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Monday, October 05, 2015

Principle versus Particular

You will often hear things like, "You people don't believe in pro-life like you say if you're in favor of capital punishment." Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? "If you believe that God ordered the deaths of men, women, and children in the Old Testament, on what basis can you say that it's wrong to kill ... at all?"

This isn't about those particulars. This is about a principle that can help in all sorts of areas. So let's take a look. There is a principle in hermeneutics that tells you to look for the principle. It could be argued, for instance, that the Bible has nothing to say about your driving. So whatever you want to do in the car is perfectly okay with God. It is true, as far as it goes, to say that there is not one mention of driving cars in the Bible. But are there principles in Scripture that would say something about it? Clearly, "You shall not murder." (Exo 20:13) is in there, so vehicular homicide is out. Then there's "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (Rom 13:1), so it would appear that, unless some traffic law is in violation of God's direct commands, there is a principle in place for Christians that they should obey traffic laws. How about "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil 2:3-4)? Wouldn't that suggest that we be considerate drivers? Well, that's just an example. There are biblical principles that, when grasped, can touch all manner of things in our lives.

So what about that Old Testament reference of mine? Isn't the Old Testament out? Funny thing ... I don't know of a single Christian that would argue that that command is nullified. Murder is just as much sin now as it was then. My point, however, is that I don't believe that any of the commands are nullified (Matt 5:18). Instead, I would argue that every single principle is still in place. So do we still concern ourselves with, say, ways of cutting our hair? No, not likely. But is there a principle there that we ought to retain? Yes, most certainly. "Come out from among them and be separate" is an important principle. "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good" (3 John 1:11) is just as valid a principle for us as it was for Israel (Deut 18:9). Particulars may change, but principles remain.

So, when you read the Word, read it for all its worth. In that, be sure to find the underlying principle, because while particulars change, God's principles don't. And while our particulars may be different from those in biblical days, those principles remain the same. Grasp those and you grasp much more than who begat whom or whether or not we should eat shrimp.

One last important point. There is a principle that underlies them all. It is the yardstick against which you should measure everything from sex outside marriage to how you dress in the morning. It is a simple principle with far-reaching consequences. "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) That one principle -- "Do all for the glory of God" -- should have its fingers in everything we do, in our every reading and interpretation of Scripture, in our every choice and word.

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