Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
On the whole, I’m easily upset with people who sell Christian “stuff.” You know; crosses, angel statues, Jesus figures, etc. Usually such things are overpriced too, which only makes my opinion of their sellers even worse. Plus you never know if the seller is even a Christian or not. Consider this, there’s a lot of Christian paraphernalia for sale in countries with high crime rates or where the people are poor and hoping to evoke sympathy. Basically I’m insulted that anyone would try to profit off of my Lord and Savior. I’m also fairly insulted that any non-Christian could sport a cross for fashion. I mean, come on, my Lord died on one of those, if you don’t really understand it’s point why are you wearing it? However, God is not me and while I was reading through the Bible, the Holy Spirit showed me how God sees Christian “stuff.”
What he showed me was the Law of Tassels. Check this out:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel (Numbers 15:37-38).
This is such a strange law. After all these other laws from Exodus, Leviticus, and other places in Numbers and everything else, God tacks on, “Oh hey, by the way, put tassels on your clothes.” But what makes it more fun is how God justifies his law,
You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God (Numbers 15:39-40).
God says, “When you see tassels, you’ll think of the law and then obey.” Wait, what? So we’re (well, the Israelites were) supposed to wear tassels so that we’ll (they’d) obey the Law?
What is going on here? This is what the Holy Spirit explained to me: God knows that we’re easily led by what we see. After all, John warns us,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- come not from the Father from the world (1 John 2:15-16).
Our eyes can lead us into sin through what we see. This was proved even way back in the Garden of Eden. Scripture notes that
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6).
The whole fall of man started because a piece of fruit looked delicious. Jesus actually warns people about how dangerous our eyes can be when it comes to the topic of sin. He taught, “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:9). Now, I’ve never heard any pastor recommend we take that literally (lest we’d all be blind in short order), but the verdict from God stands: the eye is very prone to sin. And I think most of us would agree with Solomon’s assertion,
All things are wearisome,
More than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
Nor the ear its fill of hearing (Ecclesiastes 1:8).
The eye doesn’t know when to stop. People don’t get addicted to porn because their hands are out of control, they’re eyes are what leads them. Why do we watch so much TV? Because our eyes love the constant stimulation it brings them. And unfortunately, a lot of what we see isn’t very good for us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:22-23,
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Does this mean that people with bad eyesight are naturally inclined to evil? Of course not! What Jesus is saying is that we are what we look at. You absorb what you see, and the images stay with you. People who’ve experienced the horrors of war will attest to that, as will folks trying to overcome pornography addiction.
Since we’re easily led by our eyes, God therefore recommends some associative imagery in order to keep us in check. For an ancient Israelite it would have played out something like this: You feel like sinning when suddenly you see a tassel on some dude’s clothes and you think to yourself, “That’s such a strange law.” But since you’ve just accessed the Law in your mind, suddenly the law pertaining to the sin you want to commit pops up reminding you that you shouldn’t partake in said sin, therefore you decide not to engage in whatever sin you were considering before you saw the tassel. So by making this kind of awkward and weird law, the Lord was actually doing the Israelites a favor, helping them to keep away from sin.
Ok, let’s translate this into modern times. When we see a cross, angel, or Jesus figure we’re immediately reminded of what that means to us as believers. Sure, a nonbeliever may wear a cross and not know what it means- but we do. And so, when you see someone sporting a cross for fashion, it reminds you of Christ’s sacrifice for your salvation. Paul writes what Christ did for us in Ephesians 2:14-16,
For he himself is our peace, who had made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
So when we see a cross out in the world, we’re reminded that through his death, Jesus did the impossible by making it possible for us, who are forever sinful, to access God who is perfect and cannot accept imperfection. Some stylish person might not know this, but we do and it reminds us of our relationship with Christ. The same goes with filling your house with Christian paraphernalia and pictures and stuff. Is it cheesy? Yes. Are such things overpriced? Yes. Are you probably profiting a non-believer through purchasing such stuff? Yes. However, that stuff keeps your mind on heavenly things. And Paul actually recommends we do all we can to keep our minds on good things. He writes,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things (Philippians 4:8).
We’re called to keep our minds on good, clean things. And it doesn’t get much better or cleaner than Christ, now does it? It is written,
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Scripture tells us that keeping our minds on Jesus helps us to keep going through the difficulties of life and gives us hope for the future. Focus on Christ and you won’t lose heart.
Ok, but what about the fact that many vendors of such things are not Christians themselves and are basically fleecing believers of their cash? Well, according to the Bible, fakers aren’t anything new for the church. Paul writes of fake pastors in Philippians 1:15-18,
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Some people may serve Christ with bad intentions (such as profiting from Christian paraphernalia or fashion crosses); but they are still carrying the message of Christ and what he did for us. We don’t have Jesus in bodily form on earth anymore and these sort of images give our eyes reminders of what is in our hearts: the love of our Savior who died so that we may live with him eternally in heaven. Praise be to our Lord!