The Forgotten Command
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. ↩