In the opening pages of his great book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas uses the following illustration:
“I’m going to cut him open.” Historians aren’t sure who the first physician was who followed through on this thought, but the practice revolutionized medicine. The willingness to cut into a corpse, peel back the skin, pull a scalp off a skull, cut through the bone (Are you feeling me yet, this morning?), and actually remove, examine, and chart the organs that lay within was a crucial first step in finding out how the human body really works.
For thousands of years physicians had speculated on what went on inside the human body, but there was a reluctance and even an abhorrence to actually dissect a cadaver… While an occasional brave soul ventured inside a dead body, it wasn’t until the Renaissance period (roughly the fourteenth to the sixteenth century) that European doctors routinely started to cut people open.
And when they did, former misconceptions collapsed. In the sixteenth century, Andrea Vesalius was granted a ready supply of criminals’ corpses, allowing him to definitively contradict assumptions about the human anatomy that had been unquestioned for a thousand years or more. Vesalius’s anatomical charts became invaluable, but he couldn’t have drawn the charts unless he was first willing to make the cut.
Sometimes, we approach the Bible in the same way. We think we understand it; we think we know it. But, if we’re honest with ourselves we’re a bit reluctant to really open it up and dive in. Recently, it seems study after study has revealed that American Christians increasingly do not read their Bibles. In fact, a 2012 Pew Research study revealed that less than 20 percent of American Christians read their Bibles daily. LifeWay Research added that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week and 18 percent never read their Bible. And, it’s not because we don’t have access. After all, nine in ten American homes own a Bible. Among those homes, the average home has three Bibles. This year alone, various Bible societies will distribute over 400 million copies. So, we have the Bible, but we’re not reading it.
This causes all sorts of problems and difficulties for the American Christian. One of which is simply that we often don’t know what the Bible really says. Sometimes, something just sounds good enough that we think it has be in there somewhere. And, to demonstrate this point, I have some quotes; and, I want to see if you can determine if the following quotes are found in the Bible or if they have their origin elsewhere.
- “A liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth.”
- “The doors to the rooftop room were locked. They said, ‘He’s probably relieving himself in the restroom.’”
- “A fool thinks himself wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
- “Why, if a fox climbed that wall, it would fall to pieces under his weight.”
- “Canada is the best country in the world.”
- “Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens…”
- “For there to be betrayal, there would have to have been trust first.”
Katniss, The Hunger Games
- “Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys to pieces.”
2 Kings 2:24
- “Let’s attack some innocent people just for fun!”
- “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string.”
Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
- “A brave man acknowledges the strength of others.”
Veronica Roth, Divergent
- “She is as beautiful as the full moon, as pure as the sun.”
Song of Songs 6:10
See, sometimes there are things that sound so good that we think it must be from the Bible. Other times, there are things that sound so strange that we think there’s no way that’s from the Bible. This morning, we’re going to take a look at three phrases that I have commonly heard attributed to Scripture, but guess what? They can’t be found in Scripture. The Bible doesn’t say that. And, yet, as we dig a little deeper into these phrases and our misconceptions fall away, I believe we will discover that what the Bible actually says is far sweeter than what we could have ever imagined.
GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES.
So, this morning, the first phrase I want to take a look at is, God helps those who help themselves. This is a popular phrase that I’ve often heard attributed to the Bible, but it’s not in there. The Bible doesn’t say that. The phrase is meant to emphasize our human initiative. “Get up on your feet and do something about your situation! God helps those who help themselves!” But, again, that’s not in the Bible. It actually has its roots in ancient Greek culture and was illustrated in two of Aesop’s fables. It was popularized, however, by Benjamin Franklin in the Poor Richard’s Almanac from 1757.
What is really surprising is that in the 1990s, the The Barna Group did a survey and found that 68 percent of born-again Christians agreed that the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” was found in the Bible. Another poll showed 75 percent of American teenagers believed that this phrase was the central message of the Bible.
So, if the Bible doesn’t say that, what does the Bible actually say? In Romans 5:6, Paul reminds us, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Then, in Isaiah 25:4, we read, “For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat…” So, we read that in terms of our salvation, we cannot help ourselves; we are utterly helpless. So, time after time, we read in the Bible that God actually helps the helpless. Isn’t that so much sweeter? God doesn’t just help those who help themselves; He helps the helpless, the powerless and the needy. After all, isn’t that what makes Him a gracious God?
Now, there are certainly situations in which it would appear to be true that God helps those who help themselves. The Bible doesn’t use the grace of God as an excuse for the inactivity of the Christian. There are individuals who can fall into the trap of asking God for help and, then, expecting God to take care of everything Himself. For example, if you are praying for a job, but refuse to get up and couple that with applications and interviews, that’s probably not going to work out too well for you. That’s why Proverbs 13:4 rightly states, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” At the same time, the Bible is abundantly clear that God is not dependent upon your level of intelligence, your skills or your abilities for Him to act. You see, it’s not that God helps those who have the ability to help themselves, but God helps those who turn to Him with whatever they have. He helps those who humble themselves and seek Him first. He doesn’t ask you to fix and tidy up your life before approaching Him because you can’t; you’re incapable of doing so. Again, Jeremiah 17:5 warns us by saying, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” The man who trusts in himself, who is arrogantly self-reliant, has turned his heart away from God. But, God does tell us through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 41:13, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’” I love that imagery of holding the hand of God.
So, the Bible doesn’t say that God helps those who help themselves. But, what greater truth does it teach us? God helps the powerless and the needy. If we learn to trust in Him and follow Him, He walks with us and help us. This morning, there are some of you who have been relying simply on your own strength and your own abilities; you don’t have to do that. You’ve been exhausting yourself, wondering why nothing seems to really change in life. The problem is that you’re failing to add God to the equation. Because when we turn to Him and place our trust in Him, He gladly holds our hand, helping and directing us. Stop trying to do it yourself. Trust in the Lord. There are some of you this morning who have been trusting in yourself for far too long. This morning, I want to encourage you to reach out to God. Ask Him for help. He’s not going to force your hand in a direction you don’t want to go, but as you trust in Him and look to Him, you’ll soon discover you were not made to do this alone.
GOD WANTS YOU TO BE HAPPY
The second phrase popularly attributed to the Bible that we’re going to take a look at this morning is, God wants you to be happy. You can’t really pin this phrase down to one original source. But, it seems to have permeated our culture. This is a phrase I’ve heard often as people begin describing some decision they’ve made that conflicts with their conscience. They will typically justify their actions by saying, “Well, God does want us to be happy.” Really? Do you have a verse reference for that? Because, the Bible doesn’t say that either. Now, it’s not that God wants us unhappy, but our happiness is not God’s highest priority. I actually believe that Christians ought to be some of the happiest people out there, but it’s not because of all the good things we get or all the bad things we’ve avoided. We ought to be happiest people because we know Jesus Christ as Lord. Our happiness comes from serving Him, not from Him serving us. After all,the Bible does say:
- “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15)
- “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” (Psalm 146:5)
- “He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.” (Proverbs 16:20)
- “Happy is he who keeps the law.” (Proverbs 29:18)
Our happiness comes from serving Him, not from His serving us.
You see, the mindset that God just wants you to be happy is an incredibly and dangerously slippery slope. In that single statement, you are also stating that you believe that whatever makes you happy must then be right and whatever makes you unhappy must then be wrong. And, this is obviously problematic. Does sin make us happy? Yea, of course. That’s why it’s tempting in the first place. Even if only momentarily, we enjoy it. But, if God just wants us happy and what’s happy is right, something doesn’t add up there. Furthermore, this slippery slope forces us to believe that God exists to serve us. It’s a mindset that sneakily asserts that God exists just to make you happy. Yet, the reality that we see throughout Scripture is that we exist to serve, honor and bring glory to the name of Christ.
Happiness is never a priority when it involves us disobeying God. This seems so painfully obvious, but we often live our lives completely contradictory to this statement. If you are a parent, you understand this through your interaction with your children. I love my daughter Gwen. I love for her to be happy. Her smile and laugh are honestly some of my favorite things. But, her happiness is not my highest priority. She’s a hyperactive and energetic kid (I have no idea where she gets that from). She loves to try to stand up and stomp her feet in her chair instead of sitting down. She loves it; she thinks the greatest thing in the world. But, I know what would happen to her if she fell out of the chair. As much as I want her to be happy, I know what’s best for her.
We’re learning what it means to share. I know it would make her happy to rip a toy out of another kids’ hands and play with it. But, then, she’ll be the mean baby in the nursery. And, I don’t want that for her. I want what’s best for her; and, often, it’s not what will make her happy in this moment. So, we understand from our relationships that there are things that trump the momentary happiness of our lives. Yet, there are those who are convinced that happiness is God’s chief purpose for our lives.
Proverbs 14:12 warns us about this mentality in saying, “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death.” So, the moment may bring happiness, but the end is demise. Yet, the Bible tells us there is a better way. What’s better than thinking our happiness comes from earthly desires is the goodness of God’s promises. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Max Lucado says this in one of his sermon series entitled God’s Highest Hope: “Unhappiness on earth cultivates a hunger for heaven. By gracing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. The only tragedy, then, is to be satisfied prematurely. To settle for earth. To be content in a strange land.”
Max Lucado continues by sharing this illustration. I want to read a portion of it to you this morning:
Take a fish and place him on the beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes?
Of course not. Then how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach simply because he was not made for the beach.
And you will never be completely happy on earth simply because you were not made for earth. Oh, you will have your moments of joy. You will catch glimpses of light. You will know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead.
We weren’t made for our happiness to be fulfilled here. We’re fish on a beach, but the ocean is our home. Jesus promises us in John 14:1-2, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told that I go to prepare a place for you?” The psalmist writes in Psalm 84:10, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” C. S. Lewis put it this way, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.C.S. Lewis
Friends, if you are struggling to find happiness today, take joy in the fact that our God’s promises are true. It’s not that He desires you to be unhappy; it’s just that we’re not home yet. We’re in a foreign land. When difficult and unhappy moments come your way, may they simply whet your appetite for more of God. Happiness–true happiness–is found in His presence. Though God never promised that your happiness is His highest priority, He does know what is best for you. It’s time we stop seeking our own happiness; and, we start seeking the presence of God. In doing so, we will find unspeakable joy. Will you trust in Him this morning?
GOD WON’T GIVE YOU MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE
As we move to our third and final point this morning, what comes to your mind when I say, “Beam me up, Scotty.” Some of you have no clue, but if you are even remotely nerdy enough, you thought about Star Trek. But, do you realize that phrase was never said throughout the series or movies? Shatner said similar phrases, but never that phrase. Interestingly the misquote has come to be closely identified with Star Trek anyway. This third and final phrase is very similar, and that is the saying that God won’t give you more than you can handle. Now, I know there are some who might say, “Well, now, that one’s in the Bible, and I can prove it,” and they turn their Bibles to 1 Corinthians 10:13. Let’s take a look at this verse from the Apostle Paul, which says, “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.” You see, the Bible doesn’t say that God won’t give you more than you can handle. This is a verse about the victory over temptation and not about a pass on difficult situations. Paul is talking about temptation, not suffering. Paul is reminding us that though sin waits to devour us, God is faithful. That though sin desires to overcome us, it is not irresistible. But, what about trials, difficulties and sufferings?
Life will often give us more than we can handle. The Bible has story after story of individuals facing overwhelming situations. And, believing that God won’t give you more than you can handle actually produces way more questions because we’ve all been in a situation or two where we feel like we can’t handle it. If we’re supposed to be able to handle all that life throws our way, then where is God? This can also cause us to ignore or downplay our suffering, pretending like it’s not really that big of a deal. We tell ourselves, “If God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, then this must not really matter.” Finally, this can cause us to believe the lie that we can do life all by ourselves. If life never gave us more than we can handle, where is the need for God in our lives? We become our own gods, able to conquer anything and everything on our own. Yet, we know this not to be true.
So, why would God give us more than we can handle? It’s not because He hopes to overwhelm and crush us with life. That’s not who God is. The Bible actually promises something so much sweeter than our own self-sufficiency. And, that is, we can learn to depend on Him and trust in the Holy Spirit. God is faithful to meet us in the mess and the pain. When life reveals the reality that we can’t handle it, we can find our peace in the fact that God can. He will never fail us. The reality, thank God, is that we don’t have to look inward; we can look Godward. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus is telling us that if we feel overwhelmed and burdened by the world, we simply need to draw nearer to Him. Sometimes we go through difficult moments so that we can draw that much closer to the presence of God. And, can I be so bold as to say that I would rather be in the valley moments with Jesus than on the mountain all by myself? So, when life feels like more than we can handle, we continue to depend on the presence of God that never fails us nor ever leaves us. The psalmist in Psalm 121:1-2 writes, “From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” We can confidently declare the same this morning about the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
When life reveals the reality that we can’t handle it, we can find our peace in the fact that God can.
Why else would God give us more than we can handle? As we stated earlier, our self-sufficiency is not the goal. We’re not meant to do life alone and by our own power. So, sometimes we go through overwhelming situations so that the power of God might be displayed in our lives. Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” Then he continues says, “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.” You see, we are often given more than we can handle so that God’s great power might be displayed through our lives. We were created to need God.
Friends, if you’re struggling this morning to handle the situations of life, don’t miss the call to know the power and presence of Jesus Christ at a more intimate level. May the grace of God be sufficient for your life. Not the easy life. Not the avoidance of trials and sufferings. But, in the midst of it all, may the grace of God be sufficient for you. Like Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, may you actually begin to delight in your weak moments, knowing and understanding that in them God’s power is made known. May we grow increasingly dependent on Him.
This morning, as we move to the close of the message, I hope you’re encouraged. We tackled three popular phrases that aren’t actually in the Bible, but I believe with my whole heart that the truth of God’s Word is far, far sweeter than anything we can imagine. We don’t have to add to the Bible with phrases like these. The promises of Scripture are so good. I also pray that you are encouraged to know this book–to know the Word of God. May we be a church that breaks the statistics. May we be a church that loves the Word of God. And, can I further encourage you to not simply read your Bible but engage with it. What do I mean? Don’t aim just to read your Bible so you can check off your to-do list. Sit with the Word of God. Pray the Word of God. Know the Word of God. Understand the Word of God.
This morning, you may have come into church thinking and believing that God helps those who help themselves. So, you’ve been working and striving and exhausting yourself hoping that all of your good work would pay off. You’ve thought you had to work hard for God to even notice or care about you. But, friend, that’s not what the Bible says. He helps the needy and powerless. He helps those who just simply let go and learn to trust in Him. He helps those who seek Him above anything else. And, if this is you this morning, as we pray in a couple minutes, I’m going to ask that you join me in reaching out and grabbing the hand of God. You don’t have to do it alone because God is our Helper.
Maybe this morning, you have come into church hoping and praying that this Bible would say that God just wants you to be happy. If you’re honest with yourself, maybe this morning you’re feeling miserable. You feel downcast. You’re going through the mud. You’ve thought happiness came in the shape of things and stuff and possessions. But, friend, happy is the person who know the Lord. Happy is the person who trusts in His commands. You cannot find happiness apart from Him. True and full happiness will not be found in anything of this world because we weren’t made for this world. We’re just fish on the beach. This morning, as we pray, would you join me as we seek God not simply for what He offers us but simply for He who is. May you delight in knowing Jesus because He alone is our Happiness.
And, finally, maybe this morning you have come into church confused and defeated because you thought the Bible said God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle. Yet, you feel completely overwhelmed and burdened by life. This morning, may you know the power and the presence of Jesus Christ. You may not be able to handle it, but God most certainly can; and, He is always faithful. Where does your help come from? It’s not found in yourself. It’s not found in Dr. Phil. Your help comes from the Lord. And, as we pray, would you join me in trusting God to handle our difficult moments. Would you join me in praying that even in the midst of the trials, we can have peace because He is with us.
You see, there are some misconceptions that we once believed. But, as we opened up this book and dove in, we learned that the Bible doesn’t say that. But, we also learned that what it says is far sweeter than we imagined.