Paul instructs Timothy to acceptably present himself to God by “handling aright the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). How are we to correctly interpret and apply God’s covenant for Christians? First, we approach the Bible with open hearts, open minds, and willing hands. We must recognize that God is the true author of every word we read. We must also recognize that God intends for us to gain wisdom concerning His righteousness and live accordingly. We understand that there are three divisions or dispensations recorded in the Bible: the patriarchal system in which God spoke directly to the head of the family; the Mosaic system in which God revealed the covenant for Jewish people on Sinai through Moses; and finally the new covenant of Christ which fulfilled and superseded the Patriarchal and Mosaic systems. Now all people are accountable to the New Covenant of Christ (Matthew 26:28; 28:19-20) and are invited to live in the age of the Gospel.
HOW TO INTERPRET COMMANDS
In the New Testament we understand that we discover what we are to do and what we are not to do by direct commands, patterns/examples, and inferences. For example, when we approach a command such as “go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15), we see that there are things which are required, things that are excluded, and things that are optional.
First, notice that we are required to preach and we are required to preach the Gospel, and we are required to preach to every creature. We also see that the commission here limits what we are to do. We are limited to preaching the Gospel (the Gospel includes all that pertains to Christ and Christianity). We are not allowed to preach anything except the Gospel. This does not mean that “preaching” is all the church can or should do. The church should be actively involved in worship, benevolence, and fellowship (Acts 2:41-47). There are some things here that are optional. Will a congregation have a “located preacher”, 2 or more preachers, “Sunday School”, midweek Bible study, Gospel Meetings, VBS, lectureships, seminars, support missions overseas, door knocking campaigns, radio/television/internet programs, print literature, use literature, or distribute Bibles? All these things are expedients utilized to carry out the Great commission. Let us never violate a Scriptural principle or command! Never let us to become a one talent servant too fearful to be fruitful!
Examining the 8 passages that discuss and command we sing to God, we see that singing is always commanded. The command further limited by “speaking to yourselves” regulates this area of worship. First we see that we can and must sing. All will agree to this. It is not only an honor, but a Christian privilege. However, we see that the singing is “to one another” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). This is a specification which requires all to sing to one another. Singing for worship and edification is limited to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. One could not sing the latest popular song to God and the church, it is not a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song. The imperative command to “sing” also eliminates playing instruments and anything else which is not singing.
HOW TO INTERPRET ACCOUNTS OF ACTION OR EXAMPLES
Next, we examine examples. When are examples binding as a pattern? Not every account of action is binding as common sense reveals. As a general rule: an account of action becomes a binding example when there is an underlying command. If the 1st Christians recognized they were required to do a certain thing and/or do a certain thing a certain way, then all Christians are bound by that example.
An example would be the proper way to observe the Lord’s Supper. By example, we learn that we must have unleavened bread and fruit of the vine as the elements of the Supper. We also see that the early church had the Supper on every 1st day of the week, the Lord’s Day. These aspects of the Supper are binding on all Christians. However, we are not bound to one cup, an upper room, or afternoon observance of the Supper (since it is a “supper” as some have claimed). There is no significance to the number of cups, location of the room, or hour of observance on the 1st day of the week. There is tremendous significance and an identifiable pattern to the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine and the 1st day of the week or the Lord’s Day observance.
In applying these rules, it is prayerfully hoped that the church of our Lord can be both faithful and productive. We must avoid the legalistic mindset that forbids any good works by binding laws which God did not make. We must also avoid liberalism which goes beyond the boundaries God has established. Being balanced upon the Gospel of Christ is the only way God’s people may be both fruitful and faithful in the Lord’s work and worship.