“There will be a highway there, called ‘The Road of Holiness.’ No sinner will ever travel that road; no fools will mislead those who follow it . . . Those whom the Lord has rescued will travel home by that road. . . . They will be happy forever, forever free from sorrow and grief….” (Isaiah 35:8-10, GNB)
The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to guide us, but we often want specific and simple answers to our questions. The Bible does give “do’s” and “don’ts,” but it is much more a book of principles than a list of rules. I’m glad the Bible gives both. I need specific instructions, but I especially need principles. Unlike rules, principles are comprehensive- covering all possibilities, but how the principle applies to life may elude me. So specific examples are also in the Scripture. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a principle that covers all relationships, but the Bible also describes specifics of how love will behave. For example, when someone sins against me, if I truly love him or her, I will go to the person alone and confront him or her (Matt. 18 :15-17). That’s specific, but by giving the underlying principle of love, the Bible covers all potential attitudes, actions, and relationships. When the Bible gives a general principle, we have the responsibility to apply the principle to specific situations. To make that application, we have help from the Holy Spirit.
First Corinthians 13 describes loving behaviors without tying them to specific situations. For the following descriptions of love, give a specific illustration from your life of a loving behavior that you could do today that would demonstrate this quality:
- Love is patient (v. 4)
- Love is kind (v. 4)
- Love does not keep a record of wrongs (v . 5).
How long would the Bible be if it gave specific examples or precise commands covering every possible attitude and activity for all people of all time? Even if God put all that detail on some mega-computer, how could we possibly access our specific directive at the moment of decision? No, the Spirit has given us something far better – principles to guide in the decisions of life. In the exercise above, I listed these examples of love: I can be patient while waiting on a child to get ready in the mornings. I can be kind in my choice of language when I am expressing hurt feelings to my spouse. I can choose to forgive and not hold a grudge against a fellow employee. We also encounter non-moral questions like: Should I take this job? What school should I attend? Should we stay here or move to another place? Even in those dilemmas of life, the Bible provides principles for guidance. God deals with us as individuals. His plan for your life will not be just like any other person’s. Abraham’s experience was unlike Moses’, and Moses’ experience did not resemble Jonah’s. But Abraham, Moses, and Jonah lived by the principles of God’s Word. Their example is given to help us understand God’s will for us .
The Scripture teaches both by precept and example. It states truth, and it demonstrates the truth at work in the lives of people. We could compare the Bible to a road map. It shows us the route from our beginning point as sinners without hope (Ephesians 2 :12). From our beginning we move to our point of conversion where we accepted Christ as the “way” (John 14 :6). It leads us through the triumphs and pitfalls of everyday living to our ultimate destination (John 14 :1-3).
Like any road map, the Bible has specific directions. What good would a map do if it only gave general directions for your journey through life? I recall a trip Muriel and I took to London. Muriel always wanted to go there. An artist, my wife never tired of visiting art museums; and London was, in her opinion, the art capital of the world.
But with six children at home, we only traveled when necessary. However, a window of opportunity opened when I had a speaking engagement in England. We knew where we wanted to go. We talked with people who had been there, we accumulated videos, travel books, and maps. We learned, for example, that the Tate Museum contained the largest collection of paintings by our favorite artist. But examples, descriptions, and principles would never have gotten us to the Tate Museum. We needed specific directions.
The principles and commands of Scripture are never in conflict. You cannot justify violating a direct command by appealing to some broader principle. The specific commands are God’s official application of some principle and must be obeyed. My application of the principle doesn’t have God’s authority, so I must not set my interpretation in opposition to a clear directive from God. Furthermore, the fact that no command covers a specific situation doesn’t set us free to do as we please. We are still bound by the principles of Scripture. Thus we need both the principles and the commands to know God’s will.
What do you struggle with in deciding God’s will? Are you choosing your wants over his commands? Perhaps you want to be happy, so you step outside God’s direct commands. Just remember: You cannot justify violating a direct command by appealing to some broader principle.