Today's Devotional: Heaven or Countryside?

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:21-24 ESV).

Let’s look at an illustration that will help us see why I think it is important to see the difference between just reading the Scripture and praying for open eyes when we read it. In our reading today, Paul says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Suppose some careless reader knew that Paul was in Rome and assumed Paul meant that his desire was to depart from Rome and be with Christ in a more rural, peaceful place than the dangerous urban center of the empire. And suppose the reader feels that this is a wonderful thought, full of sweet implications about the value of nature and peacefulness for the soul’s refreshment. Well, he would be wrong.

First, the basic meaning is simply wrong. Paul did not intend to say anything about departing from Rome to the countryside, or about the value of rural peacefulness. He intended to say that he desired to depart this life and be with Christ in heaven. So, if we read this verse in the former interpretation we would simply miss Paul’s intention. But it gets worse. On the basis of the wrong meaning, we would also a kind of glory that was not there. We would feel a wonder about peaceful, rural living for the refreshment of the human soul. That feeling has no basis in this text. Paul has seen something he would call glorious or wonderful. But that glory and wonder are not in his earthly surroundings.

Here’s the point. When the psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (v. 18), he did not mean that the sight of wonders could skip the natural process of careful reading. Therefore, prayer does not take the place of careful interpretation. Prayer serves careful interpretation. We pray not just for the sight of glory, but for the help in grasping the meaning through which the glory shines. This is a part of what the Holy Spirit is tasked to accomplish in our lives. The way God illumines the text is by showing what is really there. This means that when we want to make a case for how we understand a text, we must show what is really there. One good, solid grammatical argument for what the text means outweighs every assertion that the Holy Spirit told me the meaning. The reason that statement is not irreverent is that it takes more seriously the glorious work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the grammar than it does the subjective experiences of an interpreter who ignores it. Pray your way through the reading of the Bible. You won’t go far wrong with that.

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