Have you ever tried reading an instruction manual for a product that was manufactured in China or Japan? You recognize the words as being English, but you have no idea what it means. Obviously, something was lost in the translation.
As a kid I would ask my dad what a certain Finnish word meant. At times he would pause to think about it. Then he would reply, "there just isn't really a good way to say that in English." I never quite understood that, until I began working with various languages at New Tribes Language Institute. It's not that my dad could not translate the word into English. It's just that it loses some of its meaning in the process of translation. That is often true when trying to convey meaning from one language to another.
An example of this problem is found in Hebrews 12:2. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to be "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." But what does "looking unto" actually mean?
The Greek word (ἀφοράω; aphoraō) translated "looking unto" occurs just twice in the New Testament. According to Thayer, it means "to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something." English really does not have an equivalent word. The best we can do is to attempt to describe the Greek word with an English phrase. For instance, here is how some English translations have attempted to render that Greek word:
- (ALT) looking with undivided attention to Jesus…
- (Amplified) Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus…
- (Darby) looking steadfastly on Jesus…
- (HCSB) keeping our eyes on Jesus…
- (ISV) fixing our attention on Jesus…
- (NCV) look only to Jesus…
- (NIV) fix our eyes on Jesus…
- (WNT) simply fixing our gaze upon Jesus…
I'm told that German has a word which means "off-looking." In other words, look away from everything else and focus on the object of attention. A. B. Simpson wrote, "There must be a constant looking unto Jesus, or, as the German Bible gives it, an off-looking upon Jesus; that is, looking off from the evil, refusing to see it, not letting the mind dwell upon it for a second."
I think that this concept of "off-looking" is important because as human beings we get easily distracted. If we were to ask the apostle Peter about the importance of "off-looking", he would have some words of wisdom for us.
In Matthew 14:29-30 we read, "Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, 'Lord, save me.'" Had Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus and not been distracted by the storm around him, he would have fared much better.
After we are exhorted to be "looking unto Jesus" we are also told in verse 13 to "make straight paths for our feet." I believe that the concept of "off-looking" helps us to do exactly that. How do we make straight paths for our feet? By keeping our eye on the goal and not getting distracted by things that would get us off track.
Recently, I read an account of a boy learning how to drive a tractor. He wrote:
Dad had this notion that you should never look back when plowing. You should pick out a spot, such as a tree or fence post, at the end of the field (sometimes hundreds of yards away) and never take your eyes off of it. Keep focused and never look back. I thought, "How dumb! How are you going to know if you are plowing straight if you don't look back sometimes to see how you're doing?" Throwing Dad's advice out the window I decided to do it my own way, just once. Looking back I tried to make a straight furrow. Problem is, you can't steer very well looking back. You keep trying to jerk the wheel one way or another to overcompensate.
We make straight paths for our feet as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so as not to be distracted by the myriad of other things that would get us off track.
Before the invention of the GPS or the Loran Navigation System, sailors navigated by the North Star. The reason the North Star is so important for natural navigation is that it sits directly over the North Pole. It is always constant. It never changes. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (13:8). Jesus is the one constant in an ever-changing world. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Him!
I don't know about you, but I get easily side-tracked. Has something like this ever happened to you? I leave my office and head to the kitchen to get a cup of water. As I am walking down the hallway, I realize that I need to pick up some milk and eggs when I go shopping for groceries. My mind begins to compile a shopping list of everything I need to purchase. By the time I get to the kitchen, my list is almost complete. Unfortunately, I have no idea what I need to do in the kitchen. I have totally forgotten about the cup of water that I came to get. It seems like distractions are the curse of my life lately.
Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Lk. 10:40-42)
Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus will help us to avoid those pesky distractions that are attempting to crowd into our lives to get us off track from the goal.
In commenting on Hebrews 12:1-2 Spurgeon once wrote: "It is ever the Holy Spirit's work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan's work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, "Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you'll never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of His children; you have such a wavering hold on Jesus." All these are thoughts about self, and we will never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: He tells us that we are nothing, but that "Christ is all in all." Remember, therefore, it is not your hold on Christ that saves you — it is Christ; it is not your joy in Christ that saves you — it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument — it is Christ's blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to your hand with which you are grasping Christ, but to Christ; look not to your hope, but to Jesus, the source of your hope — look not to your faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. We will never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by 'looking unto Jesus.' Keep your eye simply on Him; let His death, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh on your mind; when you wake in the morning look to Him; when you lie down at night look to Him. Oh! let not your hopes or fears come between you and Jesus; follow hard after Him, and He will never fail you."
Where are you looking? If our eyes are not fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, then we are headed for trouble.
Someone once said:
- If you want to be distressed, look within.
- If you want to be defeated, look back.
- If you want to be dismayed, look ahead.
- If you want to be discouraged, look around.
- If you want to be delivered, look to Christ.
- If you want to be delighted, LOOK UP!
Let's continue to keep "off-looking unto" Jesus as we press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Speaking of goals, I have finally finished writing the textbook on "Issues in Interpretation."