Does abide not mean abide at all?

Abide with me?

There are a number of reasons for why words are used today in a fashion that was never there in their original meaning. Language is said to ‘evolve’ along with the culture in which it is used. That becomes evident when you go to literature that was written hundreds of years ago. The form of the words are not much changed, but the way those words were used then is virtually unrecognizable in the view of how they are used today. The form remains but the meaning has gone through a dramatic devolution, not really evolution. To call the loss of meaning ‘evolution’ is hailing the process in a rotting egg: ‘evolution’.They may have lost meaning or been given entirely new meanings, but still be used as if they still somehow they were unchanged. They then become signals of deception. The spade is still called a spade, but in fact describes a fork. Both spade and fork are used for digging, so there is a similarity. But in operation they are very different. We are frequently told that must welcome change unless we want to be considered fuddy duddy and old-fashioned. But what if the change in meaning actually signals an irretrievable loss? And can you be considered an honest speaker if you have a different meaning than your audience thinks the word you use warrants?

    You are wondering where this is taking us, especially in view of ‘
abide in me’ as the caption reads. It comes from several years of observing how certain concepts are used deceptively. Maybe not on purpose, not deliberately, not consciously nor with deliberate calculation, but still used in a manner contrary to the original meaning. Here is one example for this age.

    What does
abide really mean? It is linked to ‘Abode’ which is a dwelling place for a longer period of time. It carried the meaning of ‘stay and wait’, to ‘remain in a place’, to ‘linger until further notice’. It also carries ‘to stand firm’ and ‘to remain true’. That is what the grammar calls ‘an intransitive word’ ; the concept is not subject to change, it declares a ‘fait accompli’. It abides as it were by the meaning of being reliable and consistent. If someone abides by me, then he or she has come and has no intention of changing that arrival into an absence again, they abide!

in language it also has ‘a transitive form’, that is: it is not yet! So then ‘abiding’ comes to mean something yet to be experienced, something we wait for. Defiantly or submissively, we are waiting for something to come. We have not yet arrived at anything in reality, but we look forward to it hopefully, we abide by a hope, and a hope is, as you all know, something not yet seen. Does it seem a small thing to you that the same word from the beginning carries two different meanings depending on the context in which it is used, and by whom? Can it be assumed that when the word ‘abide in me’ is said, it will mean the same thing to the listener as it was meant by the speaker or writer? Let me illustrate by the following reference from the Word of God. John 15:4


Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, no more can ye, unless ye abide in Me.


Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me


Remain in Me, and I [will remain] in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself without remaining in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit, producing evidence of your faith] unless you remain in Me.


Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.


Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.


Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.


Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me.


Stay united with me, as I will with you — for just as the branch can’t put forth fruit by itself apart from the vine, so you can’t bear fruit apart from me.


Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.


Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.


Abide in me, as I abide in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, so you cannot bear fruit unless you abide in me.


Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me.


Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

 The selection is of various translations into English of the crucial NT reference about the relationship between Christ and his disciples. You notice how many bring out the intransitive content of the Greek phrase by actually using the ‘remain’, ‘stay united with me’, ‘dwell with me’.

Can there be a shadow of a doubt as to whether the word used is intransitive, and so used by the Holy Spirit through the apostle John?

    There is an ‘if’ relating to the fruit-bearing. But no if about the abiding. You either abide or you are cast off and fit for the fire.
Can it at all be possible that if there is no fruit then neither is there any abiding? Since abiding is absolutely critical to fruit, but fruit is not critical to abiding. There are times when no branch of the vine bears any fruit, simply because there are seasons of rest and recovery after fruit-bearing. But the abiding never ceases and temporary fruitlessness is dealt with by the pruner, the gardener and the vine keeper. Only an abiding branch will be accessible to the pruning. But the abiding is not open to the transitive meaning of ‘maybe I will abide again tomorrow’ for I am done for today. You do not abide intermittently, it is not a ‘come and go as you please’ issue. That which has ‘a once and for ever quality’ is never in doubt. Because if it is in doubt, it doubts the very character of God. And that is breaking the first command of the law.

(A point to ponder: Is it possible to stop abiding? Does the branch decide to leave? No but the owner of the vineyard may cut it off. If you hear the rattling chains of the vexed issue of "Eternal security" you hear right.)

    I am begging an answer to the larger issue. What is the Church if it is not sure of the intransitive presence of God? A presence that has two major aspects. First it is the recognition of the World as being entirely compassed about and enclosed
within the Eternal God, because it is ‘in him that we live and breathe and have our being’! Secondly it is without a shadow of a doubt the presence of Christ within. The second is only possible because of the first. A God that no man can ever see and remain alive, has made Himself visible in His son. He who is the express image of the Father makes Himself available to those who had nothing but the wages of Sin to hope for. And He gave up his limited human body so that he could clothe himself with the new body, the one he calls ‘my called out ones’ I e the ‘Ecclesia’, what we call ‘Church’. His presence in the church is not a maybe, a perhaps, a happenstance, a future hope, it is a guaranteed reality.

 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds.  Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. “
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.”
“I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you.
 In a little while  the world will not see me any longer, but you will see me; because I live, you will live too. You will know at that time  that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you. The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.

    I think you see the issue clearly. If ‘abide’ is transitive and of a changing nature then God was deliberately missrepresented to the generations of believers to whom the presence of God was inseparable from themselves and who knew that in their God there is not the slightest hint of a changing at all. All God’s promises are yes and Amen in Christ, is it not so? How is it possible that a church claiming to have a New Testament foundation continues to ask God to do what he has already both promised and accomplished? How can it be asking God: “So come and be with us” unless it has stopped abiding in him? He promised that if once allowed residence in mankind that ‘he would never leave them or forsake them’ so how come he needs re-inviting every Sunday?

    No doubt some will say: Oh well but it is just our manner of not being presumptuous. Not making larger statements than is fitting. It is only a sign of our humility that we never take God for granted, so we are always seeking him. But hold! Is it a sign of humility to refuse to live by faith in what God has accomplished? Is it presumptuous to stand on the promises of Christ? Is it not in fact an insult against God to repeatedly asking Him to do what he has already done? Is it not a direct refusal to live by faith in the complete atonement to keep asking for the very reason that the church exists: “that Christ clothing Himself with our human flesh would find a permanent expression of God in the World in and through the ‘Church’?”

    A possible and maybe valid protest

    A valid protest would be the fact that there are several passages that have a definite forward looking aspect: "Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." As an offshoot of the presence of God in the Church some things are to be expected to still be forthcoming. Unity in the spirit being one, since the enemy is constantly sowing division. The Church cannot be perfected unless the Holy One is present. Without Him the Church can do nothing at all, not even its own sanctification. The forward looking passages assume the presence of Him who will effectuate what is still missing. But there is no 'if' about His presence.

    Or this well known and much badly handled passage: "Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice, set things right, be encouraged, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. The pivotal word is the word 'to be'. Is it hoping for something yet distant in the future? Are we hoping that God will eventually grant this blessing, or is it as Paul says in this other passage: " Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless[ before him in love."  This is critical: have we already been blessed or will we be blessed in some as yet unforeseen future?

    Notice how we 'say the grace' based on the last line in 2 Cor 13. Would Paul have intended this greeting to the Corinthians to be used in this dislocated way? How often have we 'said the grace' while ignoring what precedes it: 'Set things right'? His greeting in grace is a capstone on the attempt to rectify what was badly wrong in the Church. Not an escape from it. Or a simple gloss over.

    How can the I AM ever be seen as separated from us?
The larg
est possible issue is the presence or absence of God. If His abiding is no more intransitive than our ability to walk by faith, a faith without which it is impossible to please God, then God is no longer the God of the Bible. We cannot have it both ways. It is truly either/or. We have an absolute certainty that God cannot desert us without an utter denial of Himself as the I AM. In a manner of speaking our existence is inextricable from His.

Only one factor can separate us from an awareness of his presence: 
"Look, the Lord’s hand is not too weak to deliver you;
his ear is not too deaf to hear you.
But your sinful acts have alienated you from your God;
your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers."

    There is no friendship possible while in alienation, and if at enmity with him, then He is seen as withdrawn by us. But He never moved!
    Note: What the Lord is not... we are. It is surely one of our sins that we do not live by faith in His presence.

    If His presence in the Universe is not believed in and known, then neither can his promise of a presence within us be according to the truth. The same bible that speaks of the one speaks unequivocally of the other also. And if he does not in fact live in us, then the absence of fruit is absolutely to be expected. Since only He Himself by His Spirit can produce a fruit no branch ever can.

    We are people of the Word, our credibility depends on a careful handling of the Word. If
‘Abide with me’ is only a transitive plea for a future event then we are toying with religious notions at best. But we have not understood the intransitive nature of the Living Word and/or the Living Lord.

    Pretending to adhere to the biblical meaning of ‘abiding’ while in word and action denying it is no small matter. It is a small tussock toppling a very large load. And woe to us when we have to give account for every word that we have spoken. Some people may come to our church much like the way Mary came to the garden where she only knew of and expected a dead Saviour. Not yet knowing that the tomb is empty she will be astonished and the Angels will say: why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.


Doncaster July 5th

Teddy Donobauer


No comments:

Post a Comment


Recent Posts

Powered by Blogger.