Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
It’s quite amazing to realize how much we can lose focus on things. Most people chase after money, or pleasure, or even just the freedom to do anything they feel like. But they don’t consider the future- that is to say; many people do not consider their eternity. Sure, an atheist will tell you that when you’re dead, you’re dead so you might as well live it up while you have the chance, and by saying that they’re in line with their belief system. But it always shocks me to see how many Christians and members of other religions get caught up in worldly things too. Take for example, church goers. I’ve seen so many people come to church dressed to the hilt- now I’m not saying it’s bad to look good for God. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the Lord doesn’t care about fancy jewelry, accessories, and bags- that’s not for God, that’s for the people. And have you heard of these name-it-claim-it Christians? Now I’m all about frequent prayer and asking God for everything I want, but the focus isn’t on say…claiming world peace or food for a starving nation, no, the claim is on a new car or some other luxury item. Luckily, as always, when we’re getting off track, Jesus is there to put us back on course.
After his big triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus still did a fair amount of teaching to his disciples and anyone who’d be in earshot. One day, while they were at the temple, Jesus caught his disciples getting distracted by the world around them. Scripture records,
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things? he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2).
This quick prophecy from our Savior served as a teaser to what would be his large chapter-spanning apocalyptic message for the future to come. Jesus was of course right though, and years later the amazing temple was completely destroyed by Rome. But the Holy Spirit showed me that this is more than just a prediction, through his mini-prophecy, Jesus was also teaching his disciples a lesson. To understand this, the Spirit had me consult with King Solomon (via his teachings in the Bible of course). First, let’s look at the basic part of this; Jesus didn’t want his disciples to focus on the grand buildings. Why is that? Well Solomon tells us from his experience,
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I mad gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well- the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me (Ecclesiastes 2:4-9).
Solomon did it all, he did pretty much anything a man or woman may want to do (and even more too). In terms of the world and its pleasures, he tasted everything and tried it all. On top of all of this, he amassed great treasures and built grand buildings (including the original temple). And yet, as he indulged in power, pleasure, and architecture, he came to a realization that God wants us to remember,
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
And this was the reward for my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
And what I had toiled to achieve,
Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
Nothing was gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).
While he was building, amassing, and collecting, Solomon had fun and enjoyed himself. However, when all was said and done, he realized that he had wasted his time and he didn’t even enjoy all that he had gained. But there’s even more than that, Solomon realized that after a lifetime of doing and getting, he was an old man who had spent his whole life doing and getting. Not only that, but he had seen others make the same mistake as well. We read in Ecclesiastes 5:13-16,
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
Wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner,
Or wealth lost through some misfortune,
So that when he has a son
There is nothing left for him.
Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
And as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor
That he can carry in his hand.
This too is a grievous evil:
As a man comes, so he departs,
And what does he gain,
Since he toils for the wind?
Solomon realized that all he had done was for naught, because he couldn’t take any of it with him. He couldn’t even take the pride with him for his great achievements, for the greatest of buildings can’t match God’s creation. Also, Solomon had seen others fall into his same folly, and some of them had become bankrupted by their greed so that they couldn’t even leave anything to their loved ones. When it came down to it, no matter how much a person amassed or gained, they were never able to fully enjoy it at the end of their life, nor could they enjoy it in the afterlife either. Solomon writes,
I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2).
Those of you who have heard the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” or “Name-It-Claim-It” preaching, take note: God may give you what you want- no matter what it is. However, the Lord is more interested in you learning a lesson than doing the Scrooge McDuck money dive. Therefore, you might get what you want, but it may not last. I think that the recent global economic decline has taught a lot of people this lesson quite well. After you toil and work and collect and amass, likely it’s going to someone else; either while you’re still alive so that you can learn something or after you die.
Because of his knowledge on this topic, Jesus implored his disciples to not focus on the world, but rather on heaven. During his famed “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus preached,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
Jesus wanted us to remember that whatever we gain here on earth is subject to the earth, meaning it can be destroyed or taken away- and most certainly it won’t come with you when you depart from this earth. To illustrate this, he told a story about a man who stored up earthly things and what became of him in Luke 12:16-20,
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”
Just as Solomon had said, when a person saves up for themselves, God often won’t let him enjoy it. Ok, but what about people who are saving up for their children? Even here we see that Solomon wasn’t off the mark. For the Bible records,
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:11-13).
Those who are saving up and amassing with their children in mind should take note that one has no control over how another will handle what they’re given. In this case Solomon was proved right that indeed, the father’s riches went to some stranger as his son blew his half of the family fortune on wild living. Those of you who focus on earthly things be warned. For the Word of God does not promise sustained wealth. In fact, the Bible suggest quite a different take on what will happen to the world and all that is in it. We read,
The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-forth day of the month: “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother (Haggai 2:20-22).
God promises to shake the heavens and the earth. Everything here on earth will be shaken and there will be times of great loss. If a kingdom cannot stand against God, nor can any power you get, stuff you collect, or projects you head. This is why Paul writes to us,
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Paul realized that chasing after the wind was already something that Solomon advised against (as we read), and so instead he applied to his life the teachings of Jesus, which was to build up treasures in heaven. This means that at times he had to deny himself of worldly pleasures and fight against what he wanted in order to better build up his crown waiting for him with God.
It’s hard, we’re surrounded by stuff, and it’s so tempting to run after this and that, but it’s not what the Lord called us to do. Does he provide wealth? Of course, but the Lord doesn’t expect that we live for that wealth, but rather live our lives in submission for his will based on his Word. Even our Lord and Savior, while in the world, did not live as the world lives, but lived for God, and he was rewarded for it in heaven. Paul writes to us,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made himself nothing,
Taking the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death-
Even death on a cross!
Therefore god exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus didn’t run after all that he could get. Instead, he became a servant to the Lord and followed God to his own death. Obviously, Jesus’ case is special when compared to our lives, but even so Paul tells us that our attitude should be the same. Jesus was willing to suffer in this life in order to receive his reward after ascending to heaven. But if Jesus’ case seems too extreme for you, consider Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. Of them the Lord tells us,
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11:13).
Even the founders of the faith were looking ahead to heaven, realizing that they wanted more than the world could give them. And in their quest, they didn’t receive all that they could get from God, as many Christians are trying to get; rather they died looking forward to the kingdom of heaven and what was waiting for them there. Or what about Moses? The Bible records,
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Again we’re faced with a Biblical hero who scorned all that the world could give him for the sake of his God. He wasn’t focusing on what he could see, but rather what was being stored up for him in heaven. Moses was in agreement with Paul, who also gave up his background in order to achieve glory for God and riches in heaven. Paul writes to us now who may not have all that we want, or may even be in great need or terrible suffering,
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
From Moses to Solomon to the disciples of Jesus to Paul to you and me; God is calling us not to focus on the world and what the world calls great. For one day, any day that the Lord chooses, it can all disappear and then what will we have? We will have only what is waiting for us in heaven.
For those of you already in Christ, don’t let the world distract you. Nothing that is here will last and in fact a large part of our doctrine is rather dependant on that fact (you can’t have a “New Heaven and New Earth” unless the old pass away). Instead, build up for yourself mansions and Scrooge McDuck-esq vaults of riches in heaven, even at the cost of living a simple life here on earth. But for those of you who have not yet allowed Jesus into your lives and gotten your ticket into heaven through accepting his blood sacrifice on your behalf- don’t waste another moment. Jesus once posed to his disciples, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) On this earth we’ve got, what, 80 years? 100 if you’re lucky? But once your time here is up (or God calls you early), what then? If you haven’t come to Jesus, not only do you have no treasure in heaven, but you also have no place there either. Stop looking for what the world can give you, because in the end, not one stone will be left upon another. Seek out treasure in heaven, where death and destruction don’t even exist, you won’t regret it.