readings

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Once again, I realize how so important it is to read through the New Testament as a whole. That’s something drilled into me, along with a love for primary sources, in college. Don’t read snippets, or chapters, or key verses. Read the whole thing. A person may be able to walk down the evangelistic Roman Road without having any idea what it was Paul was about in the Book of Romans.

The jumping around means missing all sorts of important details, details that seem to generally be prefaced by the all important “therefore.” We like the initial thoughts, the points about Christ’s work and salvation, his coming, his going, his coming again. We tend to ignore the various therefores. Or, rather we replace them. “We are saved by grace,” we say, “so therefore…” and we go on to make up our own therefore depending on our tradition. Some therefores have little more than evangelism, which as far as I can tell makes up exactly one therefore in the entire New Testament (albeit a very important one). Other therefores include putting together complex liturgical responses, even as many of the actual therefores are prefaced by saying such are not at all important.

Like all the world we take a little of the God we are told about and then decorate him up in our own images. We insist God wants what we feel he should want, and we justify it all with excitement and indignation and dismissal of those who disagree.

It’s a worthwhile study, therefore, to study the therefores. I highly recommend it. From what I can tell, the great majority of therefores entail the idea we really shouldn’t sin anymore. We’ve been saved by grace, sure thing, so now what? Act like it. We haven’t been saved so that we can bounce around in glee and distraction. We’ve been saved so that finally we can get to work. And it is in our responding to the various therefores that we become the sorts of people who naturally resonate the Holy Spirit, and through our lives preach the Gospel, with our words following with true wisdom.

Unfortunately by replacing the therefores with our own therefores we create a false work, a work for God but not of God, even when this work seems so utterly devoted to God. God wants us to do what he wants us to do because he’s very good at his own work. We think we’re smart, only we’re not. We’re bumblers. We have no idea what’s going on in the wider world of physical and spiritual. Which again means it’s important to read the plan God has developed and taught. He tells us the what, and he tells us the why, and he tells us the what then. We like the what so much we ignore the rest, and then folks ignore us because our what never has quite the bite of God’s what.

So deep are we in it, however, that we take this rejection as a rejection of God himself. We think we are reflecting him, and so any rejection of our efforts is a dismissal of God, when in fact God often dismisses us for much the same activities. Knowledge isn’t wisdom. God wants us to seek wisdom, not merely knowledge, and this requires following all those various therefores. Otherwise we get confused, and others get confused, and the whole party becomes a wreck.

Christians will suffer for preaching the Gospel. But, to have merit we have to make absolutely sure we are indeed suffering for the message of Christ, and not our own particular versions of what Christ would have us do. All too often we suffer for doing for God that which God hasn’t asked us to do, and the suffering is on our own heads, and the heads of our children.

We shouldn’t be ashamed if we suffer for living as Christians. We should be ashamed if in the name of Christ we suffer for causing suffering. “If you suffer,” Peter writes in 1 Peter 4, “it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal.” Then he adds a curious little phrase. If we suffer, he says, it shouldn’t be for those crimes “or even as a meddler.”

Being a meddler. If we suffer for meddling we should be ashamed not proud.

Interesting.

That’s why I think it’s important to go back and cover all the therefores. If I’m going to suffer, I certainly want it to be for something I can be proud of on the day of Christ, and be told, “Well done” rather than “Why’d ya’ do that?”

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