The Deceptive Danger of Wealth - Radical

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The Deceptive Danger of Wealth

In countless ways, our culture tells us that wealth is the key to happiness. Even among Christians, the pursuit of money and comfort and ease can be a major blindspot. We live as if this world is all there is. However, as David Platt reminds us in this message from James 5:1–6, there’s a deceptive danger attached to worldly wealth. While money isn’t inherently evil, we can begin to live for things that are temporary while ignoring the things that will matter for all of eternity. Even if we don’t consider ourselves to be wealthy, we must be on guard against the desire for more. We should be eager to use our resources for the glory of God and the good of others.

Blind spots. We all have them—areas of our lives where we’re deceived, yet we don’t know it. You know when you’re driving, you look in the mirror, it seems like it’s fine to change lanes. Unbeknownst to you, there is a car right next to you…in your blind spot. So when you start to change lanes, they honk and you jerk back over in your lane. You think, “How did I miss something so obvious?” Something easy to see in hindsight, yet easy to miss in the present.

Other people can usually see blind spots in our lives more easily than we can. We need other people to point them out. Even then, something in us still doesn’t want to see them. Sometimes that which is so obvious we don’t want to admit even exists, until it’s too late. 

This happens in our faith as well. Just think of the classic glaring blind spot of American Christian history: slavery. It seems unthinkable to us today. How could so many Christians, who supposedly believed the gospel, so easily rationalize subjecting slaves to deplorable conditions outside their homes? And churchgoers, worshiping God every Sunday, reading the Bible all week long, all while treating men, women and children like property to be used and abused. They actually thought they were generous to give their slaves an extra chicken at Christmas. Is that not frightening? 

Church involvement, regular worship, even study of the Bible do not prevent blindness in us. Part of our sinful nature still sees what we want to see and ignores what we want to ignore, especially when it’s commonplace in the world around us. In our time in God’s Word today, I wonder if he wants to open our eyes to a blind spot in our lives and in the church. We live in a world of urgent, dire need—both spiritually and physically. Spiritually we know because we often talk about three billion people who’ve never encountered a Christian, nor a church, to share the gospel with them. They’re on a road that leads to eternal judgment and nobody’s even told them about how much God loves them and how they can have eternal life with him. 

Then there are physical needs. About a quarter of the world—approximately two billion people—live in fragile contexts, which means they live in impoverished conditions and dire circumstances. Meanwhile, we in this gathering today, there are some of the wealthiest people to ever live in the history of the world. I realize that in this gathering we have varying levels of wealth; some, I know, are struggling financially. I don’t want to minimize that in any way.

Let’s just look at averages. The average annual income in the U.S. is about $75,000. It’s actually much higher in the area where we live right now, but if we just use that number, the average American is in the top 2% of the richest people in the world. 

Just to depict that graphically, when you look at wealth in the world, this is us, compared to the rest of the world. The reality is, if we have clean water, food, sufficient clothes, a roof over our head at night, a means of transportation (even if it’s public) and access to a trained doctor, we are wealthy in this world. To be clear, this is not bad. It’s not reason to feel guilty. Yet how are we spending the money—the wealth—that God has given us? On average, North American Christians give about 2.5% of our income to the church. I think that is probably a high estimate, but we’ll go with it. Then on average, North American churches give about 2% of their budget to ministries around the world. 

Do you realize what this means? I checked, double-checked and triple-checked the math because I couldn’t believe what this meant, but it’s true. Out of every $100 a North American Christian makes, we give five cents to ministry in the rest of the world. And less than a penny of that goes to the three billion people who’ve never heard the gospel. Feels kinda like an extra chicken for the slaves at Christmas, doesn’t it?

I wonder if followers of Jesus a hundred years from now, if Jesus has not returned, will look back at Christians in America today and wonder, “How could they worship, sing, study the Bible and live in such affluence, while billions of people were going to hell without even hearing how they could go to heaven, many of whom were living in impoverished, dire conditions on earth? They gathered for worship, they read the Bible, they sang the songs, they lived what they said were Christian lives. How could they keep prioritizing their comforts and preferences to the neglect of so many people in need?”

Is it possible that this is a blind spot for us? I think we have to admit it’s possible. So can we just ask God right now to open our eyes to see what he sees, even if it’s something we may not want to see? Even if it goes totally against the grain of what this world says is the way to live? Even the Christians in many ways in this world say is the way to live? Could we just pray that right now? Will you bow your head with me? We’re not here just to sing some songs and go through some motions. We’re meeting with God.

So, God, we’re asking you right now: please help us to hear your Word, seeing our lives and the world around us clearly in its light. If this is a blind spot for us, please open our eyes to it. Jar us in any way we need to be jarred. Help us to course correct, no matter what that means, knowing there’s part of us that resists seeing and part of us that resists acting on what you say. We pray for your help, for your Spirit to do in the next few minutes what only your Spirit can do. We want you more than we want this world and what this world wants for us. You are wiser than the world around us. You’re better. You love us. Help us to hear your Word today as coming from your heart of love for us. We need your help, God. Please help us hear and see whatever it is you want us to hear or see, and help us respond accordingly. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Let’s hear the Word of God, straight from him, in James 5:1-6: 

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

That’s strong language from God. I want to try to summarize these verses in one sentence: In the hands of sinful people, wealth is deceptively, extremely and eternally dangerous to us and to others. 

Let’s test this sentence against the passage we just read to see if it’s true. “Is this just you talking, David, or is this what God is saying?” God starts with, “Come now, you rich…” This leads to the question, “Wait a minute, does this mean anybody who’s rich has misery coming on them?” 

So for most of us—which as we’ve seen, compared to the rest of the world, most of us are rich—this is God saying misery is coming upon us. If this is what this passage is saying, we need to hear this. We need to see this. Yet when we look at this passage, and the whole of Scripture, that doesn’t seem to be what God is saying. There are examples throughout the Old Testament. We need to be careful when we think about money, to not just look at the Old Testament, because there was a very significant shift in the approach to money and possessions that we see in the New Testament. We can talk about that another time. 

Even in the New Testament, we see righteous, God-glorifying people with riches. The Bible as a whole does not say that wealth or riches are bad in and of themselves. This passage is clearly emphasizing the unrighteous use of riches. So in the hands of sinful people, wealth or riches are “deceptively.” Is there not deception throughout this passage? The rich don’t realize that their riches are rotting and corroding. They think they’re getting away with defrauding their laborers. They don’t know that they’re fattening themselves for the day of slaughter.

All this leads to the next word in our summary sentence: “extremely.” Is this language not extreme? “…[W]eep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” Rich, wealthy people who are not honoring God with your riches and wealth, you should be weeping and howling, because misery is coming upon you. Your flesh will be eaten “like fire.” That’s extreme imagery. 

Then “eternally.” This whole passage is pointing to the future. Part of the point of this passage is clearly saying, “What you see on this earth is not the end. The way you use riches here will have ramifications far beyond here.” 

So in the hands of sinful people, wealth is deceptive, extremely and eternally dangerous to us and to others. Do you see the danger on both sides? You see danger in this passage for people who are being unjustly treated, neglected and exploited, even killed. Then in a sense you see the deeper danger for the rich—the wealthy—who are neglecting those in need. So in the hands of sinful people, wealth is deceptively, extremely and eternally dangerous to us and to others. 

This leads to the question, “Are you a sinful person? Am I a sinful person?” The testimony of Scripture and the testimony of our lives shouts “Yes” to that question, which means God is in a sense lovingly shouting to us, some of the wealthiest people to ever walk planet Earth: “Beware of the deceptive, extreme, eternal danger of the wealth you have.” 

This is not how American Christians think. We are accustomed to think of wealth as a blessing. God is saying to us right now, “Wealth? Beware. It’s dangerous to others and it’s dangerous to you.” Is this not what God is saying? So why is wealth so dangerous? Let’s listen to what God is telling us in this passage, starting in verses two and three. In the hands of sinful people, what does wealth do? 

Wealth leads to keeping more than you need.

This is clearly the first specific indictment in this passage, with imagery about riches that are rotting and garments that are eaten by moths, gold and silver that are corroding. It’s all summarized in this last statement: “You have laid up treasure in the last days.” This is clearly an allusion to a parable Jesus told in which he used this same language in Luke 12:16-21:

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

“Lays up treasure.” That’s the exact same language from James 5 here: laying up treasure. Are we hearing this? What Jesus just denounced—“Store it up so you can relax, eat, drink and be merry”—is what our culture exalts. This is success in our culture. This is the dream for which we should live: make money, store it up, so that when you’re older you can relax, eat, drink and be merry. That’s success in our culture. Jesus says, “You’re a fool. Don’t do it. You’ll lose your soul.”

Now, we know from the whole of Scripture that it’s not wrong or unrighteous to save wisely. As just one example, Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” In other words, it’s wise and righteous to work as God provides and to save for a reasonable anticipated need in the future, as you’re able. 

At the same time, beware. This is some of the strongest, most scathing words in the Bible and is aimed toward people who are filling their lives with more and more, newer, nicer things they don’t need, eventually things that are no longer even used, in addition to stockpiling reserves, all while ignoring present needs around them. Which is the next reason wealth is so dangerous.

Wealth leads to the neglect of others in need.

In the hands of sinful people, wealth leads to neglect of others in need. When you see this language, think about how powerful this is: “You have laid up treasure in the last days.” Again, wealth is dangerous to us. We’re in the last days right now. Very soon, every single one of us are about to meet God as our judge. This could be today for any one of us. Jesus could come back at any point. Jesus is saying, “You’re about to meet God and you’ve got all these resources that you’re wasting, that you’re holding on to, that you could have been using for good.” Which then leads to danger to others. Think about it. Because they’re also in the last days, they’re also about to meet God.

Picture it this way. Jesus could come back at any moment. There are all these people who’ve never heard the gospel, We could have gotten the gospel to them; we have the resources in the church to get the gospel to all of them. But we didn’t. Instead. we stored up more  and as a result, we’re leaving them in an eternally dangerous position. 

The point is these are the last days for all of us. None of us are going to be here much longer, which means there’s not a lot of time. So give to people in dire need now, for their good and for your good. Don’t lay up treasure here. That’s one option: lay up treasure here for the last days. No, don’t do that. Lay up treasure in heaven in these last days. We’ll talk about this more specifically a couple verses from now. 

Don’t miss the point here. Wealth in the hands of sinful people leads to keeping more than you need. Is there any evidence of that in your life? And neglecting others in need? Is there evidence of this in your life? Do you see this effect of wealth in the hands of sinful people? 

Wealth leads to injustice and oppression.

This then leads to the next verse—verse four—and specific people in need: laborers who are working and not getting paid what they are due. So here’s another danger of wealth in the hands of sinful people: wealth leads to injustice and oppression when it’s in the hands of sinful people. I’m going to include verse six here. 

So first, verse four specifically condemns any way in which those with wealth take advantage of or treat unjustly those who work for them, denouncing any person or group of people who reap riches at the expense of the poor. This verse pointedly beckons anyone among us who employs others to ask if there are any voices calling out to God because of you. 

Then on a broader level, this verse highlights the power dynamic at play with those who have wealth. It’s a clear statement from God that he is the Lord of hosts, which means the Lord of heavenly armies. He ultimately has all power, so anyone with any semblance of wealth and power in this world will answer to God for how we wield that wealth and power for others’ good, particularly for the good of people who are poor or without power. To any or all extent that God entrusts wealth and/or power to us, we are responsible before God for using that wealth and/or that power justly on behalf of those who are poor and/or without power. 

Then go down to verse six and see how the sinful rich had condemned and murdered the righteous person. There’s some debate over what exactly this is referring to. Some Bible scholars believe this is a reference to Jesus—that he was murdered by those in power with wealth. Others believe this is a reference to martyrs in that day, eventually including James himself, who were murdered by those in power with wealth. Regardless, it’s a clear picture that in the hands of sinful people, wealth leads to both injustice and oppression. We see this throughout the history of the world. We see this throughout the world today. This means we all need to humbly and honestly ask is there any way in which wealth in our hands is leading to injustice or oppression of others? This is a question worthy of prayerfully considering before God, in your life or openly discussing with your church group. Get together and ask, “Is there any way in which wealth in our hands is leading to injustice or oppression of others?” 

This all leads to two final ways that wealth is dangerous in the hands of sinful people.

Wealth leads to over-indulgence in the temporary and under-investment in the eternal.

First, in the hands of sinful people, wealth leads to over-indulgence in the temporary and under-investment in the eternal. Look at verse five: “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” Do you see the emphasis here on the temporary? You live like this world is all there is. And if this world is all there is, then absolutely.

Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 15, eat, drink and be merry. If this world is all there is, then a materialistic lifestyle makes total sense. Get all you can, enjoy all you can—whatever you want, buy it. If you have more than you want, save it to make sure you have all you want in the future. So yes, go to school, get a job, retire well and relax. Indulge and enjoy as much as you can along the way. In other words, the American dream makes sense if America is all there is. But God is shouting, “It’s not!” This country, this world, is not all there is. This country, this world is temporary. It’s fleeting. It’s just going to be here for a little bit longer. So don’t live for it. 

Let me use this illustration that comes from Randy Alcorn’s book Money, Possessions and Eternity. It relates in a sense to the slavery illustration earlier. He writes:

Imagine you’re alive at the end of the Civil War in the United States. You’re living in the south, but you’re a northerner. Your plan is to move back north as soon as the war is over. While in the south, you’ve accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Now, suppose you know for a fact that the north is going to win the war, and the end is imminent. What will you do with your Confederate currency? 

If you’re smart, there’s only one answer. You immediately cash in your Confederate currency for U.S. currency, the only money that will have value once the war is over. You will keep only enough Confederate currency to meet your short-term needs.

As believers, we have inside knowledge of a coming change in the worldwide economic situation. The currency of this world will be worthless at our death or Christ’s return, both of which are immanent. This knowledge should radically affect our investment strategy. For us to accumulate vast earthly treasures in the face of the inevitable future is equivalent to stockpiling Confederate money. It’s not just wrong; it’s stupid.

Just for the record, we don’t use that word around our house, but it’s in the quote and it’s making a point. Why are you stockpiling Confederate currency when the war is about to be over? Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have insider knowledge of a coming change in the worldwide economic situation. So let’s live like it. Let’s not live like the rest of the world, then just tack on Jesus on Sundays. Let’s live like we’re living for another world, like we’re living for another country, a heavenly one where treasure will never, ever fade, instead of indulging in treasure that is transient, temporary, fleeting. It’s the way the world works. The next thing, the newer thing, the nicest thing. Instant gratification. Order it on Amazon one hour, get it the next. 

And not just in the moment. We think, “I want to plan for when I’m 60 or 70 or 80 years old.” Okay. As we discussed earlier, that’s not all unwise. But our ultimate focus is not on where we’ll be at 60 or 70 or 80. Our focus is where we and others will be 60 or 70 or 80 million years from now, not how our investments are going to look in a couple of decades. That’s the way the world thinks; not the way we should think. How are our investments going to look in a couple millennia? That’ll change the way you spend money. 

One of the arguments—even Christian arguments—against giving now is investing so you can give more later. That’s not necessarily wrong or unwise. At the same time, that kind of thinking can often and unknowingly assume that Wall Street is going to be able to outperform God in the long term. So sure, if you put $10,000 in the market now, it may—and I emphasis ‘may’—grow to tens of thousands of dollars later. Then you can pull it out in 30 years and have tens of thousands of dollars to give away, assuming you will actually be there in 30 years, assuming you will actually give it away in 30 years. Or what if you use that $10,000 now to support a church planter going into an unreached village? What if that church planter, by God’s grace, leads influential people in that people group to faith in Jesus? What if the gospel starts spreading among and through that people group, in this area that was once hostile to Christianity? What if this church, that’s now multiplying for the first time in that region, starts sending missionaries to other people groups around it and some of those other people groups that were once seemingly impossible to reach start coming to Christ? 

Now, obviously 30 years from now, you wouldn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to show for your investment, but you might have tens of thousands of believers. Would that be a wise investment? Do not over-indulge in the temporary and under-invest in the eternal. Don’t miss out on God’s good design for wealth that he gives you. Beware: wealth when attached to its sinful nature will lead you to totally miss it.

Wealth leads to self-centeredness and self-destruction.

Finally, wealth in the hands of sinful people leads to self-centeredness and self-destruction. This is the last part of verse five: “You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” See the self-centeredness here. You’re using your wealth to fill your heart’s desires. “Ah, I want that. This will be good for me. I want this and that and more and nicer and newer.” You thought that would lead to more joy for you. That’s why you did it. It’s what you’re working for for your good. But you don’t realize where it leads. 

It’s like drinking sea water. Sea water has a high concentration of salt. You think, “That will be good for me. I’m thirsty.” But you drink this water and the more you do, the sooner you dehydrate. If you keep drinking it, you start getting headaches, then dry mouth, then low blood pressure and a rapid heart rate. Eventually you become delirious. You go unconscious, then you die. It’s amazing. You see water and think, “That’s what I want.” But then you drink it and unbeknownst to you, you’re killing your body. This is just like more and more money and possessions in this world. You think, “I want it.” You don’t realize it’s a trap. The more you indulge yourself, the more you destroy your soul. It leads to self-destruction. 

That’s not strong language when God has said you’re like cattle, gorging on food, unaware that you’re about to be slaughtered. That’s the language God is using and this is what happened under the judgment of God in the Old Testament. Do you remember Sodom and Gomorrah? When we think about God’s judgment in Sodom and Gomorrah, our minds usually go to sexual sin there. What does Ezekiel 16:49 (NIV) say? “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Overfed and unconcerned. Is this not a description of people who have so much and spend so little on the poor and needy? Is this not a description of us, of the picture we looked at? Overfed and unconcerned. Is God not opening our eyes to a picture of ourselves when left to ourselves and our sinful nature? 

Friends, we need the Spirit of Jesus to save us from ourselves, our sinful nature and the spirit of this world. The good news of the Bible is he has come to do just that. We need the Spirit of the one who, by his grace, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). See how the gospel of Jesus totally transforms our use of riches. 

For those of you who are visiting with us—maybe exploring Christianity—this verse summarizes the greatest news in all the world, the story at the center of the Bible. We are all created by God for relationship with God. We’re made to find our joy, not in more stuff, but in God; to find our satisfaction and security, not in more things in this world, but in the God who made us and the God who rules over this world. We are made for relationship with God. But all of us have turned aside from God and his ways to ourselves and our own ways, one of which we’ve looked at today. There’s a myriad of others.

As a result of our sin against God, we deserve eternal judgment before him. But the good news of the Bible and the greatest news in the world is that God has not left us alone in this state of our sin. God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He left his riches and came to us, lived a sinless life among us. Then, even though he had no sin for which to die, he chose to die on a cross, to be crucified for our sin, to pay the price for our sin against God. Then three days later, he rose from the grave in victory over sin and death, so that anyone, anywhere, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, if you will trust in Jesus as the Savior and  Lord of your life, you will be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God. Through his poverty, you will become eternally rich in God. Everlasting treasure and pleasure are waiting for you for millennia to come, starting right now.

If you’ve never put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we invite you to do that today. When you do, and for all who have, let us stop living according to the spirit of Sodom and start living according to the Spirit of our Savior. So what does that mean? Well, there’s not a playbook that says, “Okay, do exactly this and that.” What we have is James’ words to us earlier in this book. Don’t just hear this word and walk away, but your life looks the same. That is not an option for followers of Jesus. What does it look like to put this word into practice, saying, “I don’t want to live deceived anymore, with a glaring, extremely, eternally dangerous blind spot. I want to do, God, whatever you’re calling me to do.”

Knowing that what he’s calling us to do goes totally against the grain of the world around us, even the supposedly Christian world around us. This is where the imagery of slavery is helpful. It just seems so commonplace; of course we do this. No, at some point, we need to wake up and see this as a blind spot. We’ve got to make major changes in how we give, how we use the wealth God has us.

So let’s hear him and obey him, believing that he is good. He’s the best financial counselor in all of creation. He’s better than any other financial counselor. He knows us. He’s made us for joy. He’s not saying this to us because he hates us. He’s saying this to us because he loves us so much and wants us to experience life—life now and life forever. And not just us, but he wants others around us to experience life. You will not regret trusting God with use of your possessions. 

I want to give you a moment to start reflecting on a few questions. I say start reflecting because surely this word from God requires more than a minute or two of reflection. I want to encourage you to let these questions drive you into getting alone with God this week—on your own, in your families, in church groups with other brothers and sisters in Christ. What does this mean in our lives? Go before God and ask these questions. Think, not just about your life today, but big picture. Maybe even think, “Over the next month, the next year.”

So here are the questions. 

  • God, how are you leading me to change my saving or spending patterns? 
  • God, how are you leading me to change the way I save and spend money? 
  • God, how are you leading me to give more to that which is eternal? 
  • How are you leading me to invest in what will last forevermore in my life? 
  • Specifically, God, how are you leading me to use the wealth I have on behalf of the poor and oppressed, spiritually and physically for the spread of the gospel and the care of people’s physical needs?

I said start asking these questions over the next month. Some of you are thinking, “Really? In December? Like, in light of all the spending that’s already happened?” What better time than now to take a holiday in the name of Jesus and turn it into a materialistic festival? What better time to say, “We want the Spirit of Christ to drive us during this month”?

“How are you leading me to change my saving and spending patterns? How are you leading me to give more to that which is eternal? How are you leading me to use the wealth I have on behalf of the poor and the oppressed?” You will not miss Christmas by answering those questions and putting them into practice as the Spirit of Christ leads you. Do you trust the Spirit of Christ to lead you? 

So I want to give you a moment to spend some time just starting to reflect on these questions. Listen to the Spirit speak to you, then I will lead us together in prayer. Just spend some time with the Lord right now.

O God, we praise you for your love for us. We praise you for your love in sending Jesus to die on a cross for us, to be poor so we might become rich. I pray for anyone in this room or online who has never put their trust in Jesus, that this would be the moment when they say to you, “God, I need you to save me from my sins. I believe you loved me so much that Jesus died on a cross for me. I trust in Jesus as the Savior and Lord of my life.”

God, I pray that people all across this room and others online will turn to you now, knowing tomorrow is not guaranteed. Today is the day of salvation. As they do, and for all who know you as Savior, Lord Jesus, we pray for your Spirit to transform our minds and hearts, not according to the pattern of this world, but transformed according to the ways of your Word. We pray that you would help us hear from you as we continue to process this in the coming days alone, in families and in church groups. Help us hear you and obey you, trusting you every step of the way, that you’re wiser than the wisest in this world. 

We love you God. We praise you for loving us enough to tell us the truth, to open our eyes to blind spots and to course correct in ways that lead, not just to life for us, but to life for others. We pray that this will be the fruit of what you’ve spoken today: joy for us, good for others, and glory to your name. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Observation (What does the passage say?)

  • What type of writing is this text?
    (Law? Poetry or Wisdom? History? A letter? Narrative? Gospels? Apocalyptic?)
  • Are there any clues about the circumstances under which this text was originally written?
  • Are there any major sub-sections or breaks in the text that might help the reader understand the focus of the passage?
  • Who is involved in the passage and what do you notice about the specific participants?
  • What actions and events are taking place? What words or themes stand out to you and why?
  • Was there anything about the passage/message that didn’t make sense to you?

Interpretation (What does the passage mean?)

  • How does this text relate to other parts of the Scriptures
    (e.g., the surrounding chapters, book, Testament, or Bible)?
  • What does this passage teach us about God? About Jesus?
  • How does this passage relate to the gospel?
  • How can we sum up the main truth of this passage in our own words?
  • How did this truth impact the hearers in their day?

Application (How can I apply this to passage to my life?)

  • What challenged you the most from this week’s passage? What encouraged you the most?
  • Head: How does this passage change my understanding of the Lord? (How does this impact what I think?)
  • Heart: How does this passage correct my understanding of who I am to the Lord? (How should this impact my affections and what I feel?)
  • Hands: How should this change the way I view and relate to others and the world? (How does this impact what I should do?)
  • What is one action I can take this week to respond in surrender and obedience to the Lord?

[Note: some questions have been adapted from One to One Bible Reading by David Helm]

David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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