3 Teachings of Jesus You're Probably Misinterpreting

By the end of this post, you’ll see some of the core teachings of Jesus in a brand new light.  Some of His teachings are not easy to understand. Others are easy to understand; they’re just not easy to swallow, so we end up reading alternative meanings into them. Sadly, even the most devoted believers are guilty of gross misreadings and misinterpretations.

The Sacred Search

So if God loves us so much, why wouldn’t He make His Word more accessible?

Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” God is glorified when we seek answers to that which He has concealed. 

The process of seeking is a sacred part of our relationship to God.  The Bible is not Google. The answers don’t come instantly- at least not all of them. In our Google-dependent society, this might seem like an outrage. But we don’t have to be offended when God doesn’t give us immediate insight. Instead, we can treat our unraveling of the Word as a ceaseless, lifelong labor of love.

We can’t expect to understand the whole meaning of a passage after reading it once. He wants us to dig deeper than that. He wants us to meditate on it, to seek counsel from others, to familiarize ourselves with its context, to memorize it, and sometimes even to read it over and over again.  That’s the idea behind our subscription box scripture cards. You can take your scripture anywhere and pull it out any time for continual reference and meditation. Find out more here.

I am no expert on the teachings of Jesus, and I never will be. There is always more to learn, and that’s part of the fun.  But thanks to some great teachers, pastors, and mentors, I have been fortunate enough to receive some valuable insights that I think are worth sharing.

1. The Good Samaritan

In my analysis of this parable, I draw ideas from this sermon by John MacArthur.  However, I can’t completely agree with his conclusions. I encourage you to listen to his reading too. But for now, I’m going to share with you my honest conviction over this story.

One of the most renowned teachings of Jesus, the parable of the Good Samaritan has amassed recent popularity in the wake of our social justice crazed society. And that’s what the story is all about, right?

A man stops to lend a hand to someone less fortunate, who should have been his enemy.  We can draw all kinds of political parallels here.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it: the Good Samaritan is not a story about social justice, nor is it a story about “random acts of kindness.” If you think you’re the Good Samaritan because you volunteer at a homeless shelter once a week or because you bought Starbucks for the person behind you in the drive-thru, you are terribly mistaken. Those are good things, but they’re not at the crux of this story.

If you don’t know the gist of the Good Samaritan parable, you can read it in Luke 10:30-35. But I’m going to assume we have a working knowledge of the story and highlight some important details.  Below is a bulleted list of all that the Good Samaritan does for the man:

●     He bandages his wounds.

●     He pours oil and wine on his wounds. This was likely a tremendous expense.

●     He takes the man to an inn.

●     He continues to take care of him at the inn.

●     The next day, he gives money to the innkeeper and asks him to look after the man.

●     He promises the innkeeper that he will pay him back for whatever expenses the innkeeper feels he needs to spend on the man. He allows the innkeeper to spend whatever he wants and charge whatever he wants in return. In doing so, he takes the lid off of his own generosity and puts himself at risk to swindling.

This is no casual case of do-gooding.  Everything about the Good Samaritan’s care is lavish, over-the-top, impractical, self-effacing, and downright dangerous. And of course, the implication is not that a one-time Good-Samaritan-level spurt of generosity is what’s expected of us. This lavish, perfect love would have to be a ceaseless state of being, not a one-and-done.

I don’t think we can ever become the Good Samaritan, nor should we try to, without first picturing ourselves as the man on the side of the road, and God as the Good Samaritan. The kind of love that the Good Samaritan story depicts is not one of quaint gift-giving or practicality. It’s extravagant and irrational. None of us can maintain that kind of love for strangers without first relishing the extravagant love our Heavenly Father has for us.

If you choose to read this story the traditional way, and it inspires you to stop and give money to a homeless person, I can’t say that’s a bad thing. But I really believe that an honest reading calls us to an almost unattainable level of generosity. It’s not something we can just roll up our sleeves and do, nor is it something we can guilt-trip ourselves into. It comes only from a supernatural heart change.

Of course the Good Samaritan’s love should still be something to strive for. But let’s not consider it achieved just because we engage in random acts of kindness here and there.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -Matthew 7:13-14

Friends, social justice is not the “narrow gate.”  It’s the norm. Even non-believers engage in it. The kind of love that God calls us to is a kind that no one could ever exhibit without first receiving his love. It’s a deep, visceral, self-effacing, ridiculous love.

The Good Samaritan story highlights our need for grace. When Jesus says in verse 37 to “Go and do likewise,” we must not think that we could ever do likewise without a fierce dependence on Him.

I write all this out of my own conviction. I wish I could give you a step-by-step guide on how to become the Good Samaritan, but I can’t. Many like to quote 1 John 4:19:

“We love because he first loved us.” 

But the reality is that many Christians claiming to know the love of God do not live their lives like the Good Samaritan at all.

So for now, I’ll recommend this: meditate on the story of the Good Samaritan, picturing yourself as the man on the side of the road, and God as the Good Samaritan. Slow down and take the time to allow His love to seep into your innermost being.  Maybe it’s not a head-knowledge of God’s love that transforms us.  Maybe we actually have to take some time to drink up His love until we’re so full of it that it begins to overflow onto everyone around us.

2. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. - Matthew 5:5

We often associate the word “meek” with shyness and timidity. Could this be what Jesus wants for us? To walk around with our heads down, unable to look people in the eye?

As someone who was voted “most shy” in high school, I can tell you that there’s nothing holy about this disposition, and I have yet to inherit the earth.

So let’s take a look at what Jesus actually means by the word “meek.” This line from the Sermon on the Mount is a direct echo of Psalm 37:11:  “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”

But a closer look at the preceding verses in Psalm 37 can clue us in on what “meek” actually means here.

●     “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” - Psalm 37:1-2

-       Sometimes those who are doing wrong might appear to be more successful or happier or richer or edgier or safer than those who are doing good.  But the meek do not envy such people.  They know that their prosperity is fleeting.

●     “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” - Psalm 37:3

-       They key word here is trust. The meek are able to do good because they trust in the Lord and because they know they don’t have to be envious of the wicked.

●     “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” - Psalm 37:4

-       This is the promise that sustains the meek. They don’t have to envy anyone because they know that their deepest desires will all be met by God.

●     “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” - Psalm 37:5-6

-       The meek know that they will be rewarded for their righteousness. The images of dawn and sun suggest an overpowering of darkness.

●     “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” - Psalm 37:7

-       This is how we can cultivate meekness- by being still before the Lord. And if we’re going to “wait patiently,” we must trust in His timing. Meekness then involves a placid stillness and a wholehearted faith.

●     “Do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” - Psalm 37:7

-       This one comes back to trust.  We can trust that the wicked schemes of men won’t prevail. We can trust that they will get what they deserve. We can’t get frazzled over the fact that there are evil people in the world doing evil things.  To be meek is to refrain from letting the evil deeds of others ruffle our feathers or put us in a frenzy.  Our eyes are on Jesus, not on them.

●     “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath.” - Psalm 37:8

-       The meek are not wrathful, even in the presence of great evil.  And this too comes back to trust. The meek trust God to impose justice in due time.

●     “Do not fret--it leads only to evil.” - Psalm 37:8

-       Anger and fear can go hand in hand. The meek don’t get angry over the wicked, and they don’t get scared of them either. How could they, when their eyes are fastened on God’s glory?

●     “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.” - Psalm 37:9-10

-       The meek are able to refrain from anger and fear because they know that the wicked, no matter how powerful or prosperous they may seem, will quickly fade.

●     “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace” - Psalm 37:11

So there you have it. Biblical meekness has nothing to do with timidity and everything to do with confidence- not in ourselves, but in God. The meek Christian has no room for envy because their eyes are fixed on God’s promises. They know they will soon shine like the noonday sun and receive the desires of their heart, if only they will trust Him and do good.

If you’re interested in more Old Testament context for the beatitudes, check out this post.

3. Judge not and you will not be judged. - Luke 6:37

Our culture says that acknowledging something as wrong equates judgmentalism.    But that is not Jesus’ definition. Jesus gives an intense mandate to call out those who are doing wrong in Matthew 18:15-17

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Sadly, we live in a society in which almost everything goes.  Many live by the standard that if it doesn’t directly hurt other people, it’s not wrong. With this mentality, labelling someone’s behavior as wrong is the ultimate cause for outrage.

But as Christ followers, it’s our job to be aware of sin and to discern right from wrong according to the biblical framework we have.

John 8 is one of the most critical and well-known teachings of Jesus on judgment:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group  and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.  But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” - John 8:3-7

It’s a great story. Jesus shuts the Pharisees down for being judgmental of an adulterous woman. And He does so by turning their attention to their own sin. But the story doesn’t end there. John 8:9-11 says this:

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

This last bit is the part that some would prefer to leave out. Jesus does acknowledge that the woman’s actions are sinful, and He requires that she put an end to this sin.

So if judgment isn’t acknowledging that something is wrong, then what is it?  Based on the story, I would say that judgment boils down to pride.  Sure, you can look at what your friend is doing and think it’s wrong. You can even tell them that you think it’s wrong.  But does the realization of their wrongness make you feel better about yourself? Do you start to exalt yourself above them for it?  That’s the issue. Jesus squashed the Pharisees’ judgment by turning their attention back onto their own sin. Every human being has an equally wicked nature, and we are all in need of grace.  So while there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging someone else’s sin, we should ultimately be much more concerned with correcting our own.

We want to hear from you!

Did any of these three teachings of Jesus spark a reaction in you?  Did you feel convicted by any of the passages?  Do you disagree with anything or have another reading to offer?  We would love to know!  Feel free to leave a comment below.


Erica is a professional writer and editor, helping ministry leaders and entrepreneurs share their stories. 

She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.

ericabakerwrites.com


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