The Most Important Word in the Bible

open_bible_magnifying-glass

Okay, so let me just admit up front that saying a particular word is the most important word in the Bible is probably an overstatement. If that’s what you are thinking, you win. I concede that point. At the same time, I think that if you give ear to what I am suggesting, you will see the greater point that I’m trying to make. I know that someone somewhere out there will say the right answer is “Jesus” or something like that, to which I give no argument. Jesus, God, grace, salvation, glory, or something along those lines might very well be the most important word in the Bible. I get where you are coming from. The point here is not to be right, I’m just trying to make a case for something many people haven’t noticed.

On a number of occasions I have heard someone credit Dan Fuller with this statement:

The Bible is not a string of pearls. It is a chain of arguments.

What he means by this is that the way most of us read the Bible is by treating it like each verse is an individual, standalone thought. We read a passage that strikes us, pull it out, and slap it on a t-shirt or fridge magnet. And, to some degree, that is okay. Yet, the truth is that the Bible is not a collection of disjointed, yet beautiful, ideas (like a string of pearls) but rather is a series of truthful assertions and reasonings that build on each other (a chain of arguments).

Consider, for example, these famous Scripture verses:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… (Romans 3:23-24)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Timothy 2:5)

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26)

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… (1 Peter 3:18)

Do you notice what they all have in common? They all begin with the word “for”.

I would like to suggest that most important word in the Bible is the word “for”. The word takes other forms as well, such as “therefore” or “because” or “so”, but mainly it is “for”. Why do I think that the word “for” is the most important word in the Bible?

Simply put, if the Bible really is a chain of arguments, and not a string of pearls, then we need to be able to link ideas together that the authors of Scripture intended to link together. The way the Biblical writers linked their ideas was by using the word “for”. The word means “because”; it is used as a way of attaching meaning to a statement.

Consider, for instance, if I said the following: “I ate a big lunch, for I had skipped breakfast.” The second part of the sentence explains the first one. The word “for” answers the question of “why?” It is giving additional information to support and expound the first statement. Now, in such a trivial matter like eating a big lunch, this is no big deal. But what if the material at hand were of grave importance? What if we are trying to pull meaning out of a text ripe with significance? What if we are aiming to deduce the teachings of God? The meaning of life? The path to salvation? Suddenly, the word “for” becomes a very helpful interpretive tool.

Let’s go back to Scripture for a moment and consider how the word “for” can be enlightening. Consider again Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:21. Since it begins with the word “for”, we know it is trying to give additional meaning to the previous sentences. Let’s look at this short unit of thought in its entirety:

[19] Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, [20] but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus is teaching on the subject of material wealth and how we ought to view it and use it. The command is to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth. This is for two reasons. The first is contained in the clarifying phrases about moths, rust, and thieves. The point is clearly that treasure in heaven is lasting and secure, as opposed to treasure on earth, which certainly is not. But the next statement gives additional motivation to obey the command to lay up treasure in heaven. It is because (“for”) where one’s treasure is, their heart is also.

Jesus appears to be saying that our investments shape our heart. Notice that the treasure allocation comes before the heart location. This is significant. The Bible clearly teaches elsewhere that our actions are fuelled by who we are, such as the teaching that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). The pattern there is: heart established, actions follow. Yet here the order is reversed. In Matthew 6:21 it is: actions done, heart follows. We know this is the case, otherwise Jesus would have said “Where your heart is, there your treasure is.”

So what we can see is that Jesus is giving us motivation to lay up treasure in heaven. Not only is it lasting and secure, but it helps guide our hearts towards God. You could paraphrase it this way: “Earth is temporary, but heaven is eternal. You want eternal treasure, don’t you? You want to know God more deeply and enjoy him more, don’t you? You want your heart to be close to him, don’t you? Then lay up treasure in heaven, because [for] wherever you invest your treasure is where your heart goes.”

Do you see the connection between these two ideas? The word “for” is used literally hundreds and hundreds of times in the New Testament to link ideas together, building a Christian worldview that anticipates objections and gives good motivations for accepting it as truth and following it’s commandments.

Consider also this example from Mark 8, which contains a string of four consecutive “for” statements:

[34] And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [35] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. [36] For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? [37] For what can a man give in return for his soul? [38] For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

You could break down this paragraph as one command followed by four reasons to obey it. It might be summarized like this:

  • The command: Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Christ.

Jesus anticipates his hearers asking, “Deny myself? Take up my cross? Why in the world would I do that?” Thus, he follows up his command with four reasons to obey it (all “for” statements). They could be summarized as such:

  • Reason #1 – Those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake will find it (verse 35)
  • Reason #2 – It does not profit to gain the world but forfeit your soul (verse 36)
  • Reason #3 – There is nothing you can give in return for your soul (verse 37)
  • Reason #4 – You will be judged by Christ (verse 38)

Do you see why the word “for” is so important to notice? Without it, these are a collection of random statements without a unified thought. But with it, they give weight to the command that Jesus initially puts forth.

Or, consider this text from Genesis 2 that addresses marriage, a hot button issue at the moment in our culture:

[20] The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. [21] So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. [22] And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. [23] Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;she shall be called Woman,because she was taken out of Man.” [24] Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Notice again the word “therefore” at the beginning of verse 24. You could also translate it as “thus” or “because of this”, which means that what verse 24 is about to say rests on what was said previously. Verse 24 says that marriage is made by God for one man and one woman, and that the reason for this is the pattern given at creation. This has massive implications! For our modern world to try and use the Bible to support same-sex marriage or polygamy, one must contend with the “therefore” of verse 24. They must try to figure out how the definition of marriage in verse 24 doesn’t connect with the story of Adam and Eve in verses 20-23, something that it impossible to do because the author has explicitly connected the two ideas with the word “therefore”.

I could give example after example after example of how the word “for” and its variations are absolutely essential to rightly interpreting the Bible. So many false doctrines and wacky theology has come from people who take verses out of context and fail to read the Bible carefully. The Biblical authors were not stupid people, but chose their words in such a way that the meaning could be discovered for years to come. One central way they did so was the use of connecting words like “for”. The authors aimed to not leave up for grabs how they came to their conclusions, but show in the text by linking ideas together.

I can say that for me personally, grasping the importance of the word “for” (or therefore, so, because, etc.) as the Bible uses it is one of the most important discoveries I have ever made in how to get the most out of my Bible reading and study. It is a simple principle that every Christian should know. If you overlook the “for’s” in the Bible, you simply will miss gigantically important connections that the Bible makes and be naive in your theology and Christian worldview. I want to encourage you to read the Bible a little more slowly and pay attention for connecting words, and when you come across them, stop to consider how the author is using them to make their point. Ask, how do these two verses go together? How does what the second passage teach reinforce what the first passage says? How is the author clarifying his point, giving additional motivation, or anticipating objections?

I guarantee that if you put this into practice you will never read the Bible the same again.

[I’d like to hear from you. What example passages do you have where the word “for” was especially enlightening?]

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: