Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Christianity is the ultimate counter-culture. Paul once wrote,
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).
Belief in Christ goes against our human nature and everything the world tells us. You need look no further than the debate between evolutionists and creationists- heck, even watching a few episodes of the newer Star Trek series will make it clear that the world doesn’t agree what the Bible teaches (though the original series is surprisingly God-friendly). The Holy Spirit reminded me of all of this as I was reading my Bible and contemplating on how people think.
What primarily motivates us? Generally speaking, our needs (or our perceived needs). Where do these needs come from? They seem to be instinctual. Just like the animals that share our world we seek food, shelter, procreation, recreation, and (exclusive to humans as far as I know) we seek something to cover ourselves with (that is, clothes). I’ve heard many pastors note that sin comes from God-given desires that have gotten horribly out of control. Our desire to eat and be safe becomes greed, our desire for love and affection becomes lust, our desire for justice becomes a thirst for revenge and so on. But Jude suggests this is not the case entirely, and what we see as natural or basic may actually be extremely destructive. Check it out,
Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals- these are the very things that destroy them (Jude 1:10).
Jude notes that our instincts are our enemies and that they blur the line between us and animals- and here I thought that Christians were supposed to be the sheeple!
Consider this, what did Adam and Eve worry about in the Garden of Eden? As it seems from Scripture, nothing:
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
The first couple had the whole garden ahead of them, free of any restrictions (minus that one tree over there) that they could enjoy. And you have to keep in mind that even though God spoke of death, it was a concept relatively alien to Adam and Eve since it hadn’t existed until God finished that sentence and didn’t come into play until after the first sin. Our current desires and worries were totally nonexistent in the Garden of Eden. Take a look at how the first sin was committed,
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).
Eve didn’t feel a need to eat from the tree; it just didn’t seem all that bad and some snake said it had special properties. So the original sin was committed less out of an enflamed desire, but rather an innocent curiosity and lack of concern as to potential punishment (again, God had just recently invented death and never actually used it). But as soon as the first couple ate, what happened? History records, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7). “HOLY CRAP WE NEED CLOTHES!” This supposedly natural and instinctive desire to clothe ourselves came after, not before the fall of man. In fact, this basic need was the sign to God that something was amiss; we read as God responds, “And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’” (Genesis 3:11) So we find that our needs and desires are perhaps not so God-given after all but rather are an effect of our fallen world and our inborn sin nature.
I focus specifically on clothes because Jesus did so as well when he was teaching people. Jesus tells us,
So do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them (Matthew 6:31-32).
Are you kidding me J-man? Wanting to be clothed is comparable to paganism? I gotta cover up, don’t I? This is where Christianity gets so counter-culture. We’re told by Jesus to throw caution to the wind and focus solely on kingdom of God. Jesus tells us that our concern should be on spreading the Gospel: “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’” (Mark 16:15). But what does he want us to bring as we head out into the world to spread the good news? Well, let’s see what he told his disciples when he sent them out in Luke 9:3, “He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey -no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.’” What should we bring for our journey? Nothing! So really, when Paul writes,
For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)
he’s not only talking about people who are going to hell smelling death on Christians, but quite honestly that what Christ preaches is really certain death. I mean, check out what Jesus taught us,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6:25)
“Don’t care about food, shelter, or clothing,” what!? Are you kidding me Jesus? I need to eat to live, don’t I?
But believers are called not to worry about what we perceive as our basic needs. Paul writes,
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want (Galatians 5:16-17).
Now, to be fair, that “flesh” word gets translated in a whole bunch of different ways; but I think Paul used it exactly for that purpose. From a spiritual level, Paul is talking about our sin nature wanting us to do wrong; but on the physical level our bodily “needs” often drive us (causing us to sin). We see this double-usage in play in 1 Corinthians 6:13 as Paul writes, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” –but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Therefore it seems we’re not supposed to act on our perceived “needs.” Of course though, with this command there is a promise: God has it all under control. Check out what he says about food: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable then they?” (Matthew 6:26). It seems the actual lesson we should be preaching isn’t “God helps those who help themselves” but rather “God helps those who apparently show little regard for their own wellbeing.” But the Lord has our needs under control. Check out what he told us in Job 38:39-41:
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
And satisfy the hunger of the lions
When they crouch in their dens
Or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
When its young cry out to God
And wander about for lack of food?
God makes it fairly clear that he takes care of all the animals on the earth- and that we outrank them; so those who follow Christ shouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
And what of clothes? Jesus taught,
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30)
God’s got you covered- literally. The Lord even upgraded the first couple’s duds after they sinned: “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).
“I was born that way,” “It’s natural to want that,” and other excuses of that sort apparently are not legal tender when it comes to the Lord. We’re called to go against all of that and lean entirely into the Lord. The Bible records Jesus,
He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:20-23).
These things aren’t needs gone wild; they’re the product of the sin in our hearts trying to dictate our lives. Sure, you were born that way (as sin is in our blood), but the Lord tells those who follow him to resist the flesh and its desires. Trust God first, and he’ll take care of the details, because he knows what you really need (and even what you want).
Rock on God!