Can we be complete without a complete Bible?
What Christian doesn’t know the statement: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17)? All Scripture inspired? Absolutely! All Scripture profitable and necessary to make us complete and equipped for every good work? Hmmm.
You’ve seen a red-letter edition of the Bible. But, it seems, the far more popular one is the invisible-ink edition, where scores of what seem to be clear statements in God’s Word have gone missing. I wonder if, in some old copy, lying dust-covered on a neglected shelf, we might find these verses still there, plainly printed in black and white.
This copy of the Bible would have to be sixty or seventy years old at least, before the rise of feminism and the Moral Majority and megachurches and the New Reformation. Before the demise of the blessed hope and Dispensationalism and a universal gospel, from back in the day when simple folk didn’t argue verses out of existence by using culture or Greek tenses or church growth strategies.
Singles, Handicapped, Homeless, Poor, the Aged—All Welcome?
Care to look with me at the “new and improved” Comfortable Christian Version (CCV)? Of course, I’m not talking about verses we all know are there, and, on occasion we make an effort in their direction to live out their truth. Verses about loving each other and giving our all to Christ. The verses I’m talking about are as rare as a snowball in the Sahara. Let me give you some examples.
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Lk 14:12-14).
The following questions might well be asked of all of these passages: Is this a suggestion or a command? When the Holy Spirit inspired this verse, was it meant for Christians in every age? Is there some fine print or escape clause that exempts me from this particular verse? Do I take it seriously? Do I actually do this?
Of course this verse cannot be objecting to Christian hospitality, inviting believers to share in our lives in the context of our homes. That was the common practice of those near and dear to the Master: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46). But it should also be our habit to extend the reach of God’s love to those outside our comfortable circle of friends and family. We have found this to be the most winsome way to win some!
What if, next Sunday, the morning Bible teaching time consisted of reading this almost-forgotten verse, a little discussion about keeping the meal simple, the welcome warm, and the conversation spiritually profitable, then a box with some $20 bills for anyone who needs help with the cost of putting on such a lunch. Some folks could band together for the occasion, and the hope would be that, next week, we would be full of stories to report “what great things the Lord has done” in response to our obedience.
Getting Real Religious
Now what about this verse:
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jas 1:27).
I grant you that the evangelical church understands the second part of this description of “pure” religion, the real thing. How well we keep ourselves untainted is another question. But what about this first part? Do you remember that the First Century widows were cared for daily (Acts 6:1)? It was one of the first responsibilities of deacons (vv 1-6). And do you know what God thinks about those who don’t care for widows? See Malachi 3:5. The Lord lumps those who don’t treat widow right with sorcerers, and adulterers, and perjurers. Yikes!
In fact, one of God’s titles is “a defender of widows” (Ps 68:5). Remember that “the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing” (Deut 10:17-18).
So here are some questions to ask yourself: Do you know the names of the widows in your fellowship? In your neighborhood? Are they “widows indeed,” in other words, widows without caring Christian family members who should be helping them? Do you know their street addresses? What they have in their cupboards and refrigerators? A simple way to find out is to bring some food over to share with them and then help prepare the lunch. One widow I visited recently had virtually nothing in her kitchen, and was without the funds to pick up some needed meds at the pharmacy. Helping with yard cleanup, a broken screen door, or a leaky faucet would also be heavenly ministry. Your young people would be ideal servants for some of this.
How Else Can You Understand This?
Another verse whose practice seems to have fallen into disuse states:
“Exhort (comfort, encourage) one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).
I note there were at least six things the First Century believers did daily. There was daily fellowship in believers’ homes (Acts 2:46). Obviously there was daily evangelism because people were being saved daily (v 47), and we read “daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (5:42). As mentioned earlier in this blog, there was daily care for the widows (6:1). Many, like the Bereans, “searched the Scriptures daily” (17:11). And then there is this verse.
Is it a command or a suggestion? Yes, a command. Is there any other way of understanding this, but that every Christian should find a way to encourage or comfort or exhort some brother or sister every day? Today we have voice mail and Facebook and texting and phone calls. We can send flowers or cards. We have cars to carry us effortlessly to make visits.
It’s a hard world out there. A sinful world. And we need each other, especially in this way. Personally encouraging and comforting and exhorting has a softening effect on our hearts. It keeps us from becoming cynical, crass, flippant, superficial, uncaring, materialistic, hardened. Let’s see, who can I encourage today?
On a trip to Ulster some years ago, I was led to speak on this verse. A year later, I was back there and an elder said to me, “Do you see the young man standing over there? He has become the most valuable member of our assembly.”
“Really? How’s that?” I queried.
“He took that one verse to heart, ‘Encourage one another daily,’ and every day he does that. Homemade cookies, visits, cards, calls. We’re almost getting too encouraged,” he said with a wry smile. “It’s getting contagious.”
I thought to myself, What an impact one person can have by simply obeying one verse! Nothing here about special gift of needing substantial funds. Just a little word here, a word there. Comfort. Encourage. Exhort. And we have a Book full of such words to use. What would happen if we all began responding to verses like this? Imagine the blessing.
Dissing the Prez or the PM
Now here’s another verse that somehow has gone AWOL in the last 30 years or so:
“You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Ex 20:28).
This is the verse Paul quoted in his apology when he unknowlingly spoke against the high priest in Acts 23:5. He was unaware that the man who unjustly told bystanders to slap Paul in the mouth was the appointed high priest.
Again, we get the first half of the verse (although minced oaths like “Gee” and “Gosh” and abbreviations like OMG are increasingly considered acceptable in Christian society). But what about the second half? Anyone can see the internet comments made by professing Christians about the President and Prime Minister. Do they not fit under the condemnation of these words from Peter when he speaks of those who “… despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2 Pet 2:10)?
If you think you have more cause today than they did in Bible times, remember that when Peter wrote “Honor the king,” (1 Pet 2:17), he was talking about Nero! Nero was hardly an honorable man, but he was to be honored for the position and responsibility he had. Some day God would call him to account for the whole Roman Empire! And God will hold our leaders to account as well. We are not their judges, but they will appear some day before the real Supreme Court. Until then it is our duty to PRAY, PAY and OBEY.
PRAY: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority…” (1 Tim 2:1-2).
PAY: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Rom 13:7).
OBEY: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom 13:1).
Of course this still leaves the Christian free to respectfully address the moral issues of the day, as we act as salt and light in this world. We must remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood. And our first responsibility is to be ambassadors for God, declaring the only message that will fundamentally change individuals, marriages, homes, communities and nations—the glorious gospel.
The Evangelicals’ Forbidden Passage
There are many other “missing” verses, and we may visit this subject again in another blog, but let me leave you one more. It has been a passage almost as forbidden to be read by evangelicals as Isaiah 53 is to Jews. Here it is:
“Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered” (1 Cor 11:5-6).
The facts are clear. For nineteen-and-a-half centuries women of every denominational stripe attended church services with their heads covered. But coverings quickly disappeared with the rise of Feminism. Interestingly, we kept half of the passage and still think it inappropriate for men to be covered in the same setting.
However, in recent years, there has been a small but growing movement to rediscover these verses (with varying degrees of clarity). One site, called “The Headcovering Movement,” has this quote from R.C. Sproul, “The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?”
The purpose of including this in a blog on forgotten verses is not to discuss the subject at length. But I do wish to point out that the passage must mean something, so don’t just tell me what it doesn’t mean. It obviously has to do with the glory of God, which most believers would consider a vital subject. If I want the Lord to receive not just glory from my life, but the most glory, I will want to take every passage on that subject as seriously as possible.
Paul obviously intended Christians to take this passage seriously. He not only linked it to God’s glory, but to Christ’s headship, the divine order in creation, and the observation of angels. He did not link it, by the way, to temple prostitutes with shaved heads, local culture, or whether you like the idea or not.
Let me leave you with these five forgotten passages. But may it stir all of us to be careful not to skip over any verses that might help us to be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”