Monday, January 06, 2020

Anonymous Asks (74)

“Does God only help those who help themselves?”

I hope you will not think I am equivocating if I answer, “It depends.” Because it does. Sometimes believers have to do a great deal of the heavy lifting while carrying out the plans and purposes of God. To shirk our obligations would be to defy God himself. Other times, getting involved in accomplishing God’s purposes is not only unnecessary, but can cause all kinds of complications and regret.

Abraham’s wife Sarah could tell you how badly that can go.

Blood and Sweat

On the active side, take the example of Eleazar the son of Dodo, who “rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the Lord brought about a great victory that day.” The Lord is rightly credited with a great victory, but it was accomplished through human sweat rather than by way of miraculous intervention. Even at the city of Jericho, where the people of Israel shouted and blew trumpets and the walls fell down flat — a thing which could only have been an act of God — the Israelite army was still required to rush in and put the sword to the inhabitants of the city.

In cases like these, we can reasonably say yes, God helps those who help themselves. It was the combination of human and divine effort that produced the necessary result. Whether the ratio was 30:70, 10:90 or 1:99 is not the issue. Both God and man were involved. This is ordinarily how things work.

Exceptions to the Rule

However, there are exceptions. Sometimes people are helpless, overwhelmed and incapable of doing anything at all to better their situation. In the time of Elisha, the king of Syria laid siege to the Israelite city of Samaria. The Israelites had no food and no hope. They all expected to die, until the Lord caused the Syrian soldiers to hear the sound of chariots and horses and to flee in fear, leaving all their goods behind. That was all God. He helped those who couldn’t help themselves.

Salvation works that way. We bring nothing to it. It is an act of God from beginning to end. All we do is acknowledge what has already been done.

When to Work and When to Watch

So does God only help those who help themselves? No, sometimes he helps those who can do nothing at all.

Other times, he very much expects us to get involved. Eli was condemned because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Eli had a job to do, and he wasn’t doing it. God could have put Eli’s sons to death years earlier, but he wanted Eli to fulfill his obligations as a father and a priest. Eli didn’t. On the positive side, the apostle Paul refers to himself and other Christian laborers as “God’s fellow workers”. What a wonderful privilege to be allowed to participate in the carrying out of God’s purposes!

So then, it all depends on the circumstances, and whether the word of God requires that we “stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which he will accomplish for you today,” or that we “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

Learning the difference is part of maturing in the Christian faith.

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