The Bible’s blessed life, as presented in Psalm 127, 128, and the brighter passages of Ecclesiastes, is ordinarily plain and dull by today’s standards. The happy man there counts his blessings as the people that surround his table and share in the fruits of his hands’ labor.
The culture around us contrasts this image sharply with an insatiable desire for more, bigger, and better. Americans have a tendency to scale up. If we find something good, then we want to mass-produce it, package it, and sell it. The idea of smaller or simpler hardly ever occurs or appeals to us. Our education and entertainments all tell us to dream big, have big ideas, big goals, big visions, etc.
This thinking thrives not only in the secular purview, but it pervades the churches as well. Of course, we add, “for God” to the end of the world’s message. “Dream big for God. Have big ideas for God.” So forth and so on.
We are not content with small, simple, and quiet. We have to go big, surely, to honor God. We have an idea; then we name it. We promote it and expand it. We cast the largest vision we can and try to get others on board.
This thinking has produced a lot of discouragement in pastors and missionaries. They are pressured and made to feel guilty if their works are too small, or aren’t gaining quickly enough. Many young preachers are discouraged if they are not soon the pastors of large churches with high nickel and nose counts. Perhaps some leave pastorates they should have stayed in because they thought promotion was the sure sign of God’s blessing.
When this thinking holds sway in the pulpit, it produces a lot of restlessness and discontent in the pews. Discontent is also known by another name: unthankfulness.
Is the Bible consistent in this view?
Let’s ask this question another way. Is the simple life view that is blessed in the Old Testament consistent with the commands of the New Testament? Is the dream big philosophy consistent with the New Testament?
Much is made of disciples being called and leaving fishing nets and tax tables behind to itinerate through Galilee and surrounding areas. That’s big. That has traction. That’s the sort of thing to get us moving. But we seldom hear about a different command that Jesus also gave.
The first half of Mark 5 tells of Jesus casting a legion of devils out of the man who spent his time running around naked among the tombs. After the demons were expelled, the man was clothed and in his right mind at the feet of Jesus (Mark 5:15). When Jesus went to depart, the man wanted to go with Him. Jesus would not permit it, but rather gave him the command we have forgotten.
Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.
- Mark 5:19
Go home. Go tell your friends. That’s not very big. That doesn’t sound very good in a fundraising letter. How do you make a poster out of that? Yet that is what Jesus told him to do. God certainly does call some to extraordinarily big works, but that is not most. He requires a steward to be faithful, not famous.
Is the command in Mark 5:19 an isolated incident? Is it the exception? Is it consistent with other New Testament commands? The command to go home is very much in line with other commands concerning the Christian life. Consider:
And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12
Let him that stole steal no more:but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
- Ephesians 4:28
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
- 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Those don’t seem like very radical directives. The reality is that we need to be content and earnestly faithful where God has placed us (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The Lord may be pleased to enlarge your borders and bring you into a bigger room, but that is His work and not our’s (Psalm 75:5-7).
I encountered a statement along this line of thought from James Fraser who was a pioneer missionary among the Lisu people of southwestern China in the early part of the 20th century. Fraser’s life could hardly be called dull and ordinary, yet he didn’t see it as better than the more mundane. He prized faithfulness wherever God has placed us. He felt God had placed him among the Lisu and he should be faithful there, but he did not despise nor chide the engineer, shopkeeper, or homemaker so long as they were being faithful.
I have included the quote below. It is a little long, but it is good. It’s probably not the sort of thing we are use to hearing and especially from a missionary, so it is all the more worthwhile.
It has come home to me very forcibly of late that it matters little what the work is in which we are engaged; so long as God has put it into our hands, the faithful doing of it is of no greater importance in one case than in another.The plain truth is that the Scriptures never teach us to wait for opportunities of service, but to serve in just the things that lie next to our hands.
The temptation I have often had to contend with is persistent under many forms: “If only I were in such and such a position,” for example, “shouldn’t I be able to do a great work? Yes, I am only studying engineering at present, but when I am in training for missionary work, things will be different and more helpful.” Or “I am just in preparation at present, taking Bible courses and so on, but when I get out to China my work will begin.” “Yes, I have left home now, but I am only on the voyage, you know; when I am really in China, I shall have a splendid chance of service.” Or, “well, here in the training home, all my time must be given to language study—how can I do missionary work? But when I am settled down in my station and able to speak freely opportunities will be unlimited.”
It is all IF and WHEN. I believe the devil is fond of those conjunctions. I have today to a limited extent, the opportunities to which he has been putting me off (not that I have always yielded to these temptations), but far from helping me to be faithful in the use of them, he now turns quite a different face. The plain truth is that the Scriptures never teach us to wait for opportunities of service, but to serve in just the things that lie next to our hands. The Lord bids us work, watch and pray, but Satan suggests, wait until a good opportunity for working, watching and praying presents itself—and needless to say, this opportunity is always in the future. Since the things that lie in our immediate path have been ordered of God, who shall say that one kind of work is more important and sacred than another? I believe that it is no more necessary to be faithful (one says it reverently) in preaching the gospel than in washing up dishes in the scullery. I am no more doing the Lord’s work in giving the word of life to the Chinese than you are, for example, in wrapping up a parcel to send to the tailor. It is not for us, in any case, to choose our work. And if God has chosen it for us, hadn’t we better go straight ahead and do it, without waiting for anything greater, better or nobler?Since the things that lie in our immediate path have been ordered of God, who shall say that one kind of work is more important and sacred than another?
We often say, “I am looking forward to this, that or the other. Have we any right to be so dissatisfied with our present condition, which God has ordained for us, that we hanker after something in the future? I can hardly see that we have. There is one great exception—we are to look forward with earnest expectation to the coming of the Lord. But we have to be patient even in this. To look for our Savior’s appearing is a very different thing from hankering after enjoyments of which we hope to partake some time ahead.
Why should I, in the hot, close, rainy season at Tengyueh, long for the dry months when things are more pleasant all round? Didn’t God intend me to put up with the discomforts of heat and mildew? Why should I look forward to the time when I shall be able to speak Chinese more freely? Didn’t God intend me to serve an apprenticeship in learning the language? Why should I look forward to a little more time for myself, for reading, etc.? Though it is the most natural thing in the world to have such thoughts, I feel that they are not at all scriptural. There is more of the flesh about them than the spirit. They seem to be inconsistent with the peace of God which, it is promised, shall guard our hearts and our thoughts through Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul said that he had “learned,” in whatsoever state he was, “therein to be content,” implying that he had reached that attitude through discipline. I suppose it must be so with all of us: the natural tendency is to be always straining after something in the future. 1
- Taylor, Geraldine (2012-03-31). Behind the Ranges: The Life Changing Story of J.O. Fraser (Kindle Locations 368-397). OMF International. Kindle Edition. ↩
The 5 stages of internet comment grief.
We had high hopes for the internet. We could all log on and access the same things no matter where we were in the world. Web 2.0 emerged with even more hope. Not only could we access the same things, but now we could all comment and share. We could interact with people hither and yon around the same topic.
Did we at last have this free marketplace of ideas we had dreamed of? Did we at last have a platform for elevated discussion, enlightened reasoning, and collegial exchanges of ideas that made us all better people? Not so much.
Though I’m sure there are some cobwebbed corners of the interwebs where high-brow discussions are the order of the day, I have yet to find them or become entangled therein. I am particularly disappointed with the “Christian” discussions. Yes there are helpful, worthwhile articles being posted, but the comment sections of the same leave much to be desired.
After years of scientific observation and study of Christian discussions of the Bible and all things relevant, here are my generalizations of the 5 stages of internet comments that cause grief.
- The intellectual red herring. Every good Bible discussion usually has someone who resorts to jargon in order to slam on brakes. They deliberately make abstract statements with high-sounding words in order to imply inferiority in their opponent. They try to stop the discussion by making the other commenter look unqualified to speak on such topics.
This tactic is closely akin to the enlightened condescension ruse. The above commenter’s brother uses his combox space to pity the poor simpletons in the discussion. They are not as enlightened and will continue to toy about until they arrive at the same plane.
- The starving children dodge. How could you all spend time discussing this topic while children are starving in Tierra del Fuego? Or, insert whatever issue demands supreme urgency over whatever is being discussed. If while feeling convicted you query the dodger about where you might put finger oil on a pamphlet or tractate to wisen up about such urgency, you will probably only get a weak muttering about Googling. Turns out they’re not that all-fired concerned about the Fuegian indigenous after all, and their own information seems to have had no update since the days of Captain Cook.
No matter the subject, there always seems to be those who suggest there are more important things to discuss. I do not deny there are things of greater and lesser importance, but it seems if all Scripture is inspired and profitable, that we should get around to discussing all Scripture at some point.
- The ad hominem. Comments don’t go far before someone goes to-the-man. When someone disagrees with this commenter’s position, they are immediately labeled a heretic and their motives for holding such a position can only be wicked cruelty that puts them in company with the sort who enjoys lassoing cats and tying them in a sack.
These commenters can be quick to assign ignorance to anyone disagreeing with them. If someone holds a different position, it is because they have never studied the issue and do not have any reason why they hold their position. Could it be possible that through study, thought, and reasoning someone has come to a different conclusion? Nah . . . it has to be the cats-in-a-sack thing.
- The proof-texter. These commenters will not be convinced of any teaching unless they can be supplied with reference to a single verse that makes a direct statement with relevant key words to prove that teaching. I guess their Bible must look a lot more like a dictionary or an OSHA code book. The Bible just doesn’t work that way and Jesus didn’t proof-text when proving the resurrection (Matthew 22:31-32).
- Where’s the love? Without fail, whenever a discussion takes place and at least two people are not speaking the same thing, someone will stand up to proclaim that we should all just love each other. It seems to them there is never any place to discuss where we differ. There is no time when we should examine a public teaching critically. It’s unloving.
I guess we will just forget about all of Paul’s disputing in Acts. We should probably expunge the council at Jerusalem and Paul’s correcting of Peter from our minds. All that iron sharpening iron stuff should probably just be taken figuratively for back-patting and side hugs.
The list could go on. I don’t quite know what to call this post. A rant? A plea? I see so many discussions going exactly nowhere and it is disappointing. I don’t advocate angry arguing. I don’t scotch for ill-spirited flamings. But I do love a good discussion and I don’t mind at all if it’s impassioned. In fact, I downright like it. I wish there was more of it. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I think we would be better off for it.
We considered that salvation is of the Lord in a previous post. The biblical sum on the subject ascribes all glory to God in the salvation of men. So, accepting that salvation is God’s work, is there any room for man’s work in the salvation of his own soul? Does he contribute? Does he get any credit?
The Bible answers that question in three key ways.
- God will not divide or share His glory with any other.
Paul states three times in Ephesians 1 that God’s work in salvation is to the praise of His, God’s own, glory. In verse 3, Paul blesses God who has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings . . . in Christ.” The spiritual blessings are enumerated in verses 4-5. These include being “chosen . . . in him before the foundation of the world,” in order that “we should be holy and without blame before him in love;” and being “predestinated . . . unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.” All these are “To the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6).
Several blessings are further enumerated in verses 6-12. “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.” “We have redemption through his blood,” and “the forgiveness of sins.” He has “made known unto us the mystery of his will.” “We have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him.” These also are “That we should be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12).
Furthermore, the saved have been “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.” This is so that we will ultimately come into the full inheritance of the “purchased possession,” and this also is “unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14).
- Man cannot boast of anything before God.
Salvation is a particular display of God’s grace, mercy, and love to fallen, human sinners. Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith . . . not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So God does the “work” of salvation and applies that work as a gift of grace to a fallen, incapacitated sinner. Man is left without any boast before God.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe:for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness:that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay:but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid:yea, we establish the law.
- Romans 3:21-31
God has so ordered salvation that man has nothing to boast in himself and his glorying is only rightly in the Lord. “That no flesh should glory in his presence . . . That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:29, 31).
- Salvation cannot simultaneously be of grace and of works.
Words mean things and, like matter, cannot be and not-be at the same time. Genesis 1:1 declares, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” As Francis Schaeffer put it, “The God who is there.” 1 The Bible begins with a distinction—God creates. So you have God and creation; God and not-God. God is the Creator, not the created. The creation is the created and not the Creator.
The Bible points out just such a distinction between grace and works for salvation.
And if by grace, then is it no more of works:otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace:otherwise work is no more work.
- Romans 11:6
The distinction is made between salvation by works and salvation by grace. It cannot be both at the same time. To make it so does violence to the very meaning of the words—”grace is no more grace” and “work is no more work.” Paul explains this distinction in Romans 4:1-8. To work is to earn a wage, or payment. When the payment comes for work done, that payment is settling a debt. It is a sum that is owed. It is not a gift given.
Salvation is described as an undeserved gift. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Salvation is an overwhelming gift of grace that gives us what we do not deserve and removes from us what we do deserve, namely death or judgment for sin.
So the answer is, No. There is no glory for man to take to himself in the salvation of his soul. Salvation is start-to-finish of God, and, therefore, all glory belongs to Him.
- Schaeffer, F. A. (1970). The God who is there: speaking historic Christianity into the twentieth century. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ↩