But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4 ESV)
Our world is full of “strategic presentation”. The idea of strategic presentation is what drives airbrushed pictures of celebrities on fish-wrap magazines. It’s the tool that news sources use to chop up quotes and soundbites from whichever leader or candidate they disagree with at the moment. It’s the powerful technique that advertising and public relations companies have been using for generations to pimp a product, whether the product is worth anything or not. “Strategic presentation” is basically the practice of using only the parts of a message or medium that generates a favorable impression to a target audience.
Not to come across too harsh, but lining up on the side of “strategic presentation” will, at least sometimes, put you on the same side of the line that the Devil stands on (which by implication from above includes pop-culture magazines, politicians, and advertising agents…like the prince told Cinderella, “if the shoe fits…”). Satan’s temptations of Jesus, early on in the Gospel accounts, is based on this kind of massaged representation of reality. There is nothing wrong with bread, I love bread and God gave bread to us to enjoy, but bread at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons is just as problematic as hate, lust, or unforgiveness. Satan went on to offer Jesus an opportunity to put “total trust” in God by testing Him, and then to rule over the world – something Jesus already knew was His rightful position – on conditional terms. Sustenance, trust, and fulfilled destiny…these three “satanic temptations” sound like a good sermon outline, not the road to hell.
Jesus’ first response to the slick-tongued deceiver is the most comprehensive in scope, in my opinion. Jesus hears the subtlety in the ruse and pushes through the fluff. “Every word” is what is important, not just the words we like to hear. Everything God said must be taken into account, not just the things that agree with our current situation, or provide us with better digestion. The beautiful, sweeping words of grace and mercy are of utmost importance. But, likewise, the words of discipline, stories of wrath, and promise of judgment are of equal importance and authenticity. Jesus was committed to hearing and living within the tension of ALL of God’s words, “every word”.
Too often we look merely to the words that make us feel good in the moment no matter what is happening. This is neither safe, right, nor truly comforting. The peace of God, for instance, is not based on our deft ability to manipulate a group of verse or extract phrases from their context; to the contrary, the peace of God is based on a fuller picture of who God is, which can only be seen as we allow ourselves to be open to the many difficult aspects of His revealed personality. It is only in hearing and accepting “every word” that we find out the reason God is able to “calm our storms” is because without His permission the storms don’t even exist. This is a God that uses storms and uses the calming of them as separate tools to fashion us into the creatures that He has designed us to be. There is a different kind of peace that grows out of that soil. And this kind of “rounded” view works for many other things that we hold dear in our Christian beliefs (grace, mercy, judgment, love, etc…)
May we beware of “strategic presentation” today. And may we beware of them more so when they are coming, not from Satan, but from our own minds and hearts. We look far too much like the Devil himself when we begin to re-shape “every word” into “these words, but not those”.