Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Pastor John, about a month ago, in APJ 1993, an episode on expository preaching and youth ministry — namely, should youth ministries work through books of the Bible? — you mentioned “how artificial it is to distinguish between exposition and application,” because the preacher is always moving from language to reality. There’s no faithful exposition if the preacher isn’t constantly feeling the tug from words to reality. This is a profoundly important point, with a principle behind it.

I was wondering if you could explain today on the podcast one line from your new book, Foundations for Lifelong Learning: Education in Serious Joy. There you wrote this: “Every ‘therefore’ in the Bible” — and there are about five hundred of them in the Greek New Testament alone — “is a doorway to life and love.” Explain this principle. How do these five hundred “therefores” in the New Testament — translated in different ways into English, but all from the same Greek word — open the door to life and love?

Just a word about that statistic. I wanted to find some juicy therefores, so I did a search on the word therefore in the Gospel of John. I think I found sixteen matches, but it’s translated into words like thus or so instead of therefore, which is just fine.

Now, I love this question, especially the last part about the therefores opening the door to life and love. Before I go there, I really want to say something about the other comment you drew attention to first — namely, “how artificial it is to distinguish between exposition and application.”

That can be quite controversial because of the real danger of reading our situation back into the biblical situation, and possibly missing the original meaning because we smother it with our own sense of what it must mean for our situation. That’s the danger, and I want to warn students about that. I want to warn our listeners about that.

First-Century Readers and Me

A great deal of emphasis usually is put on figuring out the original intention of the author for his situation first. Then, only after you have done that hard work of interpreting the original meaning in the original setting, you ask the question about whether it has any application to your own life. What you’re drawing attention to when you quoted me is that I have said that this approach can be quite artificial — meaning, it simply won’t work to keep the intention of the author separate from my situation, because my situation may be a part of his intention originally.

For example, when Paul, quoting Jesus and the Old Testament, says in Romans 13:9, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” whom does he have in mind by you? He has in mind, I think, everybody reading his letter. Whether it’s the Romans or a church in northern Germany, he wills for everyone to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

So, what does it mean to interpret that sentence apart from applying it to myself? It would mean trying to grasp the meaning of the word love from Paul’s other uses of the word love, not just my use of it — which would be a mistake. And it would mean trying to understand the meaning of the word neighbor as Paul, Jesus, and the Old Testament use the word neighbor.

But do I know what this command means — I mean, really means — if I can give no illustration or application of what it would mean for me to love my neighbor this afternoon? I don’t have any idea. The command is addressed to me, not just to the Romans, not just to a first-century Jew listening to Jesus. And if it is addressed to me, the line between original meaning and application to me vanishes.

“I have not finished finding the original meaning until I know some of what it means in my life this afternoon.”

Here’s what I mean by that, because I could be misinterpreted. What I mean is that I have not finished finding the original meaning until I know some of what it means in my life this afternoon. What would it look like for John Piper, today, to love his wife, his children, his neighbor, the people on the street, the beggar at the corner? If I have no idea what that sentence means for my life, I have not interpreted it yet fully, according to its original intention, because that was God’s and Jesus’s and Paul’s intention — that whoever reads this text would do what it says in his or her situation. That’s the intention of the text. That’s its fullest, original meaning.

So, by all means, let the original usage of the words and the grammar and the historical context govern our interpretation. But let’s not think we are done interpreting, done grasping the author’s original intention, until we have a sense of how the text works itself out in our lives. This is urgent for us to the degree that we believe God is addressing us — not just the first century, but us — by the words of Scripture.

Logic, Life, and Love

Now, here’s the connection with all those life-giving, love-producing therefores in the New Testament. Dozens and dozens and dozens of these therefores are intended to have a practical, emotional, intellectual, behavioral effect on our lives today. That’s their purpose. That’s their intention. We don’t know the full meaning of these therefores until we see what their effect is, or is intended to be, on our lives.

What shocked me 55 years ago, in the fall of 1968, was the realization that every time you see one of these therefores in the Bible, you should realize that the authors are arguing — arguing, not squabbling (that’s another meaning for arguing, but I’m not talking about squabbling). They are making logical arguments. That’s what I mean by arguing. They are stating premises and drawing conclusions.

Like, if I were to say to a weary traveler, “You haven’t eaten for two days? You’re hungry. I have a lot of food. Therefore, sit at my table and eat your fill.” Now, that is a life-giving therefore, and it is a logical argument, like hundreds of texts in the Bible. There are three premises:

Premise 1: You haven’t eaten for two days.
Premise 2: You’re hungry.
Premise 3: I have much.

And there’s a conclusion:

Conclusion: Therefore, sit at my table and share my food.

Of course, there could be other premises added to those three, like “I love you” and “I’m not afraid of you.” Now we have five premises that lead to the great “Therefore, share my table.”

So, when you ask me, Tony, about the therefores, you’re asking me to celebrate one of the simplest and greatest discoveries I’ve ever made — namely, that the biblical authors make arguments, and the signal that they are making arguments is words like because and therefore. And hundreds of these are life-giving, love-producing therefores.

‘Therefore’ in Action

For example, consider Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:11–12: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So [therefore] whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” That’s worth an hour’s reflection. How does that therefore work? Where does love come from? That’s what Jesus is answering: Where does the power to obey the Golden Rule, to treat others the way you’d like to be treated, come from?

And Jesus says that it comes from the reality behind the therefore — namely, the confidence that your omnipotent Father in heaven will meet every need you have when you ask him. Period. Do you believe him? He will give you the good you need; therefore, do unto others as you wish them to do unto you. That is what I mean by a love-producing therefore. If you don’t grasp the logic and the reality of the therefore, you will forsake one of the great powers and motives for obeying the Golden Rule.

Or take 1 Corinthians 15:56–58. Paul has just spent fifty verses describing and defending the glories of what it will mean for us to be raised from the dead, and he ends the chapter like this: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

That’s what I call a life-giving therefore. Death does not end your life. You’re going to be raised from the dead. Therefore, nothing you do, nothing you do in the name of Jesus, is in vain. Press on, be steadfast, abound in good work, and live — live because of the therefore of 1 Corinthians 15:58.

There are hundreds of these texts, but we have to stop. Therefores give life, therefores produce love, and we have not gotten to the full intention of those texts until we see this.