Why it is our job to stop the Bible contradicting itself

There seems to be a contradiction in Deuteronomy 15.  V.4 says “there will be no poor among you.”  V. 11 says “there will never cease to be poor in the land.  So which is it to be?  Will there be no poverty, or will there always be poverty?

If God’s people rise to the challenge of vv. 7-8 there will be no contradiction.  God instructed the Israelites to be generous in their support of the poor.  “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” If God’s people rise to that challenge there will be no contraction: there will always be poor people in our midst but they will be so well cared and provided for that their poverty will be brought to a quick end.

Two quick reflections on these verses.  Firstly God’s instruction is to our thinking as well as our action.  We are called to respond to poverty with both our heart and our hand.  We should be moved by it, and we should do something about it.  We should have compassion, and take action.  It’s no good having one without the other.  It’s probably obvious to us that having compassion but not doing anything about it is no good to anyone, but it might come as a surprise that being generous, but without really caring, isn’t good enough either.

Secondly, a word about lending.  In this context lending is no different from giving.  The chapter is about the Sabbatical Year.  Every seven years the Israelites were to write off all their debts.  If you lent in the first year you had the best part of seven years in which to be repaid.  If you lent in the seventh year, well the chances were that you wouldn’t be repaid.  But God is very clear in vv. 9-10: the fact that you might well not be repaid was certainly not a valid reason for not lending.  “Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near’… you shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him…” We have the same point made more forcefully on the lips of Jesus in Luke 6:35 “…lend, expecting nothing in return…”

God’s people, then, are called to care about poverty and to do something about it. This should come as a great challenge to those of us who care a great deal about evangelism but who care and do little about poverty.  It is of course right that we never allow social justice to take place of evangelism: what good is it to set people up for life if they remained ruined for eternity?  But if we think that evangelism means that we are excused from caring about, or doing anything about, poverty, then we deservedly come under God’s rebuke.

Why the people who would never have thought of coming to Home Houseparty are actually the ones who will benefit the most from it

Lots of people looked forward to the NUCU Home Houseparty, “Knowing God”,  earlier this week as something that would be a bit of fun between the end of exams and the start of the summer holidays.  And fun it certainly was.  But here is why it was much more than just a bit of fun, and why it was people who didn’t come that will benefit the most from it.

Of course the people who did come benefited a great deal from it.  They heard the Word of God taught.  They were encouraged by praising God with others, and were made wonderfully aware of the presence and love of God.  They were inspired towards a greater prayerfulness.  In short they came away knowing God better.  And that is the greatest thing that any human being can ever have.  So Home Houseparty was great for everyone who came.

But actually the people who will benefit the most from it are the non-Christians at Nottingham University.  I am expecting that the fruit of those two days will be that many people, who did not even know it was happening, will become Christians.  You see in the Bible there is so often a link between how well people know God and how passionate they are about evangelism.  One of the clearest examples is in Ephesians 3.

In the first half of Ephesians 3 Paul, the author, outlines how the Church exists to make the Gospel known.  It is God’s intent that through the Church his great plan and offer of salvation should be made known to the whole universe (v. 10).  Having explained all this to the Christians in Ephesus he goes on to pray for them, which is what the second half of the chapter is all about.

What Paul has just said about the Church existing for evangelism determines how he goes on to pray for them.  In v. 14 he says “for this reason [because the Church exists for evangelism] I kneel before the Father…”  And then he tell us what he prays for them.  He doesn’t pray for opportunities to tell people the Good News.  he doesn’t pray for strength, or wisdom, or eloquence.  He doesn’t pray for protection from the persecution they would go on to face.  Do you see what he does pray?  He prays that they would have the Spirit’s power so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith (v. 17).  And then he prays that they may have power to grasp “how wide and long and hight and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” (vv. 18-19).  He’s praying that they would know God better.  That they would know him living within them, and that they would know the enormity of his love.

Paul’s logic is brilliantly clear.  What the Church is for is evangelism, so what the Church needs is to know God better. And it makes perfect sense.  Knowing God better ourselves will mean we are more and more eager for others to come to know him.  Knowing him better will give us much greater confidence to to do the awkward thing of talking about him to people who will think we’re religious idiots.  In short knowing him better will make us much better evangelists.

And what this should mean, then, is that as a group of Christians at Nottingham University have come to know God better their evangelism will be turbocharged.  And so the people who will benefit the most are the people who as yet are not Christians.