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Will You Help Yourself?

October 27, 2013

Pharisee&Tax Collector_WebThe Bible is so rich in wisdom that people love to quote it when they want to support a point or to express what they are feeling. The problem is that what is often quoted is not really what the Bible says or it is not from the Bible at all!

I have for you today, the “Top 10 List” of frequently used quotations that people think are in the Bible. I think some of them may surprise you!

#10 - “The lion will lay down with the lamb.” That is a misquote of Isaiah 11:6. It actually says,

   6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
   the leopard will lie down with the goat,
   the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
   and a little child will lead them.

#9 - “A fool and his money are soon parted.” This not a Biblical reference at all. Thomas Tusser wrote that line 1573, in his volume Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie.

#8 - “This too shall pass.”  That phrase comes from a Muslim Sufi from Persia, sometime during the middle ages!

#7 - The Seven Deadly Sins. In 590 AD, Pope Gregory confirmed a list of sins that came from a 4th century monk. They included wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. The Bible, however, says that all sin is deadly!

#6 - “Money is the root of all evil.”  First Timothy 6:10a says, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

#5 - “Pride comes before the fall.” Proverbs 16:18 actually says,

   “Pride goes before destruction,
   a haughty spirit before a fall.”

#4 - “Charity begins at home.” Originally, the phrase was written by the Roman comic writer Terence. Sir Thomas Browne penned the English phrase in 1642.

#3 - “To thine ownself be true.” It is not from the Bible, but from William Shakespeare in Hamlet.

#2 - “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” There is great deal in the Bible about cleanliness, but not this saying! Its beginnings in English are probably from Francis Bacon with alterations by John Wesley.

#1 - “God helps those who help themselves.” This saying has been quoted so often it is difficult to find its beginnings. Algernon Sydney, wrote it in an article titled, Discourses Concerning Government.

Then it was popularized by Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac (1757) But, in 6 BC, Aeschylus said, “God loves to help him who strives to help himself.” That was probably a paraphrase of a story about Hercules declining to help a man with a stuck wagon. In the ancient story he says,

   “Hercules will not help
   Unless you make some effort to help yourself.”[1]

The Lord helps those who help themselves. The phrase is not Biblical and worse, it is the jaws of the trap of self-righteousness. Turn with me if you will to the Gospel of Luke. Luke 18:9-14 is a story that Jesus told that shows the result of the trap of self-righteousness.

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

May the Lord add his blessing to the reading of the Word.

In this section of Luke, the writer presented his reader with a number of Jesus’ stories that described the difference between those who would see the Kingdom of God and those who would not.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the difference could not be more stark. Luke introduced the story with a note that identified to whom the parable was directed. It was pointed at those, “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.”

The stark difference was between two men; a Pharisee and a tax collector. In general terms, Jesus was talking about the pinnacle of Jewish religious society and the dregs of secular culture. The Pharisees (the lawyers) stood for strict obedience to the Torah. Tax collectors were often purely thieves and worse, they conspired with the Roman government to profit for themselves. They were as different as they could be. One was respected and one was rejected.

Both these men came to pray and the confident Pharisee began in gratitude. But the gratitude he expressed was self-exaltation. “Thank you that I am better than this guy!” He did not thank God for the blessings of his life. He thanked God but took credit for his own blessings! “I am not like other men!” To prove that, he quoted his resume to God. “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

Then the tax collector “stood at a distance.” With physical evidence of humility, he confessed his sin and asked for mercy. Jesus told his listeners that the hated law-breaking tax collector went home “justified before God.” Not so the Pharisee.

In John 12:43, Jesus said that the Pharisees “…loved praise from men more than praise from God.”While the Pharisee praised himself for all to see, the tax collector humbled himself with no show or fanfare.

As Jesus so often did, he turned conventional wisdom on its head. The man who seemed righteous received only the praise of men. The man who was clearly a sinner went home justified. Jesus’ original listeners must have been confused by this topsy-turvy story. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”The more I study the message of Jesus, the more certain I become certain that this is a central theme.

You are wondering I am sure, how this connects to the phrase, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Allow me to think with you about this for a moment or two. If you accept that “proverbial” wisdom and structure your lifestyle around it, what is the end result? The obvious result is a certain level of self-reliance.

For most of our history Americans have had a love affair with “up-by-your-bootstraps” self-reliance. Ask the man-on-the-street and you will get little argument. Self-reliance is a positive character trait. But, in our relationship with our Savior, self-reliance is dangerous.

Obviously, to grow more self-reliant you must grow less reliant on others. If you continue unabated in a “help myself” style eventually, you will find yourself congratulating yourself for what you have done for yourself. The grace and blessings of God are then a distant memory.

We walk a fine line here! There is some truth in the old saying and we do sense that there is something good in it. Certainly, it is true that God will help those who seize the initiative and help themselves. Sometimes that help comes in the form of stopping them dead in their tracks! God also helps those who are unable to help themselves.

The fact is, that the gospel of Jesus Christ says that you are not capable of helping yourself when it comes to your relationship with God. In Romans 3 (22b-24) we read that, “There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

You cannot boot-strap lift yourself out of the pit of sin! Only reliance on Jesus can do that! If your desire is to help yourself, the place to start is by putting your faith in Jesus, our savior!

From → General

One Comment
  1. The apprehension of sin in individual life was not the primary mission of Jesus. The first 1000 years of Christianity made far greater emphasis upon Christ as a miracle=worker. Christianity’s obsession with the place of sin in the individual willfully distorts Christ’s Ministry and negates the equal importance of His teachings of the Parables and the Miracles. This misrepresentation has simply led to Christianity becoming a near-minority Faith in modern times, excluding those in need of Christ’s teachings through a Pharisee-like emphasis upon Sin.

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