On the Purpose of Scripture

When we look unto Scripture, there are many things that we read contained therein, many commandments which the Lord Himself has given unto us. We learn those things which He loves and those things which He despises; we learn the things that can bring restoration of our relationship with Him, and those things which can separate us further from Him. Ultimately, we read about the things of holiness, the heavenly mysteries of our faith, and from them we are able to discern what is right and proper concerning the things that are of the Lord.

This ability that we have been given to learn these things, to glean this wisdom from the words of our Lord and God is a great blessing, however, if we aren’t careful, it can very easily become, through it’s misuse, a great curse, bringing upon ourselves great condemnation.

Allow me to explain. There’s a very vicious trend in all of our culture. We all want to “look good,” and the easiest way to do this, as any junior high kid can tell you, is to make other people look bad. And this is especially dangerous when considering Scripture, because Scripture is, in fact, the inspired words of God, given to us for the purpose of attaining to the righteousness and holiness of God; thus we so often use it as a guideline when we judge other people. We see a same sex couple holding hands in public and immediately begin quoting Leviticus at them; we see someone intoxicated and begin to evoke the words of Peter who admonished us to remain “sober-minded,” or Paul in his warning that “neither drunkards shall inherit the kingdom.” The list goes on and on; and none of those statements is incorrect. However, there is one simple fact that so many of us have missed.

The purpose of our reception of the Scriptures wasn’t to condemn the world, it was to sanctify believers. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes, “for this is God’s will for your life, your sanctification.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). See how erroneous it is for us, who are called to attain to the righteousness of God, to apply those same standards to those who have rejected God, and then ignore those same standards ourselves. Consider when we see a homeless man standing on the street with a sign seeking alms, and our minds run to “…if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Oh how easy it is to use a verse like that to justify turning a blind eye to the plight of our neighbor; forsaking the Lord’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” and His teaching at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan; “‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.'” (Luke 10:36-37). No, rather, the purpose for which the Lord gave us those words of Paul was not to judge the homeless man, but rather to teach us that we must work; we must never be a burden upon the culture, since we are merely visitors in this world.

See, there’s this trend that seems to run viciously rampant throughout our generation of reading the Scripture with one eye, while searching the crowds with the other to find those who are in violation of it. For example, when Jesus proclaims that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” we immediately begin considering who we consider rich. We adopt this relativistic mentality towards what it means to be rich, and consider ourselves not to be. Thus, we read that statement and say that it’s hard for a movie star to enter the kingdom, or that it’s hard for the president to enter the kingdom, because they’re rich. But we never consider ourselves to be rich. We drive past a homeless person on the way home from work and never consider that passage to be referring to us, because that would mean that we are rich, and we refuse to include ourselves in that category; usually out of some false sense of humility. But, consider this; on one hand is a homeless man, penniless and hungry, cold and wet, walking anywhere that they can go; on the other hand, we’re leaving work, driving in a car to a nice air conditioned house to eat a meal of whatever we want. We probably throw away each day more than that man eats in a day. But we’re not rich.

I could use so many examples of this, but I’ll leave it at those, because they serve the purpose at hand. See, when we read Scripture, when we read these warnings and admonishments, these commandments; the worst thing in the world that we can do is inflict them on others, that’s not what they were given to us for. They were given to us for our own sanctification, not as a guideline to judge others. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us that “A humble man who lives a spiritual life, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will relate all things to himself and not to others.” When he states that, he’s not talking about the promise of blessings to come, he’s talking about the commandments that we are to adhere to. To use the words given to us in Holy Scripture as the means to judge others is to miss the point of the words of Holy Scripture. Paul says that “all of Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Thus, the purpose of Scripture, according to Paul, is for rebuke, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, don’t miss this, for the man of God. It wasn’t given for us to judge the world with, it was given to us for our own correction, for our own healing, for our own sanctification.

So often, so many of us want to use the words of Scripture to judge the world for being the world. Once more, I yield to Paul, who states, “I wrote to you not to keep company with the sexually immoral, yet I certainly did not mean the sexually immoral people of the world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolators, since then you would have to go out of the world…for what have I to do with judging those who are outside (the Church)? Do you not judge those who are inside? Those who are outside, God judges.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

It becomes a vicious cycle wherein we read a passage of Scripture, we gaze around, we see those outside of the Church violating the words of Scripture, we challenge that violation. We see the same sex couple and immediately begin to condemn them; we see the homeless man and immediately begin to judge him, imagining what he had done so wrong to deserve that. We see the man in love with his pornography and begin to judge him based on that, ignoring our own transgressions. We read Scripture and determine how it relates to everyone but ourselves, when the purpose for which we have received it is the exact opposite. When we see the homeless man, instead of remembering the story of Lazarus and the rich man, and relating ourselves to the rich man; we focus on the sins that led him to his circumstances, never noting that Scripture doesn’t tell us anything about Lazarus aside from his circumstances, and it never tells us anything about the rich man other than that he neglected the plight of his neighbor. Mother Teresa stated that “if you judge people, then you don’t have time to love them.” I love that quote, because it’s so true. If we begin to judge people based on other things, then we don’t take the time or have the sincerity of heart necessary to help them in their needs.

When we read Holy Scripture, my brothers and sisters, we must always remember to read it as the words of God, but as though He Himself were speaking these words to us. Rather than focusing on the sins of others, we should be focused on our own personal walk of faith, our own personal holiness. Our own relationship with the Lord. If each you and I were sick, and each of us went to the doctor; there is a strong possibility that the medicine that doctor prescribes me will be different than the medicine that he prescribes you. So too with salvation, the words of the great Physician may be different for your healing than for mine. We must always remember that and, rather than taking the time to judge or speculate what has led a person to a particular thing, instead love them and pray that the grace of the Lord would lead them into the same process of healing that we have found, through our Lord and God. To do anything other than that, to use the Scripture as a guideline for judgment and condemnation, is to complete defeat the purpose for which we were given the Scriptures to begin with.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.

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