09 October 2013

Fascinating people and reading narrative portions of Scripture

by Dan Phillips

As I read through Acts in the morning, I'm struck anew by what fascinating people Luke introduces — and how little he tells us of them.

Take Simon Magus in chapter 8. Wouldn't you like to know a lot more about him, from Luke? When Luke says he used to do magic, what does that mean? Actual magic, or tricks? What kind? And what was his background? Also, what did he do in response to the apostles' rebuke? He figures prominently in post-NT writings, but is any of that accurate? What became of him?

Or the Ethiopian eunuch in that same chapter. What an interesting fellow this man is! We read his story anachronistically, and just think how cool it is that he was in Isaiah 53 instead of Leviticus 21:20. But what about the fact that he had a copy of Scripture at all? How rare was that? How did he come by it, how wealthy must he have been! Or was the scroll Candace's? What became of him? The same Holy Spirit who told Philip to go preach to him also told Philip (in effect) not to do any followup with him. So the eunuch went his way rejoicing, we read... and then what? Wouldn't you love to know?

Or Lydia the business lady in chapter 16, or the demon-possessed slave girl in the same chapter — what different women, yet side by side in the narrative. What was their background, and what came of them after these encounters?

These and many other figures crowd the book of Acts alone, to say nothing of the other Biblical books.

But what we as readers (and particularly as preachers) must remind ourselves is that the text of Scripture is what is God-breathed and profitable, and that must always be our focus. It isn't the stories that hold this place, nor the people. It is the text, the words of Scripture, that must be our focus.

It is the text that reflects and unfolds the mind of God. In that text, God told us everything He wants to know, which means He told us everything we need to know. So we must both discipline ourselves not to run off on rabbit-trails, and to focus on what's there to see the mind of God. What we want to know about Simon, the eunuch, Lydia and the rest is not the same as what God wants us to know — and we must see to it that we focus on the latter, not the former.

In fact, this is all the more arresting and important in proportion to how fascinating the person is. God in effect is saying to us "Never mind all that, don't let the shiny objects distract you: this is what I want to impress upon you."

So it doesn't matter what kinds of snakes bit the Israelites in Numbers 21, or how big the copper serpent was, or how long the pole, or any of that. What matters is that those snakebit Israelites who believed Yahweh's words and looked, lived — and no one else. And on and on.

We know that the main thing is the main thing; we need to remember that the text of Scripture is always the main thing. If it were important, God would have told us. If He told us, it is important.

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JR said...

Really good. Thanks, Dan.

Patrick said...

John Piper posted an article yesterday that seems to complement your post well. (http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/how-to-be-interesting-and-unhelpful)

Thank you for calling attention (again!) to the Word of God and away from man's wisdom/speculation. It's so easy to follow speculative tangents and in the end that's all they are - worthless (or worse!) diversions leading us away from the God-breathed text. God wrote what he wrote for a reason and didn't write what he didn't write for a reason as well. Thank you for the reminder and warning.

DJP said...

Interesting, Patrick! I can see how you'd think that.

I read Piper's posts about as often as he reads mine, and I wrote this particular one probably about two weeks ago. So God providentially wanted this point made in stereo today!

Patrick said...

I didn't mean to imply that Piper's article was a catalyst for or influence on yours. I am genuinely thankful for your continued and faithful reminders concerning the Word of God and its proper place in our lives.

It is encouraging to recognize God's providential work though!
"'He who has ears to hear, let him hear' in STEREO!"

DJP said...

No problem, that's how I took it. Though were I you, if I didn't know me, I might've wondered.

But if Piper and I are both saying it independently... well then, it must be true!

Eric said...

You mean God didn't intend for us to fill in the blanks and dream up fantastic conclusions from where we've filled in the blanks? But it's so much fun...and it isn't so literal...and it feeds my creativity which God must enjoy...and it doesn't put God in a box...

//sarcasm off

Thanks for the reminder to treat God's Word seriously as it has been delivered to us and not as a blank canvas for our amusement and creativity.

Lainey Smith said...

This is so true! It made me think of the verse that talks about if all the stories about what Jesus said & did were written the whole world could not contain them... HE show us that HE gave us all we need to know & it is enough to keep us in awe for a lifetime & eternity, no matter how much we want to know more we must bow to HIS REVELATION of what it is HE deems important and needed. Thanks for your blog.

Joshua Spell said...

Great post, Dan, which reminds me...

I read Eusebius' church history and wondered where he came us with the stuff about Simon Magus. Was he really the father of heresies, or was that over-inflated church tradition? I'd like to know, but I suppose I can't, nor do I need to. God's Word says everything I need to know.

Solameanie said...

Five stars, Dan. Lovin it.