teaching. For most of us, that is our children.)


    1. Read James 4:6-7. When you are reading a Bible text that you don’t like, what should you do? (We need the right attitude about the Bible. We need to be humble, meaning open to what the Bible teaches.)


    1. Read James 4:11, and focus on the last part. Against what are we warned? (God did not intend for us to judge the law, but rather to follow the law.)


      1. How does this work as a practical matter? Are we not called upon to make judgments regarding difficult passages?


      1. Read James 4:9 as an example. When I read it today I immediately rejected it because my mind went to Galatians 5:22. A fruit of the Holy Spirit is “joy.” Nowhere in the Bible are we told that the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is mourning and gloom. How can I avoid being a judge of what James has written? (There is a right judgment and a wrong judgment. If we simply say we are not going to follow the Bible because we know better, that is a wrong judgment. If we compare Bible passages and examine context to determine the overall teaching of the Bible, that is the better way.)


  1. Eager Understanding


    1. Read Acts 17:10-11. What message did Paul and Silas bring? (Jesus is the Messiah.)


      1. What made those who lived in Berea “more noble” than those in Thessalonica? (When they heard something new, they diligently checked to see if it was consistent with the Scriptures.)


      1. How should we approach difficult passages of the Bible? (We should be open to new understanding.)


    1. I’ve mentioned this before. In the early days of my church leaders were tossing out old understandings and adopting new understandings of the Bible. Today, I hear “stand by the pillars,” and stay with the “firm foundation.” Does the proper approach to truth turn on the time in history? Is the earlier “new truth” always correct? Or, is the proper approach always to carefully study the Bible and be open to new truth?


      1. Re-read James 4:6. What is the caution when considering new truth? (We need to approach this task with humility, not pride.)


      1. One lightweight argument that I hear is that I should reject a specific view of the Bible because it is “Catholic” or “Pentecostal.” A Catholic teaching might be very old and a Pentecostal teaching may be inspired by the Holy Spirit. To reject either out of hand shows a lack of humility. Instead, like the Bereans, we need to eagerly examine the Scriptures to see what is true.)


    1. Read Acts 8:26-28. What do we learn about this court official in these few verses? (The Ethiopian is important, powerful, and apparently a convert to Judaism. He also studies his Bible.)


      1. Do you like to read while riding in a car? Can you imagine reading while riding in a chariot?


        1. What does that tell us about the Ethiopian? (He is eager to learn more about God.)


    1. Read Acts 8:29-31. Would you invite a perfect stranger into your chariot? Would you be open to the Holy Spirit telling you to run over to a chariot and start a conversation? (In both situations we see men who are open to doing God’s will.)


    1. Read Acts 8:32-34. Is this a difficult passage? (It is for the Ethiopian.)


    1. Read Acts 8:35. What are the keys to understanding difficult passages in the Bible? (We have a man who is anxious to learn more about God. He is willing to take a chance on a stranger teaching him. The Holy Spirit has arranged the moment - both the text being read and Philip being present.)


      1. What does this teach us about learning from others? (While the passage was difficult for the Ethiopian, it was easy for Philip. Group Bible study brings in the understanding of others, who may be experts on a subject.)


    1. Read Acts 8:36-38. Is the Ethiopian impulsive? (I doubt that the man who was in charge of the Ethiopian treasury was impulsive.)


      1. Why not wait until he returned home to be baptized? He had wealth and power, and he could have been baptized at home in a beautiful venue with his friends helping him to celebrate. (I think this gives us an insight into the Ethiopian’s life. If something needs to be done, he wants to do it right now.)


      1. Notice the way the Ethiopian asks about being baptized. He is a man of power and authority, does he demand to be baptized? Why not? (He is a man of authority, but he defers to his new teacher on this spiritual matter.)


    1. Read Matthew 19:23-24. Our Ethiopian is rich and powerful. What makes him different?


  1. The Main Thing


    1. Read 2 Timothy 2:14. What is a “quarrel about words?”


      1. Why does it ruin those who hear it?


    1. Read 1 Timothy 6:3-4. What light does this shed on the “quarrels about words?” (The warning is to those who want to create needless debate over small issues.)


      1. How does this text help us to understand how listeners are harmed by these kinds of debates? (When you take sides in small controversies, it produces a mind-set for “envy, dissension, slander,[and] evil suspicions.”)


      1. How do controversies over words differ from a discussion of ideas? (It is the difference between what is important and what is not. We want to keep the main thing the main thing.)


    1. Read 1 Timothy 6:5. How can we distinguish between a discussion of difficult texts and a desire for “constant friction?” (The friction person is not a student of the Bible. He is “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth.”)


    1. Friend, do you have a zeal to know God? Do you have a hunger to better understand His will? Better understanding of God’s will is not just a matter of words, God wants us to act on our knowledge. Why not ask the Holy Spirit for help in living according to His will and more fully understanding God’s will?


  1. Next week: Living by the Word of God.