As a teenager I played a computer game whose hero, through the skilful application of Scripture, has to rescue a city overcome with deception.
At first it’s easy to spot the lies and save the citizens. But as the game progresses the lies become harder to recognize and the hero requires more and more help through prayer, Bible verses, and the support of those already rescued.
I saw the game as silly and fun. It wasn’t until later I noticed the impact it made in how I read the Bible and applied Scripture to my life, even to this day. It taught me to listen to what people say and then check it against what the Bible says.
When you hear something nearly true, or partly true, it’s easy to accept it as true. That’s the thing about deception: sometimes it’s hard to spot, as small as uneasiness or something not sitting quite right. For example, how often do you hear or say, “God helps those who help themselves,” “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” or “Money is the root of all evil,” and attribute it to the Bible? Do you ever stop and wonder where it’s found? Knowing what the Bible says is critical to being confident in your faith and strong in the face of the world’s chaos.
The phrase "God helps those who help themselves," seems to come from Aesop (620-564 BC) in his fable Hercules and the Waggoner. In this tale, Hercules tells the Waggoner "the gods help them that help themselves." Not biblical. What does the Bible say? "Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe " (Proverbs 28:26), and "This is what the LORD says: 'Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD'" (Jeremiah 17:5). It seems like the Bible disagrees with the idea that God helps those who help themselves, and instead urges us to depend on God.
And what about "Cleanliness is next to godliness?" The earliest records of this quote point to the Methodist founder John Wesley who lived from 1703-1791. Although this could be the citing of a biblical concept from Leviticus, which frequently speaks of cleanliness and impurity, or the idea of cleanliness in relation to the cleansing of a believer's life found throughout the New Testament (1 John 1:9, John 15:3, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 5:26-27), this exact quote is never found in Scripture.
“Money is the root of all evil,” is trickier. The expression derives from 1 Timothy 6:10a, which says: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” You could say this boils down to mere semantics, but it’s an important distinction. By changing the subject of the sentence from the love of money to money, the meaning changes. The Bible isn’t saying money itself is evil but the love of it, which is the root of all kinds of evil.
Words are easy to mix up, and you may think it doesn’t matter because people know what you mean. But what if they don’t? And what if your word choices change the meaning of your sentences causing conflict or offence? Knowing what you mean and meaning what you say will help you avoid misunderstandings.
Learning to understand the Bible as well as apply it to your life isn’t easy. It takes a commitment and discipline many of us would rather avoid. But it’s worth the effort because knowing what God means and says will protect you from deception.