Do We Get the BIG PICTURE?
Or, Do We Overly Focus on the Detail?
We Need the Proper Perspective
I was recently reminded of a funny story which I heard years ago.
A man had bought himself one of those car workshop manuals, you know the sort of thing, it tells you all the mechanical details of everything one might ever want to do to service or to repair a motor car, one could purchase one for all the main car models. Many years ago I had one for a car which I owned but it was frankly no use to me because I have no aptitude whatsoever for mechanical things (I wish I did, it could have saved me a lot of money in the past). But I was told of this man who had bought the detailed workshop manual for his car. A few days later he spoke to his friend (who later told me the story), in an excited voice the man exclaimed, "Now I understand the most important thing about cars! You must change the sparking plugs now and again!" The man who later related the story to me apparently collapsed in laughter. Those manuals were very expensive back then (this would have been the 1960s). The need to occasionally clean or change the plugs in a petrol engine is hardly rocket science, almost anybody would be able to tell you that, but the man credited his 'new understanding on spark plugs' with his purchase of this huge, very extensive - and very expensive! - workshop manual. Well, as time passed, I'm sure that he got much more out of his manual than just that very basic fact!
Now what about the Bible? It's a huge book, yes, truly huge. I suppose that, following the example of that man, one could say, 'hey, now I've read that book I finally understand all about Eglon, king of Moab' (Judges 3:12-15), or, 'now I've read that book I finally understand why Paul the Apostle did not seem to like Ephesus,' or, 'at last, the Bible has taught me how important it is to teach our daughters how to wail' (scream out in pain or anger). See Jeremiah 9:20. Of course, it's good when Bible studies or sermons focus on a particular Scripture and we can all learn a lot from using such specific examples, the problem comes when one becomes overly-focused on some slant or argument, or maybe getting into a misunderstanding, or even over-emphasis of a verse. And, you know, there are people like that - I've met them, and you have too. On two occasions in my life I have met people who told me in all seriousness that they were one of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11). On the last occasion it happened, I retorted, "Where is the other one then?" The man was not impressed that I did not take him seriously. Perhaps more amusingly still, on another occasion I met a man who told me, "I would have no fear of meeting the beast with seven heads and ten horns (Revelation 13:1) because I have already met her - it's my mother-in-law!"
Getting the 'Big Picture' of the Entirety of the Bible
Now and then we need to stand back a little and say, now what is this huge book (the Holy Bible) really saying? I mean, what is its dominating and most vital message? I would suggest two overall points:
- 1. Sin is a major problem for All Mankind.
- 2. But the Good News is that Jesus Christ Has Laid Down His Life, Providing an Atonement for the Sins of All Those Who Will Come to Him.
Those two points are the message of the Bible - full stop. Would anybody seriously argue with that?
Now there are hundreds - even thousands - of peripheral matters, no doubt about that, hundreds of examples, but the central message should surely be clear to all, but funnily enough, to some it is not clear.
Don't Get Too 'Strung Up' on Details!
Learning is a Progressive Activity
We also need to remind ourselves that - in common with the natural tendency of the God-endowed logical reasoning which the human mind is capable of - a story, a narrative, or a book comes to its fullest conclusion at the end. You never expect to 'get' the full import or understanding of a play, book or film until reaching its conclusion. If you're reading either The Importance of Being Earnest, or War and Peace, you know you have to reach the end to 'get' the whole thing, the entire picture. Who ever reached page 20 of Tolstoy's War and Peace and thought, that's it - I understand this now! Yet there remain thousands out there who focus on the Old Testament, having little interest in the pages of the New. They prefer their own little private 'focus' on the Word of God, except, of course, that it is not a correct focus.
We should not, for example, spend countless hours wondering how an obscure law in Leviticus should be obeyed by Christians in our day because, whilst overall lessons will remain, that book is part of a covenant - the old covenant - which is now concluded, fulfilled and, indeed, has now become obsolete in Christ. (Hebrews 8:13; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:10-14, 23-25; Romans 7:1-6; 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18).
Let's face it: the Bible is not primarily a book about tithing, or about homosexuality, or even about law; it is not a book about attending feast days, or about governing a family, or even about going to church, it is not about what kind of food one should eat; now there certainly are references to some of those things therein and all of those things will assist our understanding, of course they will, but don't overly-focus on the details. Some, for example, have spent 30 years arguing about the Trinity, they are not too interested in other Bible doctrines but - my - don't they love that one! But their love is disputing, arguing, splitting hairs. Another group believe that true Christians must keep the Sabbath (seventh day), that is their major focus; they assess who are "true Christians" and who are not according to whether they keep the seventh day. Sunday worshippers are seen as spiritual impostors, the children of the devil. Amazing, and they are utterly serious about this. The big picture? They don't look at it, they are having too much fun disputing over details! But see the warning of 1 Timothy 1:3-7. Also consider this:
14. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. (2 Timothy 2: 14-16; NKJV).
Many years ago a man called Herbert W. Armstrong had some influence on me (I stress it was many years ago), he was an American advertising and sales man, originally a tractor salesman, who happened to believe (completely erroneously) that he was a 'Bible expert.' He wasn't, of course, and he led many astray. He (like many others) didn't 'get' the main Bible picture, he focused on law and on the feast days of Leviticus 23, plus a few other things, but he had a passion for certain Old Testament details, but the grace of Christ? He had little interest. One of the things he taught was that you should not marry somebody of another race; that worked fine for him until he met a beautiful woman of American Indian descent some time after he had become a widower. He dropped the race teaching and married her. Hmmm! But he had all these details which he loved to talk about, yet never really 'getting' the big picture. The result was that when he taught about redemption in Christ, it was a flawed version of it, a works-based version of it - Why? because various old covenant details had clouded his vision. In our day we are to focus on Christ and His salvation; the Bible is clear on that, unless one believes that old and New Covenants are equally important - but they are not, as those biblical references already quoted amply demonstrate.
I am not saying that many Bible details are not important, some of them are very important but the mature Christian will look beyond the detail and always have an eye on the 'big picture.' We can be quite certain that the Bible is telling us that sin is very damaging to us and we cannot enter God's kingdom as sinners (1 Corinthians 6:9). Fortunately the Lord Jesus Christ - God in human flesh - has now provided a way in which we sinners can indeed inherit all things, yes, Eternal Life, the New Heavens and New Earth, the very things of God, through accepting and embracing the Lord Jesus Christ. Is that not an amazing offer?
1. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2. because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4. in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4).
17. Therefore, "Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." 18. And, "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
12. "Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14. "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16. "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." 17. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22: 12-17).
Robin A. Brace. St. David's Day (March 1st), 2017.