Recently I attended a men’s Bible study that was studying the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis. After reading the chapter out loud as a group the facilitator asked the men for any initial thoughts they had on the verses. One gentleman referenced verse two where God informs Abram (Abraham), “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2, NKJV). The man then explained that he believed the verse demonstrates that God wants to make the names of His people great. Specifically, he said the verse provided him the confidence that God planned to make his name great and would do so through his career. Other men agreed and weighed in with equal confidence that God would also make their names great among neighbors, at the church, and in the community.
After the others spoke I interjected that the book of Isaiah provides an applicable verse on the matter that we need to consider. In the forty-second chapter God proclaims, “I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another,” (Isaiah 42:8, NKJV). God leaves no room for ambiguity – He will not share His glory with anyone. David understood this truth when he remarked, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory,” (Psalm 115:1, NKJV). I explained that God does not seek to make great the names of men but instead declares the glory of His name alone. Therefore, we ought to pursue Him with humility and in awe rather than explore ways to make our names great.
The others fervently disagreed and insisted these two verses had no application to the saints of God. They wanted to limit their relevance and take a narrow view of them. They even expressed umbrage the verses were mentioned since they were not germane to the conversation.
Sadly, the American church tends to adopt a similar approach to Scripture. We want to universalize verses that capture God’s blessings and promises and insist they apply to all saints, especially when they speak of material blessings and promises of greatness. We often individualize verses and proclaim they represent God’s plan for our own lives when they assert some benefit we desire. At the same time we dismiss as irrelevant and inapplicable any verse that discomforts us or contradicts the plan we have for ourselves. Certainly God would never want us to follow Him down a path that does not align with our own desires, we insist.
But if we examine again the verses above we realize that God gave the promise of a great name to Abram for a specific reason – to bless the other nations of the earth. Nothing in the passage suggests that God wants us to claim the verse as our own and then expect to have Him make our names great. We personalize it to ourselves because that’s what our flesh desires.
Similarly, the verses in Isaiah and Psalm are clearly universal in application because they reflect the omnipotence and worthiness of God, which require we give Him all the glory and praise. But we dismiss the applicability of those verses because they do not advance the narrative we want to believe – that our faith is all about ourselves.
Let me add that the interpretation these men had of the verse in Genesis is not unique to their church, which is by all accounts evangelical and professes orthodox doctrine. Reading Scripture with an eye towards personalizing the verses that appeal to us and rejecting as irrelevant those that do not, represents a disease that plagues most evangelical churches in America today. And no surprise since we have been taught for too long that Jesus came to make our lives better, more pleasant, and fulfill our every desire.
We need to discipline ourselves better as we read the Bible and resist gravitating to any interpretation that gratifies our flesh. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and remove our biases that distort our understanding of His Word – ask God to preclude us from viewing Scripture through the lens of our own agenda.
Otherwise we risk adopting a faith grounded in the desires of our flesh and not in the power of God’s truth – a faith that may well jeopardize our relationship with the Lord.