As I drive home on the way from work, I think that there is either a handoff between cell towers, or perhaps something blocking the signal. If I call my wife in the first 1-2 miles of the trip1, the connection regularly falls off along the way. So, I call back, and she laughs at me (but still picks up the phone, which I appreciate). In addition, the signal can cut in and out along the way, leaving both of us with just part of the message.
If I have to tell my wife something twice, it’s not a big deal when that point isn’t time-sensitive or even particularly important. If I had something critical to tell her – maybe a severe weather pattern that was coming her way, or urgent news that she needed to act upon – the limited phone signal would be more of a concern.
The most important message that we need to understand clearly would be the message that Jesus brought. Regrettably, distortion of Jesus’ message – both His direct teachings and those that were passed on through His disciples – has been around since He walked this earth. For one thing, there are those who try to use Jesus’ teachings to their own benefit, attempting to justify their behavior even when it clearly contradicts Jesus’ example and instruction. Beyond that, though, are those who genuinely want to understand the Word of God, but struggle with interpreting some of the more complex passages, or wrestle with how they apply to individual situations.
I’m glad that the Bible doesn’t ignore either of these situations, though. The apostle Peter goes ahead and says the following, about fellow apostle Paul:
And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.
2 Peter 3:15-16 NLT
In context, note that Peter and Paul had substantially different ministries. Peter had mainly (but not exclusively) been tasked with sharing the good news about Jesus with fellow Jewish people. Paul, on the other hand, was called to reach out to Gentile (or Greek, i.e., non-Jewish) people, and introduce them to Jesus. Read Galatians 2:7-10, where Paul summarizes these two ministries.
More than that, Peter and Paul didn’t always agree. If you don’t believe that, read what Paul wrote in Galatians 2:11-16. (Personally, given how the early church worked out other differences, I suspect that the two eventually found common ground in the truth, but I don’t know that for sure.)
Regardless, it seems like it would have been easy enough for Peter to make some off-hand remarks about Paul in this letter. However, Peter acknowledged the truth and wisdom of Paul’s writing, confirming that it was from God. At the same time, Peter was up-front that some of this can be difficult to understand, and that there are those who abuse that fact.
People who distort the Word of God probably do so for their own benefit, trying to justify their incorrect behavior. However, the result is exactly the opposite, as it leads to their destruction. It’s one thing to observe this in other people’s teachings (and this use of discernment is important in managing what we accept as truth), but our first step probably needs to be making sure that this distortion doesn’t occur in our own lives. Said another way, just because something is difficult to understand, doesn’t mean that we get to make it say whatever we want.
So, how do we make sure that the “signal” that we hear from God is accurate?
- Pick up the phone. In order for us to receive God’s message, we must actually listen. God speaks to and guides individual followers in a variety of ways. The baseline for His message, though, can be found in His Word, the Bible. This true story – pivoting around Jesus, who was God the Son – is the foundation for learning about who God is, who we are, and how we can re-connect with His special plan for each of us.
- Make sure that you have a good signal. Just as I should probably pull into a parking lot (even if traffic feels like I’m not going anywhere) when I call from the car, the more noise that is in our minds when we listen to God, the more difficult it can be to hear a clear message from Him. God absolutely listens to His children in the chaos of our lives, and the Holy Spirit translates our cries to God when we are overwhelmed. When we have the chance to spend time listening to God, though, let’s work to eliminate what might get in the way of us hearing Him clearly.
- Confirm what you hear. Like Peter and Paul, God can share His message through other followers of Jesus. However, we must confirm the accuracy of this message, to determine whether or not it is consistent with God’s Word. (See 1 John 4:1-3) When I teach – and even when I write – my audience has an obligation to check anything that I say against the truth that God has already made clear to us.
So, enjoy conversations with God. Be sure to tell Him what is on your heart, and give Him a chance to speak. In all that, always seek out the clear, un-garbled, pristine signal of His truth.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- For what it’s worth, my car has a handsfree Bluetooth connection to my phone, so I can verbally tell it to call home, and have a conversation, without taking my hands off of the wheel or my eyes off of the road. If you still feel compelled to judge me for talking on the phone while driving, though, I don’t blame you! ↩