Are any of you like me and think in pictures?
Waterpark. What did you just think of? Was it a huge place? Lots of slides? The giant bucket thing? Or maybe something lower scale—perhaps a quaint little local spot you went to as a kid.
Old. Did you immediately think of how your joints “ain’t how they used to be?” Perhaps you think about great times or painful times now past. Perhaps you think of an antique treasure—some priceless manuscript or perhaps a childhood toy that is no longer made. To some degree, everyone thinks or communicates with pictures, and I think that’s part of why God gives us pictures in the Bible.
We need to be careful in our approach, however, to pictures in the Bible. Bible pictures should never be interpreted beyond authorial intent! “The Lord is my shepherd,” says Psalm 23. Praise God! But remember, that Psalm tells us how to think of Him as a shepherd. (Borrowing here as I first heard this from Kevin Bauder) This doesn’t mean the Lord fleeces his sheep! He’s not going to cut us up and make stew! Bible pictures have their own unique purposes in any given passage and should not be abused.
I’ve heard such abuses from preachers with the parable of the sower, or distorted with even greater frequency, Jesus’ teaching on salt and light. I’m sorry, but no sermon needs an exposé on the detailed processes of salt mine operation, the chemical breakdown of salt, and the 347+ uses of salt today. That is going way outside of Jesus’ teaching! Salt is good (so say Luke and Mark), so we have the interpretation of distinctiveness; being different; flavor. Then (Matt. 5:13) some salt loses that “saltiness.” Nobody wants to have flavorless granules on their food. That’s gross. Useless. What’s the application? Be distinctly Christlike. Be eternally useful. You belong to Christ, not the world. Act like it. The interpretation should not go much further (if any further) than that!
Where is this series going? I was recently struck in my reading of Colossians 1 by the many pictures of Christ. Believers have to add to their knowledge of God and Christ. This correct knowledge leads to correct living. The beginning of Colossians pictures Christ as King, Redeemer, Visible of the Invisible God, Firstborn, Eternal, Sustainer, Authority, and Peacemaker/Reconciler. Each of these terms, with their unique associated picture, help us to know and follow the Christ of the Bible. More to come on that—I hope these pictures will help you like they helped me, and that you’ll be encouraged to properly understand the pictures given to us by God in the Bible.