Maintaining A Biblical Perspective - February 2017

Have your ever noticed how difficult it is to attain and then hold on to God’s view of things?  We are often so lost in our own thoughts and point of view that we are oblivious to the inconsistencies and biases of our own world view.  We can even start in the right place but without intentionality on our part, we are subject to the pressure of the world which seeks to press us into its mold.  In the end, we most often just assume our understanding is correct and we have accurately discerned God’s view of a given situation.  This is especially true when those circumstances directly impact us or challenge our lifestyle.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.  In general, the consumer side of our economy is driven by businesses’ ability to make you discontented enough with your current situation that you will purchase their goods and/or services.  Varying messages and methodologies are used in an attempt to make you dissatisfied with how you look, the clothes you wear, what make and model car you drive, the house you live in and your relative position within society.  In our culture there is an intense pressure to not be satisfied with our current position, whatever that position may be.

Into this context you introduce God’s teaching on contentment and the idolatrous nature of trusting in or pursuing wealth.  The apostle Paul writes in 1Timothy 6:8-9, “and if we have food and covering with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.” According to Paul, we are to be satisfied with food, clothing and shelter, the basic necessities of life.

But many Americans have great difficulty accepting the basic boundaries of the life Paul describes here and therefore contentment eludes them.  Food for them is not the basics to sustain life but includes processed food that tastes better and is easier/quicker to prepare, along with eating out several times per week. All more expensive.  And covering is not clothing and shelter but plentiful wardrobes that keep pace with current fashions and ownership of their dream home with all the furniture, furnishings, the latest generation of electronics, patios for entertaining and space for the kids play.  Most often there isn’t even an attempt to reconcile this tension but when there is there are all kinds of reasons why these verses should not be understood at face value, in their simplest sense.

But if one is to interpret these verses from a global perspective you have a much different outcome.  The Pew Research Center reported in September of 2015 that seven-in-ten people globally live on $10 per day or less, with most living on about $3 per day.  That amounts to 4.4 billion people in the world who live and support families on less than $3,650 per year or less.  They will never even have the opportunity to experience the lifestyle that many of us as Americans take for granted.  If contentment rests on the realization of this lifestyle 70 percent of the world will never experience it.

One of the basic tenets of interpreting Scripture is that your interpretation cannot be determined by your cultural norms but rather is determined by the original setting in the text.  When Paul wrote the words “food and covering” he had definitions in mind and both our interpretation and application must reflect his intention.  They also must be equally true whether we are in Nebraska, China, Kenya or Brazil.  They mean the same thing in every cultural setting.  It has been said by many who travel in the poorer parts the world that those who seem to have the least materially are often among the richest spiritually.  Could it be they are experiencing the freedom that comes from practicing the admonition “be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5).

My point in the article was not specifically about contentment, I just used that as an example because the lack of contentment, even among Christians, is so easy to see in our culture.  The broader point is to highlight our need for careful consideration of the pertinent Biblical texts, taking care not to interpret them in light of our own cultural and personal biases when seeking God’s perspective on life.  Are your beliefs about how God sees things consistent with the truth of Scripture?  Ask the Holy Spirit and He will show you God’s perspective on life.