Growing In Godliness Blog
The gospel of Mark describes for us a story about a man who was paralyzed. Jesus has just re-entered Capernaum and word has spread all over that He was in the house (Mk. 2:1). Immediately there was a gathering of people so that the house was full. As Jesus was preaching to the full house this paralyzed man was brought to Jesus by his four friends. The house being full they were unable to enter. So they went up on the roof top and began tearing off the roof so that they could let their helpless friend down to see Jesus. This story provides us with a wonderful analogy for today. We have a cross section of humanity. This reminds us of the practical nature of God’s word.
First of all there are the helpless. A paralytic was one who had lost all power of motion. Not only was he helpless, but he was an object of pity as well. He was completely dependent on his friends to move him from place to place. More than that, he was a sinner. Sin paralyzes men today and blinds us to our true need of Christ (Jn. 5:40). Sin is a disease that paralyzes noble effort. Sin is progressive, one evil after another (Jas. 1:14-15). While paralysis makes one dependent on others for help, recognition of sin makes us dependent on Christ for remission of sins.
Many people are helpless, but there is only one Healer (Mt. 8:9-13). Jesus, the Great Physician, was sympathetic with this man. He did not turn him away. In fact, He never turned away anyone who came to Him for help. Even so today He pleads, “Come unto me…” (Mt. 11:28-30). Jesus understands the nature of sickness (Heb. 4:15). He has authority from heaven; He has the life-saving remedy – the Gospel (Rom. 1:16). But in order for a person to come to the Great Physician he must first see himself as being sick.
That brings us to another important group: the helpers. The helpers were the four friends of the paralyzed man. They went to a lot of trouble and inconvenience to get their friend to Christ (Mk. 2:4). They realized they could not heal their friend themselves but they could bring him to the Healer who could. Today, we cannot save sinners but it is in our power to bring them to the Savior who can. Notice the characteristics of these helpers. They had faith in the Healer: “When Jesus saw their faith…” (Mk. 2:5). These helpers loved the sick man. They also had a spirit of cooperation and determination: “And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd they uncovered the roof where He was” (Mk. 2:4). They removed the roof; overcame obstacles. They were not turned away from their primary objective of bringing their friend to Christ. These four worked together. We also need to cooperate and work with one another (1 Cor. 3:6, 9). Love motivates our working together (Gal. 5:6). Notice, by bringing their paralyzed friend to Jesus these four were also in His presence. There can be no greater cooperation than working together to bring a sin sick soul to Christ. No person is nearer the Lord than the soul winner. In fact, to become like Christ we must be trying to save souls (Lk. 19:10).
The final group in the story are the hinderers. These were divided into two groups. First, there were the unintentional hinderers. They didn’t realize they were blocking the way. They simply stood in the door-way meaning no harm, but they hindered a good work. They represent a self-seeking, self-serving group who are unmindful of the needs of the lost or those in need. The second group were the intentional hinderers. These were the cold carping critics sitting in the seat of the scornful looking for flaws in others. They were malicious individuals with no constructive purpose but to hinder. If we are not careful, we can become like them. We can so easily become critical of work being done but never ready to work ourselves. We may find the easier way to be the way of less activity. But notice, neither one of these groups is desirable. Both hindered the Lord from His work and the men who were trying to bring their friend to the Lord.
Which one of these are you? We cannot be the Healer. But, if we are helpless, we must seek the Healer. Maybe we need a few friends, helpers, to bring us to Him. If we are the hinderers, we should stop it right now! Be sure not to allow yourself or one saved individual to hinder any who are helpless from being helped to Christ.
In about 840 B.C. Jehu violently ended the rule of wicked Ahab’s family and instituted political and religious reform in the Northern Kingdom. Taking part in that reformation was a man named Jehonadab, the son of Rechab, a Kenite (2 Kings 10:15-17, 23). Sadly, Jehu’s reforms were incomplete; he rid Israel of Baal worship, but he failed to fully separate Israel from their idolatry. 2 Kings makes no other mention of Jehonadab, but Jeremiah 35 introduces us to his family, the Rechabites, around two hundred and forty years after Jehu’s reforms.
Jehonadab (or, Jonadab, as he is called in Jer. 35) had commanded his family to distinguish themselves from the Israelites in whose land they lived. He commanded the Rechabites to live in tents, to not farm the land, and to abstain from wine. The family had obeyed their patriarch for over two hundred years.
In about 600 B.C., God told Jeremiah to bring the Rechabites into the temple chambers and serve them wine. Jeremiah obeyed, but the Rechabites refused to imbibe, saying, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever’” (Jer. 35:1-6).
The point of all this is seen in Jer. 35:12-17. God asks Israel, “Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?” He declares to them, “But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me.” He adds that His many prophets had warned them to turn from their evil ways and quit their idolatry, but Israel had refused to hear and obey. He states in contrast, “Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them.” The children of Jonadab served as an example of the kind of loyalty and faithfulness God wanted, but was not getting, from His own children.
What can the Rechabites teach us, God’s children, today? Let me suggest three things:
1. They teach us that it is possible to be in the world without being of the world. The Rechabites were doing what many say cannot be done – they were living in the world without living like the world. That is what Jesus prayed for His apostles in John 17:14-16, and that is what John later reinforced as God’s will for us in 1 John 5:18-19.
How did the Rechabites pull it off? Through determination! They made up their minds to be faithful to their father’s charge. Paul wrote in Rom. 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Obedience begins in the mind. If we get our minds right – focused on what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God – our eyes, our ears, our feet, and our hands will follow along.
The moment our minds tell us that it is impossible to be moral in an immoral world, to dress modestly in an immodest world, to tell the truth in a lying world, or to be kind in an angry world, that is the moment we will begin to conform ourselves to a disobedient world. Can we be obedient to our Father in a disobedient world? If the Rechabites could, we can!
2. They teach us how to say “no.” In the Reagan years our society learned that our youth must be educated in how to “just say no” to drugs. The point of the “Just Say No” campaign was that it is not easy to say “no” when everyone else is saying “yes.”
So, how did the Rechabites “just say no” when Jeremiah said, “Yes”? Note that they made up their minds well beforehand that they would not defile themselves. They did not have to call an emergency meeting to decide what they would do. If we wait until the world’s temptation is upon us before we decide what we will do, we are likely to make the wrong decision.
They knew why, and told why, they were obligated to turn down Jeremiah’s request. If someone offered you a glass of wine today, would you know why you ought not to accept it?
And they appealed to what everyone knew to be righteous – the command of their father. I learned at an early age that when someone asked me to do something that I knew was forbidden and all arguments of logic failed, “My father said I couldn’t” was the ultimate answer. Who can argue with that? And when I became an adult, I learned that if I substituted the little “f” in father with a capital “F”, it is still the ultimate answer.
3.They teach us that time does not dull what is commanded, and need not dull our conviction and determination to obey. Two hundred and forty years? “Chronological snobbery” (C.S. Lewis) would have suggested that Jonadab had attained “old fogey” status well before then, and that more enlightened minds were now in play. But Rechabite determination to obey had not been dulled by time. “Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us” (Jer. 35:8).
Do we really think that New Testament truth has an expiration date? Do we really believe that two thousand years has given us some kind of increased sense of awareness, that we can see what Peter, Paul, James, John, and even Jesus missed? Has the world really become a more sophisticated place, so that ancient truths have no relevance in our lives?
John wrote of “the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). Sorry, but the Father’s commands to us do not spoil with age and neither should our determination to be true to those commands. “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God; on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you will be cut off” (Rom. 11:22; see also 1 Cor. 15:2 and Heb. 3:14).
Our influence is important. God has always expected the righteous to see themselves as examples to the world. That is why Jesus referred to us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are the Lord’s Rechabites today. May He give us the strength and courage to remain true to the Father’s commands.
I recently read two passages that provide an interesting contrast.
Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Genesis 18:14).
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6).
In the first instance, the angelic visitors reassured Abraham (and an eavesdropping Sarah) that God indeed could give the elderly couple a child, even though he would be 100 years old (and she 90). But in the second instance, the text of Mark 6 says that Jesus could do very few miracles in Nazareth.
From one perspective, God’s power is not limited by man’s faith. God can do anything He wants to do. And even though Abraham and Sarah literally fell down laughing when God told them He intended to keep His promise and give them a son of their very own, He kept His word. So God’s power is not inherently dependent on human faithfulness.
At the same time, there are some blessings made possible by divine power that God does choose to dispense on the condition of faith. Many of Jesus’ miracles of healing fall into this category. Jesus told the woman He healed of the bleeding disease in Mark 5, “Your faith has made you well.” His power was the basis of her healing; her faith was the means of her healing.
And that apparently is the reason Jesus could not perform many miracles in Nazareth. It wasn’t as if His power suddenly vanished, or that He was thwarted by some evil force. He could not do many miracles there because there were not many believers there – a fact which amazed Him.
Salvation is another example of a mighty work of God that is contingent on our response. God did not have to make salvation conditional – He’s God! But He has chosen to give us a choice – to allow us to accept or reject the work of redemption. And how He must marvel at the refusals of a dying world to accept eternal life through His Son.
Trust and Faith in Hard Times
By Mark McCrary
Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others. Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”
The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44. In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.
But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn. The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied. And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).
Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.
There is no answer. There is only trust and faith.
Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26). Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to. It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by and by.” Then we will know that, though we didn’t understand our problems at the moment, God got us through—and that will be enough.
Ready To Listen
By David Norfleet
For anyone that has been in a relationship for very long, you know it is easier to stick your foot in your mouth than to take it out. We often or frequently need help with how to communicate with others effectively. James does so by providing inspired instruction that will help in those situations. He wrote in James 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” If we would heed this instruction it would help in all our inter-personal relationships, but especially our relationship with God. And that seems to be James’ primary application as he points to the word of God in James 1:21, “…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
So, what does it means to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” with respect to God’s word?
To be quick to hear points to an eagerness to learn and a willingness to accept the things God has to say to us. We want instruction. We want counsel. We want wisdom from heaven. We need help. This idea is more of a disposition than an action, and it begins with humility – a recognition that we don’t have all the answers, but God does. Peter wrote in I Peter 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Jesus knew of the importance of this quality in His followers so He wrote in Mark 4:24, “Take heed what you hear.”
How does being slow to speak relate to a reception of God’s word? It is generally true when you're talking or even thinking about what to say you are not listening. There is proven value in speaking less and listening more (Proverbs 10:19; 17:28), but it is critical when attending to God. In this text being slow to speak may actually mean “slowness to start speaking,” and have specific reference to ill-considered reactions to what God has said. How will we ever receive God’s instruction if we do all the talking or if we thoughtlessly react to justify ourselves, negate Scripture’s demands, or explain the Bible away? Our attitude needs to reflect the words of Samuel, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:9-10)
What do you do when God’s word steps on your toes? Maybe you’re reading it, or hearing it preached. It says something that you don’t like, because it confronts the way you think or live. Do you get angry and defensive, thinking, “What right does that preacher have to say that? How dare he tell me how to live!” Do you have these “flash-reactions” when your conscience is pricked? That is why it is so important to be slow to anger, as an angry spirit is not a teachable spirit. As James would write, “…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Popular author Francis Chan stated, “Whenever I read the Bible and come across something that I disagree with, I have to assume I am wrong.” He understands that the word of God and our reception of it is vital as it reveals, reproves, corrects, trains, revives us, directs us, keeps us from sin, and reveals God to us (Ephesians 3:1-4; II Timothy 3:16; Psalm 119:50, 105; Psalm 19). It is no wonder the psalmist would write, “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for your commandments.” (Psalm 119:131) If we could only get out of our own way God wants to transform us through His word, James tries to help us with that by reminding us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.