How to Study the Bible
Lesson 8: Cause/Effect and Comparisons
In this chapter we will look much more closely in the text at examples of conditional clauses, cause and effect, comparisons and contrasts. By understanding the relationship of these different aspects of scripture we can learn why God does some of the things he does; we can also get a specific image in our head that will help us better understand spiritual concepts.
A conditional clause is what I like to call an “if, then” statement. They present some scenario in which a consequence, good or bad, will occur. Though it isn’t always the case, many times these statements are identified by the words if and then: “If you do ____ then _____ will happen.” Once you have identified the conditional clause, be sure to identify the conditional action (the if) and the consequence (the then). When reading the scriptures, these statements will give us reasons why God performs certain actions. It will also allow us to see the rewards and/or consequences of some of the things we do.
Read Leviticus 26:1-20. This entire chapter is filled with conditional clauses. In verse 3, we see the condition: keeping God’s commandments. The following verses through 13 contain many of the blessings the Lord will bestow upon them if they fulfill this condition. In verse 14 the condition is NOT obeying God’s commandments; the verses that follow show us what will happen in this situation. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, we can see both of these conditions being met and the rewards and consequences of each fulfilled. In order to have a just God, we must have a God who keeps His promises, including the conditional clauses He sets forth in the scriptures. Because we know these clauses are here, we know that God MUST keep them, even though He cares deeply for His people.
Many times an author will state a cause and effect scenario. This is very similar to the conditional clauses we studied in the previous section. There is an action or situation that results in something else. Once you have identified one of these statements, locate the cause and then search for the effect it has.
Read Proverbs 21:6. Proverbs is filled with cause and effect statements. Let’s look at a few of these statements. Our cause statement here is “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue.” Now let’s look at the rest of the sentence to find the consequence for acquiring treasures in this way. We see two results; first, they are a fleeting vapor, meaning things gained in this fashion are not permanent. The second effect is that this is the “pursuit of death.” Not only is the person in this verse pursing earthly treasures first, he is sinning to gain them. This is a major problem, essentially causing spiritual death! As you can see, through these cause and effect statements we can see what the results of certain actions and behaviors will be without having to experience them for ourselves.
The next idea we will look at is that of contrast. Many times writers will state concepts in opposition to one another. This gives us an idea of what the opposite ends of the spectrum are. It can also paint vivid imagery for us, like when John discusses “light” and “dark.” When searching for contrasts look for the word but. This is a good indication that there are two opposing statements being made. Also, look for words that are clearly opposites used in close connection with one another.
Turn to 1 Corinthians 14:37-38. Here Paul makes a serious contrast. On one hand we have those that recognize that things Paul writes are the Lord’s commandment. If one considers themselves spiritual, this is the stance that is demanded. In stark contrast, Paul says that anyone who does not recognize that the things he has written are from God will not be recognized by God. In essence, Paul is saying that true Christians will accept his writings as scripture. This is an important concept to understand as we read through his writings.
Throughout scripture, we can see authors making use of the technique of comparison. They will do this in order to make an abstract concept more understandable. We do this when we speak to one another in our attempt to get someone to more fully grasp a situation. For instance, we might say something like: “That storm that came through was so loud and windy it sounded like a train coming through!” We are comparing something familiar with something we want to be clearer to the listener. When identifying comparisons in scripture, be sure to take note of what is being compared; also, determine how it is being compared. Just because one aspect of something is being compared doesn’t mean I can compare everything about each item. When comparing the storm with the train, it is specifically the sound I am referring to. I do not expect my listener to think the storm looks like a train, nor did it come in on a train track.
Matthew 25 is full of comparisons so that we can better understand aspects of the kingdom of heaven. Read Matthew 25:1-13. We see here that Jesus is comparing the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins meeting the bridegroom. The specific comparison is brought out in verse 13: “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” Jesus is trying to impart the importance of being prepared for His coming. We must not be caught unprepared or we will not be allowed entrance to the kingdom of heaven. By using this comparison, He allows us to internalize what it will be like to be caught in this situation when He returns.
Chapter 7: Homework