Although a proud Philadelphian, I must admit to having spent most of my youth in South Jersey, in the blue collar city of Millville. In that community, family vacation was a week for dads to attend to delayed items from the honey-do jar. The sole exception was a family picnic or a trip to the Jersey Shore (to swim, not to waste money on rides, etc.). This all changed for my family when my grandfather built a retirement home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Weather is the great unknown for the vacationing family on a budget. One thing we always took for on inclement days was a puzzle – the bigger, the better and probably a leftover Christmas gift. There were rules about doing puzzles. Dropped pieces must be retrieved immediately, work was to be done separately, and never, never hide a piece so you can place the last one. But the most important rule was: always find all the edge pieces first. At least, those were the Ritter rules.
Border pieces give dimension and guidance to the process of completing the picture. While the lid of the box was also a big help, color and scale was clearer when there was a complete “frame” to your work. The border clarifies the task of the puzzle workers just as the completed work always looks like something you are seeing for the first time.
The study of the Scriptures and theology is surely not the work of vacationing children or even their parents. However, the metaphor is helpful nonetheless. We begin with the straight edged border pieces for the information they supply. We also start with the edges because their one flat side (or two, if they are one of the four corner pieces) are easiest to identify. We know where they have to be and what relationship they will have to the finished image.
The one true God has given us one unique revelation of Himself and all other divine truth in the 66 books of the Bible. Every word contained in this holy book is a piece of that unfolding of His character and a presentation of His plan for our salvation. These infallible words all fit somehow together. As they come together, the light of truth becomes more and more beautiful, all to His Glory and for our growth in the life that the Son of God died to bring us. Unlike the vacation task in our metaphor, we dare not leave the project on the table for a cloudy day or even for the Lord’s Day. The “straight” truths are those Scripture passages whose clarity is undeniable. Some of our readers have chosen “life” verses from this group. My son was partial as a young child to Rom. 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. At the same age, my choice was more personal and simpler, Prov. 20:11: Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright. While both passage had a clear, straight truth, there is also a depth that with time enhanced our appreciation.
As a fellowship of churches, it is our God-given assignment to seek out His truth for our understanding and application to life. It is especially important that we maintain with vigor the clear truth of the Word. Yet, it is no less needful that we continue to explore the remaining “pieces” for, as the Pilgrims expected, “the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word” (John Robinson). Sometime it feels like we see a fit only to discover that we missed something – so we labor on.
The world in which God has placed His people as a light needs us to stand for the truth of Gospel; it needs us to stand together for Gospel truth as well. The task calls us to work in unity. Each one’s spiritual gift being treasured helps the work progress without the stress that our human brokenness so often brings. The best tool we have for the task – apart from giving the Holy Spirit His due – is our God-given ability to listen to each other. Often, the best working question is: “How did you come to that understanding.” Why do I say this?
Understanding the contextual influences that affect our thinking is vital – and not just the thinking of others. My life experiences, church and family background, and even the human history that I have lived shape my thinking. Often these cultural forces can be far more controlling of my perceptions than any education that may be in my past. This need not discourage the church as it works to speak clearly to this present age. It did not escape the Sovereign Maker’s notice that the nations would be gathered in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit nor that they all would hear by His power the same clear message that day.
There is an unending flow of controversies in this fallen world. Our Enemy rejoices in this and in the related rejection of the One is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We serve the Lord Christ who has granted to the elect by faith to stand united in Him. In submission to our Lord, we can find Biblical answers to today’s question. Our call for the completion of the exquisite picture of His grace is to stand united in that blessed “tie that binds.”
As Paul said (Eph. 41-7):
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each.