Allowing God to use Humor and Figure of Speech

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As we are studying this week’s lesson about how to deal with difficult texts I think one solution is to allow for the possibility that God was using what we call “figure of speech.” which is where a word or phrase is used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect. Maybe even allow God to use a little sarcasm at times? I want to be careful how I make this next comment. It is good for us to study and diligently search the Scriptures instead of just casually reading them. At the same time I think we sometimes make mistakes by being a little too intense in interpreting Scripture. Does that make sense? Here is an example of where some people in Jesus’ day were a little too intense with something He told Peter. 

Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?”  Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”  So the rumor spread among the community of believers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” John 21:20-23 NLT

See hat I mean? The people took Jesus’ expression “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” to mean way more than Jesus intended. They were way too intense about a simple expression Jesus made. While searching and studying Scripture we need to be careful to not let our imagination get the best of us to where we see things that simply are not there. My mother used to say she thought some people would get off track theologically (especially those trying to destroy the sanctuary message) by making some things more complicated than they really were. I see a lot of wisdom in her words. 

Another example of needing to allow God to use figure of speech and even sarcasm comes in a story in 1 Kings where Ahab had a history of not listening to God’s prophets and only wanting to hear from false or true prophets whatever it was he wanted to hear. In 1 Kings 22:15 Ahab asks one of God’s prophets if he should go to battle. 

So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. 1 Kings 22;15 KJV

God’s prophet Micaiah tells Ahab to go ahead and go prosper. But later Ahab suffers a terrible defeat and is killed in the battle. Did Micaiah lie? No, he was being sarcastic because he knew how Ahab only wanted to hear what he wanted to hear. The NLT makes it clear. 

When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should we hold back?” Micaiah replied sarcastically, “Yes, go up and be victorious, for the Lord will give the king victory!” 1 Kings 22:15 NLT 

See, the NLT affirms Micaiah is being sarcastic. I believe Jesus is also using sarcasm in Luke 8. 

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’ Luke 8:10 NLT 

 Jesus is referring to a phrase in Isaiah 6:9 where he tells the people to not understand. Did Jesus really want the people to not understand? Of course not. He was being sarcastic. Like a teacher saying, “heaven forbid my students actually read this lesson and get a passing grade” the teacher is only being sarcastic because she knows her students aren’t going to read the lesson. 

John 7 gives us another example of where people are too intense with Jesus’ words. 

You go on. I’m not going to this festival, because my time has not yet come.” John 7:8 NLT 

I actually had a Facebook friend use this verse to expose the lies of the New Living Translation. He told us this verse makes Jesus look like a liar because later He does indeed go to the festival. My friend shared how the New King James Version got it right. 

“You go up to this feast. I am not [b]yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” John 7:8 NKJV 

My friend said the NKJV was correct because it uses the word “yet” therefore not making Jesus look like a liar since he later goes to the feast. Only one problem. Do you see the little “b” next to the word “yet”? That footnote tells us the word “yet” was not in the original manuscript. The NLT actually is more accurate with this verse than the NKJV. Obviously Jesus was not trying to mislead anyone about Him going to the festival. Did Jesus have a right to change His mind? Sure though I doubt that was the case. He did not go up with his brothers and that is all He was insinuating. My Facebook friend was being way too intense with this passage and in doing so claimed some versions were making Jesus out to be a liar when in reality my friend needed to just not be so intense with Jesus’ words and allow Him to use figure of speech. 

Jesus had a personality. He was not a drab and dreary individual. Some try to rob Jesus of His personality and even humorous personality by being way too intense with His words at times. I imagine when Jesus told the disciples that they were worth more than a whole flock of sparrows that there must have been a chuckle in His voice as He probably even laughed at the comparison. In Luke 24 Jesus calls the young men He met on the road “fools” for not knowing He would be resurrected. Do you think there was anger in His voice when He called them fools? I don’t believe so. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus says those who use the word “fool” in anger will be in danger of hell fire. Jesus would never contradict His own words. I can see Jesus telling these disappointed disciples with a big smile on his face and joy in his voice, “You fools! Have I got some good news for you!” Likewise when Jesus told the woman begging for His help that He was only sent to help the sheep of Israel. I can see a twinkle in His eye as He told her that, as He really just wanted to see what His disciple’s reaction would be. 

Let’s allow Jesus to have a personality and even a healthy sense of humor. Let’s allow Jesus to use sarcasm and figure of speech. With the Holy Spirit’s help this will help us not only understand God’s word better but even the loving character and personality of God. 

Forever Friends

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Years before ever becoming, or even thinking about becoming a Bible Worker myself, I found myself on a church softball team, captained by the new local Bible Worker.  I failed to eat breakfast before running off to play. Not too bright. In the middle of the game, I began to get dizzy and lightheaded. My team was up to bat when I pretty much blacked out. I was sitting right next to the Bible Worker, and told him, as the batter was striking out, “I am blacking out. I can’t even see anything right now.” His reply? He threw my mitt in my lap and said, “That’s the third out. Let’s go take the field!” Not exactly the reply I was expecting. Needless to say, I did not go out onto the field. I managed to get myself to a nearby building where I got a drink and laid down until my sight came back. I had heard people who had been studying with this Bible Worker say how wonderful he was. I guess already having been baptized, I was not a “notch under his belt,” So he was not that wonderful to me. He never even missed me when I failed to come back to the game. I never heard from him again.

At this point in my life, I was not really that familiar with the Bible Worker concept. My church never had one. Therefore I had never really considered becoming one, but on my way home that day, I remember thinking to myself, that if I ever did become a Bible Worker, I would not be like that one! I also told myself that if I genuinely care about people who are about to be baptized, then I would genuinely care about people who have already been or will never be baptized too. So, years later when ironically I became a Bible Worker, I told myself that as well as being theologically sound, I also want to be relationally sound. I decided to be a genuine caring friend, as well as someone who  taught theology.

I was studying with a man, in the first district I had been assigned as a Bible Worker, when he showed up to church with his 14 year old  step-daughter. She had never been to any church before. I went up to the parents of teenage girls in the church, and told them, a young girl is here who has never been to church before. Please have your daughters greet her and befriend her. One parent , who had two teen girls, shrugged her shoulders and said, “My daughters already have friends.” I could not believe what I heard.  The girls did not befriend her. Her step-father eventually went to another nearby Adventist church where he got baptized. I do not know the fate of his step-daughter.

Later in another district, I was studying with a war veteran, who needed a ride to the veteran’s hospital one day.  Wanting to connect him with members of my church, I called several retired members and asked them to give this worthy veteran a ride.  One person told me they were unavailable because, “That’s the day I water my garden.” And that was the most legitimate excuse! Not only did this veteran never come to my church, but that was also the end of our Bible studies. Do you blame him?

After studying a few months with a young married couple, they became baptized and joined my church of mostly older people.  One of the older elders never reached out to this young couple, until finally he heard them say something in Sabbath School that was not theologically correct, so he took it upon himself to call them later in the day, to reach out and tell them that they were wrong! That was the only contact he had with them, and it was not long before they were out of the church. How long would you stay in a church that only called you, to tell you that you were wrong?

In Texas I studied with a teenage boy, that for sake of anonymity, I will call Scott. He found a ride to church every Sabbath, as no one else in his family came to church. Shortly after his baptism he moved to Tampa Florida. We had a going away party for him, and I wrote in a card, “Bible Workers come and go, but friends are forever.” I did not think that much about it. 8 years later I moved to Tampa Florida. I had talked with him a few times after his move. One day, shortly after moving to Tampa, I ran across his name in my address book, and the address “Tampa Florida” jumped out at me. I called the number, to find out that he was in jail. I arranged a visit. Not exactly the reunion I had planned with a former Bible student, huh? We were glad to see each other and had a lot to talk about since our last visit. He explained to me what had been going on with him lately and how he ended up in jail. Towards the end of our visit, he told me, “When I moved away, you wrote in my card, Bible Workers come and go but friends are forever. I never forgot what you wrote, and now that you have come to see me after all those years, even though I am in jail, shows me you meant what you said.” I realized even more, that being relational is just as important as being theologically sound. I realized too, that even though he had been baptized 8 years ago, my work with him was not through.  Scott needed a forever friend. I am glad God moved me across the country to where I could reach out to him.

As a Bible Worker my goal goes way beyond seeing people get baptized. My goal is to see them in heaven. That means being a forever friend to those who are preparing for baptism, and to those who have already been baptized, as well as to those who I may never see get baptized.

Some people think they can’t do Bible work and give Bible studies. Believe me, if I can, anybody can. Even so, what a young teenage girl needed in a small church long ago, was not a Bible Worker but a friend. A veteran just needed a ride to the hospital. A young couple needed someone from the church, to call them just to say hello, instead of just to tell them they were wrong. A young man sitting in jail needed to know someone still cared, even though he was less than perfect. Bible workers may get people baptized, but in order to see them all the way into the kingdom, it takes more than a Bible Worker. It takes a forever friend. Will you be that forever friend?

You can study this week’s SS lesson here.