Interpreting the Natural Meaning

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

  • Matthew 6:19-24

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

  • Matthew 13:47-52

”John Chrysostom was born in Antioch in the middle of the fourth century. He was brought up by his Christian mother, who had been widowed when only twenty. When he grew up he was baptized and after a while devoted himself to the monastic life. He lived for several years in a cave outside Antioch and damaged his health by his austerities. Ill-health forced him to return to Antioch where he became deacon and then presbyter (or priest, as it was now called). He studied there under Diodore of Tarsus, who introduced him to the world of biblical scholarship. The school of Antioch was noted for its opposition to allegory. The Antiochenes insisted that the Bible should be interpreted according to its natural meaning, the ‘literal’ sense as it was called. There was scope for typology (drawing parallels between God’s dealings with humanity at different times), but not for fanciful interpretations which evaded the plain historical meaning of the text. Chrysostom adopted this Antiochene approach.
“lt is not wine that is bad, but drunkenness. A covetous man is not the same as a rich man. The covetous man is not rich. He wants many things and while he lacks them he can never be rich. The covetous man is a keeper, not a master of wealth, a slave not a lord. For he would sooner give away a portion of his flesh than his buried gold.  Since he has not the ability to give his riches to others or to distribute them to the needy  how can he possibly call them his own? ln what way does he possess them when he has neither the free use nor the enjoyment of them? …To be rich is not to possess much but to give much.  Let us decorate our souls rather than our houses. ls it not a disgrace to clothe our walls with marble. vainly and for no purpose, and to neglect Christ who is going about unclothed [in the poor]? What will your house profit you? Will you take it with you when you leave [this world]? You cannot take your house with you but you will surely take your soul with you … We build houses to live in, not for ambitious display. What is beyond your needs is superfluous and useless. Try putting on a shoe that is too large! You will not be able to endure it because it will hinder your step. So also, a house larger than your needs is a hindrance to your progress towards heaven. You are an alien and a pilgrim with regard to the things of this world. You have a native country — in the heavens. Transfer your wealth there. … Do you want to be rich? Have God as your friend and you will be richer than all men!  lt is clear that the only people who own property are those who despise its use and deride its enjoyment. For the man who has cast his wealth away and bestowed it on the poor has used it rightly. He takes the ownership of it with him when he departs, not being stripped of possession even in death, but then receiving it all back again. (
Homilies on the Statues 2.14-18)”

  • Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought

John Chrysostom (347?-407) was given the name Chrysostom more than a century after his death.  It means “golden-tongued” for his wonderful sermons.  Indeed, the quoted passage from a homily is well-worded and powerful.

The question of whether the Bible should be taken literally came up in the Cornerstone television show, Hard Questions.  One of the panelists, all panelists being pastors, said that when the Bible says something like the child grew like a vine with deep roots, it meant that the child grew strong and with a good foundation.  We should allow for metaphors.  Jesus said many “I AM” statements, but He did not instantly turn into a loaf of bread (I am the bread of life), or a door (I am the door), or a vine (I am the vine).  In fact, in the last one, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.  That can be taken metaphorically.  But all the panelists in the show agreed that the Bible should be taken literally.

It seems the Antiochenes allowed for that.  They understood that some Scripture was metaphorical, but the foundation, and the history, is literal (the natural meaning, basically meant just as written). Their fight at the time was against those that questioned the validity of this or that in the Scriptures.  We have many anti-Antiochenes today.  Some believe in a local flood and not a global flood.  A local flood makes no sense, in that Noah did not need an Ark.  He could just move.  With secular science going the way of millions of years and evolution, many pastors tread lightly on the first eleven chapters of Genesis, avoiding them when possible.  Yet, the basis of everything else is built on that foundation, and Jesus, who never lied or sinned, quoted from those stories.  It is dangerous ground in trying to add something to those chapters that is simply not there or ignoring them entirely.

John may have started and ended his career in exile, but he served for a time as the Archbishop of Constantinople, having been nominated without his knowledge or approval.  In his role as the Archbishop, he refused lavish parties that had been common.  That endeared him to the people and caused strife with the wealthy and the clergy, the clergy’s means of rubbing important elbows.  His self-imposed exile to a cave started his life as a monk, but his later exile is shrouded in controversy, most believing it stemmed from his arguments against Arianism.

On this topic of exiling conservative, Bible-believing bishops, but only hand-slapping the Arians who did not believe Jesus was the Son of God, it seems we are back to that concept today.  The denominations wish to have a unified front, but those who disbelieve in major portions of the Bible, some of it foundational, are coddled.  But those who vehemently argue that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, all of which is instructional, they are disciplined or, as a minimum, warned to play nice with their unbelieving brethren.  We simply call them liberal instead of using a label like Arians.

But onto the subject that John Chrysostom preaches in the quote above.  He never says being rich is bad.  He makes the distinction that being covetous, greedy if you will, is bad.  I have written that the millionaire (or billionaire) is not satisfied with that.  They are even more driven and eager to make the next million (billion).  That is what John is preaching against.  If you have enough to meet your needs, give the rest to the poor.  Store up your treasures in heaven.

The problem that my wife and I have, as do many people on a fixed income, is that you never know if you have enough money and our “nest egg” can probably fit in the smallest of bird nests.  Most months, we balance the budget, but then there are months like December or when we take a trip to visit the grandchildren that the budget is blown.  Sometimes, we make small steps toward recovery, but there are no new sources of income.  Giving to the church is indeed a step in faith.  And it is indeed a sacrificial step in faith.

But when there is a special need, neither my wife nor I hesitate to give something.  Not everyone with a hand that is outstretched, but those that touch our hearts.  My wife likes to see people well fed and I like to spread the Gospel.  Then we both like a few medical charities.  But still, when that money is gone, we basically get used to having less in the bank, and that was very low to begin with.

So, we are not rich.  We are willing to give and do give periodically.  We do not have a lavish home, but we still feel that we could do better.  The words of John Chrysostom cut deep.  Are we holding on to too much?

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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