If you want to know about horses, first you find a horse

May 24, 2013 

Western Civilization is indebted to the Greeks for their advances in mathematics, philosophy, and science. We’re also indebted to them for their development of logic. But as with all good tools, they can become an end in themselves as opposed to a means to an end, the end in this case being a matter of reaching the truth.

Peter Lynch, the one-time investment manager of Fidelity Magellan Fund, credited much of his legendary success to his study of logic and philosophy, but he liked to point out that “the early Greeks used to sit around for days and debate how many teeth a horse has. They thought they could figure it out by just sitting there, instead of checking the horse.”

If you think about it, many armchair theologians do pretty much the same thing when discussing weighty matters. Go to the library and you’ll find volumes on such theological subjects such as “reconciliation”, “redemption”, “salvation”, “justification”, “atonement”, and yes, even “grace”.

Many of us have sat through sermons and Bible Studies where certain Greek words are tracked through concordance and biblical text in an attempt to narrow in on an exact meaning and intent behind a term, and while we might in some cases satisfy some intellectual curiosity, in most instances people go home not really enlightened, and maybe even more confused.

And we fail because, like Lynch’s Greek philosophers, we’re not going out to look at the horse.

Take “grace”, for instance. Study the gospels, and I doubt you will find the two words “grace is” coming out of Jesus’ mouth, but it would be hard to claim he didn’t teach about grace. In fact, his entire life was one giant object lesson on grace. He defined grace for us, not with a dictionary and lexicon in hand, but through history, parable and example.

He reminds his listeners about the time when David and his men were hungry, and the priest gave them the showbread to eat, a bread that was legally reserved for the priests alone. Yet the priest was blameless for offering it and David’s men were blameless in eating it. They were blameless because it was an act of grace.

He tells a parable about a man who owed an unpayable amount and begged forgiveness of the debt, but how the same debtor refused to forgive a pittance owed him by another man. By this he teaches that we are not to be just recipients of grace, but we are to offer it as well.

He points out to Simon the Leper by parable and object lesson that people we often see as “sinners” often have greater love because they have experienced a greater measure of grace.

And of course there are Jesus’ famous but difficult to emulate words, “Father, forgive them because they know not what they do.”

I think we can argue that Paul was a great teacher of grace. Here was a man who was steeped in both Greek philosophy and Hebrew theology, and his writings reveal an ability to use both the Greek method (heavy use of logic and reason) and Jesus’ method (experiential lessons through history and parable). Grace was such a central part of his teachings because, as he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who believe in him and receive eternal life.” (I Timothy 1:15 – 16 NIV)

Paul understood grace because he had received it -- lots of it. And during his life he learned how to offer it. If you want to learn about grace, do more than a word study. Go out and check the horse. You cannot understand grace until you have both accepted it and offered it.

Lenny Cacchio is a resident of Lee’s Summit. He blogs at http://morningcompanionblogspot.com/.

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