The Word 'Whatever' in the Bible

Oh, whatever...

In our culture, that little generalized word "whatever" has come to indicate indifference or apathy, an attitude of "who cares." It's our response to anything we don't like but can't avoid, or to anyone whose opinions become tiresome. It's the verbal shrug of the shoulders. But try looking up this word in Scripture. I've been studying the Bible practically every day for forty years, and I've often found refreshment in chasing word studies and exploring obscure topics. Jesus said we're not to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God -- and that includes the word "whatever."

Recently I spend a wonderful morning looking up all the occurrences of this term in my New International Version. In Scripture, "whatever" is a term indicating the totality of our commitment to God. It occurs 173 times, and many of the references speak of wholehearted obedience and blessing. As I studied these references, I divided them into seven headings.

First, we're to do whatever God tells us. Mary, the mother of Jesus, told the workers at the wedding of Cana of Galilee in John 2:5: "Do whatever he tells you." That's good advice for all of us. In the Old Testament, the Children of Israel told Joshua, "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go" (Joshua 1:16). My own personal commitment to God is expressed in those two words: "Whatever... wherever...!" When the Lord called the prophet Jeremiah into the ministry, he told him, "Do not say, 'I am too young.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.... Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them" (Jeremiah 1:7-8 & 17).

Second, whatever we do we should do it having spent time in the Scriptures. According to Psalm 1, those who meditate day and night in God's Word will be like trees planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. "Whatever they do prospers." The apostle Paul said, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:8). Since by its very nature the mind of God is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable, and since His mind is revealed in His Word, those who meditate on Scripture day and night will increasingly have minds tinged with the same qualities. That kind of thinking leads to prosperity and peace.

Third, whatever we do, we should do it prayerfully. Jesus said, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.... If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you may ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you" (Matthew 21:22; John 15:7). The apostle John gives us the all-important qualification: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us --whatever we ask -- we know that we have what we asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer isn't a matter of demanding God do what we want. It's a way of adjusting our souls to whatever He wants -- and acquiring it by grace.

Fourth, whatever we do, we should do it earnestly. There's an Old Testament and a New Testament verse about this. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." And Colossians 3:23 adds, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart." As a Christian, I want to be wholehearted in my efforts, whatever they are, for I'm doing them for the Lord.

Fifth, whatever we do, we should do it with integrity. Philippians 1:27 says, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of God." Recently I reached an agreement with a man who wanted to "sign" the bargain with a handshake. In shaking his hand I felt like I was signing my name to the contract. In earlier days, multimillion deals were reached with a handshake, for a person's word was his bond. That's seldom true now, but it should always be true among Christians. We do whatever we do with integrity and in a way worthy of the Gospel.

Sixth, whatever we do, we should do it with others in mind. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." The apostle Peter added, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). This simple principle accounts for the incredible history of Christian benevolent and humanitarian actions.

Finally, whatever we do, we must do it for God's glory, for the Bible says, "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is the Reformation cry of Soli Deo Gloria -- "To God Alone be the Glory." It's one of the five "solas" of the reformation and one of Christianity's greatest abbreviations: SDG. Johann Sebastian Bach penned those initials to the bottom of each of his musical scores to remind himself and his listeners that all the glory belonged to the Lord. In the same way, it's a joy to put those initials at the bottom of every passing day of life.

Whatever happens today, do as the German hymnist Paul Gerhardt suggested: "Commit whatever grieves thee into the gracious hands of Him who never leaves thee, whom heaven and heart commands." He is the God of whatevers, and He can handle whatever comes your way this week.