The Uncomforting Purpose of the New Testament
One of the problems with our reading of the New Testament is that we read it incorrectly—that we read it for the wrong goal. Many times we read the New Testament only to find comfort in it. But it wasn’t written only to comfort us. Or we read it only to be inspired by it. But it wasn’t written only to inspire us. Or we read it to feel better about ourselves, or to confirm the things we already believe. But the New Testament wasn’t written to make us feel better about ourselves or to confirm what we already believe. The New Testament was written to redirect our lives, to reorient us about life, to show us how we have been approaching life in the wrong way, and to show us how to live in a new way.
Haddon Robinson shares, “A while ago I was trying to fix our garage door. I came to that one screw I had to get loose, and the more I worked to loosen that screw, the tighter it seemed to get. A neighbor came over and saw my plight. He looked for a moment or two and said, ‘Oh, this has a left-handed thread. It’s a reverse screw. You have to tighten or loosen it going in the opposite direction.’ It took me fifty years to find out how screws work, and now they change the rules! There’s a sense in which all of the Bible is kind of a reverse screw. Everything in the culture that seems right, in the Bible comes out wrong. The way up is down.”
Two of Jesus’ disciples—actually all of His disciples—received a lesson in this one day.
The reason for the lesson was that James and John came to Jesus with the request that He seat one of them on His right and the other on His left in His glory (Mark 10:35-37).
That’s our natural approach to life. We want things to be done for us the way we want—and what we want is to be given the best of what can be gotten in life! We want to enjoy the privileges of life as fully as possible.
When the other disciples heard about James’ and John’s request, they were “indignant” with them (Mark 10:41)—which is also our natural approach in life. We naturally get jealous of and angry at those who seem to get the privileges we wish we could have instead.
Here is where we begin to discover the true intent of the New Testament: Jesus does not speak just words of comfort to them, or words of inspiration. He doesn’t just tell them something to make them feel better about themselves or to confirm what they already believed. Jesus takes time to redirect them and to reorient them about life. He says to them, in essence, ‘What you want is right in step with how the world approaches life’ (Mark 10:42). But then He says, “Not so with you….” (Mark 10:43)
Jesus follows that up by proposing a radically different approach to life—an approach not of taking but of giving, not of aspiring for greatness but of aspiring for service, not of self-centeredness but of love! (Mark 10:43-45)
This is not what I want to hear from God’s Word. I want to hear things that make me feel better about myself, that comfort me, that inspire me, that confirm what I already believe in, and that confirm how I want to go on living. But I am discovering that when I genuinely open the pages of the New Testament, God has a nasty habit of challenging me, and reorienting me, and redirecting me, and calling me to new ways of living, and telling me things like what Jesus says in Mark 10:43-44: “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”