Where can you go for good advice?
There are many people offering you good advice on everything from money to living your life and even snake oil. But where can you find something that makes sense and is true? Throughout recorded history the place people found real help was in the bible. There are lots of stories around, where people claim even just one statement from the bible has straightened out their life so it seems to work at least for some people. The problem we all face is how can we understand what the bible says? How can we understand what it’s trying to tell us?
The first problem.
Understanding something as complex as the bible requires us to read it in a language that makes sense to us. Unfortunately the bible was mostly written in either ancient Hebrew or Ancient Greek so almost anything you read today will be translated into another language and because there is never a fixed correspondence between words in different languages, translation will often mean some change in the meaning or at least some ambiguity. So we have to choose a translation that’s as accurate as possible and is as understandable as possible.
If you grew up around a church you probably have heard the bible read from the King James Version. Unfortunately for us that means since it was translated when Shakespear was around, it’s in old English and so therefore some words don’t make sense to us today. A modern version that has is used extensively is the New International Version. At least the English is everyday English still in use today.
The Sermon on The Mount.
To begin your journey you can start with Jesus Sermon on the Mount. It’s in the book of Matthew from about chapter five through to chapter seven. Why don’t you go and find a bible, look up Matthew in the table of contents, flip over to chapter 5 and start reading it now. It will take about half an hour to read it all. Don’t worry if you don’t understand much of it. Just let the words and impressions flow through your mind, then come back and we will see if we can work out something about how it can help you this week.
Have you read it yet. You should do that now – if you can’t find a bible written in language you understand, then go to here and type “Matthew 5” in the search bar on the top left. Select “New International Version” in the right hand bar. then press the search icon on the far right.
Another problem we have in reading any passage in the bible is deciding what type of literature it is. We need to decide if it is poetry, a story, a letter, a collection of good sayings (proverbs) or a text full of symbolism. This is important because the type of literature varies throughout the whole bible and it effects what we do with what we read. It also helps us understand the level of importance we should attach to what we read. The bible after all is more like a library than an individual book because it was written by around 35 different people over probably about 1500 years which of itself means there will be some variations.
Summary of types.
Sometimes in the bible there are laws written down. The thing about a law of God is that it is always true and there are no exceptions. Sometimes we come against promises. Again if those are promises from God, then they are always true. Sometimes there are story passages that simply record what happened. Sometimes there are wise sayings or proverbs, that are true in certain circumstances. A proverb is an observation about the way things generally are. They’re designed to give helpful guidance in real-life situations. So as you read the Sermon on the Mount, which of these categories do you think best fits what you read?
I think if I had to choose one of these categories I’d choose wise sayings. Let me give you a couple of others from other bible verses…
I’ll give you a few different statements from the Bible and you tell me whether it’s a law,
or a promise or a proverb.
This is from John 13 and it’s a core statement in the New Testament.
“Love one another as I have loved you” I think that’s a law. Are there any exceptions to it? Are there any times when it’s OK to not do that? Sorry but there are no outs available. It’s always true and always an obligation on us.
Here’s another one from Romans 8. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
That’s a promise. Are there any exceptions to that, or any forces that could separate us from the love of God? The whole of that passage tells us that nothing can do that.
Here’s another one. This is from the Sermon on the Mount.. “Happy are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Which category does that fall into?
I think it’s a wise saying. Are there any exceptions to it? Yes. Mostly when I am insulted – I don’t feel happy or blessed. But if I remember this saying when I’m being insulted, I will make better decisions than I otherwise would.
Another aspect of a proverbs is that they can confuse people. Sometimes they sound like they contradict each other. I’ll give you some English examples…
We say, “Look before you leap,” but on the other hand, “He who hesitates is lost.” So which is it? This gets confusing. They seem to contradict each other. But here’s what’s going on. Every wise saying addresses one limited slice of reality. So sometimes it’s true, and sometimes it’s not directly applicable.
Heres one from the Sermon On the Mount… “V14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. …
V16 let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” So is our light like a city on a hill – unable to be hidden or do we need to make sure people see it??
Benefiting from anything requires practice.
Now, here’s the point; benefiting from the Sermon On the Mount requires understanding. And you only get that by studying it and by spending time examining it. But when these sayings are studied & meditated on & memorised & practiced & celebrated they will change your life. They really will!
So theres lots of things we have issues with I’d like to give you an assignment for this week. Here’s my challenge for today. I want you to read the whole Sermon On the Mount again from Matthew chapter 5 through to the end of chapter 7 & I want you to choose one saying – your own personal proverb which addresses the area where you most need help, where you tend to take the most stupid pills in your life. Theres lots of things we have issues with but here are just a few suggestions from chapter five…
- If you have issues with anger read chapter 5 verse 21 and following.
- If you have feel like giving up read chapter 5 verse 21 and following.
- If you have issues with forgiving others read chapter 5 verse 23 and following.
- If you have issues with sex read chapter 5 verse 27 and following.
If you issue isn’t on my list don’t worry. I’m sure you will find it there in chapter 5, 6 or 7.
Change your life for the better.
So then write down that verse and do an experiment this week. Try to repeat that verse over and over until you memorise it. Then write it down and put it someplace where you see it all the time. Just do that & see if God doesn’t enable you To live a bit wiser this week. I think you can do that and it might even change your life for the better.