Many years ago my wife mentioned to me one of the most important words in the Bible that changed how she approached the scriptures. That one important word that needs to be underlined every time we see it is the word “therefore.”
Likewise, we came to see other similar words and phrases to be underlined are “since” and “above all else” and “remember” or various combinations as in “let us therefore.” Action words like these tell us what is important in the author’s mind and what God wants to have emphasized.
It reminds me of how I used to read a textbook and prepare for a test. Do you remember what it was like when you were back in school preparing for a test or a final exam? I remember learning the hard way how not to do it.
One time in my 7th grade history class I had spent hours memorizing who had won every battle during the American Civil War. I had the dates and even many of the generals down pat. Unfortunately, the teacher didn’t ask on the test who had won the battle of Bull Run or Gettysburg. I had miscalculated what the teacher thought was important for me to know.
I learned the hard way that the whole idea of preparing for any exam is you’ve got to get into your teacher’s head to determine what is important to him or her and likely to be on their test. It’s by trial and error we all learned to always read the book and pay particular attention whenever the teacher used certain buzz words or phrases —simple ones like “Now listen up!” and “The most important thing to remember is this….”
When those words were spoken your head went down and you started frantically scribbling in your notes. Sometimes the teacher strung two or three of these catch phrases in a single sentence and even threw out a warning “now this will be on the test.” At that moment all day-dreaming ceased and you put a star before you wrote down the three events that lead to the southern states seceding from the Union. Even if there were other causes it didn’t matter, because those are the three that the teacher thinks are important and they will be on the test.
Later on at the university level there’s a good chance the teacher or professor wrote the book you’re studying so everything he (or she) wrote in that book is important and you’d better pay particular attention to the words he uses along with any and all of those past catch phrases you’ve come to master in note taking because that is “very important.” Every “therefore” or “it’s important to remember” or “the main thing I’m trying to say is” or “above all else” becomes critical information if you want to pass the class. Also, if he repeats something over and over then you know it must be very important. When you read each chapter of his book, you can also see general themes that repeat themselves to show their emphasized value.
Here’s where I’m going with this: If the book written by your professor tells you in writing what is important to him, how about the greatest book ever written, the Bible, penned through the Spirit of the Living God? Should those catch phrases and words emphasized by the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2) play a part in how we approach His Word and how we live our lives?
Our Approach to the Most Important Book Ever Written
Of course, there are many differences between an approach to a college textbook and an approach to scripture. The understanding of what the Author of scripture desires as a goal or purpose for man (which is righteousness through faith leading to eternal life with God) is revealed through His Spirit, so we can understand the Gospel of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. In II Cor. 3:14-16 Paul wrote, “For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”
Paul wrote in Rom. 11:7-8 “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.”
The Bible is the living Word of God. We can only understand its meaning because of the grace of God revealing it to us as we respond to God’s calling and turn to the Lord, not and never because of our or any man’s great intellect to figure out the mind or plan of God. You can have high intelligence, but without His Spirit the Gospel is nothing but a stumbling block if you are a Jew or foolishness if you are a gentile (I Cor. 1:23). Some highly intelligent biblical scholars may not openly call it “foolishness” but treat it as such. On TV (usually PBS) you can see theologians discrediting any biblical miracles as myths that evolved over time. To them the gospel accounts are nothing but “the Jesus story” evolving with the telling like all the various religions in the world do.
True understanding of God’s will is revealed to us in the Bible and comes only through the mind of Christ in us. It is no ordinary book. Paul shows how no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God is in him “because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2: 11-14). You and I only have understanding of this Book because God in His mercy and love opened our minds to begin to understand His “living” word (Heb. 4:12).
Peter warned the brethren that “among you” there will be many false prophets and teachers using “feigned words” appealing to our human desires who will deceive many (II Pet. 2:1-3). Ever since the Garden of Eden mankind has always tried to resist the instruction coming from God to justify having its own way. We will line up teachers skilled in scripture manipulation who are willing to validate what we want to believe, rather than hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd who speaks to His sheep (John 10:27). Carnal men want to believe a lie.
If you haven’t turned to Christ or you’re not sure if you have, then examine yourself, turn to Him in repentance of your sins. Ask Him to give you understanding. Read His words and those spoken through His Apostles. Hear His voice. Repent and be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Grow in your faith of God so your eyes can truly see.
When we do have eyes to see it’s because we abide in Him. We can’t credit any understanding with our great intellect, but only His grace. There can be teachers and others who will come along with their own agendas trying to lead us astray, but John wrote regarding them in I John 2:27 “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” Christ Himself is our Teacher or Rabbi and Master (Matt. 23:8). There may be godly men serving among us with the gift of teaching or explaining or expounding on scriptures helping to make them easily understood, but none are “The Teacher”. Again, Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice…” (John 10:27).
Most important in our lives are the teachings of Jesus and those men with the mind of Christ in them (His Apostles) who are the foundation stones His church is built upon (Eph. 2:20). Their words written in what we call “The New Testament” are filled with those purpose and action words such as “therefore”, “since”, “above all else” and “remember” or various combinations as in “let us therefore” that we spoke about earlier in looking at a textbook. A true teacher with Christ in Him will have the exact same priorities and purpose as Jesus and His Apostles (see the 3 part Gospel Revealed series on this website).
A Substitute Teacher
Just to make a point, let’s imagine going to a university class on 19th century American History (some of you are now saying to yourself “boring…”), but this is just an analogy so please follow along with me. On the first day of class the professor, who wrote the textbook and also wrote the final exam, announced that he’s been called away for some advisory duties, but that he’ll be back in time to administer the final exam. In the meantime we are to be sure to read his book and be ready for the final exam when he returns.
Now the university has assigned a substitute teacher to fill in while the professor is away. The substitute teacher we get is from the south. While chapter 15 in the textbook talks about the Civil War, he’ll cite the textbook as such, but he usually calls it “the War Between the States.”
He quotes from the professor’s textbook line upon line and here a little and there a little, but only to prove a point he is trying to make. He has all kinds of syllabus material for us about the genealogy of Robert E. Lee and the early victories over the Union army. We learn of the brilliance of Stonewall Jackson and how his battlefield tactics are still studied at West Point today. The substitute teacher even spends 45 minutes lecturing on the spending habits of Mrs. Lincoln and the impact of public opinion at the time.
All of what this substitute teacher was teaching is true. He’s teaching the truth. All of what he was teaching seemed relevant to the subject and for many in the classroom General Grant’s proclivity toward imbibing liquor was interesting information. The problem was that much of what he was teaching was not in the professor’s book and wasn’t what the professor would have thought was important.
There are all kinds of interesting truth out there for us to learn from a substitute teacher (or preacher). We can learn all about the under-ground railroad. We can learn the name and address of the little girl who sent Abraham Lincoln a letter suggesting he grow a beard. Maybe her letter is behind glass at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, IL, and we can go there to see it.
So what happens when the professor comes back to administer the final exam? Most of us would probably fail the test. Why? Everything we would have learned would have been truthful. Everything we would have learned might have been interesting. Everything might have seemed relevant to better our understanding. But, if it wasn’t in the professor’s book or only given a passing reference by him, then in the professor’s mind it wasn’t very important and wasn’t going to be in the final exam.
You see, it would have been perfectly fine for any of us to study about the different battle outcomes, or read the speeches of Frederick Douglas, or memorize the Gettysburg Address, or even know the source of the blue indigo dye used to color the Union uniforms, provided we first and foremost and last and finally studied the book and read what the professor thought was important, so we’d pass the exam. What were the professor’s buzzwords, key points and concluding “therefores”?
Otherwise, what we have learned can easily be considered a diversion or a distraction from what the professor felt was important. That’s how many football games and military battles are won or lost. Hit them with what seems to be relevant truth and then when they’re distracted do an end-run on them. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know how we can be easily distracted with things that are true. Distraction is something we learn early on in life.
For example, as the story goes, back in the 19th century there was a newspaper editor (it might have been someone like Horace Greeley) who was looking for a boy to learn the newspaper business from the ground up with the idea of eventually becoming an apprentice reporter. So he placed an ad for the position in his newspaper and sure enough, at 3:30 that Friday afternoon his office was filled with boys from ages 9 to 12 wanting the job.
The editor told the boys he wanted to first tell them all a story. He said, “Once upon a time there lived a king whose prize horse had run off into the forest, so he sent his most trusted knight, Sir Rodney, to go find him. Sir Rodney hadn’t gone but a mile or so into the forest when his horse reared up at the sight of a large bear right in front of him. This caused Sir Rodney to fall off his horse. While reaching for his sword the bear began to charge. Sir Rodney dropped his sword and quickly started climbing the tree beside him. Higher and higher he climbed with the bear climbing up right behind him. He could feel the bear’s hot breath right at his heels. He managed to make it to one of the highest limbs when the branch snapped and Sir Rodney began to fall. One by one each branch broke his fall until he landed on his side when he hit the ground. The bear had turned to go after Sir Rodney but the branch he was on also gave way and so the bear started to fall.”
At this point in the story, the editor asked the boys, “Now, do you have any questions?” One by one the excited boys asked questions. “Was Sir Rodney injured in the fall?” “Did the bear land on Sir Rodney?” “Was he able to get to his sword?” “Did the bear kill Sir Rodney?” Finally, when they were all out of questions the editor noticed a hand up from a little 9-year-old boy in the back of the room. The little boy said, “I have a question. Did they ever find the king’s horse?” Needless to say, he got the job.
There are many things that are interesting and oftentimes even truthful pertaining to this physical life, but not very important in the big scheme of things. In this world there are many voices that can tug at you. There are interesting Bible facts shared by others on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere on the internet. There are Bible teachers out there who, like that substitute teacher, will teach truth, even in sincerity and conviction, but although it is truth, it can become a diversion from what is important or very important (spiritual truth in the Kingdom of Heaven). Again, it’s not that it’s wrong to learn lots of things, including Biblical topics, provided we don’t get distracted from what is most important. The real danger with knowledge, even though it is truthful, is when the substitute teachers emphasize the wrong things and then those things take on a life of their own and become a paradigm. Without even realizing it you can once again “have a veil over your eyes” by not staying focused on the truth of the Gospel of Christ crucified.
Paradigms of Christianity (churchianity)
Paradigms exist in all religious organizations. It was true 2,000 years ago and it’s still true today. For example, in Matt. 23:23 Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Luke 11:42 includes “the love of God”). The scribes and Pharisees had their financial agenda. It was a diversion from what was very important. They were so busy taking care of the hedges they had built around certain laws that there was no time or eagerness to concentrate on judgment, mercy or faith or the love of God.
I remember my first year in college when we were going through a harmony of the gospels, and we came upon this same verse. After reading the verse, the teacher spent the next 45 minutes proof-texting a tithing doctrine. Just like the Pharisees 2,000 years earlier with their financial agenda diversion from what was important, we too spent so much time covering tithing that there was no time in class to discuss judgment, mercy, faith or the love of God. Nor were these the major subjects of most of the sermons I remember that were given during my 4 years at college. The teacher didn’t understand what Jesus was saying in Matt. 23:23, but he was right about one thing he used to say: “history repeats itself.”
In our class we were doing exactly the opposite of what Christ was telling the Pharisees to do and like them, we didn’t understand. This was all because we were in a paradigm of our own making and didn’t see it. Discovering you’re in a paradigm can be a difficult truth to accept. The religious community in Jesus’ day was in their own paradigm. They had their way of worshiping God and traditions concocted by men that Jesus considered to be like old pieces of cloth or old wine skins that were incompatible with His new message (Mark 2:21-22). The truth of the Gospel was a stumbling block to them. Jesus warned the people about “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and how “broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13-15).
No matter what church organization we have been in or are currently affiliated with be it “the one true church”, “the best church” or “most compatible church” we need to take a fresh look at the New Testament, even like we would a text book, to see if we’re in a religious paradigm. If the Teacher (our Savior) in those red letters in the Gospel accounts is warning us about false teachers in the last days and virtually every letter written by an Apostle has a warning about false teachers, false prophets and false doctrines being promulgated, not out there in the heathen world, but among God’s people, this should give us pause. Likewise, in the Book of Revelation, every letter to the 7 churches (God’s people) from Jesus also shouts out a warning about those who “say they are apostles, but are not”, the “Nicolaitins”, “them that say they are Jews, but are not”, “them that hold the doctrine of Balaam”, “that woman Jezebel” etc. Think about it! If Jesus and the New Testament teachers are shouting out “warning, warning, warning” to the brethren, but your “Pastor Bob” is preaching the equivalent of “sunshine and lollipops” or how we can all just get along and messages to make you feel better about yourself, you are probably in a paradigm. You would need to take a fresh look at The Book instead of just listening to a substitute teacher. If you are part of a large church organization, and they are essentially telling you to “just trust and obey” the dictates of the church headquarters, then you are also probably in a paradigm and need to re-read the Book.
We all should re-read it afresh like we’re in a class to see what our Professor, our Rabbi, our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ says is most important. Look at the content again. We should also look for those buzz-words that God inspired his servants to write down for us. Words like “therefore” and “remember” and “above all else, let us….” When we compare those key phrases with what could be called “churchianity’s” we will often find a night and day difference.
Just like the example given on Matt. 23:23 we can begin by reading our church’s various doctrinal proof-texts or memory verses. These often have an agenda to prove others wrong that can distort the meaning of the text or get our minds focused on things the author didn’t have in mind. In other words, we can be so focused on a subject like the three days & three nights that there’s no time to think about and rejoice because “He has risen!” To give another example, here’s a question you can ask yourself: Why do brethren come together once a week on the Sabbath to fellowship with other believers?
The answer to that question comes flying out of our mouths because we’ve all heard it many times. It’s like we’ve been programmed or “in-doctrine-ated”. The Bible says, we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. It’s the same answer given at the Lutheran Church, the Assemblies of God and every other church out there. It’s churchianity’s call for church attendance.
What’s the important purpose for “the assembling of ourselves together”? The answer to that lies in reading the entire sentence otherwise the phrase is incomplete. We wouldn’t do that with any other book so why do it with the Bible? For example, the US Naval Manual undoubtedly says “You shall fire at will” but if that’s all you read you might wind up blowing up the ship next to you or lobbing artillery shells on San Diego. Oh, it says “When the enemy has been sighted and the commanding officer gives the command, you shall fire at will.” Now that makes sense. Scholars will call it proper exegesis or a principle of hermeneutics, but it’s just common sense. Finish the sentence and read the context. So let’s do that.
Heb. 10:24-25 “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
If you or I attend a church fellowship as a spectator to sing a few songs, listen to announcements, hear a sermon, close with prayer and after services discuss world events or politics or even the coming Super bowl with some brethren over a cup of coffee, we would not be following the biblical admonition of assembling ourselves together. Re-read what Paul wrote. The reason for coming together is not for you to “inculcate your spiritual food for the week”, but for you to stir up or provoke love and good works in one another and to exhort (admonish) one another.
It’s not about “going to church” (you are the church), but it’s about one on one loving relationships. As a side light, sometime if you have access to the Blue Letter Bible on the computer just put in the phrase “one another” and look at all the scriptures about loving one another along with greet one another, admonish one another, serve one another, confess your faults to one another, comfort one another, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, edifying one another, exhort one another and so on. We are to be actively involved with others in the faith. We assemble ourselves together not as spectators, but as participants.
Note, this call for us to “consider one another” in order to stir up love and good works in one another and “exhorting one another” is especially true as you see the Day (of the Lord) approaching (v-25) when, because of the lawlessness of the times, the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). Christianity is not a spectator exercise. This stirring up in one another love and good works is one of those calls to action for what we should be doing especially at the end time when many lose faith.
In subsequent articles for sharing on this website we are going to take a fresh look at the approach of Christ and His Apostles toward end-time prophetic events. We’ll see that most of the end-time “you gotta…” or “let us therefore…” given by church organizations and televangelists toward the brethren regarding time being short are not the same ones as given by the New Testament writers.
We’ll also look at the Kingdom of God based on what is given by those same writers of the New Testament. Why did Matthew in writing to a primarily Jewish audience call it the Kingdom of heaven instead of the Kingdom of God?
We are going to take a second look at what the Gospel really is all about. Why did Jesus preach the gospel of the “Kingdom of God” and Paul preach the gospel of “Christ crucified” or “the gospel of grace? Is there a difference?
Hopefully, the articles shared on this website will remind us all to read these scriptures again to hear our Lord’s voice, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Many of us who have been in what could be called churchianity’s paradigm truly have a lot to let go of as we embrace God’s truth as given in the scriptures.
As we re-read the scriptures we can start looking for those words and phrases in scripture such as “therefore”, “since” and “above all else” and “remember” or various synonyms of these or combinations as in “let us therefore….” What we’ll find is not so much what one sister calls “the keepins & the doins” nor will we find various churchy catch phrases which have been promulgated and repeated for generations. You won’t find James, Peter, John or Paul (who thought they were living in the last days) writing to the brethren saying, “Above all else you gotta get out there and win more souls for Jesus” or “you gotta watch world events” or many of the other “you gottas” often promulgated by many preachers from the pulpit. Instead we will see an emphasis on love, good works and living sanctified lives as new creatures in Christ yielding to God’s Holy Spirit working in us to grow (mature) to perfection.
Paul wrote, “Therefore, as the elect, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another…. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called, in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:12-17 NKJV). James wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27 NKJV). When figuratively “the role is called up yonder” you might say our Teacher won’t be asking about church attendance records, church committee meetings, sermons preached, special doctrinal understandings, Hebraic idioms or Christian websites. Instead, He will ask about your love through taking care of those physical and emotional needs of “the least of these my brethren” and how you had done it unto Him. Showing God’s love and obeying Him is what pure religion and being a Christian is all about. There will be a lot of people failing the final exam– religious people, full of biblical knowledge, who never noticed others who were hungry, thirsty or just lonely. They, along with other religious folk who even cast out demons in Christ’s name and did many mighty works, but didn’t do the will of the Father in Heaven, also will have failed the true final exam. They will have ignored what was truly important that was written in the Book. We are to be those who keep His commandments which are based on loving God with all our heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are to have the very mind of Christ in us and reflect who He is by our thoughts and deeds.
God considers us His new creation (I Cor. 5:17). Like His physical creation, God is figuratively saying about us “let there be light.” We can see that since we are saved by grace through faith we have become His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10). The word translated “workmanship” is the same Greek word poyeema that is used only one other place in the Bible. It is translated “things that are made” in Rom. 1:20. Just as in God’s creation “the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen by the things that are made (poyeema)“, so it is to be with us as new creatures in Christ who are His “poyeema” workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are like the leaves and the sunsets. His invisible attributes should be clearly seen in us– His loving kindness, His tender mercies, His goodness, His willingness to forgive, His grace and all that He is. In Christ Jesus we are to be salt and light to the world– to the just and the unjust for we are His “poyeema” reflecting in our lives all that He is. In your life today and every day as His new creation “let there be light.” Let’s in essence be living the gospel that we share and reflect His love, all to the glory of God.
The more we read those words like “therefore” and “above all else” in the scriptures and look for repeated patterns in His Book, the more we will see that our sojourn in this life always has been and always will be about love for that’s what God is.
The Bible contains God’s instruction for you. “Therefore….”
Written by Lee Lisman