Five phrases Christians should never use again

phrases

We all have certain sayings that we regularly use. In my house, we often remind the kids, “You’ll get what you get and you won’t get upset,” particularly when it’s time for a snack. Another favorite: “We’re gonna have fun whether we like it or not.”

These are well and good, at least to a point—that is, only in as much as we ascribe no more value to them than their due. Christians are no different; we have short hand phrases that are sometimes helpful, but often not. In fact, many we treat as downright biblical, when they’re more likely to be found in 2 Hesitations. Here are five that I’d love to see never ever used again:

God won’t give you more than you can handle. I’m pretty sure Paul, Peter, the rest of the apostles, all the prophets, and Jesus would disagree on this. Although Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is kind, the Christian life is most definitely not. Paul described himself and his co-laborers as “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). “Beyond our strength,” incidentally, means it was more than he could handle. But the purpose was to cause them to “rely not on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:9). Jesus described Paul as one who would suffer greatly for the sake of the gospel. Jesus in taking our sin upon himself most definitely carried a burden so great his sweat looked as though it were drops of blood and he pleaded for the burden to be lifted by the Father, were it his will to do so. Instead the Father sent an angel to strengthen him (Luke 22:43). (This is a subject I dealt with in greater detail in this article which appears in my eBook, Everyday Theology).

“Let’s pray for a hedge of protection.” I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure what this means. I get the reference—but the first place you see this language used in the Bible is in Job. However, there, it’s Satan accusing God of not playing fair with Job, that the only reason Job doesn’t blaspheme him is because God has placed a “hedge around him” (Job 1:10). We do find a few other examples as well, but only a couple have a protective connotation (notably Isaiah 5:5 and Hosea 2:6). A later example in Job (3:23) suggests one having his path obscured. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for such a thing, but the biblical evidence is slim.

God helps those who help themselves. To be clear: God does not reward slothfulness, apathy, or laziness in any way, shape or form. We also can see that faithful people are full of ingenuity and a sort of godly ambition that God blesses. But, the Bible has nothing close to this sort of admonishment, which finds its origins in Aesop’s fables (and was later popularized by Benjamin Franklin). Instead of encouraging us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps (which I addressed it in this article some years ago), we are to remember that even as we work, God is working in us (Philippians 2:13).

“Let go and let God.” As you can guess, this one is related to the one I just mentioned. The Keswickian notion that if you just surrender and have faith and if you’re struggling just surrender harder is, well, kind of silly (to say nothing of how it leads to classism among Christians). No matter how hard you look, you’re not going to find anything in the Bible that confirms it. Instead, you’re going to be told constantly to strive, do, go forth, fight, and so on. God commands an active faith, not passivity. So stop saying this! (And for those interested, Andrew Naselli’s got a tome analyzing Keswick theology in great detail. If you’re a Logos user, it’s worth checking out.)

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.” This is a weird one that I’ve never quite understood. The whole “open door” theology thing has always seemed strange to me, though. I can’t find anything that would give any sort of credence to this notion in the Bible. At all. (The only thing we have that’s close is the admonition that God never leaves us without escape from temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13.) Further, it seems that not every door that is open to us is one we should actually go through. Sometimes opportunities are presented as choices for us to say no to. But maybe I just don’t have enough faith…

There are, no doubt, more that could be added to this list. But for now, maybe it’s enough for us to commit to thinking carefully and biblically about the things we say and how much weight we give those sayings. But just a warning: If we do this, we might find we probably shouldn’t say some of them at all. And may God be glorified because of it.

Everyday Theology: Just Listen to Your Heart

Back in the 80’s, the Swedish pop group Roxette had a hit song called “Listen to your heart.” If you were either a fan of the group (I’m sorry) or survived the 80’s relatively unscathed (except for the odd Duran Duran flashback) you might remember.

Listen to your heart—when he’s calling for you
Listen to your heart—there’s nothing else you can do

Now you remember, don’t you?

Sadly, this awful song was in my head as I sat in the Zurich Airport waiting for my connection to London Monday morning (yeah, I know). But this song reminded me of something we all too frequently think is a good idea:

Just listen to your heart.

It makes for a great…err, well, it makes for a pop song, but it’s lousy theology. Why?

Because, “my heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick!” (Jer. 17:9)

I’ve written about this subject before, but it bears repeating:

Often the worst thing we can do is listen to our hearts. Because our hearts are naturally inclined to sin, they will always lead us to things that displease God, but seem right in our own eyes. The serpent’s tempting of Eve in the garden is a perfect example. He convinced her to distrust God, that He was holding out something really good from her and Adam. The text says, “[W]hen the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6).

We can’t miss that—she saw that it was a delight to the eyes. It seemed like a good thing. Her feelings told her, “Go for it!”

And both she and the man did, which brings us to today; to a culture that continues to pummel us with the same message, over and over again: “Just listen to your heart. Do what feels right. You deserve it.” [Read more…]

God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle?

God won't give you more than you can handle? Part of the Everyday Theology series.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

This gets thrown around a lot. And I do mean a lot.

Many people use this line to try to encourage a friend or family member whenever times are tough. And while it’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to build up and encourage people who are experiencing trials and adversity, we need to make sure that what we encourage them with is the truth.

While this phrase sounds very positive and affirming, you will not find “God won’t give you more than you can handle” anywhere within the pages of the Bible. It simply doesn’t exist.

What you will find is the verse that it appears to be a misquotation of, 1 Cor 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (emphasis mine)

Not Being Tempted Beyond Our Ability

It’s very important to understand a couple of things: God does not tempt anyone. James 1:13 emphatically states, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” While God does not tempt us, He does, in his sovereignty, permit us to be tempted.

This is to grow us in holiness.

When Paul writes that God will not tempt us beyond our ability, he means that we are never in a situation where have no other choice but to sin. In a situation where telling the truth will damage your reputation, for example, it’s much easier to give in to the temptation to protect how people see you and lie, rather than do the right thing, which is tell the truth. That’s why there’s no such thing as a “white lie”—one that you tell to protect the feelings of someone else. We never lie to make someone else feel better, only to avoid discomfort ourselves. It’s just easier to lie and not deal with the consequences of telling the truth.

But, easy rarely equals right. We always have the option of doing the right thing, that which is honoring to God, but it will often cost us—whether that cost is reputation, position, relationship, or money, there will be a cost. But it’s always worth it to do the right thing.

So it’s true that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to do what is right, He will almost always give us more than we can handle on our own.

Giving Us More Than We Can Handle

Over and over again in the Bible, we see men and women who are given far more than they can handle. The prophet Jeremiah is a great example; he was charged with preaching repentance to the people of Israel, a calling that caused him to be beaten, plotted against and rejected by everyone, even his own family. Emotionally, that was far more than he could handle (as we see in his many laments).

The ministry of the Apostle Paul is probably one of the most powerful examples of this truth found in Scripture. In 2 Cor. 11:21-30, he tells us the following:

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Paul doesn’t tell us these things to boast in how he took all this suffering and adversity like a man—he does it so that we might know that God will always give us more than we can handle. He “boasts of the things that show my weakness” (v. 30) because those things show his (and our) dependency on the power and mercy of God.

Earlier in this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul exhorts his readers with the following:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8,9, emphasis mine).

What he tells them is this: “We were so afflicted that we thought we were going to die! We were burdened beyond our ability, and we could not handle it—But God gave us this adversity and burden so that we would rely on Him who can!”

God is making it clear that we are not self-sufficient. We cannot just hunker down and power through every situation. And we cannot white-knuckle our way to holiness. We need Him.

So maybe we need to stop seeing the trials and adversity in our lives as a burden, as an indication that God doesn’t love us. Maybe we need to start seeing them as proof that God indeed loves us very much—so much so that He will not let us try to rely on our own strength, but continue to show us that we must rely on Him to endure suffering and persevere until the end.

Sunday Shorts (07/19)

“He moved out, took all our money, and left me with two children”

A powerful testimony from the Mars Hill Church blog:

After giving my heart to Jesus, he radically changed my life. I stopped being sexually active, changed my circle of friends, started singing in a choir, changed the way I dressed, started treating the people better, and used my free time to get closer to Christ. After college, I met and married a man who was serving Jesus. We had two beautiful boys, we were a part of a church, we served in the music ministry, and things felt right. My life suddenly changed, however, when I caught my husband having an affair. He moved out the same day, took all our money, and left me with two children.

Read the rest at Blog.MarsHillChurch.org.

“Why Johnny Can’t Preach”

Ben Quinn at Baptist Twenty-One offers a concise recommendation for T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach:

If you’re looking for a good book on preaching, you definitely want to check out T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach.  I realize that most of you theology buffs are thinking, “The last thing I want to read is a preaching book,” but I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.  The literary quality alone is the worth the price of the book ($9.99 at Amazon), and you can read it in one sitting.

Playing off the titles of Why Johnny Can’t Read (Rudolf Flesch, 1966) and Why Johnny Can’t Write (Linden and Whimbey, 1990), T. David Gordon argues, “that societal changes that led to the concerns expressed in the 1960’s to 1980’s in educational circles…have led to the natural cultural consequence that people cannot preach expositorily” (15).

Read the rest at BaptistTwentyOne.org

Dan Kimball: “The Toughest Chapter to Write and Thank You NT Wright”

Dan Kimball shares his struggles writing about the issue of homosexuality:

The most difficult chapter in this book I am struggling with in the final writing and editing is the chapter on homosexuality. I did write about homosexuality before in the They Like Jesus But Not The Church book and my theological understanding of what Scriptures teach or don’t teach on it. I also addressed it in the DVD curriculum for that book, as I interviewed my gay friend Penny for that session in the DVD. The DVD was important as I wanted people to not just think about homosexuality or read about it, but to see the emotions, the eyes as one speaks, and hear the heart of my friend Penny – so that those that may not understand can hear her perspective and damage Christians and the church have done to her over the years.

But this book I am writing now is a trade book not written to only church leaders like my others. So I feel more weight  because the reading audience is much broader and probably more diverse. With this specific chapter, I am finding myself retyping sentences and thinking through how all different viewpoints will be reading what I am writing. So this one is taking several days wrapping it up.

Read the rest at Dan’s blog.

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Everyday Theology: “Money is the Root of All Evil” Exploring the truth that money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit & John Bunyan What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and what we can learn from John Bunyan’s experience.

Everyday Theology: “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” Seeking to understand the purpose of godly discipline.

Book Review: Deep Economy Emily Armstrong offers her insights into Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy.

Everyday Theology: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

Continuing to look at some of the more common ideas we have about, or relating to in some way, God, we get to this saying:

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

The saying, a common one used in arguments surrounding corporal punishment of children, is an adaptation of several of the sayings in the book of Proverbs, notably:

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die (Prov. 23:13)

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him (Prov. 13:24)

From Reacting to Overreacting

Frequently, this adage is used to advocate for corporal punishment, in the form of spanking. However, there are some that would suggest that it advocates for the abuse of children. To use this saying, or any other, as justification for child abuse goes far beyond the bounds of its original meaning, and is a notion that must be rejected, whether you are for or against spanking as a parent.

It is never acceptable for any parent to shame, berate, or belittle their child.

For the Christian, we are never given permission to punish our children. You will not find an example of this for us to follow anywhere in the Bible.

The example and command we are given is to constantly and consistently discipline our children, just as God disciplines His. [Read more…]

Everyday Theology: Money is the root of all evil

As we continue to look at some of the more common ideas we have about, or relating to in some way, God, I wanted to address the following:

“Money is the root of all evil.”

The origins of this one are fairly easy to trace, as it is a misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10 (KJV), which says “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Four Missing Words

Some might wonder, what’s the big deal? Does a misquotation change the meaning in any significant way? In this case, yes. In the saying, “money is the root of all evil,” money itself is given moral value, and is determined to be all bad, all the time. This attitude, in many ways, is the heart of poverty theology — an overreaction to prosperity theology that essentially says, “if you’re financially poor, God loves you more than if you had money.” It is a demonizing of money.

Is money bad? Nope. We need money for groceries, for our mortgages or rent, for paying our church leaders, for helping the poor… None of these are bad things.

But the love of money is a very bad thing indeed.

1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV) says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” A love of money can cause people to wander away from the faith because the object of their affections is not Jesus, it’s cash.

It is idolatry. [Read more…]

God helps those who help themselves

“God helps those who help themselves.”

This sounds like something that makes a lot of sense when you first hear it, doesn’t it? We see examples throughout Scripture of men and women who seem commended by for their ingenuity—Abraham, David, Joseph, even Jacob to some degree… all are men we see (apparently) take matters into their own hands and come out on top and in God’s favor.

On top of that, we’re told by the Apostle Paul to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12b); we’re to be active in our faith, not simply sitting back and doing nothing. So it almost sounds like this could be a biblical truth, doesn’t it?

Almost.

Origin

One of the earliest forms of this saying goes back to Aesop’s fable, Hercules and the Waggoner, where the moral of the story is “the gods help them that help themselves.” The modern variant, “God helps those who help themselves,” was allegedly first coined by the English political theorist Algernon Sidney and later popularized by Benjamin Franklin, a Deist. In case you’re wondering, a Deist is one who believes that while a supreme being did indeed create the universe, that supreme being does not involve itself in human affairs. Therefore, miracles and special revelation (such as healing, prophecy, the virgin birth & resurrection of Jesus, and the inspiration of the Scriptures) don’t actually happen.

At the risk of oversimplifying, according to this view, God just isn’t interested in his creations. He’s got better things to do.

Okay, we know the origin. So, what does the Bible really say? Does God really help those who help themselves?

What the Bible really says…

Nowhere in Scripture will you find appropriate support for the statement “God helps those who help themselves.” Whether you’re looking at life here from 30,000 feet or from street level, you will actually find the opposite is true.

Here are just a couple examples:

In speaking of trials and affliction, the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Cor 1:9-10, emphasis mine)

Additionally, in speaking of repentance, and God coming to save the lost, Jesus says:

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:4-6)

In this parable, we (that is, humans) are the lost sheep, a completely helpless animal, in need of saving.

God does not help those who can help themselves, simply because no one can help do so! We cannot save ourselves from our bondage to sin, nor from the wrath of God, so He does. Our own power fails us when we rely on it, rather than God. To believe that God helps those who help themselves, is not only foolish, but it’s proud. Pride motivates the belief that we can do everything by our own gusto and go-to attitude. That we can pick ourselves up by our spiritual & moral bootstraps. But, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5).

How do we respond?

We know that the idea that God helps those who help themselves is false, so how do we respond? I need to spend some time asking God to reveal to me in what ways I live like this is true. And as He reveals them, my desire is to repent. I have no doubt that there are areas in which I am doing this, and I hope that I am learning to be humble enough to admit them.

Everyday Theology

“God helps those who help themselves.”

You’ve heard that one before, right? What about:

“Money is the root of all evil.”

Or how about this one:

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

And my personal favorite:

“Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.”

We’ve all heard these phrases before, haven’t we? Little nuggets that sound kind of like something you’d think was in the Bible.

It’s everyday theology. People build their worldview on sayings like these; whole ministries and movements are built at least one of these.

But how often do we stop to wonder whether or not these sayings are true at all?

So let’s talk about them over the course of the next few days. Let’s find out if they’re true. If so, then how do they affect our lives. If not, how do we need to respond? Bring up some others that you’ve heard in the comments.

Looking forward to discussing these later this week.