A while ago, in my reading, I came across something—a detail, but an important one, really—that I had never noticed before. It was something that got me thinking, and that got me praying—and that got me pondering.
It got me praying and then pondering because it immediately struck me as a detail that hides an essential truth.
If you make a daily habit of reading the Bible, then over the years you tend to come to notice certain qualities of composition that crop up in the efforts of the Biblical authors. One of those qualities is that even the smallest details can be very, very important.
As I was reading in the 11th chapter of Matthew’s account (in the NASB) I noted a list:
The blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised, and
the poor have good news preached to them.1
Did you notice that the first item gives us more detail than the others do? Are you, perhaps, wondering why? I know I was.
That’s what got me praying—and then pondering. Why, I wondered, is it that the writer, here, treats sight as somehow different from the rest? Why is it that sight gets treated as a personal possession?
I have rarely relied on a particular translation to bring a lesson in the Scriptures, preferring to dig into the original languages instead, but there are times when translation can also be inspired.
In this case, the translators had some options. They could have kept all of the items in the same sense, bringing a consistency to the passage, thus: the blind look, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers cleansed, the dead rise, the poor evangelized.1
Or they could have put all of them in the sense of receiving. They made a different choice, though. They chose to make one passive and possessive, thus separating it from the rest.
I think that was inspired translation, bringing it into accord with John 21:22, where Jesus rebukes Peter, saying (according to the NCV), “If I want him to remain until I come, that is not your business. You follow me.”
Many are those who forget to focus on the Shepherd rather than on other sheep. This busybody attitude can leave a person feeling superior to the others around them. And that is a danger, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.2
The other day, in Bible study, I noted that, in the passage we were studying, the Mosaic Law is referred to in the singular, rather than the plural, meaning, of course, that it is all one law—not a collection of many laws, but just one law.
In the garden, Adam and Eve had but one law: do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—one law. Just one. And even though they had only one very simple law they could not even obey that, but rebelled against God’s command. God’s Law is one law, and if you break any one part of it, you have broken all of it.
The details of what you did are irrelevant to the fact that you are a law breaker. The one who thoughtlessly squashes a grape that is not theirs to take is equivalent to the one who takes the life that is not theirs to take. Both are law breakers.
Therefore, the one who thinks themselves not as wicked as some other person—any other person—is sinning by testifying falsely to themselves about themselves. They are, in fact, lying about themselves.
The fact that it is about themselves does not make it any less a rebellion against God. It is, therefore, a thing of wickedness and evil and must be confessed and repented of. God is no less offended by your simple thoughtlessness than by planned wickedness and evil.
Recall, if you will, Jesus’ assessment of the second most important command in all of Scripture. What does He say? You must love your neighbor as yourself.3 Taking it directly from the version of Scripture they would have had, love your neighbor as yourself would be αγαπησεις τον πλησιον σου ως σεαυτον.
Αγαπησεις, being a form of the word αγαπαω, means to sacrifice yourself for the sake of another. Considering yourself above another is a direct slap in the face of the command to consider that other to be above yourself, and is, therefore, a direct slap in the face of God. It is rebelliousness, it is wickedness, it is evil, and it is sin.
Sin must be repented of, or it will cast you into hell.
Do you, now, see the abject—indeed mortal—danger to your eternal soul of seeing yourself as some sort of self-ordained overseer of the Christian walk of those around you? Can you walk more obediently to John 21:22?
The blind receive their sight.1 They are not given the sight of others, but their own—and they do not earn it, but it is given to them. It is given to them by God, though they do not deserve it.
When I took the photograph you see in the masthead4 (with the native version below) and showed it to one of my ministry fellows before adding the self-silhouette and Visions of Love that allow it to be used in a masthead for this newsletter, their exclamation was, “That’s a postcard!” And in a certain sense, it is a thing of beauty, but it is also a warning.
Do you remember the old admonition, “red sky at morning, sailor take warning” advising sailors when it is not wise to sail? That sky is nothing if not a brilliant, gaudy, indeed angry red.
Look closely, and notice that civilization is in darkness with the heavens on fire above. Indeed, it looks as though angry red flames are shooting across the sky over that place that holds itself in such high esteem over those who struggle in their midst.
Before I go further I must make certain that you recognize something about me: I am not better than you. I am no paragon, and today I have been getting reminded of that unalterable fact. There is a standard reply that I like to use whenever anyone asks how I’m doing. Today, for some reason, I got away from that habit. Let me, therefore, address its logic with you.
There are some truths about real life that even the most ardent Christians can be loath to face and address. Rather, they prefer to skip merrily to the cross, thumbing their nose at what is very likely the most powerful created being that God has ever created, and giving that being no respect whatsoever. The arrogant impudence of such behavior should be shocking to us. Alas, it is all too common a thing.
Just who do we think we are that we should behave toward one so powerful as though they were nothing more than an object of derision and laughter and scorn. When we do such things we are thinking too highly of ourselves—far too highly.
As I wrote earlier, the one who thoughtlessly squashes a grape that is not theirs to take is equivalent to the one who takes the life that is not theirs to take. Considering yourself above another is a direct slap in the face of the command to consider that other to be above yourself, and is, therefore, a direct slap in the face of God. It is rebelliousness, it is wickedness, it is evil, and it is sin.
Paul addresses this fact when, in his letter to the Romans, he writes, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.2 He further addresses it when he writes, the wages of sin is death.5
We are not better than the most fallen of the fallen.
Like them, we, too, have rebelled against God. Far more, we are the more responsible, for we have received grace, if indeed we have not falsely believed.
There are hearts that I long for—souls that I would see—but I do not deserve them. If I am to have them, it shall be by grace, for I have no merit of my own.
Indeed, “How many bridges I have burned! Oh! All the pain that I have earned!” We are the more responsible because we know God.
Yet, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,2 and, the wages of sin is death.5 So, how, logically, shall we properly respond when being inquired with regarding the condition of our soul?
“Better than I deserve!”