Well, it was a sad evening for the girlfriend. She texted her mom from her pity party at her cold and lonely apartment in the quiet west Tennessee town. “Well, I drove all this way and I’m within thirty minutes of the boyfriend’s house and he doesn’t even want to see me.”
“Oh, I’m sure he does,” the mom encouraged. “His family will invite you over. They know you’ve driven all that way just to meet his grandma.”
But the evening wore on. She watched a movie all by herself and ordered herself a pizza and cleaned like crazy till the apartment was cleaner than it had been in months. It was approaching midnight. Still, she was alone and the phone wasn’t ringing. It had been hard for her to leave her own family to go meet the grandma from up north—the grandma who rarely ever came. But she was in love with this guy and he wanted–at least he sounded like he wanted–her to be there. So she set out, the roads still a bit icy from the first Alabama white Christmas in over a hundred years. She was on her way to meet the grandma. She knew the boyfriend would be pleased…and surprised, since she never actually told him she would come.
Her mom, her dad and her brother, back home, had been watching a new movie someone had gotten for Christmas and playing with the new Wii and checking facebook every few minutes to see if she had arrived safely…and missing her.
It was earlier in the evening when she got the text. She was in northern Mississippi, only a little over an hour from her boyfriend’s house when she picked up the phone… “Grandma changed her plans,” the boyfriend said. “She’s not coming today after all.”
Well, the girlfriend was disappointed, but not deterred. (After all, there was someone else besides the grandma that she was excited to see. Though the boyfriend had spent the better part of the holidays in Alabama with the girlfriend, who had a couple of weeks off from her school teaching job, and with her family, he had gone back to spend Christmas Eve with his own family. The four days since they had parted had seemed an eternity for the girlfriend. The boyfriend, upon learning that she was almost there, was extremely apologetic. “I am so sorry that you have driven all this way to meet my grandmother and she’s not even coming. I feel so bad having taken you away from the time with your family. I am so sorry.”
So she said, “Well, that’s okay. I’m sad I’ve missed her. I will just keep driving till I get home. I’ve got lots of stuff I can do there. I need to clean and I might go by school and catch up on schoolwork.”
That was the boyfriend’s cue to invite her over to eat homemade pizza with his family and watch old movies and play games and, in general, be in the warmth of holiday merry-making. But when she hung up the phone, she was resigned to the awful truth that no such invitation was forthcoming. She tried to get a grip on how she felt about this as she drove on to her apartment. It appeared she would be only a few minutes from the boyfriend, yet she would spend the holiday evening at the little duplex—all by herself. She felt a tear stinging her cheek. Perhaps she cared more about seeing him than she should. Maybe the relationship was a little one-sided. After all, she had just driven over three hours to be the loyal girlfriend and he was having a jolly time with his family while very much in her absence. Perhaps, this relationship wasn’t going anywhere. Perhaps she should just resign herself to that bleak truth. Perhaps, although she’d invested a real part of her soul…perhaps this was the omen–the wake-up call she needed. And maybe this was the beginning of the end.
Meanwhile, at the boyfriend’s house, the festivities were happening. The boyfriend’s family had a really fun evening. They were a pretty tight-knit family. They loved being together. Every now and then, the boyfriend’s dad would say, “I sure wish the girlfriend was here.” The boyfriend would smile and say “Yeah, me too.” But what was he really thinking? “Why on earth ISN’T the girlfriend right there in the merry middle of the pizza party/game night?”
“Why? Why would she drive all that way and then turn around and go back home just because my grandma isn’t coming? I just don’t get it. Obviously I care much more for her than she does for me. She was practically here…I mean just a little over an hour more and she would have been right here with me. She would be opening presents… that wonderful Fossil bag I got her, that silver bracelet and that antique box and that Happy perfume. But no. The truth is, she wasn’t coming to see me. Just because Grandma couldn’t come, she turned right around and went back home. She was just coming because she thought it was some sort of duty to meet my grandmother. I have her Christmas presents, my family would love to see her…I love that girl. But she’d rather turn around and drive three hours back home to her family than to spend a few hours with me. “
The girlfriend texted her mom as she put the left-over pizza in the almost empty refrigerator. “I am miserable. I’m too stubborn to call him up and tell him what he should be saying, but I am so disappointed that he can’t figure it out himself.” And so the evening wore on. A lonely apartment and a lively house, a homemade pizza with all the trimmings and a one-topping delivery, the lonely girlfriend and the dejected boyfriend…all within a few miles of each other… yet so far away.
How does such a miscommunication occur? It was all about the word “home.” The girlfriend said she was going to drive “home.” The boyfriend thought “home” was where her parents live…you know, the place that had been “home” for her entire life, until she became a school teacher a few months ago and moved into the little duplex apartment. It simply never occurred to the boyfriend that this little apartment, which was very near his family home, could have been the “home” to which she was going to drive. When the girlfriend said, “I’m driving on home,” he felt the sting and paid very little attention to any words that followed that unsettling statement. He missed the part about housecleaning and going by the school. When he responded with an “I’m sorry,” but no invitation to spend the evening with the family, she felt the sting, too, and certainly felt no inclination to further discuss her plans, since his were obviously so isolated from hers.
So, a perfectly good holiday evening was wasted (well, other than the very clean apartment). It was very late at night when the boyfriend finally looked at the girlfriend’s facebook correspondence with her mom:
Mom: Did you make it okay?
Girlfriend: Yes, to my apartment. I’m cleaning like crazy…
Mom: Well I’m really sorry. This didn’t turn out so good. We wish you were here. We miss you.
Well, the phone call to the girlfriend was made very quickly and very early the next morning the gifts were delivered to the duplex, the apologies all made and the holiday season reclaimed all the sparkle it had lost.
By the time the happy ending came, the boyfriend was determined to listen. The girlfriend was committed to clarity about her plans and feelings. Most of all, the hours of stewing and brooding were forgotten.
While this is just a funny story now, some miscommunications cause mistakes that are beyond recovery. In this instance, it was the small word “home” with huge and multiple meanings. Two very different definitions of home were a catalyst for actions taken or not taken and for hurt feelings. But, sometimes people look into God’s communication to man and misunderstand a single word or phrase. One example is the little word “for” in Acts 2:38:
Then Peter said to them “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.”
There are many preachers who tell honest seekers that the little word “for,” in this case, means “because of” rather than “in order to obtain.” Because of a prevalent belief in religious circles today that baptism has nothing to do with a person’s salvation, it is convenient to espouse that Acts 2:38 teaches that one is baptized “because of” remission of sins rather than “in order to obtain” remission of sins. Before investigating the meaning of the word “for,” let’s make a couple of observations.
- Whatever it means, it is VERY important. This is not about whether or not the girlfriend will get to see the boyfriend. This is about whether or not I will get to be with the Bridegroom for eternity. Remission of sins is my desperate need. Without it I will be lost forever in hell. I do NOT want to lose my soul because I misunderstood this three-letter word.
- God is not the author of confusion (I Cor. 14:33). Unlike the girlfriend, God is incapable of being unclear. He has revealed His will for me in words that I can grasp and obey (I Cor. 2:13). If I act upon a misunderstanding, it will be my fault, because He is a God of clarity. I really want to get this right. So how can I know what “for” means?
The first indication of the meaning of a word in question is context. Are there some clues in the phrases around the word? Well, for Acts 2:38 there are some pretty obvious contextual hints. The question being answered in verse thirty-eight was asked in verse thirty seven by some people who were being accused of putting Christ to death. These people had just heard irrefutable proof that the one they had crucified was the Christ, the Son of God. The Bible says they were pricked in their hearts and asked “What must we do?” The language in verse thirty-seven indicates that they were desperate for the answer. Knowledge was crucial and Peter answered their quandary succinctly:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins.”
Do you think if these people could have been rescued from the guilt of killing the Son of God without baptism, that Peter would have made baptism a part of this concise answer as these desperate people with pricked hearts waited to know what they must do? Further, do you know anybody who thinks these murderers could have been forgiven without repentance? Whatever “for” means, it is the preposition that ties both repentance and baptism to remission. Whatever is true about the necessity of baptism is also true about the necessity of repentance.
And then there’s the rest of the story in Acts two. Three thousand believers were baptized and the text concludes by stating that God added those who were being saved to His church. Repentance and baptism, joined by the word “and,” precedes remission of sins, being saved, and being added to the church.
Another good way to figure out what someone means by a word is to examine other things the person has written or stated that include the word or phrase in question. Amazingly, the Holy Spirit used the exact same phrase (it’s the same in Greek and in English) in another passage. Here it is:
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28).
Question: What does “for” mean in this verse? Does it mean that He shed His blood “because of” the remission of sins? Or does it mean “in order to obtain” remission of sins. If Christ died because sins had been remitted, what a colossal tragedy! But He didn’t. He died to obtain remission of sins for us. I would surely insult the reader’s intelligence to suggest otherwise. But whatever “for” means in Matthew 26:28, it also means in Acts 2:38. It’s the exact same phrase.
The third way to figure out the meaning of a word is to examine its compatibility with other statements written or spoken by the same author. Which meaning of “for” makes Acts 2:38 concur with other clear New Testament passages? For our specific purpose, let’s look at some bible phrases containing the word “baptize” or “baptism”. Let’s at least attempt to look at these phrases without glasses that may have been colored by the teachings of a man, the creed of a church or the prejudices of a family belief.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16).
…and now, why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized, washing away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3,4).
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 6:4).
Baptism doth also now save us (I Peter 3:21).
What is the immediate result of baptism? It’s remission of sins. It’s washing. It’s contacting the death of Jesus. It’s putting on Christ. It’s being saved. To incorrectly end a sentence in a preposition, one could say that’s what baptism is “for”.
One more question: If the old devil, who walks about looking for people to devour (I Peter 5:8), could keep almost all religious people out of heaven by getting out an incorrect memo about the meaning and significance of a three-letter word, do you think he would? Remember, he’s not like the girlfriend and the boyfriend. It is no accident when you misunderstand God. It is a victory for Him.
Don’t let your misunderstanding keep you away from the One you love. Remember, this is more than a pizza party at stake. So much more. Remember, too, if there is a miscommunication, it will not be that God has misspoken. It will be that you misunderstood. And, finally, remember, if you miss this crucial heaven-or-hell concept about what baptism is “for,” there will be no joy, gifts or sparkle in the eternal morning.