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What Jesus Meant to Say
Posted by Clare
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I was discussing a hard teaching of Jesus, regarding rich people, the other day with a mature Christian.

He then made a statement, I’ve used myself on occasion, “What Jesus really meant to say was…” Apparently, the Son of God can’t seem to find the words to state clearly what he wants to communicate and therefore, needs us to help clarify his statements!

Does the Son of God have a flaw?

If you’ve been in a Bible study for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard or said yourself, “what Jesus meant to say was…” Why do we Christians do that, and are there ever times it’s appropriate?

In all fairness, almost any time a pastor preaches, whether he says it or not, he’s clarifying or expanding on some teaching of the Bible. He is putting in context, some passage of scripture, that may not be clear to every person in the congregation. Fair enough! Hopefully, he’s not putting words in Jesus’ mouth, only helping us understand more fully what the Bible teaches.

However, here’s the use of “What God meant to say was,” that most concerns me. When we use that phrase to explain away, or minimize, an inconvenient truth of scripture.

For Instance
“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.”  Mark 10:25

I’ve heard rich guys use every trick in the book to clarify that statement. “Well, the eye of the needle was a small gate in the wall of Jerusalem, that was very difficult to get a camel through…” Or, “In the U.S. we’re all ‘rich’ by comparison to the majority of the world” (Apparently an attempt to enlarge the class of rich people, reasoning that God wouldn’t keep 80% of most Americans out of heaven). “Well, what Jesus meant to say was that selfish people would never enter heaven. He didn’t mean generous, kind rich Christians.”

Are you sure? Maybe Jesus meant exactly what he said! He went on to say a few verses later, “With people it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27

A straightforward reading of those two verses ought to scare the wits out of rich people. Which may be exactly what Jesus wanted. (And I’m a rich guy by most reasonable measures). It’s clear from Jesus second statement, God may have “plan B” for some rich people. But, I assume if Jesus wanted to clear it up and give some comfort to the rich, he’d have done it. But he didn’t. Instead, he piled it on with stories like the “rich young ruler,” the rich man and Lazarus and the rich man who built bigger barns.

Maybe Jesus meant what he said.

But what about…?

It’s true, it can be dangerous to pick one or two verses out of scripture, and ignore other scriptures that appear to modify, clarify or soften the hard verses. However, regarding Jesus warnings to the rich, I don’t know of any words of Jesus, that soften his teaching on this subject.

We (rich people) will often point to Abraham, Job, David and other rich people who were commended by God. And we also take comfort in Zacchaeus and Joseph of Arimathea, as examples of New Testament rich people, who were true believers in Jesus. So, are they the exception, or the rule? They may be the exception. But, nowhere does Jesus let the rich off the hook in his teachings. To that point; it wasn’t until Zacchaeus gave half of everything he owned to the poor, and paid back those he cheated four times as much, that Jesus declared him saved! “Today, salvation has come to this house…” Luke 19:9.

What Jesus meant to say, was exactly what Jesus meant to say.

Why is it, of all the super-bad sins out there, Jesus has such a problem with wealth? We’ll take a look at that next Monday, in Part Two.

Question: Do you have other hard verses of scripture, on any subject, that you’ve heard people try to explain away with, “What Jesus meant…”?

How following Jesus works in real life.

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Comments (2)
  1. Seth Williams said...

    I can’t wait to hear more on this subject. This has always been one of those verses I’ve struggled with, and one I think many of us would just prefer wasn’t there at all. The truth is – these words are incredibly inconvenient, I might even say “disturbing”. They’re almost too scary for most of us to take seriously… so we don’t.

    I’d love to see this unpacked a bit more. It’d be great to see some examples of “action plans”. What does it take for the modern day Christian to get on the right track with their wealth? What does it look like to live a more radical, Christ-centered life in this area? Is there any way to weave our “comfort” into the equation, or does it have to work completely contrary to our worldly desires?

    • Clare said...

      Seth, stay tuned. There are two books I’d highly recommend on this very subject. “The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn and “Generous Living” by Ron Blue.

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