AN OLD CLICHÉ?

I was surprised to read a news story this morning in which a well-known Bible verse was called an “old cliché.” Neither the story nor the person who said it are important, but the designation got my attention.

The reference was to Proverbs 16:19, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall,” and was shortened to “pride comes before the fall.” The point of the verse was not changed, but already being a little irritated it was called an old cliché, I was even more irritated it was abbreviated.

I had an idea what a cliché is, but went ahead and looked up the definition to find it is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” Reading that description confirmed my irritation. I’m uneasy calling any verse in the Bible an opinion, overused, or lacking original thought.

To be fair, I’m not sure the person who cited the verse knew he was quoting the Bible. Whether he knew it was from the Bible or not, although the verse is not overused, it is obviously often used. That’s why he cited it and called it a cliché!

I certainly don’t believe what the Bible says is opinion, but there is much opinion about what it means. That’s why we study it, talk about it, and think about it. The fact that not all Christians agree on the meaning of what the Bible says does not mean that it is opinion. The Christian’s position on the Bible is that it is the Word of God and the challenge is to understand it and put it into practice.

Nor do I believe the Bible is overused. Some passages are cited more often than others, but that does not mean they are overused. If anything, for many of us the Bible is underused in our lives.

But does the Bible betray a lack of original thought? Yes and no. Because it is old and enduring, in one sense it does lack original thought. But to most people reading the Bible today it does not lack original thought. It is rather in many ways revolutionary with regard to our thinking and living. And the more we read, understand, and apply it to our lives the more revolutionary it is.

The Bible is often drawn upon without noting it as one’s source, and I’m always pleased to hear or read that it is being cited in public discussion. However, I wish the person quoting even a truncated version of Proverbs 16:19 would have acknowledged it was from the Bible rather than an old cliché.

We could all benefit from more citations of the Bible in our discussions, and especially from the wisdom of the book of Proverbs.

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ARE YOU BIBLE-MINDED?

The Barna Research Group recently published the results of their study of the top Bible-Minded Cities and the Least Bible-Minded Cities in 2017. I wasn’t surprised by the results, but the results are not what interested me.

I was interested in what they mean by Bible-minded. Here is the explanation: “Individuals considered to be Bible-minded are those who report reading the Bible in the past week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” While the results with regard to the cities did not surprise me, I was surprised to learn that “Nationally, only 25 percent of the population is considered Bible-minded.”

Given their definition, are you Bible-minded? Do you read the Bible at least once a week and do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches? The first part of the question is easy to answer, but the second part is slippery. What makes it slippery is that not all Bible readers agree on the principles it teaches.

Certainly we should and do need to read the Bible. Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson makes that clear when he writes, “Read the book!” I agree with the first part of his next sentence, but am uneasy with the second part of it: “The meaning is in the book; not in the information about the book.” Yes, the meaning is in the book, but the meaning is not always obvious.

Often we get help in understanding the meaning of the Bible by reading or hearing what others say about the book. As a Bible teacher, I was affirmed and encouraged by a reminder from John G. Stackhouse, Jr. in which he notes “God gave his people teachers, as the Bible itself affirms, precisely because much of the Bible is not easily understood.” As we read the Bible we can benefit in understanding the principles it teaches by consulting trusted teachers of the Bible.

I wish the research group’s description of what it means to be Bible-minded added a third criterion. To be Bible-minded, I would add one needs to submit to and obey the principles the Bible teaches. That’s Jesus point in his close to the Sermon on the Mount about two builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. But hearing Jesus’ words and not putting them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

It is not enough just to read the Bible. Nor is it enough just to believe the principles the Bible teaches are true. We need to apply them in our lives. Too often we read the Bible, and strongly assert the principles it teaches are accurate, but fail to allow what we have read to shape our lives. When that happens I’m not sure we are really Bible-minded. To be Bible-minded we have to read the Bible, believe that the principles it teaches are accurate, and put those principles into action.

Are you Bible-minded?

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GRACE AND PEACE TO YOU

In reading the opening verses of the book of Revelation this morning I noted the salutation “Grace and peace to you” in Revelation 1:4 and paused to think about it. I then wondered about the greetings in the other New Testament letters and after checking found that all but four (Hebrews, James, I John, and III John) include “grace and peace to you.” I and II Timothy, II John, and Jude include “mercy” as well.

Why is this salutation so frequent and what is the implication? Part of what is going on is the adaptation of standard letter writing practice of the time. It is somewhat similar to our “Dear” at the beginning of many letters and “Sincerely yours” at the end. But for Christian writers and readers it is much more than just convention. New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger observes “None of the ancient pagan letters has anything like the magnificence of ‘Grace to you, and peace’.”

“Grace” is primarily the Christian component and “peace” (shalom) the basic greeting and farewell of the Jewish people—richer and deeper than the Greek word for “peace.” The two together are filled with meaning and significance for Christians.

Every time these two words are used in a New Testament letter greeting the word grace comes before the word peace. Both, of course, come from God and in that order. The same New Testament scholar quoted above, but in a different book, notes “it is because of God’s grace that his people can enjoy peace.”

Grace is God’s unmerited (unearned and undeserved) favor shown to us through the coming and work of Jesus. We are forgiven and saved by grace through our faith in Him–“not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:10). Peace—peace with God because we have been redeemed and the inner peace of God—is the result of God’s grace.

I’m not suggesting we incorporate this New Testament salutation into our letters, notes, cards, and emails today. Readers would probably think we had been in the sun too long! But when we read this greeting in our Bibles we should not simply blow by the writers’ call for these blessings upon us as Christians. We should rejoice in God’s grace and peace and give Him thanks.

Even though we don’t include the greeting in what we write, we can wish and pray for others and ourselves what Peter asked for his readers in I Peter 1:2, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.”

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7b).

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