2 Peter 1:20 can be confusing at times. In the NIV, it says, “[…] no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” The LEB says, “[…] that every prophecy of scripture does not come about from one’s own interpretation.”
What does this mean? It ties closely back to what Peter says earlier about not following clever myths but being eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16). The revelation he spoke about was their experience of God speaking on the mountain. In verse 19 he goes on to say “we have the word of the prophets made more sure.” This experience verified the words of the prophets and their experience was itself a revelation from God.
It is from here that he makes his statement about prophecy. Peter is saying the experience of the apostles verified and supported the words of the prophets. They did not just make up stories. Neither did they twist and abuse the Old Testament prophecy to make it say what they wanted it to say. Many people twist the words of scripture to say what they want it to say. This is not proper behavior because the words of scripture were not given to say whatever you want. Peter goes on in verse 21 to say prophecy originated in the will of God, rather than the will of man. The important consideration is not what I want the scripture to say, but what God meant for it to say. It is not my meaning or interpretation that matters, but God’s intent. Prophecy is how God chooses to speak, and our responsibility is to handle it properly and seek understanding of what God actually says. We are to look for God’s meaning behind the words, not use them to hide our own intentions in a scriptural smoke screen and present the resulting illusion as revelation from God.
This thought continues into the next chapter of Second Peter. Keep in mind, the chapter and verse divisions were added centuries after the actual words were written. Don’t see them with any authority. Chapter 2 verse 1 gives us the counter to those who properly handle the words of prophecy. Peter says that he and the other witnesses to Christ were properly handling the prophecies. But; just as in the past there were false prophets who, rather than speaking for God, spoke their own words for their own intentions; false teachers would rise up in the church misusing the words of the Old Testament and the early Christian writers to introduce and support heresies. He even gives an example of one such heresy: “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.”
In a conversation years ago about something from scripture, a woman said, “There are many interpretations of scripture. It can be made to say anything you want it to say.” Actually, she was quite wrong, but still managed to strike upon the biggest problem we have in the church. There is only one interpretation—the right one, intended by the divine author. Proper exegesis involves seeking that single true interpretation. From this single interpretation, there may be applications. In each of our lives, the words of scripture will apply in any number of ways. A passage applied a certain way in my life may need to be applied in a very different way to your life. So long as these applications are based upon a proper interpretation they are acceptable. Unfortunately, we too often mistake the application for the interpretation. We try to make the way it applies in my life normative for all Christians. This too often leads to legalism. Seek the meaning of the author of scripture. Then look for how to apply that to your own situation and life.
This morning begins a new year. Traditionally this is a time for fresh committal, for resolutions to change and promises to be better this year than last. But how should we judge such things? What does being better look like? Does better mean being lighter, thinner, wealthier, happier, nicer? Funny thing is such commitments to improvement seldom last. The work involved and the self-denial required are seldom understood when making these resolutions. Losing weight requires eating less. Being more financially secure requires earning more or spending less. I won’t even pretend to know what happier looks like. If these things were easy, there would be no need for the resolution—because they would already describe us. However, there is one improvement we can be sure of. Each moment, each day, each year, God is transforming you into the image of Christ. This means next January first you will be more like Christ than you are right now. This is not your resolution, but God’s.
Do you ever worry about the right direction for your life, or the right course of action? Do you find yourself frozen out of uncertainty about what God would have you do in a situation? Though a common problem among the people of God, it is based on an erroneous understanding of God’s desire for our lives. In 1 Samuel 10:7, Samuel encourages King Saul to be confident in making decisions. The verse says, “Once you see these signs, do whatever your hands find to do, because God is with you.” The signs spoken of were the evidence that Saul had received the Holy Spirit. They were not intended to show the right course of action. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit that did that. Well, as a Christian you have the Holy Spirit in a way Saul never imagined. As such, you too can walk through life confident the Lord is with you. You can confidently choose a course of action, trusting the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide you and keep you from the sinful choice. This is God’s desire for your life.
Years ago, I was working as a salesman and one of our stores account reps stopped by my desk and saw my screen saver—this was back in the days when people still used screen savers. It was a saying of mine which said, “Success is the accomplishment of God given goals; failure is the accomplishment of godless goals.” He was quite confused and asked how the accomplishment of a goal could be called failure. The problem is that the world looks at success very differently from a follower of Christ. The worldly person only asks, “What is the goal? And have I accomplished it?” The Christian has to ask, “What should be my goal.” This is part of the problem with our tendency to wonder why God doesn’t do as we want or why he doesn’t bless our efforts. We often fail to ask whether this is where God wants our efforts expended.
In 1 Samuel 10, the Prophet tells the newly anointed King Saul of a transformation soon to come upon him. Verse six says, “The Spirit of God will come upon you powerfully, and you will prophecy. Then you will be transformed into a different person.” If you ask the average person to define themselves they will give you a list of attributes or characteristics. 1 Corinthians 5:17 assures us that we who have come to Christ have been transformed into a new creation. This transformation literally means the list of attributes once describing you has been replaced with a different list. Many of the old attributes remain, such as parenthood, your marital status, or your occupation. But where the list once included such attributes as ‘sin-stained,’ ‘unrepentant,’ ‘self-centered,’ ‘opposed to God’ and many others, it now includes cleansed, repentant, Spirit guided, friend of God. Never forget that when the Holy Spirit came upon you, you became a very different person.