Choosing the right words to say can be a challenge. I often find myself attempting to communicate beyond the words that are readily available in my mind. Failure to “find” the right word makes me feel ignorant, dumb, even foolish. Choosing the wrong word can be confusing to the listener, and frustrating to the speaker. This is one reason I prefer writing over public speaking.

Listening and reading are also more complicated exercises that we might think. Much of our comprehension occurs at the subconscious level; there is more going on in our minds that we consciously recognize. With familiar words, we assume we know the meaning. Even words with multiple meanings are sorted out by the context of their use. The mind truly is a remarkably powerful instrument.

But what if the word doesn’t mean what our subconscious determines it to mean? What if the writer intended something entirely different? What if the word we assume to understand was translated from a language that gave richer meaning to the original? Could we misunderstand the author’s meaning and not know we have committed the error?

Let’s consider one example.

…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen. Matthew 28:20 (NKJV)

…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20 (NIV)

As you can see, the New International Version (NIV) uses the word “obey” whereas the New King James Version (NKJV) translates to “observe”. According to Merriam-Webster, to obey is to follow the directions or commands of another. To observe can mean much the same thing (with less intensity), or it can mean to inspect or take note of (again, a less intense meaning).

What are we to do with these differences in meaning? Well, our subconscious picks one.

Should we trust our subconscious to make the appropriate determination? Perhaps, but keep in mind that our subconscious is the operations base and playground of our carnal mind.

How about consciously considering which meaning is closer to God’s intention? After all, He created the Greek language to communicate the richer meaning and mysteries of His kingdom. Perhaps there is a mystery here.

What might we discover with a little searching? It is the glory of God to hide a matter, and the glory of kings to search them out (Proverbs 25:2). What might God be hiding for His glory and ours?

My favorite “searching” resource is, where I have access to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, Strong’s
Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. My go-to for word definitions is the Outline of Biblical Usage section (a summary of Thayer’s). There we find that the Greek word God used (tēreō) means:

  1. to attend to carefully, take care of
    1. to guard
    2. metaphorically, to keep one in the state in which he is
    3. to observe
    4. to reserve: to undergo something

Let me make two observations. First, “obey” is not included in the definition. The same is true with Vine’s and Strong’s. The Great Commission is not primarily about teaching people to obey commandments. Secondly, “observe” is one of several secondary meanings. Think about that for a minute. What more does it mean “to attend to carefully [and] take care of” all that Jesus commanded?

The Great Commission is about more than obeying or observing Jesus’ commandments. It is about making sure those commandments are preserved (i.e., passed down from generation to generation). Does this include obedience? Of course, but teaching someone to observe Jesus’ commandments does not ensure they are passed on, intact, without compromise or delusion.

And that is the true purpose of making disciples; that is the Great Commission.

God bless you with a searching heart and increased diligence “to attend to carefully [and] take care of” His Son’s commandments.

Humbly yours and forever His,


P.S. Just in case you didn’t notice, the primary objective of this article is to encourage you to search out the hidden things of God, for your glory. It is not as difficult as you think. It is not safe to trust our subconscious mind when it comes to the word of God. Our carnal mind has too much influence there.