Wednesday, April 06, 2016

A blank check?

When Jesus said that we shall receive all things, whatever we ask in prayer if we believe, did he in effect sign a blank check for Christians to consume on whatever their hearts desire? Is "all" and unlimited adjective? Is "whatsoever" an indefinite pronoun? What direction does the context point us?

Words have a varying range of meaning (semantic range), which meaning is determined by usage. It's not uncommon for someone to assert "all means all and that’s all it means." And that is true -- but in common (and scriptural) usage "all" rarely (if ever) means "all without any restriction or limitation." The context defines the meaning of all.

The Text
Mark 11:22-26 22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

There is a clear and obvious statement in the very context of the passage that one does not have a blank check to cash in any manner the believer might suppose. That one asking for forgiveness, who does not himself forgive, will not have "have whatsoever he saith" but Jesus declares the Father will not "forgive your trespasses." So, thought it might at first seem otherwise, the very word Jesus is speaking defines and details that these are not universal "alls" and "whatsovers". Jesus own contextual statements demand that the promise of verse 24 be limited rather than unlimited.

In the broader context of inspired scripture we also find teaching that corrects those who would presume to get whatsoever they want -- whatever their hearts are set on -- regardless of what God "wants".

Consider, for example, Bible instructions that teach we don't get all our prayers answered in whatever way our little hearts desire.
James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
1 John 5:14-15 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
Consider, also, Bible examples that show we don't get all our prayers answered in whatever way our little hearts desire.
In John 11 Martha and Mary, two people Jesus dearly loved, did not receive the desire of their hearts. They wanted they brother Lazarus to be healed of his sickness. Jesus did not do it, but in fact waited until Lazarus died before he ever came to their side. In the end they received something beyond their expectations, but they did not receive what they expected.
Other scriptures throughout the word support this teaching. We must not be presumptuous. We must not think that we are calling the shots. We must not believe that we can use Jesus's words to make God do whatever we want. (See also, Psalm 66:18–19; Proverbs 15:29; Isaiah 1:15; Luke 11:2; John 15:7; James 5:16; 1 John 3:22). But we can come boldly before the throne of grace to received help in time of need.

[Preliminary to "For God so loved". Check back in a couple of days.]

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